By now, most of you hanging out for the Transformer Prime have read about the US launch, its Wi-Fi and GPS issues and its Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) update woes. Even the initial demonstration model that Asus showed to us displayed the now well-known "blind-screen effect".
You would have also read that Asus is working hard to fix the issues that it can, and, indeed, despite our review sample coming with Ice Cream Sandwich pre-installed, another update was available the moment we started testing.
First impressions? This thing is thin. It's also lighter than the iPad 2, and, when combined with its champagne-gold backing, presents quite the drool-worthy device.
Asus loves claiming world firsts, and in this case it's claiming the first Tegra 3 device. This quintuple-core monster uses four cores when under load, and a fifth, low-powered core to save battery when executing lower-performance tasks. This means that we should see some pretty crazy battery times out of the Prime — provided that the core switcher is smart enough.
Unlike the previous Transformer, Asus is bundling its 32GB and 64GB SKUs of the Prime exclusively with the keyboard dock; you won't have the option to buy the tablet separately. The 32GB model with the dock will cost you AU$799, while doubling your capacity will run AU$899. Just like the Transformer, plugging in the keyboard dock considerably extends your battery life.
The tablet alone comes equipped with a mini-HDMI port and microSD card reader, while plugging in the dock gains you a full-sized USB 2.0 port (down from two in the original Transformer) and a full-sized SD card reader.
The IPS screen, especially when Asus' "Super IPS+ mode" is turned on, is gorgeous. This is a tablet absolutely built for video, and, combined with something like MX Player, it should keep you quite happy. We can only imagine what the upcoming 1920x1200, TF700T version of the tablet will look like.
The speakers are certainly passable for the size of the device, although they could do with more volume capability.
Considering the space that Asus has had to work with, it has done quite well with the keyboard. Likewise, the touch pad is quite usable, including such multi-touch gestures as double-finger horizontal swiping to move between home screens or flip between images. A double-finger vertical swipe, as one might expect, scrolls.
|Apple iPad 2||Samsung Galaxy
|10.1-inch 1280x800 screen||9.7-inch 1024x768 screen||10.1-inch 1280x800 screen||10.1-inch 1280x800 screen|
|Super IPS+||IPS||Super PLS||IPS|
|Quad-core 1.3GHz||Dual-core 1GHz||Dual-core 1GHz||Dual-core 1GHz|
|Proprietary port, mini-HDMI, microSD,
headset jack, USB 2.0, SD reader
|Proprietary port, headphone jack||Proprietary port, headphone jack||Proprietary port, mini-HDMI, microSD,
headset jack, 2x USB 2.0, SD reader
The Ice Cream Sandwich experience
Ice Cream Sandwich itself is a marked improvement over Honeycomb, especially in terms of tightening up design and adding extra animation to make things appear smoother. The Tegra 3, for the most part, keeps these animations silky smooth, and Android has never looked so good. The experience isn't 100 per cent complete, though; rotate the display on the apps screen, for instance, and although the image starts to rotate as well, eventually it blanks out to realign, rather than providing a seamless transition.
One of Ice Cream Sandwich's headline features, the auto-panoramic photograph stitch, disappoints on the Prime. While it does successfully stitch together an image, the Prime dumps to such a low resolution while recording that it may as well be using a webcam from the '90s. Photography is otherwise decent with the 8MP camera, and video is fine, too — so it's sad to see such a feature being poorly implemented.
Just like the Transformer, Asus has brought a bevy of customisations to the Prime. Apart from some signature widgets, like mail, date, location and weather, you can also take screenshots using the recent-apps key in either JPEG or PNG formats, change performance modes and customise the touch pad.
Asus also includes a few applications, including SuperNote, a note taker in which you can record finger swipes, keyboard entries, photos, voice and more. Don't expect handwriting recognition, though; this is pure note taking only.
Also included is Amazon's Kindle app, App Backup and App Locker (the latter password-protecting apps to prevent running), a file manager, Layar, Movie Studio, Polaris Office and Asus' collection of cloud tools. Of note, Asus is now giving all new users a permanent 8GB of cloud storage to play with.
Sadly, even in its Ice Cream Sandwich incarnation, Android hasn't managed to bring in universal keyboard shortcuts. There's no delete key on the keyboard, and while most apps will obey the Shift + Backspace shortcut to enact it, not all do, including the bundled Polaris Office. This seems to be more the fault of rogue apps rather than Google's, but it's clear that some enforcement needs to be done here if Google wishes Android to continue to encroach on the PC space.
Asus Transformer Prime
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7
Apple iPad 2
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Subjectively, 3D performance ran without a hitch, although not everything is coded to take advantage of Tegra 3's quad-core architecture. It's impressive to see such frame rates and graphical detail on a portable device. During our tests, we also had no issue with Wi-Fi dropouts, with the supplied tablet performing well. If you have issues, we'd recommend returning your tablet to the store for a replacement.
Battery life, the most important thing, is actually in line with the original Transformer, once you turn on Asus' Super IPS+ mode, with the tablet lasting 4.5 hours playing back a 720p video, and the dock giving it another 3.5 hours to play with. No doubt with screen brightness turned down it would last much longer — this is a worst-case scenario.
Asus' Transformer Prime combined with Ice Cream Sandwich is an excellent tablet. For now, this is the one to get — at least until the TF700T comes down the line.