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Good gaming, slick design buoying Prime, but cores are far from being fully utilized

The reviews are in on ASUSTEK Computer, Inc.'s (TPE:2357) "Transformer Prime" a second generation laptop/tablet hybrid, which inherits the legacy of the original EeePad Transformer.  While Android tablets are still a work in progress, the Transformer Prime is among a handful of elite models that are receiving much buzz; models which could shift the market.

The VergeEngadget, and AnandTech all did in-depth reviews of the device.  We compare and contrast these below, cutting out the filler to deliver only the juiciest and most important excerpts:


Transformer Prime, looks

The reviewers agree that the The Transformer Prime is attractive in both looks and form factor.  Instead of mainly being constructed of plastic like its predecessor, the Tranformer Prime now gets an "industrial" aluminum body to go with its 10.1" glass screen. It's lighter than Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPad 2 by a good couple ounces and it is thinner in some parts of the frame than the iPad 2, as well.


NVIDIA Tegra 3Tegra 3

The CPU is the fastest on the market, faster than the iPad, while the graphics fall just short of the iPad 2, but beat its Android brethren.  On the other hand, there are some cons -- notably that the Tegra 3-powered Prime unsuprisingly failed to deliver the 5x speed-up that NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) promised over the Tegra 2, found in the original Transformer.  

In the real world, the speedup was impressive, but closer to 2x on the CPU side and 2-3x on the graphics side, based on benchmarks from Anandtech and The Verge (Engadget did benchmarks too, but failed to provide points of comparison).  The high performance also comes at the cost of having to fiddle with clock settings to get optimal performance, not everyone's cup of tea.


Transformer Prime, display

The display appears to be amazing according to the reviewers, and is very viewable outdoors.  AnandTech, however, adds an interesting twist, revealing that it has information that Apple is buying up "small 1080p and 2048x1536 panels" for an iPad 2+/3 "Retina Display".  So while Asus's sweet screen is queen for a day (or a couple quarters), Apple may seize the lead in Q2, thanks to its ever-strong supplier relationships.

The sound, however, is meager and only sufficient due to poor speaker placement, though some (AnandTech) seemed to have less of a problem with it than others (The Verge).  All of the reviews were pretty unanimous on these points.  


Transformer Prime, docking

To quote gameshow host/journalists Anne Robinson:
"You are the weakest link, good-bye."

Nobody seems to like the dock that makes the Transformer a small notebook very much.  While they say it passes for typing emails and the secondary battery and extra ports are nice, there's various complaints about the keyboard and touchpad.  Some of this may be due to legal issues (e.g. ASUSTEK/Google Inc. (GOOG) legally cannot implement pinch-to-zoom or kinetic scrolling on the peripheral or they will get sued by Apple who patented these things years after their invention in university research labs).

The really curious thing?  It seems like every reviewer found their own unique gripe about the dock.  Humorously, some complemented the same feature their peers insulted.

I/O -- Camera, connectors, etc.

The I/O is pretty typical fare, but the addition of smooth HDMI video/audio out and game controller support makes it a fair pseudo movie box/gaming console.  The camera seems to be quite good, but all the reviewers seemed to agree that cameras in a tablet have been and should always be an afterthought.


Transformer Prime, games

Apparently four cores doth not a silky smooth operating system make.  Of the reviewers AnandTech was the most glowing, but even they had complaints.  Again some of the various complaints appear to be centered around how Honeycomb accepts input, something that may be an affect of Apple's intellectual property enforcement efforts (i.e. lawsuits).  Still, other criticism point to lack of proper threading in core system apps, which leaves them unable to exploit the extra horsepower.

Battery Life

"In the real world" you can probably get around 8-10 hours of juice when browsing the internet, un-docked.  The Verge seems to have demonstrated a more extreme scenario as they ran their unit in the "normal" higher performance mode, typically reserved for games and saw battery life drop to 5 hours.  The take home message is that the battery can be almost as good as the iPad 2's, but you need to be careful about your settings management.

The dock adds on a good 5 to 6 extra hours of juice.  Combined, the package has both the iPad 2 and its Android competitors beat, although having a hidden second battery is kind of like cheating almost.

The Verdict

The Verge:

Asus may have produced a brilliant piece of engineering at a price that's competitive with the iPad, but Android hasn't yet matched iOS when it comes to unlocking all that potential. Android 4.0 (or even Windows 8, which we expect to run on this very sort of hardware) might just rectify some of these issues, but one thing is for sure: the laptop of the post-PC world needs the software to match it.


The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has had a long run as the top-tier Android tablet in the 10-inch size, but that position has now properly been usurped... he Transformer Prime is thinner and lighter than the rest and, with 32GB of storage available for a dollar under $500, it's a better deal than most of the top-tier contenders.

The dock, however, is a bit of a tougher sell... For the moment the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime is the best Android tablet on the market. All hail the new king.


Assuming the WiFi and minor dock issue I encountered aren't widespread (ASUS insists they aren't), I am comfortable calling the Eee Pad Transformer Prime the absolute best Android tablet on the market today. The hardware looks and feels great. ASUS picked the best display possible and married it to some really good industrial design.

The inevitable iPad comparison is, well, inevitable. I still firmly believe there's not a whole lot of iOS/Android cross shopping. If you want an iPad, that's what you should buy. Android isn't an iOS substitute, just as iOS isn't an Android substitute. You can do similar things on both, but personal preference will really determine what suits you the best.

If you want an Android and are willing to pay $500, this is probably the tablet for you, but think carefully before you buy the dock.  If you're one of those rare renegades who's unsure whether you want an iPad 2 or Android tablet, carefully consider you both.  But if $500 is too much for you, consider the $200 budget Kindle Fire instead.

Sources: The Verge, Engadget, Anandtech

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RE: Windows 8
By Da W on 12/1/2011 2:30:38 PM , Rating: 2
At last an informed opinion on the subject.

I would add:

I'm not sure ARM will catch on. By 2012 we will have ultra low power Ivy Bridge that will certainly fit a tablet power enveloppe and it seems Dual-core @ 2GHZ bobcat with Radeon 7000 series GPU on AMD side, that should trounce tegra 3 GPU power. Intel's offering will certainly be pricier, but having x86 compatibility to run you countless legacy utilities is an undeniable advantage. Plus any new app, including the 40000+ windows phone 7 apps ported to WinRT, should run on both ARM and x86.
So except if having a razor-thin tablet is really important, i don't think ARM will dominate the Windows 8 tablet market.

The ability to seemlessly sync content between your tablet and your home PC is an advantage, and despite the many apps that allow you to do that on iOS or Android, with Windows 8 you won't even notice it's being done in the background.

Media Center
Microsoft is overhauling its media center concept, and we begin seeing this with the new Xbox update and access to IPTV content. Assuming they do it right, media center will be a simple tab in your Metro home screen instead of a ressource heavy piece of software that takes forever to start, and you will still be able to program and record your favorite TV shows, to stream or watch later on your tablet, or just watching a live show on your tablet while your girlfriend is taking control of the TV.

RE: Windows 8
By TakinYourPoints on 12/1/2011 3:05:41 PM , Rating: 1
I think having a tablet be razor thin is very important, it is an integral aspect of the form factor. Tablets that weren't that thin were present for a decade, and they failed.

It's why Microsoft is doing the right thing by supporting ARM with Windows 8. I think we're still a few years away from x86 CPUs being acceptable enough to put into enclosures that small. Ivy Bridge is great but its TDP is still too high for something that slim. Even a Macbook Air or ultrabook has a fan in it. Until then, ARM makes the most sense.

Right now improving ARM CPUs makes more sense to me than trying to cram upcoming x86 CPUs into a tablet. Tegra 3 is disappointing given that CPU performance is catching up to the Cortex+PowerVR SoC that Apple started using almost a year ago, and that its GPU performance is still far behind. I'd very much like to see alternatives to NVIDIA competing in high end non-iOS tablet SoCs.

If ARM performance still seriously lags the performance of an x86 by the time one is made that can reasonably be put into a tablet form factor (three years maybe?), then would be a goof time time to transition to it IMHO.

Otherwise, if a razor thin tablet is suddenly going to be made larger to accomodate an x86 CPU, you might as well just get an ultrabook instead. It might seem weird but that tipping point in size and weight for a tablet form factor is super important.

As it stands, tablets need to get even lighter than they are, not heavier. Think something with the horsepower and developer support of an iPad 2 but as light as a Kindle. Now have it fully interoperable with a desktop OS like you're talking about. That seems like the holy grail, and I think we'll get there. We've gone from iPods to iPads in ten years, things will be sick in 2021.

RE: Windows 8
By Reclaimer77 on 12/1/2011 3:43:51 PM , Rating: 2
You really are the king of talking about of your ass.

Tablets that weren't that thin were present for a decade, and they failed.

They failed because they were slow, had terrible battery life, and other technical reasons. It had NOTHING to do with how "thin" they were. It wasn't a styling issue.

Ivy Bridge is great but its TDP is still too high for something that slim.

Again, you're full of shit because we've never seen a real life Ivy Bridge mobile chip so how can you possibly know that? Yes we know what the DESKTOP chip TDP is probably going to be, but so what? Ivy Bridge isn't just "great", it will lead to X86 dominance in mobile devices. You really think Intel isn't going to make a kick ass mobile CPU with that technology like they did back in the day with the Pentium M?

I think you need to study up on CPU design and realize what a quantum leap Ivy Bridge will be at the architectural level. ARM's days are numbered. Period.

RE: Windows 8
By Da W on 12/1/11, Rating: 0
RE: Windows 8
By TakinYourPoints on 12/1/2011 4:31:55 PM , Rating: 2
He really doesn't know what he's talking about. There's no way you're going to see Ivy Bridge in the same form tablet factor as an ARM processor. Larger ultraslim notebooks with active cooling, certainly.

RE: Windows 8
By Reclaimer77 on 12/1/2011 8:24:47 PM , Rating: 2
You're thinking all wrong. You are taking a desktop CPU and plugging in what Ivy Bridge is "gonna" make the TDP.

What I'm saying is a specialized mobile CPU with Ivy Bridge technology will not only be viable, but will be amazing. It wont happen tomorrow, or probably next year, but it WILL happen.

Sorry but X86 is coming back to mobile devices in a big way thanks to Ivy Bridge. Scoff all you want, but it's coming.

RE: Windows 8
By JKflipflop98 on 12/1/2011 9:18:38 PM , Rating: 2
It would work better if you stop saying "Ivy Bridge" and start saying "Tri-Gate". Ivy Bridge is the desktop CPU. The tri-gate transistors are what makes it special.

RE: Windows 8
By TakinYourPoints on 12/1/2011 4:25:32 PM , Rating: 2
Form factor was one of many reasons why pre-iPad tablets failed. Battery life and performance that you brought up were other obvious reasons. Then there's the fact that Windows for touch was terrible, Windows applications were designed for mouse/keyboard/trackpad and not touchscreens, etc etc etc. Tablets were pointless given that you could spend less on a better laptop that actually worked properly with Windows and Windows applications.

However, form factor is still important. Ergonomics are vital and tablets need to be light, well balanced, and easy to hold with one hand. They still need to get under a pound, and a tablet that adds additional weight to accommodate hotter CPUs will fail.

Being thin and light aren't superficial "styling" concerns, they are what make tablets viable in the first place. Make it heavier/bulkier and you might as well get a laptop instead. The direction is smaller, lighter, thinner. Eventually we'll see something with iPad level high performance and developer support but as light as a Kindle. Hell, we might get that with Windows 8 (or 9, or whenever that physical form factor is possible). That would be cool.

Ivy Bridge's TDP is too high for a tablet without adding additional active cooling, size, and reduced battery life compared to current ARM solutions. You saying that Ivy Bridge is capable of this doesn't change reality. The smallest devicse you will see an Ivy Bridge CPU in are ultraslim laptops, and those will have cooling fans, additional size, and reduced battery life compared to an ARM based tablet.

x86 may supersede ARM in tablets eventually, but it won't be for years. It may not even make sense in tablets by then as ARM performance continues to improve, we'll see.

It's good to see that you know better than Microsoft though.

You seem really angry in your posts btw. Are you ok?

RE: Windows 8
By Reclaimer77 on 12/1/2011 8:34:10 PM , Rating: 1
Dude the bulkiest tablet on the market, HP Touchpad, flew off the shelves at such a rate that HP is going to manufacture more to meet demand. I'm not discounting that slim tablets are appealing, but obviously you're overstating that appeal.

As far is Ivy Bridge, I decided to see if I was crazy or if you had a point. Let's just say that if I'm crazy, apparently market annalists are nuts too.

Came up on the first Google search. Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way, and I'm not even an expert. For you to dismiss the benefits of such an advancement so quickly is nothing but pure ignorance.

x86 may supersede ARM in tablets eventually, but it won't be for years.

Duh! Did you see me say it would happen next week? It's not like Intel is going anywhere. If it takes a few years to challenge ARM, so what? Point is, it WILL happen. You X86 haters are just going to have to deal with that.

RE: Windows 8
By TakinYourPoints on 12/2/2011 3:58:55 PM , Rating: 2
Dude the bulkiest tablet on the market, HP Touchpad, flew off the shelves at such a rate that HP is going to manufacture more to meet demand.

Right, because they gave them away at $100 a pop. They sat unsold in warehouses beforehand.

Did you see me say it would happen next week?

You're talking about Ivy Bridge being viable competition to ARM in tablets. It isn't next week but it is very very soon. Only a few months away, not years.

You X86 haters are just going to have to deal with that.

Everything is in such black-and-white fanboy terms with you. You need to relax.

It isn't about being an x86 hater or anything stupid like that. All of my computers are x86. It is all about practicality, and x86 CPUs (even upcoming Ivy Bridge mobile CPUs) require more power and generate more heat than any of the ARM CPUs, period. This makes them unsuitable for tablets, at least tablets that will sell.

RE: Windows 8
By Da W on 12/1/2011 3:44:42 PM , Rating: 2
I don't completly disagree, I'll just say:

ASUS Eee Slate EP121-1A011M 12.1-Inch Core i5-2467M processor
12.3 x 8.2 x 0.7 inches ; 2.6 pounds

MSI WindPad 110W 10-Inch AMD Z-Series APU Processors (one of the best, windows 8 bootable already)
Size (LWH): 7.2 inches, 10.66 inches, 0.61 inches
Weight: 1.87 pounds

Acer Iconia Tab W500-BZ467 10.1-Inch AMD Dual-Core Processor C-50
7.5 x 10.8 x 0.6 inches ; 3.5 pounds

Archos 9 PC Windows 7 Starter Tablet 1.2 GHz Intel Atom Z515 processor
10.1 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches ; 1.8 pounds

Samsung Series 7 Slate PC dual-core Core i5-2467M processor
Under 2 pounds.

Now i know it isn't 600 grams, but having tried them, weight size, it's usable. And i'm just saying that when you factor in x86 compatibility versus 1 more pound, i think the mass market will go toward compatibility.

Then again may be the Wii-U has the answer. A mere wireless touchscreen with all the horsepower in an external box.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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