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

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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