For those who want an alternative to Apple’s iPad, tablets running Google’s Android operating system are the best choice.
However, Google finds itself playing catch-up to Apple, and its partners’ attempts to create an iPad challenger have so far fallen short. But that may no longer be true with the introduction last December of the Asus EEE Pad Transformer Prime.
Clad in an all-metal case, the Transformer Prime, running Google’s Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS, weighs less than even the new iPad, is thinner and features a mobile dock that turns the device into a lightweight notebook with extended run time. The circular pattern, color and overall design makes the Transformer Prime, in my opinion, the first Android tablet you can call sexy and mean it.
THE FEATURE SET
Let’s take a look under the hood and see what we find:
- NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU
- 1 GB of RAM
- 32 GB or 64 GB of solid state storage + 8 GB ASUS web storage
- 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 Super IPS+ LED backlit screen with Corning Gorilla Glass
- 10-finger multi-touch support
- MicroSD card reader for cards up to 32 GB
- MicroHDMI Port with 1080p video output
- 3.5-mm audio jack
- 1.2 MP front-facing and 8 MP with LED flash rear-facing cameras
- WLAN 802.11 email@example.com GHz
- Bluetooth V2.1+EDR
- 40 pin docking/data connector
- 25 Wh Li-polymer battery
- 32 GB Wi-Fi only model list price: $499
Making it unique among tablets, the Transformer Prime (like its predecessor the Asus Transformer) can connect to its EEE Station mobile dock, which adds:
- QWERTY Chiclet-style keyboard with touchpad
- USB 2.0 port
- SD card reader
- 22 Wh li-polymer battery
- List price: $149
WHAT TO LIKE
The Transformer Prime is the first in a wave of new Android tablets representing a significant upgrade in speed and capabilities over prior models. The most significant improvement is the replacement of the NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core CPU with the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, which makes it the first tablet (Apple or Android) to feature a quad-core CPU. This consists of four cores plus one extra low power “companion” core and 12 graphics cores for an incredibly fast device. Throw in ICS, and you have one smokin’ hot tablet. Compared to my experience with Android 2.3, designed for smartphones and not tablets, and 3.x, designed for tablets but not smartphones, the Transformer Prime offers an improved experience that is both fluid and seamless, without any delays or stuttering when switching screens or apps.
Combining the Super IPS+ screen, Gorilla Glass and 600-nits brightness gives you improved clarity, better scratch resistance and improved readability in sunlight in addition to 3-D capability. This screen also provides for a much wider viewing angle, so you don’t have to look directly at the tablet to see the screen.
Android 4.0 ICS contributes to the overall positive experience as well. Building on Android 3.x Honeycomb, ICS is the first Android OS to be designed to work on both smartphones and tablets with the lessons learned from prior versions of Android showing clearly. The iPad 2 has provided a great user experience when switching screens or apps, with no delays or other visual issues; however, all of that comes at the price of a locked-down OS, strictly controlled ecosystem of apps and no accessories (i.e., no external memory devices, such as SD cards or USB flash drives). ICS offers this iPad-like user experience while providing access to the OS at a level that allows you to create folders, transfer files between them, and connect to external memory devices, such as storage cards, USB flash drives and even external hard drives. Native HDMI video output is also standard, requiring only a micro-HDMI/standard HDMI cable to connect to an LCD screen, projector or television.
Asus includes a number of applications and services, such as lifetime 8 GB of cloud storage, Polaris Office, SuperNote and its MyCloud service for access to video, music and files, as well as remote control and access of PCs and Macs.
Using energy-saving mode, the battery life is rated at up to 12 hours. Attaching the EEE Station dock to the tablet increases the rated battery life to 18 hours. However, for general day-to-day use, running without energy-saving mode, I easily achieved eight hours of general use and video playback. Heavy use of Wi-Fi does reduce this life a bit, but it’s still impressive. And the keyboard makes it easier to enter large amounts of text.
WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE
The tapered edges and sharper corners are less comfortable to hold for long periods of time than my Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet. To give the Transformer Prime its svelte figure, Asus had to forego a full-sized USB port on the tablet, moving it instead to the EEE Station dock. The metal casing also created problems at launch with GPS performance. In early January, Asus removed official GPS support from the specification sheet, based on user complaints. Others reported decreased Wi-Fi reception, and I’ve noticed it’s lower on this tablet than my Acer Iconia in the same location, though this isn’t a problem unless the signal is extremely weak. Having only a single speaker, the Transformer Prime sounds okay, but not great. Throw in the placement of the speaker where you will generally hold the tablet, and you’ve added to the problem. The power and the volume buttons are also less than optimal in operation and feel. It would also be nice if Asus included a better office solution than Polaris Office.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Despite some issues, the Transformer Prime, with its features, external keyboard and dock, great battery life and design, is an excellent Android-based tablet for those looking for an alternative to the iPad. If working with a familiar file and folder structure is important to you, as is the desire to be able to add memory or external devices via industry-standard USB, then you should give the Transformer Prime serious consideration.
With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate it:
Ease of Use:
Quality of Materials:
Value for Cost: