• Full Review
  • Specifications

Full Review

Bringing a new tablet onto the market is not easy. Manufacturers are up against the mighty iPad – and even giants such as Samsung and HTC have found it hard to compete against Apple’s flagship device.

Asus has been trying a different tack – now, you might know the Taiwanese company as the maker of budget netbooks, and expect that any tablet it produces will be a similar low-cost production. But in the case of the Transformer Prime, Asus has actually come up with the very first quad-core tablet in the world – plus it’s the first to run on the latest Android OS for tablets – Ice Cream Sandwich.

Build quality

At first glance, the Asus EEE Pad Transformer Prime is very like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Turn it over and you’ll see how well made it really is.

The device connects to its own keyboard via its USB and HDMI ports. The Galaxy Tab is able to link to any Bluetooth keyboard, while Asus has seen fit to bundle the keyboard dock – bringing the price to £499 – not exactly cheap but highly desirable. Especially as tablets start to take over from PCs.

It is also highly customisable and has an incredibly powerful chip, which can handle far more in the way of software than is currently available. So could it finally be the tablet to rival the iPad?

The Prime differs from the Galaxy Tab when it comes to build quality. You may remember the Tab is pretty plastic, while the Prime has a futuristic look about it, with a sleek patterned aluminium chassis and vast expanse of touchscreen on the front. It is surrounded by a 2cm bezel. There are two colourways - Amethyst Grey and Champagne Gold. It measures its 263x180.8x8.3mm and feels great to hold in landscape mode, although it’s not so hand-friendly in portrait mode.

Without the keyboard, the Prime is quite light – weighing 586g. It is still heavier than the Galaxy and the iPad 2, though, and once you attach the keyboard it tops it up to 1.1k - more than a MacBook Air. However, consider how many devices the Transformer Prime could replace – laptop, console and so on – and it’s not so bad.

You’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack on the right side of the device, and a miniHDMI on the left. On the base sits the charging port, which lets you connect the device to a monitor or HDTV, slot the Prime into the keyboard and plug in speakers. The keyboard performs as a docking station and can also be charged up separately.

The keyboard itself has the usual five rows, as well as a top row for functions such as changing brightness, media player control, taking screen shots and going straight to the browser. It is made from metal and features a stylish brushed metal finish, as well as chiclet keys.

 

We got the power

 

While this is all very nice, what we really want to tell you about is the serious amount of power lurking under the hood. Anyone who likes checking out spec lists will get a very pleasant surprise when they take a peek at the Transformer Prime’s list of goodies.

Top of the list is Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 1.3GHz processor. This ensures the device runs at an impressively speedy rate. You’ll experience no lag when switching between programs – the multitasking tab at the bottom of the screen makes this task even easier.

The Transformer Prime is just made for all your media needs – you can surf the net, play music, keep a film on pause and be downloading something all at the same time.

When it comes to pictures you’re well covered. The rear snapper is an eight-megapixel model complete with 1080p HD video capabilities and LED flash. There’s geo-tagging too, for keen snappers. There is also a front-facing, two-megapixel snapper for making Skype calls. And while a 10in device is not necessarily going to be your first choice for a photography session, the cameras’ results are surprisingly good.

We have seen better pictures from cameras on smartphones such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and the Nokia N8, but nevertheless our images proved clear when viewed on the Prime’s display. There was quite a lot of noise evident when we zoomed in, though. Low-light images weren’t quite so impressive – mind you it’s hard to hold the tablet still when taking a snap.

The screen itself is of the Super IPS+ type – it’s bright and easy to see in direct sunlight. It is a true widescreen display at 1920x1200 resolution and offers wonderful clarity. With a covering of Corning Gorilla Glass, it is built to fight off scratches. Our review model fell off a shelf, and was carted about in a crammed handbag, and it survived scratch-free.

Asus improve the resolution on its original Prime after it had gone on the market – it’s nice to have but if you compare them side by side you won’t really notice much difference.

Get connected

We were surprised that Asus has seen fit to leave off 3G – you only get Wi-Fi in models that have 32GB or 64Gb of storage. It is possible to expand this up to 96GB via a microSD slot. Then of course you can use the MyCloud service from Asus, which gives you free storage online. You can transfer media files and documents from other devices (including your desktop PC) onto MyCloud.

Ice Cream Sandwich

The first time we saw the Ice Cream Sandwich OS was on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus - and it impressed us then. It offers a minimalist design and has clean edges that make navigation really streamlined and is very apparent on the tablet’s larger display.

Along the bottom of the screen sits a static toolbar that features a trio of buttons for Home, Go back and the Multitasking carousel. It is possible to run 16 programs at the same time and then switch between them by using this key. An All-Programs tab sits in the top-right corner of the homescreens – this lets you see your widgets and apps. Hold one down and you’ll be able to pop it onto any one of your five home screens. It allows you to customise your device so that you can navigate through it incredibly speedily – far quicker than the regimented iPad.

On the top left of the display you’ll see Google voice and search actions. This should allow the device to turn your voice commands into actions. It’s not as clever as Apple’s Siri personal assistant, but it’s very good for navigation, as Google has included an excellent set of place names. It’s a tad large to stick on a dashboard, but if you can find somewhere to put it, it makes a great sat nav device.

The device’s vital stats can be seen on the bottom right of the display, so that’s battery status, time, net connection and updates. Tap on this and you’ll see an expanded view – just tap on your chosen update and it will take you straight to the relevant app.

The browsing experience is top-notch – it offers Flash support, full HTML support, tabbed browsing and the option for history deletion and private browsing. The whole experience is smooth thanks to that quad-core processor and the 1GB of RAM under the bonnet.

Touch and type

The Transformer Prime has a top virtual keyboard, offering five full rows, and it is really sensitive – although nothing really beats the tactile experience of a hard keyboard. And while the Prime’s real keyboard is quite neat in size, Asus has managed to make it feel spacious – it’s a trick that Apple has managed with the MacBook Air. However, the Prime’s trackpad proves over-sensitive in use and we often saw our cursor speed off where we didn’t want it, or found ourselves clicking windows we didn’t intend to open.

Despite this, we found the hard keyboard was our tool of choice for writing emails or any lengthy communication. And when watching a film, the keyboard’s built-in control keys are really handy.

Play the game

Game players are also treated by Asus to a few preloaded games that would be pretty costly if you had to download them from Android Market. Riptide GT really shows off the Prime’s capabilities – this is a jetski racing game that uses the accelerometers of the device to race around hairpin bends. There are other games such as DaVinci QHD and Bladeslinger, which require the player to tap at virtual controls or tap the screen, but it’s on the accelerometer games that the device really comes into its own.

Graphics are all-important in games – but there are none available yet that take full advantage of the quad-core onboard the Transformer Prime, but that will come in time.

For movie buffs

The Transformer Prime only supports a few file formats for movie watching – such as MP4 and H.264/H.263. This means your AVI, MKV and DivX movies can’t be watched unless you download an all-formats player from Android Market. Even so, we found that players such as RockPlayer and Mobo didn’t work perfectly – some films appeared in half-size windows when we tried them out.

Video does playback smoothly, and the tablet offers decent viewing angles – up to three people should be able to watch at once – watch out for light sources, though, as the display can be rather reflective.

Our conclusion

When you first see the Transformer Prime, it would be easy to think that it is just like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 – it looks similar, has the same OS and access to similar apps. But it’s what lies under the hood that makes all the difference. This is an amazing tablet with some top specs – quad-core processor for gaming and multimedia, up to 100Gb of storage, two-megapixel and eight megapixel snappers and Android Ice Cream sandwich. It’s incredibly speedy, ready to tackle forthcoming powerful software and the bundled keyboard brings it into the realms of the laptop. As we said at the beginning, it isn’t an iPad or Galaxy Tab – and that’s exactly why everyone will want one.

Specifications

Specifications

Type of phone:

N/A

Style:

N/A

Size:

263x180.8x8.3mm

Weight:

586g

Display:

16 million colours

Resolution:

N/A

Camera:

8 megapixels

Special Camera features:

auto focus, LED flash

Video recording:

Yes

Video playback:

Yes

Video calling:

Yes

Video streaming:

Yes

Music formats played:

WAV, WMA, AAC, MP3

3.5mm jack port:

Yes

Handsfree speakerphone:

N/A

Voice Control:

Yes

Voice Dialling:

N/A

Call records:

N/A

Phonebook:

N/A

Ringtones customization:

N/A

Display description:

Super IPS+ LCD, capacitive touchs-creen

Website:

www.asus.com

SAR:

N/A

Portfolio:

Amethyst Grey, Champagne Gold

Standard color:

N/A

Launch Status:

Available

Radio:

No

Operating system:

Android

Connectivity:

A2DP, Bluetooth, MicroUSB, Wi-Fi

Announced date:

October 2011

What's in the Box:

tablet, keyboard, charger head, USB cable, screen cloth

RAM:

1GB

International launch date:

January 2011

Battery life when playing multimedia:

N/A

CPU:

Quad-core 1.3GHz processor

FM Radio Description:

N/A

Internal memory:

32/64GB

Memory Card Slot:

microSD

Messaging:

Email, IM

Internet Browser:

HTML

E-mail client:

POP3, SMTP, Attachments, Push email, IMAP4

GPS:

A-GPS

Java:

N/A

Games:

Yes

Data speed:

N/A

Frequency:

N/A

Talktime:

720 minutes

Standby:

300 hours

Display size:

10.1 inches

Keypad:

N/A

Audio recording:

N/A

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