Asus finally unveils its much anticipated Transformer Prime. It's going to be the first tablet to feature Nvidia's Tegra 3 SoC. While it's not going to ship with Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich, Asus promises a few more surprises beyond just more horsepower.
As Jane reported earlier in the month, Asus' Eee Pad Transformer Prime will ship with Honeycomb 3.2. However, Asus technical marketing manager Gary Key tells us that the company "will provide an FOTA (firmware over the air) for Android 4.0 as soon as the code has been optimized, tested and approved."
It goes without saying that this is the first Tegra 3-based tablet and, even though the new Transformer won't ship with Ice Cream Sandwich, there's still plenty for us to be exciting about based on the spec sheet Asus provided.
There's a lot to go over. Here's the highlights reel:
- first Tegra 3-based tablet
- thinnest tablet yet (thinner mobile dock too)
- brightest display yet
- comes in two color scheme
- improved case design to prevent fingerprint build up
- better camera hardware
- lower input lag
The Transformer Prime promises to be the thinnest tablet yet at 8.3 mm. Granted, Apple's iPad 2 officially comes in at 8.6 mm, so we aren't talking about a difference in magnitude.
With the exception of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, all of the Android-based tablets we've tested thus far have been thick, chunky and heavy compared to the iPad 2. However, Asus is trying to demonstrate that, once you nail down functionality, it's easy to improve on aesthetics.
In our opinion, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is currently the closest thing to a clear iPad 2 competitor. The design is clean and sexy. Its Super PLS display is nothing short of amazing; it's clearly the best screen we've seen on a tablet, boasting wide viewing angles and superior color (for benchmarks, read page six of our Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: A Second-Gen Android Tablet review).
Asus might have something that even trumps Super PLS. Most tablet displays max out at around 350 nits. (The S-IPS panel on the original Eee Pad Transformer hit close to 400 nits in our lab tests.) However, the S-IPS+ panel on the Transformer Prime is said to hit up to 600 nits, which makes it better-suited for outdoor viewing. Granted, we're still dealing with 1280 x 800, but that's to be expected with a 10.1" widescreen of this generation. It's not clear what makes the panel worthy of the "+" designator, but the display is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Prime besides the Tegra 3.
Physically, the Transformer Prime looks totally different. This time around Asus is going for a metallic spun finish to prevent fingerprint build up, which is an unfortunate side effect when you're dealing with anything touchscreen-based. Though, the company is going one step further by applying a hydro-oleophobic coating to the entire surface, which will help repel oil. This is similar to what's used on Apple's iPhone 4S and even older smartphones. This is by no means fingerprint-proof, but it should be a marked improvement from the original Transformer.
The front-facing camera remains 1.2 MP just like the original Transformer, but Prime's rear-facing camera has undergone a major upgrade. Based on the similar specs, we'd speculate that this might be the same Sony image sensor found on the iPhone 4S, which is encouraging given our experience taking snaps with the Apple's new smartphone. However, we won't be able to say for sure until we get to see a complete teardown analysis.
Tegra 3 may finally sort out that ugly input lag problem that we've had with many Honeycomb tablets. Often times, we're benchmarking lag in the range of 250 ms+. That's not good, especially when you consider that the average college student has a reaction time of 200 milliseconds for visual stimuli. Many competitive gamers can react within a 100 ms window, so perceivable lag depends on your own physical and cognitive capabilities. However, any reduction with regards to input lag makes tablets far more intuitive to interact with.
Asus defines input lag differently than we do because we look at "total input lag." However, given that the company is claiming to halve input lag, we're definitely excited to see what our high speed camera turns up when we get our hands on one.
Asus also plans to include SuperNote and Polaris Office with the Transformer Prime, but that's not really new. Both of these apps were included with the Android 3.2.1 update on our original Transformer. However, the improved performance that comes with Tegra 3 should make Polaris Office more usable when the Transformer Prime is in docked mode. Given our hiccups with the original Transformer in docked mode, we might finally get a tablet that functions well as a notebook, instead of merely being a poor imitation.
|iPad (3G)||iPad 2 (3G)||Eee Pad Transformer||Eee Pad Transformer Prime|
|Weight||1.6 lb||1.33 lb||1.5 lb||1.29 lb|
Asus is scrambling to make sure that the Transformer Prime makes it onto store shelves in time for the holiday buying frenzy. However, don't expect it to be cheap. The original Transformer will continue to be sold as a "mainstream tablet" at $399 (16 GB) and $449 (32 GB), while the Prime will be positioned as a premium tablet. The new dock will be priced just like the old dock at $149, but the Transformer Prime will start at $499 for the 32 GB model. If you're willing to pony up another $100, Asus will also offer a 64 GB version for $599.