It's safe enough to refer to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime as a victim of its own success. As well as being the first quad-core tablet to hit the market, it's the first tablet available for general release in the UK that can now officially run Android 4.0. Finally it's the successor to the underdog runaway success of 2011, the original Asus Eee Pad Transformer,
High hopes have indeed and the Prime is the most pre-ordered Android tablet to date. The downside is that despite officially being released, Asus Eee Pad Transformer Primes are impossible to find. You can't walk into a shop and pick one up and if you've pre-ordered one, there's every chance you're still not going to be able to get your mitts on a Prime anytime soon. Hype. Lots of hype. And whenever there's hype, there's always just one question worth asking: Is it justified?
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Design
Aesthetics were in many eyes the area the original Asus Transformer fell short. With its gritty textured backing, thick, bronze colour and functional build it was a workhorse with utility at the forefront of its mind. Yes indeed, Asus has listened and responded with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. At a mere 8.3mm thick and with dimensions to rival the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the only area the physicality really falls short when pitted against other tabs is weight, being heavier, but much more robust than the competition.
The spun metal backing adds an undeniable class to the Prime. It stands out in all the right ways. Looks sharp, feels cold, durable and slick. This is one strong tablet. While the bezels are a touch more prominent than tablets that don’t dock, it nevertheless works as a standalone tablet just fine.
With a micro HDMI port as well as microSD expandability, it is one of the better connected units out there, enabling expandability up to an additional 32GB. Given the fact that our review unit was loaded with 32GB of memory (27.6GB of which was free), that would make for a staggering 64GB total before you include the keyboard dock’s expandability ports.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: The keyboard dock
Considerably thinner than the original Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the Transformer Prime’s keyboard dock offers virtually identical functionality with the omission of one USB port and a slight alteration to the trackpad, which now allows for physical clicking when pressed. This leaves the dock with a total of one USB port, a full sized SD card slot, a proprietary charging port and last but not least, an additional 8 hours of battery life.
We have a couple of points of contention when it comes to the keyboard dock. Firstly, it’s too thin. “Too thin?” you might be asking yourselves. But yes, it doesn’t quite balance the weightier tablet portion, so it sits awkwardly on the lap at first.
Secondly, the keys are shallow, probably thanks to the lithe profile. When we first tried it against the Samsung Galaxy Tab keyboard dock we didn’t notice it so acutely but living with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime on a day to day basis and there’s a 2 minute acclimatisation period every time we use it before we can start touch typing thanks to the lack of depth to the keys.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Durability
After owning the original Transformer, we had some questions as to how durable this thinner, potentially more dainty tablet would be. We can assure you, cast fears aside. While sat on a tube carriage writing our review of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime (on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime), we were faced with an unwieldy suitcase thrust against our right knee. So strong was the force that it resulted in considerable tech-writer bruising, but what’s worse, the blow sent the Prime flying through the air, docked, and as time appeared to stand still for a brief moment, the tablet, like a giant metallic butterfly was in a painfully beautiful state of suspended animation.
Time resuming and a considerable thud left the quad-core review unit face down on the underground floor, sending a shudder from our scalp through to our stomachs right down to our toes. We picked up the Prime expecting the worst and with hardly any damage to speak of, exhaled the most almighty sigh of relief, returned to our seats, and inserted this durability section into the review.
So while we can't sanction flailing your Transformer Prime across a train carriage (please, don’t try this at home) we can certainly attest to its build quality.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: The Screen
This is a high-point of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. While on paper, with the same 1280x800 resolution and IPS screen technology as its predecessor, it shouldn’t be as impressive as it is. Asus has however crafted a new IPS display, dubbed IPS+ which activates an extremely high level of brightness for the most comfortable outdoor viewing we’ve seen to date on a tablet device. This can be switched off to save battery conveniently through the options window in the bottom right of the screen.
Sharpness is identical to last generation’s Honeycomb tablets, so pixel density won’t blow your mind however colours are bright and accurate with no yellow pallor as found on the Motorola XOOM 2 for example.
Another advantage is the quad-core Tegra 3 processor. The speed makes all interaction with the screen feel more responsive and instantaneous than any other Android tablet which ensures whatever the screen is displaying, its silky smooth.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Ice Cream Sandwich
At the time of reviewing the Prime, the Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich update has indeed rolled out and that’s the version we’ve got our mitts on.
Ice Cream sandwich on Android tablets offers considerably less evolution it does on phones, so while having it on the Asus Transformer Prime is fantastic and we’re sure it lends to the speed and overall performance of the tablet being so snappy, we don’t need to cover ICS as much as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus review.
You therefore have your 5 homescreens, an apps drawer and a selection of preloaded widgets to which you can add more from the Android market. Asus has included some of its own such as a task manager and power watcher.
The bar at the bottom of the display is also unchanged with your standard back, home and multi-tasking on-screen keys to the left. On the right hand side is the expandable notifications tab which includes some options Asus has customised. Bringing its PC and laptop heritage into play, you can activate power saver or performance mode in this section and also control the IPS displays brightness with two tiers of control, standard IPS and IPS+.
The apps drawer is a standard staggered side scrolling menu, simpler than Honeycomb with a jet black backdrop and so much smoother. This is also where you can add widgets.
These include Polaris Office for all your document and spreadsheet wants and needs not to mention Asus’ own software which includes MyCloud for cloud storage, MyLibrary for eBooks and MyNet enabling DLNA functionality. For your portable reading pleasure there’s also a trial version of Press Reader and Zinio on board, as well as the standard Google application suite.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Multimedia
Games, movies, music, pictures, videos. If we were to pick one area the quad-core Tegra 3 processor really kicks in, it’s multimedia. Coupled with the huge amount of potential memory on the tablet and your media files can be enjoyed on the great looking display with no sign of slow down.
We were lucky enough to have some pretty impressive games pre-loaded on our Prime. These not only looked stunning but held any notion of a stagger or stutter at bay. This makes all the difference in the throws of an intense end of level boss or when trying to lose yourself in gameplay, making the Transformer Prime an ideal tab for any Android gamer. As we saw at CES, you can even hook up your Prime to a TV and connect a wireless controller for some full-screen action.
Movies play back exceptionally well - we played a full HD clip playing back with no issues whatsoever. Expandability options mean that you could probably get more than just a couple of full HD movies on if need be ready for export via the micro HDMI to a full HD panel.
Music sounds good, but not great through the devices on-board speakers. Markedly standard for tablets, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime nevertheless outputs great music quality through the supplied 3.5mm audio jack. We found ourselves using our Sony Ericsson MW600 bluetooth receiver for the most part to great effect.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Camera
Finally in terms of media, we move onto the camera. While there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the 8-megapixel unit given its f/2.4 aperture, it’s still a tablet-cam, so we’ve learnt to curb our expectations when reviewing these. That said, we are generally impressed with the results.
As you’ll no doubt see, outdoor shots look a bit washed out and under saturated, however you can correct for this to some extent in the camera UI. What’s most noticeable is the level of detail and focusing capability of the Prime's snapper. You should be able to see from the macro shots, results look particularly crisp with attractive blurring of the backdrop.
Indoor shots fare well overall. Our dimly lit hallway flower shot looks less dimly lit than indeed it was, and the addition of a flash highlights detail in the subject well as can be seen in the bottom right close-up shot.
The camera UI is stock ICS which is a huge improvement over Honeycomb and is the only area the tablet sometimes sees slowdown oddly enough. Hopefully this will be corrected for in a future update from Asus.
Video suffers from a similar washed out over exposed finish as photos and detail isn’t quite as impressive on first glance. Get close up on an object however and when the fantastic continuous focus kicks in and you’re in macro, everything comes up trumps. Unfortunately, continuous focus isn’t on by default so be sure to activate it in the settings.
What you end up with therefore is a camera that gives our previous tablet camera champion, the Motorola XOOM 2 ME a run for its money and a video camera that hands down bests it thanks to the 1080p capture and continuous focus.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Connectivity and Performance
Specc'd with all connectivity options you could want (other than onboard 3G), the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime has been getting some stick on this front. The metal chassis has left the GPS considerably weaker than many would hope, though still functional.
We certainly experienced this when we tried, activating the GPS and standing outdoors. Knowing our tablet usage however, it isn’t likely to be used as our GPS. When we use Google Maps, it’s usually to find something far away given the lack of 3G so the shortcoming wouldn’t hinder us from purchasing the Prime. If you use a sat-nav service with pre-loaded maps on your tablet however, this is definitely worth bearing in mind.
The remaining connectivity worked incredibly well. Internet pages are literally chewed up and spat out. Smooth doesn’t even cover it and what’s more, we stopped noticing just how smooth it was until we picked up a dual-core phone and it felt lazy.
Battery life is also pretty astounding. With a quoted 10 hours on the tablet itself, couple the 8 hours given by the keyboard dock and it’s nothing short of life changing if you’re coming from a 1-hour charge laptop.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Conclusion
So back to our original question: The hype surrounding the Asus Transformer Prime - is it justified? For want of a more rounded answer, yes. It definitely is. Being the first quad-core tablet we’ve seen, the speed improvements are priceless and Android 4.0 feels fantastic on a 10.1-inch display. It looks great with its IPS+ display, retains the functionality of its predecessor and offers something no other tablet on the market does in its lithe form-factor and functional dock. It isn’t perfect and Asus will be the first to admit that with poor GPS performance and what we found to be slightly off weighting when docked, however is definitely the most compelling Android tablet on the market today.
Check out our Asus EeePad Transformer Tips and Tricks here