Sunday, December 4, 2011

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime (64GB, champagne)


Since the launch of the iPad 2, we've been kind of waiting for the Asus Transformer Prime. While we didn't know it existed until a few months ago, the thought of a powerful, robust, and sexy Android tablet has been invading our tablet dreams for months.

Is the Transformer Prime that tablet? With its quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, it definitely has the potential.

The Prime comes in two colors, amethyst gray (gray and purple) and champagne gold (silver and gold). We got the amethyst gray version for review, and ... Expand full review

Since the launch of the iPad 2, we've been kind of waiting for the Asus Transformer Prime. While we didn't know it existed until a few months ago, the thought of a powerful, robust, and sexy Android tablet has been invading our tablet dreams for months.

Is the Transformer Prime that tablet? With its quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, it definitely has the potential.

The Prime comes in two colors, amethyst gray (gray and purple) and champagne gold (silver and gold). We got the amethyst gray version for review, and although a purple tablet admittedly wasn't the highest item on our holiday wish list, the gray and purple are blended in a sleek, sexy, and appealing way. And although the aluminum backside does a good job of resisting fingerprints, the glossy screen and bezel succumb to them easily.

Side bezel width in inches (landscape)

The Prime is about an inch wider than the iPad 2 but a hair thinner; it's also thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It's slightly heavier than both aforementioned tablets, but its weight is distributed evenly, so we felt only a negligible difference.

That's the iPad 2 on the left, Prime in the middle, and Galaxy tab 10.1 on the right. While they're all really thin, the Prime wins the supermodel contest by a hair.

The Prime takes some design cues from the iPad 2 with a sloped backside and rounded corners that don't dig into our palms, as the previous Transformer did. For connections, the Prime includes a Micro-SD slot and a Micro-HDMI port on the left side. On the same side rest a volume rocker and a microphone pinhole. On the top is a smallish power/lock button, which, though functional, could have protruded more from the chassis as to feel more tactile. Next to that is a second microphone pinhole and on the right side is a headphone jack. A 40-pin connector port for data/power is located on the bottom.

On the front bezel sits a 1.2-megapixel camera, and almost directly opposite it on the back is an 8-megapixel camera, which is capable of recording 1080p video.

Like with the previous Transformer, the Prime connects to an optional keyboard/dock ($150), transforming it (heh) into what is essentially an Android laptop. With the previous Transformer, that connection wasn't the easiest to achieve, but the process has improved dramatically on the Prime, as it now easily slides into the awaiting slot.

With the dock attached, the Prime looks like a typical ultrabook. Well, a purple one at least.

The dock includes a touch pad, a 40-pin data/power connection port on the left, and a full-size SD slot and USB port on the right.

Once connected, the tablet feels a bit top-heavy, though, and could easily slip off a lap or table if enough care isn't taken. Also, the dock is compatible only with the Prime and vice versa. Switching between the older Transformer and this newer one is not supported.

Hardware features
The Prime is the first tablet to house Nvidia's new quad-core processor, the Tegra 3. The Prime also includes 1GB of RAM and comes in either 32GB or 64GB varieties. There's 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, a gyroscope, and GPS.

The Mobile dock includes an extra battery that--while connected--"feeds" the Prime its power, meaning that the dock's battery will deplete its reserves before the tablet's.

Through its Micro-HDMI port, you can connect the tablet to an HDTV or monitor and play full-screen Android games using both wired Xbox 360 and PS3 game pads, as well as supported wireless game pads through the use of an USB dongle.

Software features The Prime comes preinstalled with Honeycomb 3.2.1 and is upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). According to Asus, ICS should arrive on the Prime before the end of 2011.

Asus MyCloud enables users to access 8GB of free cloud-based storage space for the lifetime of the Prime (upon registering it) at Asus WebStorage. It also provides remote access to the desktop of a PC or Mac and access to the @Vibe online music and radio service.

The File Manager accesses the Prime's root directory, providing easy and organized access to every file on your drive or expanded memory unit. MyNet lets you stream content to DLNA-enabled devices on your network, and with MyLibrary, Asus' e-reader software, you can read and purchase new books directly through the interface.

The File Manager app provides easy access to every file on your tablet. Hide Review Next page

SuperNote is intended to help with taking notes and allows you to not only type them, but "write" notes with your fingers as well. You can also draw graphs and take pictures or video right from the interface. This could be especially useful for taking notes in a class.

Via Asus' tweaks to the Honeycomb interface, you can choose to run the Tegra 3 CPU in normal, balance, or power-saving modes. While in normal mode, the CPU runs at full speed. In balanced mode and power-saving mode, the CPU speed is throttled to save on battery life. Having this level of access to overall speed is a very welcome feature we hope to see in more tablets.

Asus also adds a Super IPS+ (In-Plane Switching) mode, which boosts the tablet's brightness, making reading in sunlight a bit easier. It also adds a feature that allows you to take screenshots using the Recent Apps button.

While the Prime's IPS screen was immediately clear and sharp when first we powered it on, it was the screen transitions that really impressed us. The first time we tapped the Apps button, we were treated to a noticeably higher frame rate transition than any previous Android tablet.

We hoped this fluidity would carry over to apps like Marvel Comics, but that was not the case. Reading a comic through the app on the iPad 2 is still a considerably smoother experience, but this may have something to do with specific optimizations of the iPad app. We can't be sure, however.

The resolution and contrast on the IPS panel are about as impressive as on the previous Transformer or the Asus Slider, but the new Super IPS mode+ increased the brightness up to 570 candelas per square meter (cd/m2), which is the highest brightness we've yet seen on a tablet and makes reading in direct sunlight a bit more tolerable than on other LCD tablets. Still, both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 are more impressive in terms of displaying vibrant colors.

Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS)Maximum black level IPS mode (Super IPS)Maximum contrast ratio IPS mode (Super IPS)

We used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. On the Prime, GP runs smoothly with a high frame rate, although maybe a bit lower than on the iPad 2; however, thanks to specific optimizations made by the developer, GP has added graphical effects, like water that splashes on the screen, contributing to the feeling of immersion. Also, on the Prime, the water physics seems to knock you around more violently. Overall, we enjoyed the experience on the Prime much more than on any other platform.

Bladeslinger is the most impressive-looking game on the Android platform yet, and the demo (pictured) looks great running on the Prime.

On the other hand, Zen Pinball on the Prime features impressive high dynamic range (HDR) lighting, but suffers in frame rate compared with the iPad 2, where HDR is absent. Overall, as impressive as some of the demos are--especially Bladeslinger--there's nothing here so far that looks outside the iPad 2's capability.

Web page loading speeds as well as app download speeds were several seconds slower than on other Android tablets and the iPad 2 in our anecdotal testing. Given our expectations for the effect the Tegra 3 would have on download speeds, this is disappointing.

The 8-megapixel rear camera provides the Prime with what is, on paper, the most technically advanced camera we've seen on a tablet. Pictures taken by the camera retained details other cameras like the Tab 10.1's and Sony Tablet S' rear cameras didn't. Colors were slightly lighter than the same photos taken with the Sony Tablet S, but the clarity and overall color accuracy of the Prime's camera makes up for this.

An example of the kind clarity you can expect with the Prime's 8-megapixel camera.

Also, shutter speed on the Prime is nearly instantaneous, whereas the Tab 10.1's camera took several seconds to focus and shoot. Thanks to the 2.4f aperture of the Prime's camera, which allows more light through the lens than typical tablet cameras do, we're able to see more detail even in low-light situations.

As for moving pictures, 1080p video recorded with the camera is clear and smooth, with no noticeable artifacts like what we saw on the Tab 10.1's 720p videos.

Sound delivered by the speaker carried heavy bass with clarity and thankfully didn't have the "tinny" feel to it as many other Android tablets have. We would have preferred a higher volume, though, as the iPad 2 easily dwarfs it in that department.

With normal use, battery life drained about as fast as on other Android tablets and we were able to continuously use the tablet all day without needing a charge. Check back soon for official results, both with and without the dock connected.

The Asus Transformer Prime is the best full-featured Android tablet yet. Its refined design makes it just as sexy as the iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the laundry list of thoughtful features, coupled with great video playback and camera performance, deliver an impressive device that more than holds its own against any tablet, including the iPad 2.

While games performance is somewhat of a mixed bag, most of what we've seen is impressive and, in most cases, is just as good as the best of what the iPad 2 has produced. However, it will take some time before developers really dig into the Prime's quad-core guts to produce something that truly blows us away.

The Prime will be available mid-December 2011 at $500 for the 32GB version and $600 for the 64GB version. The dock/keyboard clocks in at $150.

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