Asus Transformer Prime Review: Will this quad-core beast transform the way you look at tablets?

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With a new Android tablet being released virtually every single week and many more announced during CES 2012, one must be on the fence with their choice. Most Android tablets are a mixed bag and this is mainly due to Android 3.0 and not necessarily the hardware put into these tablets. Still, if you’re looking into a tablet that’s not the iPad 2, you had  your work cut out for you — Until the Transformer Prime came along with the NVIDIA Tegra 3 and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Asus came into the tablet game as a bit of a dark horse, with virtually no one knowing it would release one of the most popular and cheap Android tablets available. This tablet was the Asus Transformer, which undercut most of the competition by $100 at $399. While the tablet itself didn’t get much of a push from ads, the Transformer became the go-to Android tablet for a lot of fans. The Transformer solidified Asus’ name in the tablet space and while the device lacked the allure found in other tablets, it wasn’t long before many began waiting for the next-generation Transformer.

The sequel to the Asus Transformer, the Transformer Prime was unveiled and is the very first tablet to ship with NVIDIA’s quad-core SoC, the Tegra 3. Couple the blazing fast processor with a truly beautiful design, all while staying very light-weight and Asus just landed itself a free pass to awesomeness on paper. But how does the Transformer Prime perform? In this review, we’ll give you the ins and out, ups and downs of the beastly and beautiful tablet, so read on!

The Good
  • The Transformer Prime screams quality and has a beautiful design with the brushed metal back piece and
  • With four CPU cores, one "Ninja core", and a 12 core GPU, the Tegra 3 makes everything on this tablet smooth as butter.
  • The new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update brings a nice polish to the software on the tablet
The Bad
  • While one could easily be happy with just the tablet, the keyboard dock will run you an extra $150
  • It's hard to say anything bad about the sound quality of the Transformer Prime, we just wish there were two speakers on the tablet.
  • This premium tablet screams quality but feels fragile at the same time.

Hardware

The Transformer Prime is both powerful and easy on the eyes; a combination not all Android tablets get to enjoy. The Tegra 3 and other high end specs on the Prime make this the most powerful tablet we've ever seen and it doesn't skip a beat when it comes to design.

The front of the Prime is very simplistic. As with most 10.1 inch tablets, the display dominates the front of the Prime. The 10.1 inch display sports a resolution of 1280 x 800, rocks Super IPS+ for extra clarity (and is adjustable to save battery life), and covered with Corning Gorilla Glass. While we do wish there was a little less bezel to the Prime, it's still kept very light through and through. This is where you will find the 1.2 megapixel camera. Tucked away within the bezel is where you'll find the ambient light sensor as well.

The top edge of the Prime sports the power lock switch, with everything else on either the sides or the bottom of the tablet. The left spine holds the volume rocker, micro HDMI port, as well as the micro SD card slot, where the right spine only houses the 3.5 mm headphone hack. Placement of a headphone jack on a tablet seems to be a bit tricky, so you may or may not like the placement on the Prime. The bottom of the Transformer Prime is where you'll find the  40-pin connector for charging and syncing.

The back side of the Prime is really something to behold. Decked out in a metallic finish that has a circular pattern, the rear side's design draws you to look at the center, which is where you'll surprisingly find Asus' logo. The back is where you'll also find the 8 megapixel camera, which sports a f2.4 aperture and LED flash. It's a rarity to find such a decent camera on a tablet today, as most people will likely still reach for their smartphone or point and shoot camera to take a picture but it's still a nice addition.

The tablet itself feels lighter than it really is. Coming in at 1.29 pounds, the Prime is in line with a lot of other newer 10 inch tablets we're seeing today but you'd imagine it would be heavier.

One of the few gripes I have with this tablet is the speaker. There's only one speaker on the entire tablet and while very crisp and clear, we would have preferred to see one on each side. The experience, especially when watching movies or things of that sort is not as immersive without using headphones.

 

Design

The Transformer Prime's design is simple to describe: Beautiful. The brushed aluminum backing and elegant color choices make the Prime something that you want to have in your hands.

The tablet comes in two colors, Amethyst Gray and Champagne Gold. Both color choices definitely have a high-class look to them and will definitely get some looks if taken out in public. Even with the keyboard dock attached, the Prime looks just as classy.

Build Quality

The Transformer Prime is made of some high-quality materials and you'll notice just that the second you pick it up. That said, although the tablet is made of high-quality materials, it does feel a bit fragile. Much like the iPhone 4/S, dropping the Prime would result in some very noticeable blemishes, if not just break completely. Gorilla Glass or not, the Transformer Prime isn't something you want to be rough with.

 

 

Guts And Glory

Despite is gorgeous looks, the Transformer Prime has one thing that sets it apart from the rest. The biggest difference is the NVIDIA Tegra 3, formerly known as Kal-El. The quad-core SoC ensures a very fluid experience on the Prime and in our testing, we found everything to be butter smooth.

The Transformer Prime is offered in 32GB and 64GB variants but is expandable with the microSD card slot and Asus also provides 8GB of WebStorage. If you still need more space, the keyboard dock can offer up an SD card slot and another battery built right in.

 

Software

When we first got the unit, the Transformer Prime shipped with Android 3.x Honeycomb but has since received the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update. It's definitely a nice update but it's hardly the dramatic update for tablets as it is for phones.

Ice Cream Sandwich brings a nice level of polish to the OS, with nice animations and features found throughout. Like the Galaxy Nexus, swiping through applications will produce a 3D animation and you'll now find widgets in the same place as apps. Other nifty features like screenshots can now be achieved with the same button combination on the latest Nexus handset as well.

Overall, Ice Cream Sandwich on a tablet is very nice but it still seems to lack what it needs to be a truly immersive experience. I'm not really sure what Android tablets need but I can't say that I'd buy a tablet solely on the fact that it has Ice Cream Sandwich on it. Luckily, the Transformer Prime sports some killer specs, making Android 4.0 the cherry on top.

Under the hood, Ice Cream Sandwich only compliments the blazing-fast Tegra 3 on the Transformer Prime, making for a smoother experience. That said, probably one of the best benefits of Ice Cream Sandwich on tablets is the availability of applications. Honeycomb stood alone with its own API level, which forced developers to create applications specifically for Google's tablet version of Android. Android 4.0 changes that and an applications built using the Ice Cream Sandwich API level will run on phones and other tablets alike.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

The Ice Cream Sandwich browser offers up quite a few new features within the web browser. New settings like being able to request the desktop version of a website right from the menu button are nice, so you no longer need to scroll to the bottom of the page to tap on the "full site" link. Another notable feature is the option to save a web page for offline reading.

The web browser for Android has always been pretty top notch but Ice Cream Sandwich makes it a bit snappier. You'll still get tabbed browsing, quick controls in the Labs settings, and incognito options, so the facelift isn't anything dramatic. Still, it's nothing to scoff at, either.

Multimedia

You can purchase music, movies, and much more from the Android Market these days, but the Transformer Prime offers up some more multimedia options for you to enjoy your media. Since this is a DLNA supported device, you can easily stream your content from your device to another compatible device or play back music and movies from a media server like TVersity right to the tablet.

Camera

While most will still grab their phone or actual point-and-shoot camera when wanting to take a photo, the Transformer Prime performs admirably. The 8 megapixel camera is somewhat of a novelty with tablets today but that will likely change going forward.

The camera UI in Ice Cream Sandwich has been tweaked for tablets, and for the better. The over all look and feel remains familiar but new features like time lapsed video and panorama mode. You won't find the cool live video effects that are on the Galaxy Nexus and while they are fun to play with, it shouldn't be a deal breaker because you can't make someone's nose huge when recording a video.

 

Call Quality And Battery Life

Battery life with the Transformer Prime seems to be a mixed bag due to its many settings for power consumption. In Super IPS+ mode (high performance), you're going to deal with a much shorter battery life. Luckily, you'll find a power saving mode, which lowers the screen brightness and other tweaks that will help the Prime keep chugging along.

That said, the Galaxy Tab would last forever on standby mode, and I've grabbed the thing almost a month without touching it and it still had juice to spare. I haven't really experienced this with the Transformer Prime, and have woken up to it dead the next morning with minimal use. Then again, every time I pick the Prime up I usually get lost in a graphics-heavy game of some sort.

Battery life will vary for most people but if you find yourself losing a nice chunk of battery every day, you just may want to consider the keyboard attachment, which comes with another battery for your Prime.

[UPDATE:] Since I reviewed the tablet, the battery life on the Prime has significantly improved. I'm not sure what the issue itself was but after the Ice Cream Sandwich update, the battery life has been stellar. With light to moderate use, the Prime has been alive and kicking on the same charge for about 4 days with 40% juice left in it.

The Final Take

In a nutshell, the Asus Transformer Prime is the best Android tablet we've ever touched. The Tegra 3 is fast, the hardware is top-notch and we can't keep our hands off of it. With the high-class purple and gold color options, the Prime looks more attractive than the iPad in many ways.

What we would really like to see is a 7 inch version of the tablet launch at the same time as the Prime. I know I personally won't be in the market for a ten inch tablet any time soon but a 7 inch device is definitely on the list, and that's in the works. That said, if I were in the market for a ten inch tablet, the Transformer Prime would unquestionably be on my list to shell out $500 for.

Overall, Asus has made a solid tablet that should turn the heads of some average consumers with its design but may not be wooed as easily as the Android geeks when it comes to hard specifications. Still, it's a shiny and gorgeous tablet that could be running Android 1.6 Donut and some people still wouldn't care.

We've got to hand it to Asus for this one. The Transformer Prime is the Android tablet taken seriously, with minimal software optimizations and beautiful hardware to back it up. If you're in the market for an Android tablet today and don't mind paying the $100 premium over the original, what are you waiting for? If you can find one in stock, then jump on it!

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  • BC

    What’s “emersive “?

    • John M

      It is a word you find used in FPS game reviews.  It means that the device kind of draws you in to the experience of using it.  When a FPS game is emersive you kind of forget that you are playing a game and feel more like you are actually doing the activity you are playing.

      • Anonymous

        He knows what it means buddy, he’s pointing out the misspelling. It’s spelt ‘immersive’.

    • Jimfitz

       Or try the traditional spelling: immersive

  • Orvita2

    Dude, everybody talks about the GPS issue, Wifi issue… Asus didint say anything about the maximun SD card we can use on this pretty little thing. I came here to read all your words and.. DID NOT FIND anything. That makes me wonder.. How much does ASUS pays you?… Please, Could you Updat this “report”?

    • TRDRACER21

      i got a transformer prime i have no issue with gps . and especially wifi issues i guess is some people and i got the ics update this review should be done again cause this tablet flys with the software update

    • Anonymous

      Number one: I have yet to hear of a WiFi issue with the product. WiFi has been stellar and I haven’t had any sort of issue. 

      As far as GPS goes.. No issues there, either. Asus has been sending out an OTA update to address any of these underlying issues that some have found. I haven’t seen any of these issues. 

      This is a review of an entire product, not a post about what is and isn’t wrong with the tablet. Everything I used on the tablet performed fine, with no issues. Is that good reporting for you?

      • Jajamke

        Has anyone by any chance figured out a way to get the light sensor to shut the screen on and off without the dock AND is anyone else having issues with the light sensors auto brightness. Mine is extremely flaky. Otherwise I looooooovvvveeeee this tablet. Btw never had an issue with GPS or wifi!

  • John M

    I ordered one today.  I think it will ship with ICS.  I will report back here after I have had some time to play with it.  I was informed by BB that the keyboard/dock is not available yet.  

  • http://thejamhole.com/ Mat Lee

    Did you update yours and not have a wicked bad stability problem? I’m wishing I wouldn’t have updated mine, and stuck with Honeycomb, at least it was stable. This thing, and from what I’ve been reading many like it, have a bad reboot issue. Hopefully they’ll fix it, or give us all new primes.

  • Aussieflyer21

    I have had two Asus PRIME tablets; I was waiting longingly for this to be released. I received mine on Jan 6th but sadly had to return it on Jan 15th after poor wifi issues and no GPS lock. I had updated to ICS 4.0 and the wifi was fine if you were within 10 feet of the router but 50ft; no way no signal. The GPS even if within wifi range so it had access to the sat table, was simply NOT working.
    Went back up to Best Buy last weekend and lucked out they had a new PRIME in stock. Thought I’d try a 2nd time; also bought the keyboard dock.
    1) KBD dock wont allow PRIME to lock in. I think I may have a dud.
    2) Second time is better; updated to ICS wifi is betetr but still flaky. ie drops in/out beyond 30 fete from router.
    NB this is an open plan ground floor; not through five walls for example.
    GPS works; well sort of. If I’m in range of wifi and orient the tablet just te right way it will find up to 10 sats until I breathe out or turn slightly, then they are gone. Bought an external GPS with bluetooth over the weekend to solve this.
    Asus have a fix; the problem for wifi, bluetooth and GPS issues is that beautiful amethyst aluminum backplate, which kills all the signal. Google the TF-700T which is the newly announced upgraded PRIME and you will see as well as a 1920 x 1200 HD display it also has a nice plastic insert across the top of the tablet, right whetehr the antennas are. I’m sure this will solve all the problems.
    However I dont think Asus should be requiring PRIME users top upgrade and pay yet another additional $100 to get this fix.
    Asus needs to offer a swap where they will replace the backplate with a TF 700 backplate FOC.
    Having said all the above I LOVE this tablet.!!!!
    its fast, graphics are sharp; its fantastic.
    If you dont plan on using this mobile or in a plane as I do; these shortcomings probably arent as critical.
    Best Android tablet available undoubtedly!!

      

  • AGuest

    I sent my Asus back due to issues with the video display.  The tablet had blank parallel lines throgh the display at random times.  I am completly upset with the lack of information from Asus regarding the status of my table or a timeframe of when it will be fixed.   They now have had the table Asus has absoloutely THE WORST service in all of the computer businesses available!!!!  If anyone has any way of talking with those that actually work on the RMA devices, I would love to know.  I am so frustrated with Asus……

  • Joemaxant

     I have a stupid question: I want to pick a new portable laptop ( toshiba protege R835) or a tablet (transformer prime) with the the keyboard. Which would you pick?

    Joe

  • Joemaxant

     I have a stupid question: I want to pick a new portable laptop ( toshiba protege R835) or a tablet (transformer prime) with the the keyboard. Which would you pick?

    Joe

    • Aussieflyer21

      Well Joe, If you dont have wifi issues and can afford the $700 price of the PRIME and docking station, then I’d go tablet.
      Tablets are definitley the future.
      With the docking staion folder up you have a pseudo laptop but also have the ability to leave the dock at home on your desk and go liteweight mobile.
      BUT YOU MUST GET A leather portfolio cover for the PRIME or that luvely glass screen will get damaged.

    • Aussieflyer21

      Well Joe, If you dont have wifi issues and can afford the $700 price of the PRIME and docking station, then I’d go tablet.
      Tablets are definitley the future.
      With the docking staion folder up you have a pseudo laptop but also have the ability to leave the dock at home on your desk and go liteweight mobile.
      BUT YOU MUST GET A leather portfolio cover for the PRIME or that luvely glass screen will get damaged.

  • Joemaxant

     Thanks for your input. What is the best price where I can buy a unit with the doc and leather pouch? any recommendation? 

  • LLOYD

    WILL THE TRANSFORMER PRIME EVER OPERATE WINDOWS 7 (8) ?

  • Aussieflyer21

    I have owned 2 Transformer Prime tablets so far: 1st had to be taken back to BB with extremely poor wifi and NO GPS. Second one I had for 2 weeks and sadly returned it last night with NO GPS, betetr wifi than before but still poor and screen was separating from backing panel and light bleed on RHS. Hopefully will have number 3 in about 2 weeks:) Both of these had all the firmware updates and ICS, but the problems still remain. If #3 is good I will keep it and hope that asus will do the right thing and send us all a TF700 backing plate, which has a plastic insert and should greatly improve the wifi. This IS an excellent tablet but the aluminum backing plate really does screw up the signals for GPS and wifi badly. GPS in wifi range was extremely flaky with 10 sat, then no sats then 5 sats then nothing. I bought an external BT gps and that seemed to be a success.
    So if gps isnt a big deal go buy this tablet. It looks wonderful and works well.

  • Anonymous

    Finally got my clear answer to decide for or againt the prime….  Bestbuy had a prime sitting two feet away from an older transformer tf101 both connected to the bestbuy wireless router…  WiFi Prime = 39mbs and tf101 = 72mbs.  Sorry that’s all I needed to see.  Connectivity in our devices is the single most important part of our lives right now. What good are fast apps that struggle to get data?   It’s too bad one Asus tech couldn’t do a 30 minute bench comparison such as this.  Or maybe they did too late and they thought no one would notice?  Oh well… I’m sure this will get fixed in the next.  As for Asus transformer TF101 in general, good stuff as my daughter has one.  They just dropped the ball rushing this prime to market I think.  50 cent piece of aluminum really caused a major failure. 

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