[Update: Now that the embargo has lifted, we have released a further five videos showing various demonstrations of the Transformer Prime. We have collected them in this new article, where you can view and discuss the features we've shown. The videos were based on questions from our audience, whom we acknowledge in the segments. Enjoy!]
Welcome to the first ever Ritchie’s Room TV segment! Here we take a look at the new Transformer Prime from Asus. Read on below for lots more detail and images.
The Transformer Prime is easily the most hyped of all upcoming tablets. The original Transformer took the idea of the keyboard dock and integrated it so well that it became much more than simply functional; it melded design and hardware with the Honeycomb platform in an attractive and useful body.
The Transformer Prime is the evolutionary step, taking cues from the recent UX Zenbook series to offer an eye catching, metal finish on both the tablet and keyboard dock. There are improvements to its successful predecessor in pretty much every area, with the exception of the operating system, but an upgrade will be coming soon, we are assured.
As a stand-alone tablet away from the keyboard, the Prime is as sturdy as it is slim, thanks to the rigid metal back that offers no chance of bending or twisting. The spun metal pattern immediately invokes the UX21/31 look and feel, and sits very comfortably beside its two larger cousins.
The front layer of Gorilla glass provides another layer of protection, without sacrificing image quality or resulting in increased thickness. We tried banging pretty hard on the glass, and although we didn’t go so far as to try scraping a key across the screen, the display feels like it could take a fair bit of punishment.
As it’s been reported widely, the tablet component is thinner (8.3mm) and lighter (586g) than the iPad 2, and in the hand it feels very easy to handle, both in landscape and portrait positions. With Samsung out of contention in many regions, the Prime will be the one of the most likely direct contenders to the iPad 2. In Australia, pricing indications are that the Prime with keyboard will be around $100 more than the equivalent-capacity iPad 2 and will arrive in 32GB and 64GB versions.
With slim form factors inevitably comes some compromises, and in this case the outputs on the Prime aren’t as comprehensive as other models in the market. However, given the Samsung 10.1 had only its proprietary connection that necessitated various adapter purchases, any additional ports are more than welcome. In this case, a micro HDMI port and Micro SD slot are fitted alongside the volume controls.
The Super IPS+ screen is an absolute winner. When it comes to tablets, particularly the premium models, visual display needs to be absolutely spot-on, and here the Prime does not disappoint. Wide viewing angles allow sharing to an almost side-on position, and the IPS+ feature boosts the brightness to counteract outdoor lighting to make the Prime readable in almost any condition. By the same token, there is total control to limit the intensity of the light when you’re using the Prime on your bedside or darker environments.
This is the best performance I’ve seen in HD video playback as well, no doubt thanks to the upgraded processor. The Tegra 3 is the first quad core chip to power a tablet, and the Prime is the first release to boast the inclusion. 720p and 1080p video files that had previous jittered a little (or a lot) on previous models we’ve tested ran very smoothly.
The associated sound coming from the Prime is unexpectedly loud and clear. I say unexpected because the grill could easily be missed as another design feature, but the speaker is as effective as anything I’ve experienced so far on tablets. In fact, I found that by holding the tablet in a way that cups the grill actually enhances the audio quality even more.
The upgraded memory is also certain to be a contributor to an overall improved Android experience with the Prime. If you’ve ever used one on of the task killer apps on Android, you’d know that there are a lot of processes happening at any one time, so the extra memory will definitely be a boon to multitasking and open app support.
Another upgrade is the back camera, boosted to 8 megapixels and featuring an f2.4 aperture, plus an LED flash. This sounds suspiciously similar to the iPhone 4S camera, and it might actually encourage more photo-taking with this unit. I wonder, how many people use their tablet as a serious or even casual camera? With improved hardware, there might come increased usage.
From a software point of view, it’s the familiar Honeycomb 3.2 that we’ve come to know and frequently discuss. I’m sure there were a fair few people holding their breath in wild hope that Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich as it is commonly known, would be released in tablet form with the Prime. Sadly, it was not to be, but everything points to an upgrade, possibly before Xmas. We’ll keep you updated on that point.
What would the Transformer Prime be without the second component, the keyboard dock, that gives it the coolest name in consumer electronics? The keyboard has been slimmed down and there is a UX-inspired tapering of the front of the keyboard, to remind us that we’re in Zen-like company. It almost looks like a netbook-sized Ultrabook.
Like the keyboard before it (which is not cross compatible with the Transformer Prime), the new keyboard places some commonly used Android commands as shortcuts on the keyboard, like back, search and home. If you use the keyboard enough, you’ll find yourself using these quite often while the keyboard is connected. Like a premium netbook, the island keys are well placed for regular and long session use.
The keyboard also follows the tradition of supplementing the main unit’s battery life with its own battery, giving the total package up to 18 hours battery life. As per the original Transformer, the keyboard can feed a charge to the Prime tablet, keeping the tablet running for the good part of an entire day, or a long international flight.
The keyboard also adds a couple more inputs not available on the main unit: a full size SD card slot and USB port. I think at least one more USB port could have been added, considering the support for USB devices that Honeycomb, and by extension Ice Cream Sandwich, has now integrated into the platform, making it easier to connect more storage devices and other accessories.
To complete this overview, I have to say that as a single unit, the keyboard and tablet combined still feels reasonably light. At just over 1.1kg combined, it can very easily sneak into a large handbag or a small backpack with no issues. With the inclusion of Polaris Office, and the use of Google Docs, this could very well be the mobile productivity device of choice. The Transformer Prime has made a pleasing progression from the debut model.
Without the keyboard, the Transformer Prime is the Android tablet we’ve all been waiting for, in form factor and performance. The keyboard adds another dimension of usability because of its tight integration with the Prime tablet and well-thought key layout.
Along with the Motorola Xoom 2, Samsung 7.7 and other unconfirmed models from major brands, the Prime represents the next generation of Android tablets, adding their own flourishes and customisation to the platform. This new generation looks far removed from the first releases of Honeycomb tablets, and with a growing app library, accessory support and software overhaul just around the corner, the tablet market is primed (sorry!) for big things in 2012.
Are you waiting in anticipation for the release of this new Android tablet?
As always, feel free to leave your comments and questions below.