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Asus Transformer Prime review: Asus Transformer Prime

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The Good Blisteringly powerful processor; Very bright screen; keyboard makes typing much easier; sturdy build quality.

The Bad Won't ship with latest version of Android; expensive; software problems with camera.

The Bottom Line The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is a superbly powerful tablet made as practical as a laptop by the keyboard dock. Sadly, it's let down by its outdated operating system -- it's premium in hardware, but not in software.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall

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The first Asus Eee Pad Transformer turned quite a few heads with its keyboard dock and sparked numerous debates over whether it's truly a tablet or a laptop.

Asus is back again with the Transformer Prime, but has beefed it up with a searingly powerful quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM.

The model we tested was running the older Android 3.2 Honeycomb software, but Asus promises it will be updated to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich very soon after it goes on sale in the UK. We can only review what's in front of us -- hence our disappointment with the software -- but we'll update this review once the promised update materialises.

The Prime will be available from January for £499.

Tablet design

Like the original Transformer, the Prime is a device of two halves: a 10.1-inch tablet and a keyboard for it to dock into. We're not quite sure if it's more tablet or laptop.

The tablet part is a 10.1-inch affair. An all-metal back makes it feel incredibly sturdy. We poked and squeezed until our fingers hurt and couldn't detect any signs of weakness. We're very confident in the Prime's ability to survive a good road trip.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime apps
Even without the keyboard it's a classy piece of tech.

The casing has a spun-metal finish, very similar to that found on Asus' stunning Zenbook UX21. At only 8.3mm thick, it's very slender, knocking 0.5mm off the iPad's thickness so you'll have no trouble sliding it into a sleeve. It weighs 586g, which marginally undercuts Apple's flagship tablet. You won't feel weighed down when you carry it about.

Around the edges you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a power button, a volume rocker, a micro-HDMI port and a microSD card slot so you can expand the already generous 32GB of storage.

Keyboard dock

If you can't figure out if you'd be better off with a tablet or a laptop, the Transformer Prime is the perfect compromise. If you have to type a few thousand words every now and then for work, a tablet just isn't going to be your friend. As the Transformer's name suggests, you can pop the tablet part into a keyboard dock and set your fingers to work on those financial reports.

Clipping in the tablet requires only a slight push until the clip locks in place. To remove it, flick the switch the other way and pull it out. It's all very simple.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime metal case
The Prime's metal case is sturdy and very smart.

The keyboard itself is 263mm wide -- exactly as wide as the tablet. It weighs 537g, which by itself isn't that much, but it pretty much makes the tablet twice as heavy. You'll end up carrying around a hefty bit of kit when it's all slotted together. The all-metal constuction is responsible for that weight, but it does at least mean that when it's all closed up, the Prime is hunkered down like a frightened armadillo.

The keys are of the square, isolated variety. Although they are spread the whole way across the base, they're still fairly squished up, so they can be awkward to type on. It's about the same size as a netbook's keyboard, so if you can't squash your hands in enough for one of those, you'll struggle to type for too long on the Prime.

The trackpad is rather small, but it supports multi-touch gestures and is easy to swipe your finger across. It's reasonably comfortable to use, but if you're doing lots of scrolling around web pages, you're much better off using your fingers on the screen.

The dock adds a USB 2.0 port so you can pop in an external mouse or game pad as well as an SD card reader, allowing you to expand your storage even more. It also has its own battery, which complements the tablet's own, giving an extra 6 hours of run-time on top of the tablet's 12.

No Ice Cream Sandwich

As Asus' flagship tablet, we'd really expected it to push the boat out on software as much as it has in the construction. Sadly, it hasn't yet loaded it up with the latest version of Android for tablets and phones, Ice Cream Sandwich, but has instead gone for the older Android 3.2 Honeycomb on our review unit.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime home screen
Android 3.2 Honeycomb offers you five homescreens for you to fill up with your apps and live widgets.

To the average person in the street, having the latest updates may not be high on their list of priorities. But when you're spending half a grand on something claiming to be absolutely top-of-the-range, it's galling to know that it's already running outdated software, especially when ICS has started to ship on high-end devices like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Asus told us the Prime will be updated "hopefully" some time in January, but that it can't say if any of the tablets sold after that time will ship with the new software. It's clearly a priority for Asus, but if it had waited to send out review units until the software was ready it would have avoided this confusion.

Thankfully though, the Honeycomb experience on the Prime is still a pleasant one. You get five home screens to fill up with apps and live widgets. There's a few widgets provided by Asus, including a handy battery indicator for the tablet and dock. There's also a useful weather widget that shows the weather of your location -- of course, you could just look out of the window and see for yourself.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime widgets
There's a bunch of fun widgets included with the Prime, or you can head over to the App Market to find a whole lot more.

At the bottom of the screen are the three buttons for navigating around, taking you back, to the home screen, or bringing up a carousel of currently open apps. Any apps you don't want displayed on your home screens are thrown into grids over various pages, similar to iOS home screens on the iPad.

The web browser is clean and simple and supports multi-tabbed browsing, which is handy. The on-screen keyboard is very basic but easy enough to use. Android allows you to download different keyboards, so grab one of those if you don't like the default.

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