I suppose it's not a little ironic that what is easily the best Android tablet yet does not look a little bit like an iPad, but a lot like an iPad, and is being sued for trademark infringement—though not by Apple. If you want to be generous, you could say that Asus's Transformer Prime stands on the shoulders of giants. With spiked cleats.
Why It Matters
In a word: speed. This tablet has not a dual, not a triple, but a quad-core 1.3Ghz processor, plus an integrated GPU. It is the first device to run Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor—the first quad-core Android tablet—and it simply blows the doors off of everything else. In terms of speed, anyway. Just imagine when it's not hobbled by the crippling inefficiencies of Honeycomb. Of course, it won't be the only quad-core tablet by this time next week.
At just 8.3mm, it's thinner than the iPad 2 (8.8mm) and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (8.6mm). There's no cheap plastic on this thing. The back is a solid panel of brushed aluminum—the texture feels slightly off though, to some of us. The result is a very low-profile device that feels incredibly strong (unlike the Galaxy Tabs). It's not quite as comfortable to hold as Motorola's rubberized Xyboard tablets, but the lightness makes up for it.
Right now, the Prime is running Honeycomb (Android 3.2.1). All Honeycomb tablets have had problems with consistency. They're fast one minute, and then slow as hell the next. Not with the Prime. Even when I had ten programs running simultaneously (most of which were HD games) there was virtually no stutter or lag on the homescreen or anywhere else. Nvidia delivered a package of sample HD games that use all four cores and the GPU, and they are absolutely gorgeous. Asus has done some light, (mostly) inoffensive tweaking to the stock Android experience. It adds some extra controls, which are nice, and some software which ranges from useful (Polaris Office) to useless (@vibe Music, a Pandora clone). When it get its Ice Cream Sandwich update, you'll be able to remove anything you don't want, and considering we've already seen ICS running on the Prime, that should be very soon.
NOTE: The reason it's called a Transformer is because it has a spiffy keyboard dock that basically transforms it into a laptop. It has a full keyboard, touchpad, USB and SD card ports, and it adds an extra 50-60% to the battery life, theoretically bringing it up to 15 or 16 hours. But we're not talking about that because we haven't yet received ours. We'll update the review when we get it.
The Transformer Prime shows how Android tablets could and should be built. And this tablet actually lives up to the hype as far as speed and performance goes. It's easily the fastest Android tablet out there, and may well be faster than the iPad 2—though Android has a knack for feeling slower, because of the way, for instance, that it animates transitions. The Super IPS+ screen is incredibly bright, and I had no problem seeing the screen in sunlight. Colors were nice and vivid, too. Battery life is terrific. With fairly conservative use and Wi-Fi only on half of the time, I got ten hours of use. When I pushed it way harder, I still got close to eight.
The big ding is that it's still running Honeycomb. While the Tegra 3 over-powers Honeycomb's speed problems with obscene processing power, it's still not a very intuitive UI.
The most glaring design flaw is the speaker. Yes, speaker. Singular. If you hold the tablet in landscape (as you will for most games and for all movies) the speaker is on the far right side of the tablet, under your hand. Because the tablet is so thin your hand doesn't really block the speaker, but you can absolutely tell that it's only coming out of one side.
Asus has provided their own sliding keyboard (similar to Swype) which is awful. Not only does swiping not make much sense on a giant screen, but the predictions were very bad indeed (fortunately you can easily switch out the keyboard, because it's Android.). No 3G/4G radio on board (just Wi-Fi), which may be a deal-breaker for some.
Should I Buy It?
Yes. If you know you don't want an iPad 2. That is, if you know you want an Android tablet. This is the one to buy. It's the best constructed, fastest Android tablet out there. The only people who should hesitate are those who don't want to be confined to Wi-Fi. That said, this is my new favorite tablet. Maybe it'll be yours too.
Asus EEE Pad Transformer Prime Specs
OS: Android 3.2.1
Screen: 10.1-inch Super IPS+
Processor and RAM: 1.3 GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 Processor / 1GB RAM
Storage: 32GB & 64GB (expandable via microSD)
Camera: Back: 8MP/1080p HD, Front: 1.2MP
Battery: 25Wh Li-polymer
Price: $500/32GB $600/64GB $150/docking station
Giz Rank: 4 Stars
Music credit: Dub Terminator