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Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime review

Seth Barton
22 Dec 2011
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
499
inc VAT

Only available with its dock for now, but this is certainly the best Android tablet money can buy

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Specifications

10.1 in 1,280x800 display, 586g, 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3, 1.00GB RAM, 32GB disk, Android 3.2

The Transformer Prime puts Asus in an optimal position in the Android tablet race, as the first manufacturer to use the new Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset. As part of the Transformer line, the Prime can use a keyboard dock to become a makeshift laptop - in fact it’s not currently available without the dock. We had some issues with the original Asus Eee pad Transformer's dock, but we still loved the tablet on its own merits.

Asus Transformer Prime

No Ice Cream Sandwich for the Transformer, yet

Disappointingly, the Prime comes with Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), rather than the new and much-improved Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system, which is now available on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. You could speculate that the modifications to Android required to make the keyboard dock function are the problem, or maybe Asus was just rushing to be first to market with Tegra 3. Either way, an Android 4.0 update is promised, but as with the recent Motorola Xoom 2 no date has yet been confirmed for this.

Of course, we can only review the Prime as it stands today, and it’s this is still the most impressive Android tablet we’ve seen to date - thanks to the new chipset, an excellent screen and the flexibility the keyboard dock brings.

CHIP CHASE

The new Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset is promoted as quad-core, but the cleverest element is actually a fifth ‘companion core’. This additional low-power core runs most of the time and keeps power usage as low as possible when a task is running or the tablet is in standby, with the quad cores kicking in when more power is required.

For example, while the Prime is on standby only the companion core is used - to sync your email and other background tasks. As soon as you pick it up and start navigating the menus the quad cores kick in to provide the smoothest possible experience - and it’s very smooth indeed. If you then start playing a video or a photo slideshow, or launch the email app and are just typing, then the companion core will take back over. It all happens instantly and seamlessly with no apparent lag.

The quad cores have been reported as running at up 1.3GHz, but we couldn’t get Asus to confirm this figure by the time we went to press. We are also curious whether all four cores can, or have to, run at that speed simultaneously and how long they can keep it up before heat becomes an issue - if ever.

Asus Transformer Prime

Shiny reflections and transparency effects and all at a silky-smooth frame rate - click to enlarge

All that said, when you need the power, such as in games, there’s plenty of it. It scored just 1,865ms in the SunSpider javascript benchmark, which is among the quickest scores we’ve seen. In games it provided silky-smooth frame rates in all the titles we tried. Nvidia provided some updated versions of current games, such as shooter Shadowgun which had impressive transparency effects, again with smooth frame rates. We also got it to play a 1080p version of the Hobbit trailer from Youtube, which it did without a hitch - a significant step up from any other tablet we’ve seen.

Asus Transformer Prime

A gratuitous excuse for a Hobbit screenshot, captured from a 1080p Youtube video, here's our editor's favourite actor

The companion core helped provide some impressive battery life scores in our video playback test. The Prime tablet alone lasted for ten hours and 47 minutes, that’s over two hours more than the original Transformer and the best score we’ve seen from an Android tablet to date. Add the dock, which has its own built-in battery, and you get 16 hours and 45 minutes, again bettering the Transformer by about two hours. More importantly, with the dock attached we could get through a working day no problem. As with the original, the tablet’s battery is sensibly charged before the dock’s battery.

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