There’s no question that ASUS has become one of the most popular brands for Android tablets in just a short amount of time. The original Transformer had top-notch specs at an affordable price which resulted in short supplies right out of the gate. Fast forward about 6 months, and the follow up, the Transformer Prime launched with the best specs of any tablet in the world. With its Tegra 3 quad-core processor and sleek metallic styling, its no wonder it’s the most demanded Android tablet other than the inexpensive Amazon Kindle Fire.
Just like the OG transformer, you would be hard pressed to find a Transformer Prime in stock anywhere (at retail price), even if you were ready to drop at least five bills. This thing is sweet. Albeit it had a rough start given all the software glitches the early adopters had to deal with, now that it has seen a few updates (including ICS), I can totally understand why this is the tablet to beat. At first, when I was waiting for my Transformer Prime to arrive from backorder, I would sit back and read all the forums that were discussing the Prime. There were so many people who just couldn’t deal with the software problems it was having, threw in the towel, and got a refund before it was too late. So many people were complaining, ASUS even went as far as extending the return period so that they could drum up an update in hopes of changing peoples mind. A few updates came and went but it wasn’t until one of the most recent updates hit that the device started to truly shine.
What makes the Transformer Prime so special you ask? I am not saying the device is without faults by any means, but it is most definitely the best Android tablet to date. Let’s break it down, showing the good and the bad. And if you haven’t seen it already, you can check out our initial hands on as well.
The original Transformer had nice styling, but the Transformer Prime is a major improvement. The metallic finish is not only a pleasure to look at, there is something about it that just screams quality when you hold it in your hands. The aluminum comes in two different colors, Champagne Gold and Amethyst grey. Kind of a weird choice of color descriptions if you ask me because the way I see it, the Champagne Gold looks more like pewter and the Amethyst Grey appears like a dark purple. Anyway, whatever the colors are, ASUS went the extra mile to add a touch of class to the metallic finish. Unlike the iPad’s trademark matte aluminum finish, ASUS added a spun pattern into the metal. It actually looks kind of like a drum cymbal does and once you see it, you will never mistake the Transformer Prime for another tablet because it’s just that unique. My only worry with the tablet’s casing is that it feels like it might be easy to ding or dent. Obviously they didn’t want to make the metal super thick for weight reasons, but if you were to bump it on the corner of a desk for, example, it would most likely dent. You don’t need to baby this thing, just don’t go hucking it from one end of the couch to the next when playing Scrabble with your friends. Another downfall of the aluminum housing is that it is a known culprit for degraded GPS signal, which I will address later.
As far as the tablets girth goes, this puppy is thin. Measuring in at only 8.3mm, holding the device in my hands, I can’t help but wonder how they got it all to fit in there. Speaking of fitting stuff in there, when comparing it to the original Transformer, they were able to shave off a bunch of weight and thickness. The Prime weighs 586 grams while the OG model comes in at 680 grams. Nearly 100 grams more, and that’s quite a bit when your talking about handheld electronics. As to thickness, the OG Transformer was 12.98mm. That’s almost 2/3rds thicker than the Prime.
As I hold the Prime in one hand, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the other, I can’t help but feel like the Prime is a more solid, sturdy and well built device. Now I’m not saying the Galaxy Tab feels cheap by any means, it’s just that the Prime has a more robust feel about it. I don’t hesitate throwing it into a bag amongst other electronics and stuff.
The button layout is a bit different this time around as well. They moved the power button to the top left as opposed to the top left side and added a tiny indicator LED. The original had it just above the volume rocker which I found to be annoying because I would many times hit the power button when I was trying to adjust the volume. I am all for the new arrangement and haven’t had any fumbled button use yet. Good call ASUS.
One thing I will say that sucks about the Prime’s design is the speaker. Notice I said speaker and not speakers? The Transformer Prime is a mono audio unit, therefore unable to deliver stereo audio. As if that isn’t bad enough, ASUS decided to place the single speaker right where your right hand goes when holding the tablet in landscape mode. Kind of a bummer. Sound quality is decent, though, and the volume is substantial enough to hear even if your hand is smack dab over the top of it. I can only imagine how much better it would be if there were two speakers and were placed near the top of the tablet in landscape mode. Then you would get a nice uninterrupted stereo experience instead of a muffled mono one.
This is where we get to the good stuff. Full specs include a 10.1-inch LED Super IPS+ (1280 x 800) display, Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8MP rear camera with f2.4 aperture lens ( with 1080p video recording), 1.2MP front camera, 32GB or 64GB of internal memory, microSD slot for up to an additional 32GB, micro HDMI, and SonicMaster sound technology.
The battery is rated at 12 hours, but with the keyboard dock (see below) you should get up to 18 hours. Battery rating can very depending on what performance setting the tablet is set to. The options are Power Saving mode, Balanced, and performance, and each will result in different battery life longevity. When set on Balanced mode and 50% brightness, the tablet was able to continuously loop video for just over 10 hours, rivaling that of the previous industry leader, the iPad 2. When dialed up to performance mode, you can expect to lose about an hour and a half and the opposite can be said when dialing back to Power Saving Mode. You can see the power options and battery meter in the screenshot below.
To further stretch the devices battery life, one could opt to add the accompanying keyboard dock. ASUS claims the dock will add an additional 6 hours of battery life on top of the 12 hours as rated by the manufacturer. Surprisingly enough, the two working in conjunction did just that. The tablet/keyboard combo was able to last just over 16 hours when running the same test as mention above. This may come in hand for you heavy users who are unable to plug-in and charge midday. You can even monitor the keyboard dock’s juice with the handy battery meter seen in the image above.
The Tegra 3 quad-core processor really flies in this thing. It utilizes Nvidia’s new SoC technology (system on a chip) and sometimes I swear I can see smoke coming out of the speaker grill. No but really, it is pretty fast. The Tegra 3 runs 5 times faster than its predecessor, the Tegra 2. You won’t find many apps that can take advantage of the quad-core processor, but I was able to play ShadowGun THD (high def version) with absolutely no lag. I have played the standard version of the same game on my GalaxyTab 10.1 and often times the game hangs for a few seconds at a time. Even with regular usage, you will notice better speed on the Prime as compared to any other Android tablet. The original Transformer was very nice, but it easily got bogged down, especially with a decent amount of apps installed. Even if you can’t fully tap into the device’s power at this point, there is a quick setting that lets you dial back the processor speed (seen in the settings pop-up in the above image). The Prime is so quick in fact, it’s often used as a top comparison in many benchmarking and speed testing apps. Scrolling left and right on the home screen is a quick and snappy affair, and opening the app drawer when filled with a ton of apps is virtually instantaneous.
To touch base on the display a little bit for those of you who haven’t seen the Transformer Prime’s Super IPS display, this thing is bright. REAL bright. There is a mode under the quick settings panel that when applied, is basically like hitting the brights switch on your cars headlights and is capable of producing 600 nits. Although this takes a dramatic toll on your battery, it will come in hand when trying to view the tablet outdoors in bright sunlight. It really does make a difference. In an average comparison to other tablets, the Prime’s display is capable of being 50% brighter than most. Unfortunately color reproduction falls a bit flat and whites can appear somewhat yellowish at brighter settings, but darks are deep and are a pleasure for the eye to behold. Another thing worth noting about the Super IPS display is its viewing angle. ASUS claims the screen can be easily viewed from anywhere within a 178-degree radius. This can be good or bad, depending whether or not you are one who wants to share videos with friends or you’re the type who views private documents in public, this is one thing to keep in mind.
One major downfall (if you could consider it as such) is the devices lack of GPS signal. In the beginning, ASUS branded the device as a GPS unit even without any carrier radios on board. The device is (somewhat) capable of picking up GPS signal without the use of Wi-Fi but when Wi-Fi is active and locked on, GPS signal is much stronger. Many people were disappointed to find this to be the case and were expecting the Prime to act as a full-on GPS unit while driving around in their car. When the ICS update hit, people claimed that was the culprit for poor GPS signal when in fact it wasn’t really the issue at all. ASUS has since stated (and removed such marketing) that the Transformer Prime is never going to be a reliable GPS device. The way in which the device is manufactured prevents it from being so and the full metal back is to blame. Of course there is the few tablets that ASUS has gotten in return that actually had GPS antennas that were properly attached but if you were hoping to use this device to double as a GPS receiver, I strongly suggest using your phone or getting a Garmin. The only step ASUS has taken to retro this issue is to not repeat the mistake. If you will notice the design of the upcoming Transformer Prime 700 you will see that the back plate is not a solid piece of metal. There is a strip of plastic running along the top edge that covers all of the devices antennas and should provide a interference free experience. If you can wait until June you may want to wait for that device to get released instead.
As many of you already know, ASUS has designed the Transformer series of tablets to work in conjunction with a matching keyboard dock as referred to earlier. The keyboard dock runs an additional $150, and when coupled with the tablet, could fool many into believing it was an actual laptop. The design of the dock perfectly matches the tablet and the additional ports and battery life will be well worth the extra cost to some folks. In addition to the extra 6 hours of battery life, the dock provides a full size USB 2.0 port and an SD card slot to boot. When the dock is connected to the tablet, it becomes somewhat of an extended battery of sorts, charging your tablet with any juice the dock might have. When you plug the proprietary charging cable into the dock, both the dock and the tablet charge simultaneously.
The dock for the Transformer Prime differs slightly from the dock that was built for the original Transformer in that it provides longer battery life and vast improvements have been made to the keyboards track pad. The new track pad is much more responsive than before and provides more of a laptop-esque experience. There is hardly any noticeable lag and accidental palm activations while typing is a thing of the past. While there is no way of disabling the trackpad, I found that it was small enough to be out of the way when typing. The trackpad also has two small buttons that are located at the base of the pad within one narrow strip. If you accidentally tap the middle of the button hoping for a right click, you Will get nothing. you must either tap the far-most left or right sides in order to activate the buttons. To some this may be an annoyance, but with spending a little time with the machine you can easily get the hang of it.
The actual keyboard of the dock is somewhat cramped when comparing to a laptop, but considering this is actually a 10-inch tablet with an attached accessory, it fared rather well in our tests. Having not spent much time with the original transformer or netbooks with similar layouts, it took me a little bit of time to get used to the chiclet keys being so close together. After spending a full day of writing articles for the site, I became a seasoned pro. I have even opted to use the docked Prime in lieu of my laptop when out and about out of sheer versatility. All in all it is nothing to be too concerned about unless you have overly large hands and/or fingers then it might prove to be an annoyance. If anything you could use it to prolong battery life but then again that would add up to quite an inexpensive extended battery. The dock won’t be for everyone. You can check out our video review of the keyboard dock below.
Another slick accessory that up until now has been damn near impossible to find, is the Origami sleeve. This is ASUS’ take on Apple’s smart cover and instead of relying on magnets to hold it to the tablet, the tablet has slots along one of the edges to latch the cover on. The Origami case is rightfully named because there are two different ways in which you can fold the cover that each result in different ways to prop up the tablet. The first and probably most useful way creates a wedge of sorts and tilts the Prime in a way that is conducive to a more comfortable typing position. The second way allows you to stand the tablet upright so you can view the Prime in landscape mode for watching videos or viewing a slideshow of pictures. Check out the Origami case in our video review below.
The Prime shipped with Honeycomb 3.2, but in early January, it became the second device to get Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. If you have had the pleasure of experiencing ICS on a phone, but not a tablet, just wait until you do. ICS takes what was great about honeycomb and made it even better. ASUS went the extra mile (as do most manufacturers) and added a bit of their own flair on top of ICS. Not to be confused with tacky UI overlays such as TouchWiz or Blur, the ASUS overlay is subtle and effective. ASUS also included a few of their own widgets that are actually quite useful such as MyZine, weather, email/date, Battery monitor, and a One-click Clean widget. The One-Click Clean widget acts as window that monitors your ongoing applications and allows you to kill them all at once or only the ones you want closed.
As far as bloatware goes, your going to get Amazon Kindle, App Backup, App Locker, Google Books, File Manager, Glowball, Movie Studio, MyCloud, MyLibrary, MyNet, Netflix, Polaris Office, Press Reader, SuperNote, Tegra Zone, WebStorage, and Zinio. Glowball is the only free game that comes with the retail version and I believe they included it to showcase the tablets 3D rendering powers. The game looks amazing and has graphics that are unlike any you’ve seen on a tablet before. Tegra Zone is an app where you will find all the Tegra 3 compatible games in one place. I had to check out Riptide GP and Shadowgun THD, two games that have taken 3D rendering to a whole new level. Riptide is a wave runner game that has super realistic water effects and when the water hits the screen you could swear there was liquid running down the inside of your display. Shadowgun on the other hand is a first person shooter that has a realistic word in which you can interact and like Riptide, the water effects and subtle ways in which the background changes, will make you feel like you’re really there.
For those of you who are at all familiar with the ICS camera app you would know that this is Android’s best version yet. Incorporating an on screen wheel next to the shutter button, the camera’s functions and settings are only a thumb swipe away. Settings that can be adjusted within the settings wheel are zoom, flash, white balance, exposure and scene mode. At the bottom of the screen in the camera apps is where you can switch to video camera and panoramic modes.
Tablet cameras to me are worthless, but ASUS decided to go all out with this one. The 8MP rear camera takes pretty decent pictures when taken in well lit situations and the flash provides more than enough illumination when your subject is in a darker area. Unfortunately color reproduction seems to lack a little bit resulting in a bluish/green hues and when taken indoors under fluorescent lighting, seem a bit over saturated. Shutter speed is fairly snappy but don’t expect responsiveness as fast as the Galaxy nexus. Once you are focused on your image it generally takes one and a half to two seconds to actually snap the picture. The video camera performs quite well too. When in an adequately lit area or outdoors, the lens focuses automatically on what is centered in the display and refocuses on farther objects with a smooth a fluid transition. When using the video camera at night or in a poorly lit area the Transformer prime kind of suffers a bit, making it hard to decipher what is actually being filmed.
Sure, the Transformer Prime isn’t going to double as your in-car GPS, a point-and-shoot camera, or a definitive laptop replacement when coupled with the keyboard dock, but when used soley as a tablet? Good luck finding anything on the market that compares. This thing rocks. And like I said earlier, after getting all the wrinkles ironed out with software updates, I am hard pressed to find anything to really complain about, especially when I have seen what the other tablet options are these days. I even owned, pardon my french, an iPad 2 , but after getting my hands on the Transformer Prime, that quickly went up for sale on Craigslist.
You have got to give props to ASUS for this one. The prime is a device to be reckoned with, one that all tablets are going to be compared against this year, and a tablet that ASUS should be proud of. The sheer build quality and processor speed provides an experience that is simply unmatched by any other tablet on the market right now and considering you get all this and 32GB of storage for only $499, that’s one hell of a deal. Especially if you’re willing to dish out an additional $149 for the keyboard dock, it’s capabilities are expanded even further. If you are in the market for a tablet, whether it be Android or otherwise, the Transformer Prime is the one to get. I have no hesitations saying it is THE BEST tablet available. Period.