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Asus Transformer Prime GPS Dongle

by Mark W. Hibben
6/5/12

A Placatory Gesture

While not acknowledging any defect in the Transformer Prime TF 201, Asus has been quietly handing out a so-called GPS “dongle”, intended to improve GPS reception.  The dongle amounts to an external antenna that clips on where the keyboard normally attaches, so that one can use one or the other but not both simultaneously.  I recently received the dongle and put it through its paces.  It does work, not surprisingly, but it’s not really an adequate substitute for a fully functional internal GPS. 

Why the Dongle?

Asus could have found other ways to attach the external antenna than using the docking port on the tablet body, thus allowing the keyboard to remain attached.  Asus could have used the matching docking port on the keyboard itself, or the full size USB port, also on the keyboard.  Asus appears to have decided that it was essential to offer a solution that didn’t require ownership of the keyboard accessory.  Furthermore, since the antenna needed to be fairly large (the dongle is over 7 inches long), the best way to attach it would be to use the latching mechanism of the keyboard interface on the tablet.  As an engineering solution, the dongle design makes perfect sense, but it just isn’t very convenient to use if you like using the keyboard and are accustomed to leaving the keyboard attached.

Workable but Inconvenient

As shown in the accompanying video, I performed some very simple tests of the dongle, going through the process of removing the keyboard and attaching the dongle, then waiting to see how long it would take to get an accurate GPS position.   I specifically avoided comparisons to the new iPad.  It would have been too embarrassing (for the Prime).  After the dongle is attached, there’s a considerable wait to get an accurate position (usually severally minutes), thus adding to the inconvenience of having to attach the dongle.  This start-up time isn’t unusual for compact GPS devices, but for most GPS-enabled smart-phones and devices the consumer is unaware of the start-up time since the GPS runs continuously in the background as long as the device is powered up.    The new iPad works this way of course and can thus instantly provide a location to any location-based app or service that needs it.  Unfortunately, Asus specifically cautions against leaving the dongle attached when not using the GPS, since this drains battery power as well as deprives the TP of its secondary keyboard battery.

The dongle attachment mechanism itself doesn’t appear to be as well made as the keyboard.  As I show in the video, the tabs on the dongle are just molded plastic, whereas they are metal on the keyboard.  So, I would be concerned about the tabs wearing out or even breaking with repeated use.

Should Consumers be Satisfied?

In some usage scenarios, the dongle may be an acceptable fix.  For instance, using the Prime in an automobile as a mapping GPS is reasonable.  You probably won’t need the keyboard in the car, and you’ll probably be using the GPS over an extended period of time, so the initial start-up time is unimportant.  But clearly, the dongle is not a substitute for a working internal GPS, and I don’t believe that consumers should meekly accept the fix Asus has provided.  There have been so many problems with the Prime (see my review for the full list), that Asus should simply take it back.   If the problems cannot be fixed, then Asus should provide an acceptable substitute device or a refund.  Either way, I believe the Android community would be best served if Asus took responsibility for their mistakes.

Transformer Prime GPS Dongle Update Video

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    Gesture
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    Workable but. . .
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    Dongle Video
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