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ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime review: ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime

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MSRP: $599.99
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The Good The Asus Transformer Prime sports an iPad 2-inspired design that's even thinner and nearly as light, while also managing to include microSD and Micro-HDMI support. The Prime delivers smooth and clear 1080p video, and the 8-megapixel camera captures detail and color more accurately than any other tablet camera we've reviewed. Android 4.0 makes small but significant improvements to Honeycomb.

The Bad Not every game takes advantage of the quad-core CPU, and frame rates can suffer as a result. When connected to the dock keyboard, the tablet is top-heavy and can easily slide off a lap or table if you're not careful.

The Bottom Line The Asus Transformer Prime is the best full-featured Android tablet yet, with a sexy design, thoughtful features, and an impressive camera.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

Editors' note: The Asus Transformer Pad TF300 was released in April 2012. Check this blog post for details on the key differences from the Prime.

Also, we changed the Prime's review text to reflect the Android 4.0 update the tablet received in January 2012. Check out this exhaustive interview with Asus detailing -- and putting into perspective -- some of the Prime's technical issues.

Since the launch of the iPad 2, we've been kind of waiting for the Asus Transformer Prime. While we didn't know it existed until a few months ago, the thought of a powerful, robust, and sexy Android tablet has been invading our tablet dreams for months.

Is the Transformer Prime that tablet? With its quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, it definitely has the potential.

The Prime comes in two colors, amethyst gray (gray and purple) and champagne gold (silver and gold). We got the amethyst gray version for review, and while a purple tablet admittedly wasn't the highest item on our holiday wish list, the gray and purple are blended in a sleek, sexy, and appealing way. Although the aluminum back does a good job of resisting fingerprints, the glossy screen and bezel succumb to them easily.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime Asus Eee Pad Transformer Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Apple iPad 2
Weight in pounds 1.32 1.52 1.24 1.34
Width in inches (landscape) 10.3 10.7 10.1 9.5
Height in inches 7.1 6.9 6.9 7.3
Depth in inches 0.32 0.51 0.34 0.34
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.8 1.1 0.8 0.8

The Prime is about an inch wider than the iPad 2 but a hair thinner; it's also thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It's slightly heavier than both aforementioned tablets, but its weight is distributed evenly, so we felt only a negligible difference.

That's the iPad 2 on the left, Transformer Prime in the middle, and Galaxy Tab 10.1 on the right. While they're all really thin, the Prime wins the supermodel contest by a hair.

The Prime takes some design cues from the iPad 2, with a sloped back and rounded corners that don't dig into our palms as the previous Transformer did. For connections, the Prime includes a microSD slot and a Micro-HDMI port on the left side. On the same side are a volume rocker and a microphone pinhole. On the top is a smallish power/lock button, which, though functional, could have protruded more from the chassis so as to feel more tactile. Next to that is a second microphone pinhole and on the right side is a headphone jack. A 40-pin connector port for data/power is located on the bottom.

On the front bezel sits a 1.2-megapixel camera, and almost directly opposite it on the back is an 8-megapixel camera, which is capable of recording 1080p video.

Like the previous Transformer, the Prime connects to an optional keyboard/dock ($150), transforming it (heh) into what is essentially an Android laptop. With the previous Transformer, that connection wasn't the easiest to achieve, but the process has improved dramatically on the Prime, as it now easily slides into the awaiting slot.

With the dock attached, the Prime looks like a typical ultrabook. Well, a purple one at least.

The dock includes a touch pad, a 40-pin data/power connection port on the left, and a full-size SD slot and USB port on the right.

Once connected, the tablet feels a bit top-heavy, though, and could easily slip off a lap or table if enough care isn't taken. Also, the dock is compatible only with the Prime and vice versa. Switching between the older Transformer and this newer one is not supported.

Hardware features
The Prime is the first tablet to house Nvidia's new quad-core processor, the Tegra 3. The Prime also includes 1GB of RAM and comes in either 32GB or 64GB varieties. It has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, a gyroscope, and GPS.

The Mobile dock includes an extra battery that--while connected--"feeds" the Prime its power, meaning that the dock's battery will deplete its reserves before the tablet's.

Through its Micro-HDMI port, you can connect the tablet to an HDTV or monitor and play full-screen Android games using both wired Xbox 360 and PS3 game pads, as well as supported wireless game pads through the use of an USB dongle.

Software features
The Prime comes preinstalled with Honeycomb 3.2.1 and is upgradable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

Asus MyCloud gives users 8GB of free cloud-based storage space for the lifetime of the Prime (upon registering it) at Asus WebStorage. It also provides remote access to the desktop of a PC or Mac and connects you to the @Vibe online music and radio service.

The File Manager accesses the Prime's root directory, providing easy and organized access to every file on your drive or expanded memory unit. MyNet lets you stream content to DLNA-enabled devices on your network, and with MyLibrary, Asus' e-reader software, you can read and purchase new books directly through the interface.

The File Manager app provides easy access to every file on your tablet.

SuperNote is intended to help with taking notes and allows you to not only type them, but "write" notes with your fingers as well. You can also draw graphs and take pictures or video right from the interface. This could be especially useful for taking notes in a class.

Via Asus' tweaks to the Android interface, you can choose to run the Tegra 3 CPU in normal, balanced, or power-saving modes. While in normal mode, the CPU runs at full speed. In balanced mode and power-saving mode, the CPU speed is throttled to save on battery life. Having this level of control of overall speed is a very welcome feature we hope to see in more tablets.

Asus also adds a Super IPS+ (In-Plane Switching) mode, which boosts the tablet's screen brightness, making reading in sunlight a bit easier. There's also a feature that lets you take screenshots using the Recent Apps button.

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Asus recently began sending an over-the-air update for the Transformer Prime that updates it from Honeycomb 3.2.1 to Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) 4.0.2. ICS is the latest version of Android and so far had only been available on smartphones. This is the first time anyone's seen it on a tablet in the wild, so we're going to dive in and see what, if any, differences there are from Honeycomb.

UI and widgets: The first thing we noticed is that the lock screen now allows you to go straight into the camera app if you want, making the prospect of getting a shot of that supercool thing that's happening right now a bit more likely.

On the home screen, Google has slightly changed the way we access widgets. Honeycomb had a little shortcut at the top of the screen, or you could press and hold the home screen, but now widgets have been grouped with apps.

Tapping the apps shortcut now brings you to a dual apps and widgets section, each with its own tab. Also, swiping through your apps will eventually bring you to widgets. This change is subtle; widgets now feel less hidden and more important than before because of it.

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