Review: Asus Transformer Prime

Sim Ahmed is surprised by how useful this Android tablet is for business users

I'm not a fan of Android tablets. The majority of the devices I've used so far have been cumbersome, full of bugs, and have lacked compelling apps. Granted, the last time I used one at length was towards the end of last year - since when many more tablets have come to market - but my experiences have left me with a sour taste in my mouth for Android on tablets.

This is why I was so surprised at how much I've enjoyed using the ASUS Transformer Prime, and how useful this device is for business users.

The Asus Transformer Prime has a 10.1-inch LED display with scratch resistant Gorilla Glass, and a 1280 x 800 resolution. On paper, the screen isn't anything to write home about, but I found the colours to be bright, and even small font sizes on some websites were easy to read without zooming in.

There are two cameras on the tablet; a 1.2 MP front-facing camera and an 8 MP main camera with flash. The picture quality of the camera is good in natural light situations, but in low light or under house lighting it becomes very pixelated.

My Transformer Prime came loaded with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Anyone who's used Honeycomb will be familiar with Ice Cream Sandwich, which I feel is more a refined version of Honeycomb than a completely revised OS.

Ice Cream Sandwich itself is much smoother than Honeycomb, and finally has some of the features which were obviously lacking, such as folders for example. You still get the occasional forced-closes, but the number of tablet-optimised apps in Google Play ( formerly the Android Market) has significantly improved.

Playing some of the 3D games available for Android shows how impressive the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor is. I think the power of this chipset definitely amounts to overkill for most users, but it will come into its own as more graphics intensive computer-aided design (CAD) apps become available.

Android devices have the added benefit (if that's what it can be called) of supporting Flash, and the Transformer Prime is no different. Playback for Flash videos, in fact any video type I tried, was smooth - and being able to play almost any video format was a refreshing change to my experiences on an iPad.

Like the earlier Transformer model, the Transformer Prime is a tablet which when connected to a docking keyboard 'transforms' into what is essentially a netbook.

Unlike other tablets which may use third-party keyboard accessories, the Transformer Prime's Eee Station keyboard is an intrinsic part of the offering and it's what makes the Prime such a useful device for doing work.

The keyboard dock attaches to the bottom of the tablet using the same port which powers it, and it doubles the size and almost triples the weight of the tablet. But this gives you a full QWERTY keyboard, an SD card reader, a USB 2 port, and a track-pad mouse.

With the first generation Transformer there were a lot of issues around attaching the tablet to the keyboard. The docking latch wouldn't always lock with the tablet, and this left it vulnerable to being damaged. These problems have been resolved in the Transformer Prime. Attaching and detaching is now very straightforward, and because the connection doesn't use Bluetooth radio technology, you can use it on an aircraft.

The keyboard itself is only slightly smaller than a full-sized laptop keyboard, and it's very comfortable to to use. It has Android specific function buttons like a Home key and Back key, which removes the need to touch the screen every few seconds. I found writing on the keyboard was no different to writing on most laptops, in fact I typed out most of this review on the Transformer Prime while commuting on a train to work. One thing to note though, the device becomes incredibly top heavy when it's docked and this can make it a bit difficult to use on your lap without it toppling over.

The trackpad mouse does a good job of moving the cursor to where you need to input text. It isn't the most responsive experience, but it kept me from breaking out of my 'netbook' experience and resorting to the touch screen to try and place the cursor in the middle of a word.

The killer feature of the keyboard has to be its internal battery. Apart from being used to operate the keyboard, the battery also charges the tablet when the two are connected.

Asus claims the tablet itself has a battery life of 12 hours and with the dock it can last up to 18 hours. With real world testing, mainly web browsing and some video playback, I found the tablet battery lasted between 8 and 10 hours, and the keyboard bumped this time up to 15 hours.

Disappointingly there is no 3G version of the Transformer Prime, and recent statements by the manufacturer seem to indicate there are no plans for one in Asus's device roadmap for 2012. The lack of 3G is annoying because it makes the Transformer Prime much less mobile. To access the internet on the go you need to either carry a tethering device or rely on often unreliable public hotspots.

I would recommend the Asus Transformer Prime to would-be tablet owners who are apprehensive about using a touchscreen keyboard. The Transformer Prime marries a good tablet experience with great netbook functionality and in doing so it finally shows how Android on a tablet can make sense.

Tablet - 3.5 stars

Tablet + Keyboard - 4.5 stars

Specs

Model: ASUS Transformer Prime TF201

Dimensions: 263 x 180.8 x 8.3 mm (tablet)

CPU: Quad-core 1.3 Ghz, Nvidia Tegra 3

Screen: 1280 x 800 pixels, 10.1 inches IPS+

Storage: 32 GB, plus microSD slot up to 32 GB

Camera: 8 MP with flash

PriceSpy price:

$939 (tablet)

$1095 (tablet & keyboard)

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