Introduction – Flawed, but excellent
In Part 1, I discussed some issues that seem to have plagued the Transformer Prime’s launch. GPS, wifi strength, light bleed, and such make the Prime an early-adopter’s delight so far, although ASUS continues to release firmware updates that make incremental improvements where possible. And yet, I still recommend the Prime as perhaps the best Android tablet on the market, based on some very clear advantages. Read on to find out what those advantages are.
First, let’s get this one out of the way right up front: ASUS did not increase the Prime’s price over the original Transformer. Like its predecessor, the 32GB Prime is still $499, a full $100 less than the equivalent Apple iPad 2. The new 64GB version is $599, the same price as Apple’s 32GB tablet. For the truly price-conscious, ASUS continues to sell the original Transformer at $399 for the 16GB version.
Nothing bugs me more than inaccurate reporting, and so I wanted to set the record straight. An infuriating number of reviewers write about the $499 price as if it represents an increase and “brings parity” with Apple’s offerings. That’s only true, of course, if you ignore the fact that the Prime offers twice the storage at the same price. So, I’ll say it now: the Prime remains the most cost-effective leading-edge Android tablet. First generation, Tegra 2-based tablets can be had for less, but nobody has yet matched ASUS’s pricing on current generation products.
I’ve compared the Prime’s IPS+ screen to the original Transformer’s IPS panel and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1’s LCD. Plenty of other reviewers have gone over the technical specs of each screen, and so I’ll just give my subjective impressions. For me, the Prime has the best screen of the three, by far. Because the Transformer and the GT 10.1 were considered by many to have the best screens behind the iPad 2, I think it’s safe to say that the Prime has the best screen on the market.
I find the contrast to be excellent, making ebook reading a dream with crisp black text on a white background. Colors seem natural, particularly compared to Samsung’s offering, with a warmer temperature than both the Transformer and the GT 10.1. This makes things a little yellower than the other two’s bluish tint, which to me makes whites more white and other colors more pleasant. The Prime’s viewing angles are also uncanny—I can literally watch video with the Prime almost at the horizontal.
The clincher for me, however, is the Super IPS+ mode, which increases brightness from an already bright 380 nits to an eye-scorching 600 nits. While this is far too bright for typical use, it makes the Prime suitable for the one task I’ve really wanted in a tablet—outdoor use. I live in Southern California, and I like to sit on my back porch and soak in some Vitamin D on sunny days (of which there are plenty). Simply put, the Prime is the first tablet I’ve tried that can be comfortably used at noon in direct sunlight.
I put together a quick video demonstrating the Prime’s outdoor visibility. This is difficult to show in video (and note the odd sync refresh rate the Prime demonstrates in non-IPS+ mode), but check out the video and see if you can notice the difference.
I’ve been willing to overlook some of the Prime’s early difficulties because the screen is so darn good. Coupled with the keyboard dock option (that I haven’t been able to find in stock yet), the screen makes the Prime the best—and perhaps the only—tablet option for me.
ASUS added an oleophobic coating to the Prime’s screen to help avoid fingerprints, and it shows–although not in the way I expected. I haven’t noticed that the Prime resists fingerprints so much better than other tablets, but those fingerprints that it does attract are much easier to wipe off. I’ve had to scrub my original Transformer’s screen to get it clean, whereas a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth (included) is enough to return the Prime to a pristine condition. It’s a small point, but worth noting.
The Prime is the first tablet on the market sporting the next generation of mobile processor system-on-a-chip (SoC), the Tegra 3. As such, the Prime performs extremely well, even running the rushed-to-market Honeycomb version of the Android operating system. Home screen transitions are smooth, applications open quickly, multitasking is efficient, and gaming is excellent. In addition, the Prime’s three modes—Power saving, Balanced, and Normal—really do seem to provide the user with the ability to manage performance vs. battery life. The best battery life can be gained via the Power saving mode, of course, which also plays some tricks with the display to maximize longevity at the expense of color saturation and contrast.
I ran some common benchmarks, which demonstrate significant differences in performance between the three modes. I’ve also included the original Transformer and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 results for reference.
For myself, I tend to keep my Prime in Balanced mode, which really does seem to provide a good balance between battery life and performance. I haven’t run any quantitative tests (a quick Google search will pull up any number of reviews that do so), but I don’t think the battery life difference is so pronounced between Balanced and Normal modes. And so, if you want the best performance and are willing to plug in a little earlier, then Normal mode might be the one for you.
In general, I find the Prime to be an excellent performer. Using my original Transformer and the GT 10.1 seems a bit painful in comparison, even though I thought both of those were good enough before I got my hands on the Prime. Once ASUS releases Ice Cream Sandwich (which will be on January 12), which should at least be a bit more optimized, I’m guessing the Prime will be for all intents and purposes as good a performer as the benchmark iPad 2.
As mentioned earlier, I haven’t performed any quantitative tests. However, anecdotally, I’d say that the Prime performs at least as well as in Balanced and Normal modes as the original Transformer and the GT 10.1 in active use, while sipping less juice on standby. On Battery saver mode, battery life in use is much improved over the previous generation of Android tablets. Note: running the Prime on Super-IPS+ mode sucks down battery life like there’s no tomorrow, although it’s still good for quite a few hours of use outdoors.
Simply put, the Prime is a delight to use. It’s extremely thin, lightweight with nice balance, and has a premium feel. It’s as comfortable to hold as the GT 10.1, while feeling like the better-made device, and it’s much more comfortable in the hand than the original Transformer. If you’ve never actually used a thin and light tablet, you owe it to yourself to give one a try. I defended the Transformer when it first came out as being light and thin enough, until I used the GT 10.1. Now, I find the Transformer to be uncomfortable to use over extended periods. Apple definitely did something right with the iPad 2, and I’m glad to see other manufacturers following suit.
As far as the Champagne Gold vs. the Amethyst Gray, it really comes down to a matter of taste. I find that the Champagne Gold is less gold than the Amethyst Gray is purple, and so I tend to favor it. However, both are good looking devices that stand out in a crowded field of tablets. If I had to choose one, I’d say I prefer the Champagne Gold, but ask 10 people and you’ll probably find a 50-50 split. I recommend that you check them out in person once they’re available in stores and see for yourself which color you prefer.
The ASUS Transformer Prime is fast, sleek, and sports the best screen on the market. What’s not to like? Yes, it has its early production issues, but other than the wonky haptic feedback my Champagne model is perfect. I’d say the chances of getting a defect-free device increase as time goes on, and current shipments probably have a good chance of being flawless. If you can put up with mildly reduced wifi performance and GPS that’s not really suitable for navigation, then the Prime is an excellent tablet with the best performance on the market today.