This is by far the best Android tablet money can buy. It has almost everything going for it - excellent performance, premium finish, brilliant display, excellent battery life and a full fledged keyboard that converts this into a netbook (ummm, actually it's faster than a netbook!) in a jiffy. The only complaint - it has a ridiculous price tag.
Are we being revisited by the netbooks? Is this a smaller ultrabook? Is this the future of the laptop? Well, actually, it is neither of those things! This is a tablet, in the most conventional form factor, with the additional full-fledged keyboard dock. Hooked up together, it does look very much like a netbook if you aren’t looking closely at the details.
Build & Design
To say that the Transformer Prime evolved from the original Transformer would not be factually correct. At least when it comes to the design bit. The chocolate brown plastic finish, with an imprint, has been replaced by the amethyst grey aluminum. Also available is the champagne gold option, in case you like that one better. Quite similar to what the lid on the Asus Zenbook ultrabook looked like, this one also has a circular pattern, what Asus call the metallic spun design.
This is a tablet that is littered with ports and connectivity options on all sides. Holding it in landscape mode with the Asus logo the correct side up, you will have the power key on the left edge of the top spine. The right spine has the 3.5mm headphone jack. The left spine is probably the business side – volume rocker, mini-HDMI out and a microSD slot. The bottom spine has the connector that can be used to plug in the charger, or to dock it with the keyboard.
There are no hardware or touch sensitive keys around the display, leaving you to clean up the glossy black quite regularly. Speaking of which, we think this bezel is a tad too thick, and a thinner one would have made this 10.1-inch tablet a bit more comfortable to hold. Nevertheless, at just 8.3mm thickness, it is 1.1mm thinner than the new iPad and 0.5mm thinner than the iPad 2.
Add the keyboard dock into the mix, and things become rather interesting. To place the Transformer Prime on the dock, you have to match the tiny arrow on the tablet bezel with the arrow on the dock. Hear the click and that is when you can be sure this thing is securely docked. The dock cradle is of a slightly different colour than the rest of the package – the keyboard also has the same grey finish as the tablet, albeit without the circular pattern.
On the right spine of the Asus Transformer Prime keyboard are the SD card slot and a full-fledged USB port for hooking up accessories like an external mouse, for example. On the left side is the charging port, which will charge the battery on the dock as well as the tablet. The dock cradle has a circular design, and when you push the display back, the keyboard does lift up from the back. The only drawback of this design is that the entire combo isn’t very stable, and is rather top heavy, with a huge risk of this falling backwards from your lap, or behind the desk, if you aren’t careful.
Features & Specifications
This is the first Android tablet powered by a quad-core processor, specifically the Nvidia Tegra 3. While this has 4 cores, there is a 5th core that is lovingly called “phantom core”. The idea is to divide the intensive tasks across the four cores, while less resource hungry tasks like web browsing or reading an ebook are assigned to the fifth core to handle on its own. This is done so as to not provide what will essentially be an overkill of power, to apps and tasks that don’t need it. In turn, the battery life gets a huge boost. The 12-core GeForce GPU handles graphics. The benchmark tests put this in a special league, as far as Android tablets of the previous generation were concerned.
To manage the power even further, Asus has shipped the power modes seen in Windows notebooks on to the tablet. The Performance mode unleashes the full processing power from the quad-core processor, while the Balanced and Power Saver modes cap the power accordingly. There is a visible difference in the performance, and running the benchmarks in all modes gave a vastly different final score.
Surely the goodness doesn’t end with just the processing power. The 10.1-inch Super IPS display is possibly the best we have seen on an Android tablet so far. The resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels is more than adequate, but what really gives it a boost is the Super IPS mode that bumps up the backlight for outdoor usage.
The reflective nature of the display still does make it difficult to read text while standing in sunlight, but icons and the keyboard are easier to make out, for example. We really like the crisp nature of the display, which is very helpful when you are reading text on a web page or a PDF garbed as an Ebook. Excellent colour reproduction as well, with adequately dark black levels to make watching videos a lot of fun. What does not work is the hydro-oleophobic coating that is supposed to keep the display free from fingerprints. Twenty minutes of usage out of the box, and the shiny new tablet was sitting there with a sense of sheepishness at the sheer number of visible fingerprints on the display!
Despite its negatives, this is possibly the best display this side of an Apple iPad, for almost all tasks possible – videos, text reading, web browsing and for flipping through your photo albums! However, the single speaker with the grille drilled into the aluminum does hide away quite well and does okay with the clarity aspect, but doesn’t have the expected volume punch.
With the keyboard as a part of the package, the Transformer Prime’s usability improves leaps and bounds over the rivals. The keyboard is very similar to the ones we saw on netbooks when they were going strong, and that makes this tablet a bit of an all-rounder. Place the Prime on to the dock, and you can type out mails, documents and use it like a laptop, albeit with a slightly different OS! Sufficiently modified keys, with dedicated keys for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, camera access, media playback, settings, exit and volume. The alphabet and directional keys are just like on a traditional keyboard.
The Transformer Prime’s keyboard is extremely well laid out, and will be conducive to those splash and dash type of writing sessions we all face due to any work submission deadlines! But only once you get used to it, because shifting from a conventional laptop keyboard, the significantly less travel offered by this one will take some getting used to. Due to space limitations, the touchpad isn’t as comfortable as a traditional laptop, but more than does the job in this case. I personally did not like the palmrest, because most of the time, the palm was actually touching the table surface! Everything said and done, this dock is unmatched for the functionality it offers – it also features a battery that can power the tablet for a good 6 hours extra.
The review unit that was sent to us came with Android 4.0.3 preloaded, with a lot of preloaded Asus utilities. Yes, you get stuff like Face Unlock, a visual task manager and of course better handling of the battery consumption. Not that we don’t mind getting paid apps for free, but preloading and in this case coding the apps into the ROM does hurt the performance.
Absolutely no shortage of space here! There is 64GB memory on board, with a microSD slot on the tablet itself. Dock it to the keyboard, and you get an SD slot and a USB port as well.
Before we get to the good bits, let us talk about something that sort of surprised us with the Transformer Prime. With a very powerful processor pushing it, we had expected the tablet’s startup time to be quite quick. However, this one clocked at 34.1 seconds, while its predecessor, the Transformer actually was ready for action in 21 seconds! The likes of the iPad 2, the Galaxy Tab 750, the Sony Tablet S and even the Acer Iconia Tab A501 are quicker to boot up. This neatly takes us back to our previous point of the tablet coming with apps and software burnt into the Android ROM – they cannot be disabled or uninstalled either. Our new laptops have been messed up enough. Please leave the tablets alone!
Once you get down to the benchmark tests, the Transformer Prime blitzes the competition. No surprise there, considering this is the latest Tegra 3 platform. The Quadrant score of 4096 is more than double of the score we got from the Samsung Galaxy Tab 750. Similarly, across all benchmarks, we have the Prime well ahead of the best of the previous generation tablets. Critically, in the gaming bit, only the Apple iPad 2 has better graphics scores. In real life usage as well, the power on offer is clearly visible. Apps open a lot quicker and the entire UI is much slicker even with multiple applications simultaneously. Partly thanks to the smoother UI experience offered by Ice Cream Sandwich over the predecessor, but even in the heavily clocked down battery saver mode, we did not see any slowdown akin to most previous gen tablets when under load. Games run smoother when compared directly to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 750. Load times for games isn’t lesser on the Transformer Prime, but that isn’t much of a surprise considering only very few apps can actually utilize the four cores available. The Prime has been around for a while now, but even till date, most games and apps have not been optimized for a quad core processor!
Don’t think you will be using the camera of the tablet too much, but the Prime does do very well when you need it to. Some tablets miss out on it, but the LED flash ensures that the Prime has a wider operating window. Will do quite well for photos and videos in good lighting conditions, but the low light shots will inevitably get a lot of noise.
The real cherry on the cake of brilliance is the battery life. The tablet itself offers about 7 hours on its own battery, and if you hook it up to the dock, then another 6 hours of battery power will be available. For charging, you can plug in the charger into the dock, and it’ll simultaneously charge the tablet and the dock’s battery.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Transformer Prime is possibly the best Android tablet you can buy at the moment. It has the functionality, the blazing performance, an excellent overall package and to top it off, a brilliant battery life. We will only be nitpicking if we find anything to criticize about the tablet. Except the price, that is quite ridiculous, we feel. At Rs 49999, this one is also by far the most expensive Android tablet. The performance and the overall package does justify all that to a certain extent, but the moment you come into this price territory, the consumer inevitably thinks – “why not pick up the iPad, and be done with it?”. An answer to that question is rather difficult to give, trust us.