Touchscreen tablets are all the rage now. In 2010 there was just Apple’s iPad which ran the same OS as the iPhone and ushered in a new generation of high-def, tablet optimised apps and games. This was followed by Samsung’s first Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch slate that ran on Android 2.2 Froyo before anyone had even heard about Honeycomb.

Now, tablets are everywhere. We’ve seen tablets priced into the hundreds of pounds coming with dizzying, high-end hardware and huge 10.1-inch screens rub shoulders with tiny 7-inch slates which go for around £20. We (literally) can’t move for tablets here at Recombu Towers; we’ve not long moved in to our swanky new digs and we can’t answer the door for shiny touchscreen slabs getting in the way. That being the case we’ve selected three of our current favourites and pitted them against one another. 

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 are all great tablets, all with different strengths. But which is the best for working? Playing media and games? General web surfing? And which is the overall best? Read on to find out...

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Design and build

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Dimensions: 263 × 180.8 × 8.3mm / 263 × 180.8 × 8~10.4mm

Weight: 586g (tablet section), 537g (keyboard dock), 1.123kg (total)

Screen Size: 10.1-inches


Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition

Dimensions: 216 x 139 x 8.9mm

Weight: 386g

Screen Size: 8.2-inches

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Dimensions: 256.7 x 175.3 x 8.6mm

Weight: 386g

Screen Size: 8.2-inches


The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime you may already know by now, is the follow up tablet to the first Asus Eee Pad Transformer from last year. The Transformer Prime (as it’ll be hereafter referred to) basically looks like a netbook.

It comes in two distinct portions, the tablet section and the keyboard dock. The 10.1-inch tablet section and the dock are detachable, meaning you’ve got the option of using the Transformer Prime as a tablet for gaming and entertainment or as a bona-fide replacement netbook for getting some work done on.

We’re not lying when we say its a replacement work laptop either - we’ve been able to get more than a few days worth of work out of the Transformer Prime. We’ll dwell in detail on its capabilities in the work section below however.

The Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is a much sprightlier, smaller thing than the Transformer Prime. The screen measures 8.2-inches across the diagonal, making it the smallest-screened tablet here.

The XOOM 2 ME is a thin, metal slate with a rubberised strip running around the edge. The corners of the XOOM 2 ME have been squared off, giving it the appearance of a stretched octagon. As well as being a departure from the normal look and shape of tablets, the shape of the XOOM 2 ME plus the rubber edge gives it a perfect degree of grip.

This is especially evident when you’re holding the tablet in portrait mode. Those corners rest so snugly into your palms, the XOOM 2 ME practically begs you to open up an eBook and start reading.

Motorola has managed to make the XOOM 2 Media Edition lightweight and portable while making it sturdy and durable. The 8.2-inch screen is impressively fingerprint-resistant thanks to the splashguard coating.

It’s not quite the tablet equivalent of the Motorola DEFY+ in the whole life-proof stakes but it certainly looks and feels hardier than your average Android tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 - as you’d guess from its name has a big old 10.1-inch screen. It’s a much lighter proposition than the Transformer Prime’s tablet section by some 20 grams and feels a lot lighter in the hand than the XOOM 2 ME, due no doubt to the weight being distributed over a larger area.

For its size, the Tab 10.1 feels easy to lug around. Though sold separately there’s a keyboard dock that you can buy for the Tab 10.1 as well, which makes it a good competitor for the Transformer Prime. We’ve already compared the typing pros and cons of both of these tablets with their respective keyboard docks, so we won’t repeat the argument here.

With a body made of gleaming reflective plastic instead of premium spun metal the Tab 10.1 feels less dense and weighty but no less powerful.

The overall ‘feel’ of a device is about as subjective as you can get really. Some folks like their gadgets to be dense, blocky and have a good bit of heft. Others like theirs lightweight and airy. Some couldn’t care less either way. We think that if you’re going to spend hundreds of pounds on something you should at least be able to get an idea of how the thing feels when you take it out of the box.

For what it’s worth, none of these tablets feel ‘cheap’, for lack of a better word. Despite having different design styles and shapes, each tablet feels premium in its own way. If you forced us to pick a favourite, we’d probably opt for the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition. There’s something about it’s compact, sturdy design with the squared-off ends that we just love.

The Transformer Prime comes in at a close second, with its posh spun metal outer casing but we also love the space-age weightlessness of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1. Now, let’s take a closer look at those screens.


Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Screens


Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Screen size: 10.1 inches

Screen resolution: 1280x800 (WXGA)

Screen technology/type: LCD, Super IPS+, Corning Gorilla Glass

Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition

Screen size: 8.2-inches

Screen resolution: 1280x800 (WXGA)

Screen technology/type: LCD, Corning Gorilla Glass

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Screen size: 10.1-inches

Screen resolution: 1280x800 (WXGA)

Screen technology/type: LCD, Corning Gorilla Glass


On paper its pretty evenly matched here. All of these screens have the same 1280x800 resolution and are protected by Corning’s super-tough Gorilla Glass. The Motorola XOOM 2 ME has an obvious pixel density advantage over the other two tablets here. With the same number of pixels crammed into a smaller space its no wonder that pictures, YouTube and Vimeo clips and websites look that much sharper and more detailed on the XOOM 2 ME’s screen.

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime’s screen features advanced IPS (in-plane switching) technology that Apple uses on the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. As we’ve seen in our screen tests, IPS tech makes for a real difference in terms of providing great viewing angles and direct sunlight legibility.

The Transformer Prime goes one better - it’s actually got Super IPS+ technology. In layman’s terms this means you get perfect viewing angles of 178 degrees. It literally doesn’t get any better than that - who looks at a flat screen at 180 degrees? This isn't a bold claim either, the viewing angles of the Transformer Prime's screen are superb.

The Transformer Prime’s screen also gives you a solid brightness of 600 nits. For more information on nits, again, please refer to our screen test from last September. The benefits of the LG Optimus Black’s screen (which had 700 nits of brightness) stood it in good stead. This ought to give you some idea of the Transformer Prime’s screen’s capabilities.

By contrast, the XOOM 2 Media Edition and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 don’t boast viewing angles that are quite as good.

The Tab 10.1 in particular seems to reflect more sunlight and overhead light than the screens of the other two. Colours also don’t perform that well at extreme angles either.


Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Storage and connections

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Storage: 32GB, 64GB edition coming soon

Connections: (tablet section) 40-pin connection for charging/data, micro HDMI, micro SD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack (keyboard dock) 40-pin connection for charging/data, USB 2.0 port, SD card slot.


Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition

Storage: 16GB

Connections: micro HDMI, micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack, IR port


Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB editions available

Connections: 30-pin connection, 3.5mm headphone jack

Connections-wise it’s easy to see that the Transformer Prime reigns supreme here. The wealth of connections that are available gives the Transformer Prime real clout as a serious work device.

You can plug in a USB stick or mouse if you’d prefer not to use the trackpad or you want to get some files moved across. The full-sized SD card slot means you can load pictures snapped on your SLR and play around with them in Photoshop Touch. The mini HDMI cable means you can play a high-end game on your HDTV and (again) using the USB connection(s), you can pop an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller in the side for some big screen, hands-on gaming action.

The microSD slot means you can crank up the memory a notch if you need to or its another way for you to get pictures taken on your Android phone on to the Transformer Prime. The possibilities are nearly endless.

The Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition also features a mini HDMI connection, so you’ve got the option of hooking up to a big TV for additional entertainment value. It’s also got an infra-rad (IR) port at the top, above the camera module.

Using the Dijit app which comes pre-installed, you can use this to turn your XOOM 2 ME into an oversized TV remote. We got it to work with our Samsung SyncMaster TV within a 2-2.5 metre range and it worked fine. Handy if you’ve ever lost your TV’s remote control and you can’t be bothered to look for it...

In terms of physical connections the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a relative pauper here; it’s got just two - the 3.5mm headphone jack and the 30-pin connection. Not even a micro USB port.

In terms of storage, there’s 32GB and 64GB editions of the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab 10.1 available. The 64GB version of the Prime isn’t due to go on sale until later this year. So realistically, you’re stuck with the 32GB version. Obviously the Transformer Prime with its microSD slot (up to 32GB) can go that extra mile, if you really need 64GB of storage.

The Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is only available in 16GB versions. This is still a respectable amount, but is the smallest on offer here.

As a disclaimer, the units we’ve got here are the 32GB and 16GB editions of the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab 10.1.

As avid fans of tech products will no doubt already be aware, there’s often a disparity between the published amount of storage and what you actually get at the user end. So when we turned each device on after having factory reset each model we noted down the amounts of memory you actually get to play with:

Asus Eee Transformer Prime (32GB): 27.6GB

Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition (16GB): 12.1GB

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (16GB): 13.97GB

It’s perhaps not surprising to note that there’s slightly less space on the XOOM 2 Media Edition given all of the third party apps that come on board. Here’s where being able to uninstall some of them if you wanted to would really come in handy. Still, 12GB is still 12GB, a pretty solid amount.

It’s perhaps unfair not to compare a 32GB Galaxy Tab 10.1 with a 32GB Transformer Prime. We imagine that any differences between the available amounts of storage would be negligible. All the same, we wanted to give you a more accurate idea of what you actually get with each entry-level edition of either device.

In this day and age of cloud lockers and syncing services, splitting hairs about internal storage is perhaps academic, especially when you consider Motorola’s MOTOCAST service, something we’ll come on to in a sec.

We don’t think you’ll struggle for room on any of these tablets, though if you really think you’ll need plenty of local storage then the Transformer Prime is your tablet of choice here.


Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Interface

All of the tablets run on versions of Android that have been optimised for tablets to some degree, whether its 3.2 Honeycomb or 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. As a consequence, the general interfaces and actions required to operate these tablets is pretty similar.

Tapping on the bottom right corner of the screen will bring up a settings menu from where you can toggle Wi-Fi, GPS and other connections from one convenient panel without having to navigate the main Settings menu.

On all tablets, the app launcher located in the top right corner. Its from these menus that you can drag and drop app shortcuts, widgets and bookmarks onto the floating homescreens. Customising the layout of each tablet is effortless and intuitive on each one - second nature if you’ve ever used an Android device before and easy to get to grips with if you haven’t.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, running TouchWiz, features the most heavily customised version of the Android OS here.

Additions include a built-in screen capture tool allowing you to take screenshots from the action bar at the bottom of the screen. A shortcut to a row of utilities apps is also tucked away on the Tab 10.1’s action bar. This gives you quick access to tools such as a task manager, a memo pad, calendar and calculator.

A bevvy of third party ebook, news and MP3 services come bolted on under the Music Hub (7digital) and Readers Hub (Zinio, Kobo, PressDisplay) apps and the Social Hub acts as a contact/social network aggregator. These are all optional services that you may find useful, but you can remove/uninstall them if you need to (not that they take up much space).

Similarly, Motorola has installed a clutch of applications and third party services pre-installed on the XOOM 2 Media Edition.

Of particular note is MOTOCAST. This is a service that allows you to remotely access music and video content stored on a computer and remotely stream it to your XOOM 2 Media Edition, provided you’ve got a stable net connection. It’s basically a lifeline to your laptop or desktop and more than makes up for the XOOM’s comparatively small storage.

There’s the aforementioned Dijit, the awesome Evernote ansd Skitch note-taking apps, Twonky (a DLNA client) and GoToMeeting and FuzeMeeting video conferencing apps. All of these are welcome third-party installations (particularly Evernote) and work well enough on the XOOM 2 Media Edition.

But, as we opined in our review, these apps - which you could just as easily install from the Android Market yourself - are non-removable. Fine if you get your money’s worth out of all of the apps, but a mild irritant if you’re never going to use them and you want the extra space.

To a lesser extent the Transformer Prime is guilty of this; Polaris Office for document/spreadsheet work, MyLibrary (eBooks) MyCloud (cloud locker) and MyNet (DLNA) come bolted on and can’t be removed.

This is less of a biggie seeing as all of the software (with the exception of Polaris) is first party and thanks to Android 4.0 you can ‘disable’ any unwanted apps you can’t uninstall. So if you don’t want to use any of these apps, disabling them will move them out of sight and out of mind.

 

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Cameras

In our reviews we’ve fawned over the picture taking capabilities of both the Transformer Prime and the XOOM 2 Media Edition. Both of these tablets have their plus points for picture taking on the go which owe as much to their form as the size of the sensors and the optics inside them.

The Transformer Prime’s 8-megapixel camera has an f/2.4 aperture making it better for shooting pics in low light, as you can see from the test pictures below.

Despite sensor sizes, we prefer the vibrant levels of colour that you get from stills on the XOOM 2 Media Edition in well lit locations - check the red flowers below.

   

 

   

We also liked that the smaller, handier size of the XOOM 2 Media Edition makes for a more natural picture taking feel. You certainly feel less ridiculous whipping out a 8.2-inch tab in the middle of the street than you do a 10.1-incher.

Sadly the software for the XOOM isn’t up to scratch. It’s the standard Honeycomb camera app and is very simple in terms of features. While there’s some filter effects and the option to adjust exposure and white balance, there’s no tap to focus, something the other two tablets feature.

There’s no reticule for the focus either, so it’s sometimes difficult to line up shots, a problem you don’t have with the others.

When you’ve got the Prime docked with the keyboard, we also liked that the return key acts as a shutter button. The dock effectively acts as a tripod here, allowing you to line up with your shot nicely - taking pictures with a tablet is already a tricky and unwieldy affair, so this makes things easier.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1’s 3-megapixel camera despite coming with some better than standard software, can’t match the results offered by the other two. Shots in daylight are sometimes overexposed and in other situations, noise isn’t processed very well.


Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Performance

Anyone who’se been in the market for an Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime can’t have failed to notice that there’s been some problems with the GPS antenna. This is something we’ve experienced ourselves (albeit only when we’re outside, for some reason) so this could be a problem.

In all other areas the Transformer Prime shines. Even writing a great deal of the Transformer Prime review on the Transformer Prime is testament in to it’s ability as a workhorse. The pre-installed Polaris suite of work apps is easy to get to grips with and if you prefer working in Google Docs then that works well too.

Thanks to the quad-core Tegra 3 chip it simply rips through games like Shadowgun and Dungeon Defenders and large image-heavy websites. Smooth doesn’t even cover it - even the simple things like flipping through homescreens, emails and menus is a joy on the Prime.

The Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is impressive too, especially in the web browsing department. Pages with Flash content were crunched with minimal fuss and high-end games were a breeze to play as well though perhaps not, it must be said, with the finesse displayed by the Prime. Not having a dedicated keyboard limits the XOOM as a work tool in our eyes, through installing our old favourite SwiftKey X helped us power through some notes more easily than the stock virtual keyboard could.

Work isn’t the XOOM 2 Media Edition’s raison d’etre though (hence the Media Edition sobriquet) so we can forgive this somewhat. MOTOCAST, the main event, works well. It’s a bit of a chore to set up but if you’re sold on the idea of streaming every MP3 on your PC’s hard drive on a device then it’s worth the effort.

We experienced issues when streaming audio from our PCs though that’s something we’d be quicker to chalk up to our own dodgy Wi-Fi than anything else. As with any streaming service - Spotify, Netflix, you name it - there’s going to be performance issues if the connection isn’t rock solid.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 handles the day to day tasks OK, but without the slickness of these other two tablets. It’s the little things like sweeping left and right on a homescreen and watching the widgets ghosting into view instead of them being there like they should be that let things down. For broswing the web, catching up with people on Facebook or Twitter or reading an eBook it delivers the goods, but not perhaps the greats.

 

Verdict

Perhaps it’s a foregone conclusion that the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime would clear up in this comparison. It’s the absolute cutting edge of Android tablet technology right about now both in terms of software (Android 4.0.3) and processing power (Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 chip). Offering a wealth of connections and a stylish spun metal case it’s utilitarian and good looking. As such, it’s expensive (£499) and there’s no release date in sight for the 64GB version yet.

There’s plenty to like about the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition as well, not least of all it’s boxy industrial design. The camera is really very good and due to the smaller, more portable size, it’s the easiest to take pictures on. Tasks like gaming and web browsing are handled nicely. High-end games like Shadowgun simply aren’t as fluid as they are on the Prime but they’re playable nonetheless.

At £329 it’s a bit of a bargain too. If you’re more in the market for something simply to browse the web, check emails and play games on (and not do any intensive work on) then the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition might be more to your liking than the Transformer Prime.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is still a polished and powerful tablet with some nice value-added features. The addition of the separate keyboard dock makes it an attractive sell too - you can pick up the Tab 10.1 with 16GB of memory on it’s own for £399 and the keyboard dock for £35-£40 which is pretty cheap.

32GB and 64GB versions go for £479 and £659 - things get expensive if you want more memory. Considering you can get a 32GB Transformer Prime (with the keyboard dock thrown in) for £20 more than you’d spend on a 32GB Tab 10.1 (not factoring in the £35-£40 you’d maybe want to spend on the keyboard dock) then the argument solves itself; for less money you can get a more up to date product with more connections and superior performance.

The only real problem with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime right now seems to be getting one. Asus is constantly shipping new batches to the UK but they’ve been flying off the shelves faster than new stock can arrive. So if you’re up for getting a Transformer Prime, be prepared to shop around, ask about availability and prepare to be patient.