ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime review:

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime

One of the most annoying things about Honeycomb notifications is the way they can pile up, requiring you to close each individual one to get rid of them. Fortunately, ICS lets you kill them all in one fell swoop and let the tablet gods sort it out. Also, instead of simply showing you the last message you've received, ICS consolidates all mail notifications into one, displaying the number of new messages you have.

Settings: With settings you'll notice right off the bat that things are subtly different, with no real huge changes, just a few useful refinements. Options have now been split into four sections: Wireless and networks, Device, Personal, and System. Some features that were crammed in with others in Honeycomb now have their own sections.

The Data usage section details the amount of overall and per-app data you've downloaded over a specific time. Battery now has its own section showing more-detailed power usage information than we're used to on Honeycomb and even tracks battery capacity over a set duration.

Adding a new Google account now gives you options as soon as its created as to which specific Google services you want synced. The Developer options allow you to access things like CPU usage, pointer location, and, my personal favorite, the ability to kill apps as soon as you leave them.

Performance and new features: We didn't notice much difference between ICS and Honeycomb in terms of performance. Previously we experienced no problems with GPS performance and this hasn't changed with the update, although that may have more to do with our office location. Unfortunately, Web browsing is still noticeably slower than on the iPad.

The built-in photo-editing tool is probably the most significant new feature. Options include crop, resize, red-eye, as well plenty of color and tint controls. Additionally, recent apps can now be closed with just a quick side swipe, allowing you to more easily find and kill memory hogs.

ICS feels like a small but significant step up from Honeycomb, and we're looking forward to seeing it on more tablets in the next few months.

While the Prime's IPS screen was immediately clear and sharp when first we powered it on, it was the screen transitions that really impressed us. The first time we tapped the Apps button, we were treated to a noticeably higher frame rate transition than on any previous Android tablet.

We hoped this fluidity would carry over to apps like Marvel Comics, but that was not the case. Reading a comic through the app on the iPad 2 is still a considerably smoother experience, but this may have something to do with specific optimizations of the iPad app. We can't be sure, however.

The resolution and contrast on the IPS panel are about as impressive as on the previous Transformer or the Asus Slider, but the new Super IPS mode+ increased the brightness up to 570 candelas per square meter (cd/m2), which is the highest brightness we've yet seen on a tablet and makes reading in direct sunlight a bit more tolerable than on other LCD tablets. Still, both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 are more impressive in terms of displaying vibrant colors.

Tested spec Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime Sony Tablet S Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Apple iPad 2
Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS) 358 cd/m2 (570 cd/m2) 393 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 432 cd/m2
Default brightness 183 cd/m2 160 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 176 cd/m2
Maximum black level, IPS mode (Super IPS) 0.27 cd/m2 (0.45 cd/m2) 0.47 cd/m2 0.3 cd/m2 0.46 cd/m2
Default black level 0.15 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2 0.3 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,220:1 842:1 1,120:1 926:1
Maximum contrast ratio, IPS mode (Super IPS) 1,325:1 (1,266:1) 836:1 1,120:1 939:1

We used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. On the Prime, GP runs smoothly with a high frame rate, although maybe a bit lower than on the iPad 2; however, thanks to specific optimizations made by the developer, GP has added graphical effects, like water that splashes on the screen, contributing to the feeling of immersion. Also, on the Prime, the water physics seems to knock you around more violently. Overall, we enjoyed the experience on the Prime much more than on any other platform.

Bladeslinger is the most impressive-looking game on the Android platform yet, and the demo (pictured) looks great running on the Prime.

On the other hand, Zen Pinball on the Prime features impressive high dynamic range (HDR) lighting, but suffers in frame rate compared with the iPad 2, where HDR is absent. Overall, as impressive as some of the demos are--especially Bladeslinger--there's nothing here so far that looks outside the iPad 2's capability.

Web page loading speeds as well as app download speeds were several seconds slower than on other Android tablets and the iPad 2 in our anecdotal testing. Given our expectations for the effect the Tegra 3 would have on download speeds, this is disappointing.

GPS performance ranged from spotty to good depending on which side of the city (San Francisco) we were in. Performance usually fared better outside, under the open sky, compared with using GPS in our office. We did notice stronger and more connections to satellites when the Wi-Fi adapter was used to augment the performance.

The 8-megapixel rear camera provides the Prime with what is, on paper, the most technically advanced camera we've seen on a tablet. Pictures taken by the camera retained details other cameras like the Tab 10.1's and Sony Tablet S' rear cameras didn't. Colors were slightly lighter than the same photos taken with the Sony Tablet S, but the clarity and overall color accuracy of the Prime's camera make up for this.

An example of the kind of clarity you can expect with the Prime's 8-megapixel camera.

Also, shutter speed on the Prime is nearly instantaneous, whereas the Tab 10.1's camera took several seconds to focus and shoot. Thanks to the 2.4f aperture of the Prime's camera, which allows more light through the lens than is typical for a tablet camera, we were able to see more detail even in low-light situations.

As for moving pictures, 1080p video recorded with the camera is clear and smooth, with no noticeable artifacts like what we saw in the Tab 10.1's 720p videos.

Sound delivered by the speaker carried heavy bass with clarity and thankfully didn't have the "tinny" feel to it that many other Android tablets' sound has. We would have preferred a higher volume, though, as the iPad 2 easily dwarfs it in that department.

With normal use, the battery drained about as fast as on other Android tablets and we were able to continuously use the tablet all day without needing a charge. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results both with and without the dock connected. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime (with dock) 15.3
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime (without dock) 9.6

The Asus Transformer Prime is the best full-featured Android tablet yet. Its refined design makes it just as sexy as the iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the laundry list of thoughtful features, coupled with great video playback and camera performance, deliver an impressive device that more than holds its own against any tablet, including the iPad 2.

While games performance is somewhat of a mixed bag, most of what we've seen is impressive and, in most cases, is just as good as the best of what the iPad 2 has produced. However, it will take some time before developers really dig into the Prime's quad-core guts to produce something that truly blows us away.

The Prime will be available mid-December 2011 at $500 for the 32GB version and $600 for the 64GB version. The dock/keyboard clocks in at $150.

Editors' note: This review was updated with CNET Labs' battery test results.

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