Asus Transformer Prime
The Transformer Prime is a killer piece of hardware, no doubt...but can it replace a full-fledged Linux Netbook?
The original Transformer was a unique concept put forth by ASUS in an effort to gain ground against the then-ubiquitous iPad. With its attachable keyboard, the tablet gained a fair amount of attention and performed well sales-wise to boot. But, although it had a "wow" factor with its keyboard accessory, some felt it lacked the build quality and style of its competition. So, ASUS went back to the drawing board, and the sequel device has all the advantages of the original with its detachable keyboard. It's wrapped in a thinner, lighter, better-looking case that's every bit as stylish as anything else on the market, and it adds kick-butt performance to boot.
Figure 1. The Prime, in All Its Glory
The specs of the tablet portion of the Prime are, in most ways, common to a number of other devices on the market, including the following:
Size/weight: 263 x 180.8 x 8.3mm; 586g.
Storage: 32GB Flash storage.
Screen: 10", 1200px W x 800px H Gorilla Glass display (178° viewing angle).
Power: 25Wh Li-polymer battery (est. 12-hour life).
Controls: power switch and volume rocker control.
I/O: 40-pin proprietary connector (charging via cable or keyboard dock); MicroSD card slot; 8MP, F2.4 rear-facing camera with flash; 1.2MP front-facing camera; Mini-HDMI port and 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack.
Connecting to the keyboard adds the additional features:
Size/weight: 263 x 180.8 x 810.4mm; 537g.
Power: 22Wh Li-polymer battery (est. additional 6-hour life).
73-key, 254mm island-style (that is, chiclet-style) keyboard.
Multitouch touchpad/button (one-button).
Full-size USB port.
SD card slot.
40-pin male proprietary connector (for connection to/charging of tablet).
40-pin female proprietary connector (for charging the tablet and keyboard).
The main thing setting the Prime apart is its processor: the 1.2GHz Tegra 3—a Quad-core processor that impressed the tech media when NVIDIA first demonstrated it. The Prime has been the only mainstream tablet to feature this chip, and it provides the Prime with a nice boost under the hood.
Device Introduction and First Impressions
Before even cutting the plastic wrap on the Prime's box, one thing you notice is how svelte even its packaging is. The box also is blissfully uncluttered within, as the only things it contains are the tablet itself, a quick-start guide, the warranty form, a screen-cleaner cloth, and the power cable and plug block. You notice at once when you lift the tablet out of the box how solid it feels, to the point where it almost feels heavier than it is. The casing, which features the same circular brushed-aluminum design with more-recent ASUS ultrabooks and other machines, feels smooth. There is a little flex to the tablet's casing, but only if you squeeze it harder than most people are likely to do.
Figure 2. When you look this good, you don't need a lot of packaging.
Although the initial boot of the Prime puts you into a fairly stock version of Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), ASUS thankfully has not gone the route of heavy customizations to the interface. But, due to the arrival date of my device, I spent so little time with it, it was difficult to give the software platform a thorough walk-through. I received the tablet on a Thursday, and it was upgraded to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) the following Wednesday. This review focuses on that version of the operating system, as anyone purchasing a new Prime will be upgraded in short order.
Figure 3. One of the Prime's live wallpapers—it spins so smoothly it'll make you dizzy.
As you start to use the Prime, you'll notice its responsiveness. Swiping through screens is pleasantly smooth, and apps pop open with little hesitation. If you own another Android device, you also may be surprised to see any apps you've installed begin showing up on the Prime as well. This is a nice touch, as I have more than 60 apps on my Motorola Droid, and after a few moments, I had them on my Prime too. ASUS preloaded a few of its own apps too, including ones to handle file management, media and cloud storage, although with my old, familiar apps installed automatically, I haven't used them much.
I spent a fun week or so with the tablet on its own, during which time I got all the justification I needed for my purchase. Having used an iPad I received at work for a brief period, I did gain an appreciation for the form factor, which was perfect for media consumption. Google Reader isn't quite so easy or pleasant to use on either of my previous two main devices (the aforementioned Droid and an MSI Wind Netbook). And forget about video—although I had watched YouTube videos or shows on Netflix on the Droid, but not on my Kubuntu-powered Netbook (more on this in the Transformer Prime vs. a Netbook sidebar), it paled in comparison to the nice, bright, crisp screen of the Prime. The first few weeks with the Prime highlighted a number of this device's other strengths.
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