Asus Transformer Prime £499
17th Jul 2012 | 16:00
It may be getting on, but don't underestimate the Prime
The Asus Transformer Prime rocked up looking to build on the success of the original Eee Pad Transformer – offering up a tablet-come-netbook experience which created a whole new sector inside the tablet market.
Although it has now been superseded by the Transformer Pad 300 and Transformer Pad Infinity, the Prime is still a decent tablet and boasts an excellent array of specs along with the now updated Android 4.0 operating system.
Of course the big question is, can the Asus Tranformer Prime compete with Apple's killer slates, and to a lesser extent, Samsung's Android offerings?
We'll explore both questions in depth, but for those whole don't like to wait around for the punch line, we'll say that the super-thin and light Transformer Prime is still one of the best tablets out there.
Now the new iPad is with us, can the Transformer Prime still cut it against its Cupertino-based rival? We compare the two tablets in a first impressions video:
Available in both 16GB and 32GB flavours, the smaller capacity Prime will set you back around £350 (including keyboard dock), while the 32GB tab with dock is priced at £499 – so not particularly cheap, especially for a product which has now been usurped by newer models .
The most important spec on the Transformer Prime is the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor. Everything amazing about the tablet rests on this quad-core, 1.3GHz chip.
HD videos play smoother (and longer, with up to 12 hours of battery use for video) while games suddenly look fluid and dynamic, with water ripple effects, smoke, fog and explosions that mimic what you'd normally find in a PC game.
The super-crisp IPS display, which is similar to the one used on the iPad 2, is refreshingly easy on the eyes even in outdoor locations or with incandescent bulbs blazing around you.
The rear 8MP camera is a wonder of engineering. In several tests, HD videos recorded at 1080p looked smooth and clear, unlike the grainier results from the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Even the 1.2MP front-facing camera worked well for video chats, without the typical fuzziness of other tablets.
The Asus Transformer Prime also includes a free intuitive Asus webstorage app for offloading your files, and you can pop in a microSD card in a left-side slot up to 32GB each.
All of the typical connection options are here: Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1, a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right and a micro HDMI port (also on the left) for connecting to an HD TV.
The 263 x 180.8 x 8.3mm tablet is wider than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, although the screen, at 1280 x 800p resolution and 10.1 inches, is the same size.
At 586g, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is lighter than the iPad 2 but a touch heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, although nobody will notice a few grams.
The Prime was once the thinnest tablet on the market, but the Toshiba AT200 has now taken that accolade, although at 8.3mm, it's still mighty slender.
The 25Wh lithium-polymer battery lasts for about nine hours on a charge for normal use. Asus claims a battery life of 12 hours if you watch mostly videos, because of the way the Tegra 3 manages power.
The Transformer Prime has recently received an upgrade to Android 4.0.3, Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a marked improvement on the Honeycomb system it originally shipped with.
We said up front that we will answer questions about whether the Asus Transformer Prime beats the Apple iPad 2, or manages to compete with the new iPad, as well see how it shapes up against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Truth be told, some of the factors that will help you decide between the three similar tablets are subtle, yet important.
Let's start with the hardware design. All three tablets look remarkably similar. An untrained eye wouldn't know the difference between them.
Turn the Asus Transformer Prime over on its back, and there's a silver back cover that looks much more durable than the white plastic back of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and grey back of the iPads. The front IPS screen, made with Gorilla Glass, is also durable and sharp.
The concentric rings which provide a pattern on the rear of the Prime is part of Asus' new design ethos, and can be found on its range of ultrabooks, the upcoming Asus Padfone and other Transformer series tablets - while the back is metallic and durable, it's worth noting that it's not exactly scratch or smudge-resistant.
There's a proprietary charge port below the main horizontal screen on the Asus Transformer Prime, which doubles as the digital connection between tablet and keyboard dock.
There are two extra ports that secure the tablet to the dock, and when housed that way, the Transformer Prime works reliably as a touchscreen laptop.
The keyboard dock is helpful for a number of reasons. For one, it adds another 8 hours to the total battery life (the dock itself can take a charge, and then charge the tablet), plus it also sports USB and SD card ports.
Then there is the keyboard itself, and if you've used a netbook before, you'll know what this dock is like – typing speed suffers from the slightly cramped confines of the lapdock - but you get used to it after a while and it's still easier than typing on the screen.
Measuring 263 x 180.8 x 8 to 10.4mm, and weighing 537 grams, the dock is small enough to fit into a laptop bag, but it is like carrying another tablet around all day.
There are dedicated keys for changing brightness level, volume, and wireless, which makes it easier to control the tablet. When docked, you can use the mousepad or finger input on the tab.
One helpful software change would have been to disable the mousepad when you type because the small size of the keyboard makes it easy to inadvertently brush the mousepad. In a pinch, the keyboard helps you type up longer docs but it in no way competes with a full notebook keyboard.
Some of the port covers on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime's dock are a bit hard to remove. For example, the one that covers the USB port might require some prying loose with a knife.
Overall, the Asus Transformer Prime is easy to handle. It's wider than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, so is easier to grip, with a slightly wider bezel. But it seems a bit less portable for that reason as well.
Asus packed some choice extras onto the Transformer Prime, and has now got around to upgrading from the basic Android 3.2 Honeycomb user interface to the slicker Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich system, and the firm has confirmed it will be bringing Jelly Bean to the Prime in the near future.
Asus has stayed pretty true to the pure Ice Cream Sandwich system on the Transformer Prime, in fact there are just a few extra widgets for quickly reading your emails, seeing the weather forecast and controlling music tracks, plus a couple of design tweaks to note.
There are no extra app widgets like there are on the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet for adding favourites to an app wheel or an app launcher.
Frankly, these additions offer a nebulous value beyond the stock operating system, and the intuitive Android interface allows you to easily navigate to the apps you want.
Down in the tool bar at the bottom of the screen you'll find back, home and multitasking buttons – the latter of which opens up the Ice Cream Sandwich multi-tasking menu, allowing you to view all open apps and close the ones you don't want any more by sweeping left or right over the thumbnail.
If you like taking screenshots of your tablet's display, then as well as holding down the power/lock and volume down keys, in the settings menu you can also set the multi-tasking button to take a shot when held down.
In the right corner of the tool bar you'll find the clock, battery and notifications bar – tap on this and it'll open up the notification area, allowing you to get a quick overview of your latest emails and social network updates, as well as toggle settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on and off.
There are three additional icons you can use here to set the power level on the Prime - eco mode, balanced and performance, depending on the tasks you're performing and the amount of battery you wish to conserve.
Thanks to that beefy quad-core processor, the Transformer Prime has no trouble running Ice Cream Sandwich, allowing you to glide through the five homescreens and your lists of apps and widgets without any hint of slowdown or lag.
The Asus Transformer Prime can happily run a multitude of applications at the same time without issue, and we didn't experience any slow down even when performing demanding tasks.
There's not too much more to say about the Transformer Prime's interface, because Asus have kept things simple, and more importantly easy to use.
The 1280 x 800 resolution, 10.1-inch screen on the Asus Transformer Prime is sharp and easy to read.
We had no complaints reading an entire ebook on the Prime and browsing dozens of websites. Finger swipes and presses registered accurately, and typing was fast and responsive.
Asus chose to use a Super IPS display for the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, and there are pros and cons with this.
The Transformer Prime is not as bright, colourful, or crisp as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, so if you plan to watch movies and view photos routinely, the Samsung is the better tablet, and of course both pale into insignificance when put up against the Retina display on the new iPad.
In comparing the exact same videos and photos on both devices, the Asus Transformer Prime has a slightly dull and washed out look.
The Apple iPad 2, which also uses an IPS display, looks marginally better than the Prime but still not as vivid as the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Clearly, Asus decided to make functionality a higher priority than superior colour reproduction.
The Asus Transformer Prime works better than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in a variety of lighting conditions. There's even a super-bright outdoor mode that makes the display easier to read.
There is much less glare on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which means the screen works better, for reading emails and books and for browsing the web.
Unlike some recent tablets, the Transformer Prime doesn't use haptic feedback for the keyboard or for any parts of the touchscreen. Presumably this is a trade-off with the IPS screen tech that makes it easier to view the tablet from an angle or to view the screen in bright sunlight or by a lamp.
It didn't hamper the experience of using the tablet, though some users might find that haptic feedback on other tablets gives you a tactile sense that the tablet has registered your finger press.
One surprise is that the screen uses an oleophobic fingerprint-resistant coating. Even more surprising is that it actually works. The chemical agent reduced grime and finger print build-up. We found that movie-watching was more enjoyable when there wasn't a thin residue coating parts of the screen.
Internet, battery life and connectivity
The Asus Transformer Prime comes loaded with the stock Android browser for tablets, offering up tabbed browsing and a slick, intuitive interface which makes web surfing easy as pie.
With Wi-Fi b/g/n on board you'll be able to have a decent browsing experience, as long as you're network connection is strong, however web on the go is out of the question, as the Prime doesn't come 3G enabled – something the iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1 have over Asus' offering.
The Prime isn't as quick as the iPad 2 when it comes to loading web pages, with content heavy sites like TechRadar taking around 10 seconds to fully load, which is a little disappointing when you consider the quad-core processor which sits inside.
Thumbnailed bookmarks are present, and the browser will sync with your Google account and display any saved bookmarks you may have on it, which is handy.
You can also save web pages for offline reading, allowing you to digest content while out of Wi-Fi hotspots.
For battery life, the Asus Transformer Prime lasted about nine hours on a charge but of course with the extra 8 hours provided by the keyboard dock, that's a battery span of 17 hours which is phenomenal.
This puts the Prime (and other Transformer tablets) in a league of its own when compared to the competition, which all have to make do with their inbuilt battery pack, with no additional dock option to come to the rescue.
Thanks to the extended life the Transformer Prime becomes a more attractive proposition, easily lasting several days making it an ideal choice for the media hungry and business travellers.
As we've already mentioned, the Asus Transformer Prime packs Wi-Fi and GPS into is 8.6mm body, although there's no space for 3G.
You can also use the Transformer Prime as a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing you to share the tablet's internet connection with other devices, although we fail to see why you'd do this, as if the Prime has a web connection it must mean there's a Wi-Fi network in range.
On the tablet you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, microHDMI port, microSD slot and a 30-pin connector port, which is used to connect the tablet to the keyboard dock, as well as the charger and computer USB lead to.
The keyboard dock as the added benefit of offering extra connections, with a USB port, full sized SD card slot and the same 30-pin dock as on the tablet – for connecting the charger/USB cable to.
All of our media tests were blazingly fast, smooth and played without any problems thanks to the powerful quad-core processor housed inside the Asus Transformer Prime.
One of the most impressive video tests was for the Battleship trailer, which used a high frame rate and managed to looked colourful and clear, and played in full 1080p resolution. Every video we tested played smooth and fast.
The Transformer Prime may be a little wider and longer than its Apple and Samsung rivals, even though the screens are pretty much the same size, although that's not a negative pronouncement, and in fact means the Prime is a bit easier to grasp for long movie watching sessions.
For those of you who like loading up your devices with digital media you'll be pleased to learn that the Transformer Prime will happily play a wide range of video formats including; MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, DivX and XviD, although it's worth noting there's no support for Quicktime.
The default video player is very basic in nature and available via the Gallery application – where all your video files will be stored – offering up the standard play/pause controls and a scrubbing option.
You can always pop over to Google Play and download a third-party player which will offer you a more fulfilling experience, but the pre-loaded option will be perfectible servable for most.
The well-known YouTube app also makes an appearance on the Transformer Prime, as it does on most Android devices, offering up an excellent user interface allowing you to easily navigate the video sharing site.
Music playback on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime also worked reliably and sound quality was excellent.
Like most tablets, the speaker on the Prime isn't exactly state-of-the-art quality, and is only serviceable in a pinch when you absolutely can't use headphones.
Yes that is just the one speaker, instead of the two speakers we saw on the side of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, so there's not the same stero sound effect here.
That said, the Transformer Prime is just a bit louder than both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2 when we cranked up the volume, even if the sound quality wasn't that great and sounded a bit distorted at times.
No tablet on the market has really exceptional sound, though, and the Asus Transformer Prime is in the same league.
Like with video, the Prime offers support for a large array of audio files including; MP3, AAC+, eAAC, WAV and WMA.
The stock Android photo gallery is present on the Asus Transformer Prime, providing you with a one-stop-shop for all your photographic storage – although video shot via the tablet's cameras will be chucked in with the images you've snapped, which can be a little annoying to sift through.
The gallery can also pull through photos from some of your social networks including Google+ and Picasa - although there's no Facebook integration here.
There's nothing really in the way of editing options, with the gallery only offering you crop and rotate tools, so if you fancy get fancy with your photos then you'll need to dig out a relevant app from Google Play.
The Prime does offer you some sharing options, allowing you to broadcast your pics via Bluetooth or email, as well as posting them to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Maps, apps and games
The Asus Transformer Prime comes equipped with the excellent Google Maps, allowing you to explore the world from the comfort of your own home, plan routes, check traffic and even get turn-by-turn navigation instructions.
The Transformer Prime comes with GPS and Wi-Fi, however there's no mobile network compatibility present, so you won't be able to take the Prime on the road with you as a sat-nav.
We were able to pin-point our location on the map within a couple of seconds, and the large, bright 10.1-inch display on the Transformer Prime makes viewing maps a pleasure, and the quad-core processor means the tablet is able to keep up with speedy panning and zooming actions.
As the Asus Transformer Prime runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, you've got access to hundreds and thousands of applications via the simple to use Google Play store.
There's a wide range of free and paid-for apps available in Google Play, with quite a few offering free "lite" versions to give you a taste of what the full, paid version may be like.
And it's not just apps which Google Play deals in; you can also download games and books, as well as rent movies and TV shows from the store.
First, there's a MyLibrary app for ebooks, magazines and newspapers. Then not quite as extensive as the Amazon Kindle Store (OK, far less extensive), the Asus @Vibe store, which is really just a portal to Versent Books, lets you buy major bestsellers such as John Grisham's The Litigators.
Pricing is suspiciously the same as most Amazon Kindle store bestsellers. Some books were noticeably missing, including the latest Michael Lewis book called Boomerang, which is featured prominently in the Kindle store.
Asus @Vibe Music is a welcome addition. With functionally similar to the Google Music app, this music app works like Last.fm in that you can search for an artist and play their songs.
Each "station" lets you play random songs by that artist. The @Vibe store also lets you play songs you have purchased from the Asusvibe.com store, as long as you have used a supported Asus laptop or netbook.
Asus MyCloud is a handy cloud storage portal similar to Dropbox. You get a decent 8GB of storage for free, but keep in mind that the service limits file size to 500MB per file for the free account.
Also, while the app lets you offload files to the cloud, you can also access files on one computer that is sharing files through the service.
The Asus MyNet app works exactly like the Samsung Allshare service, in that you can set up a connection to and from another computer on the same router network to share music, photos and videos. We tested the app with a Sony all-in-one desktop PC and could easily share files between the tablet and the desktop computer.
The Transformer Prime also includes the Polaris Office app for opening and editing word processing and spreadsheet documents. It's completely compatible with Microsoft Office.
The app does add value, especially since competing office apps like Openoffice cost £9.99 or more.
If you fancy pushing the Transformer Prime to the max in terms of speed and graphical power, head to the Nvidia's Tegra Zone store, pre-installed on the tablet, where you can download games specifically developed for the quad-core processor which sits inside the Prime.
While games found in the Tegra Zone are generally of a better quality than the simpler time-wasters found in Google Play, it good to see that the prices stick pretty closely to those in the standard Android store.
One important point to make about gaming on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is that the games look astounding - the best we have seen on any tablet. ShadowGun in particular uses water effects that look ultra-realistic for a portable device (although nothing like, say, Battlefield 3 on a console).
The most interesting comparison we discovered was between the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus Transformer Prime playing the same game, Riptide.
On the Prime, the water effects were much more convincing, with waves flowing back and forth and whitecaps that change as you drive your jet ski.
At the same time, the Apple iPad 2 may not play games as smoothly, but there is a much wider selection of games, and many are arguably more in-depth. For example, the gameplay for Infinity Blade II on the iPad 2 is far more advanced, with magic ring power-ups, duel-wielding options and collectible gems.
Many of the games on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime are more like visual effects demos, with limited gameplay value.
Camera and video
The Asus Transformer Prime offers up two camera options, a rear facing 8MP snapper and a front facing 1.2MP camera.
The camera app can be accessed straight from the lockscreen if you wish to take a quick snap, or via the traditional camera app icon on the homescreen or in the app list.
Photos we took with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime looked clear and colourful.
In a few cases, the colours weren't as vivid as those taken with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but they were always sharper than the somewhat blurry images we took with the Apple iPad 2 with its lack-lustre 0.7MP camera.
Asus doesn't offer any extended features for taking photos on the Transformer Prime, but you can change basic settings such as white balance and exposure as well as choose from eight scene modes including indoors, portrait, sunset and night.
There's also a single-LED flash next to the camera on the back of the Prime, which is useful when shooting in low light or complete darkness – although your subject can't be too far away from you if you want it to show up in the picture.
There's a digital zoom available, although picture quality becomes dramatically reduced when used, and since Ice Cream Sandwich has been added to the Prime, you also get a panorama mode to play around with.
None of the settings really add to the value of the camera or compete with a more powerful smartphone or digital camera. Photos, like the Eee Pad Transformer Prime's screen, tended to look a bit washed out but still useable.
The Transformer Prime has a much faster shutter release than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, however the auto-focus wasn't always as reliable.
One initial complaint when shooting video with the Asus Transformer Prime was that, when we recorded a 1080p video with the tablet, we noticed a few stuttering problems during recording. But playback of this file was smooth and didn't have any stuttering.
Asus recommended we try again without any apps running in the background, and the test recording didn't stutter at all when doing this, with smooth-as-butter playback.
Recorded videos also looked super-crisp, which is an important finding compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which tends to film grainy and almost unusable videos.
As it stands, no tablet is ideal for shooting photos or recording video, because you can't hold the device in a way that makes it easy to capture stills or video - there is often a shaky-cam look no matter how you hold them.
The Transformer Prime is no different, although the somewhat more rigid design and wider bezel makes it a hair easier to grip.
Although the Prime may well not be the latest tablet from Asus anymore, that doesn't mean it's past its best.
In fact it's still an excellent tablet and as it's now nearly 9 months old, you may be able to pick it up for a bit of a steal if you're happy to shop around a bit.
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We liked the Tegra 3 processor on this tablet - it's fast and nimble, speeding up the whole operating system. HD movies played smooth and fast, without the typical stuttering (for the most part) of other tablets.
The Transformer Prime is a thin and light tablet, offering decent portability, although when coupled with the keyboard dock it can be a bit on weight side, however there's the added benefit of the additional 8 hours of battery life from the dock.
Games were visually superior to every other tablet. Smoke and water effects looked convincing, and frame rates were exceptionally high. Most apps ran faster than we've seen on any other Android tablet, without any stuttering, memory pauses, or crashes of any kind.
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We're fans of the IPS display tech, because it means getting more use out of tablets in a variety of lighting conditions and at a side viewing angle, but it means the Prime's screen is slightly less colourful than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Internet speed was a little disppointing, as we were expecting a lightening fast browsing experience thanks to the quad-core processor, however it failed to truely knock our socks off.
In terms of apps wars, Google Play still hasn't quite caught up with the offering on Apple's App Store, and although the gap is narrowing all the time, you can't help but feel a little deflated when even Facebook haven't bothered with an Android tablet version of its app yet - although we can't really hold this against Asus or the Transformer Prime.
If you're looking for a full-blown Android tablet experience, with the added functionality and usability of a netbook-sized QWERTY keyboard then you can't go far wrong with the Asus Transformer Prime.
Sure the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity has got an improved screen, but that's about it and we're not sure it's worth the extract money.
The Prime was once the king of the Android tablets, and although this is no longer the case it's still a strong contender and does Google's Ice Cream Sandwich platform proud.