Every now and then we come across a gadget that raises the bar for products in that segment. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer definitely classifies as one of those products as it has changed the way we use tablets. What was once a device designed purely for media consumption has now turned into something much more and many people are ditching their netbooks for a tablet. The unique advantage of the Transformer is that it can be a tablet when needed and could also turn into a netbook with the help of the keyboard dock. We truly loved the first Eee Pad Transformer and today we’ll be looking at the upgrade, the Transformer Prime TF201.
Design and Build
The Transformer Prime is a slimmer and lighter version of the old one. It still uses an aluminium chassis but the edges are a lot tapered so it now measures just 8.3mm in thickness while the weight has been dropped to 586g. The textured pattern of the old model has been swapped for a more modern, brushed aluminium look. Around the back, we just have the upgraded 8MP shooter along with an LED flash. There’s a speaker grill on one side of the tablet so you don’t get stereo sound. The tablet itself has a 3.5mm headphone jack, power/sleep button on the top, volume rocker on the side along with a miniHDMI port and a microSD card slot. The Prime uses the same proprietary connector instead of a microUSB port.
Slimmer and sleeker
Currently there’s only one model available in the market which is the 64GB, Wi-Fi version. There is no 3G version of the Prime but that’ll soon be remedied with the launch of the Transformer Pad 300. While the tablet itself is built incredibly well, we aren’t too fond of the style of buttons used. They are placed around the edge and have a slippery texture, which makes them a bit tricky to use. It’s the same issues as the 4th Gen iPod Touch, there isn't much tactile feedback. The 10.1-inch screen has the same 1280 x 800 resolution but it’s a Super IPS+ LCD screen with Corning’s Gorilla Glass. This gives the Prime very good viewing angles and good colour reproduction.
The dock has also undergone some weight reduction and is quite a bit slimmer now with tapering edges towards the front which is in keeping with the look of the tablet. The dock features a charging port, standard USB port and an SD card reader. The layout of the keyboard and the keys themselves haven’t changed much from the old one and are very comfortable to use. We would have loved to see backlit keys this time around but sadly that’s not there. The keyboard is not merely ripped from their netbooks but customized to work with Android so there are plenty of shortcuts for brightness, locking the screen, volume, media keys, etc. The USB port supports NTFS file format as well so a 500GB portable drive is a non-issue.
The dock also features a 2-cell battery that charges the main battery in the tablet whenever it’s running low. The Transformer Prime sands off the rough edges of the first Transformer to give you a sleeker and more modern looking tablet with the same great build quality.
The review unit sent to us had already been updated to ICS 4.0.3. Asus had added their own Waveshare UI over it but unlike other manufacturers, it’s minimal and it doesn’t break the feel and look of stock ICS. Companies really need to sit up and take notice on how it should be done. The interface is pretty straightforward and easy to use. Asus has only added necessary widgets that one may actually use instead of useless bloatware. There’s a nice battery widget that tells you the charge levels of the tablet and the dock. The task manager widget lets you quickly manage running tasks and also has a very nice weather widget.
This is how you skin ICS!
Waking up the tablet, swiping between homescreens and apps is lightning quick thanks to what lies under the hood. The Prime is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 SoC which consists of four cores running at 1.3GHz. This, coupled with the powerful GPU onboard makes transitions and animations in the OS and apps buttery smooth. In terms of numbers, AnTuTu gave us an overall score of 10,308, while Linpack returned a Single Thread score of 44.7 and a multithreaded score of 92.
Special settings for Asus's features
One area that’s heavily modified is the notification bar at the bottom which gives you access to many toggle switches for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, etc. along with brightness and power modes. There’s also IPS+ brightness preset that boosts the levels for outdoor use.
Asus hasn’t messed around too much with the stock music player, which is not a bad thing since ICS comes with a pretty mean player. You can sort your songs by Recent, Albums, Artists, Songs, Playlists or Genre. The player has a clean look to it and you even get audio enhancements by default. The great bit is that the player also supports FLAC files now. The audio quality is good with a decent pair of earphones and the volume is quite loud even without the enhancements.
Easy to use media player
The one place where we feel Asus could have done better is the video area. Since we are stuck with the stock player, there’s only support for MP4 videos. 1080p videos play just fine though, even through pen drives plugged into the USB port. Videos look crisp and sharp thanks to the IPS screen.
The Prime doesn’t have 3G support but you get all the other good stuff like Wi-Fi ‘n’, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth and of course HDMI-out. Strangely, there’s no Face Unlock in this build and we have a feeling that has something to do with the 1.2MP front camera. Looks like this feature requires a minimum of 1.3MP camera and above in order to work properly. DLNA is also present and can be accessed through the MyNet app. You can share music, photos and videos to any DLNA certified device.
Great for surfing the net
We also have Asus WebStorage which gives you unlimited web storage space for one year after which you have to pay a fee to continue the service. MyCloud lets you quickly browse and sort out your media files saved in the cloud. One feature we really like is App Locker. It essentially lets you put a common password for whichever app you want so you can prevent nosy people from snooping your private picture collection.
Other apps include MyLibrary which lets you read Ebooks and popular news publications. Kindle app also comes bundled. There’s MovieStudio for editing your captured videos, Polaris Office for working on Office documents and spreadsheets.
Some of the extra apps
Since this is a Tegra-powered device, we get TegraZone allowing you to purchase and download games optimized for this hardware. App Backup lets you backup your apps into the cloud and Asus gives you 600MB of space.
The Prime comes with a beefed up 8MP camera and an LED flash. Although it doesn’t have a BSI sensor, the quality is pretty close to or equal to the one on the new iPad. The interface hasn’t been touched which again, is fine since ICS has a pretty good camera software anyways. The shooter is able to capture very good indoor shots without the flash. Panorama mode works very well too. Pictures look even better outdoors under natural light. Touch to focus is present as well and the Prime was able to get some pretty good macro shots.
Slick camera interface
The camera also handles 1080p video recording and playback like a champ. The frame rate is solid at roughly 30fps and motion is rarely jerky or stuttery, unless and untill you’re moving around fast.
With flash and 'Indoor' scene mode
Captures very good detail
Since this doesn’t have a 3G SIM slot, we just ran our video drain test. During this time, the brightness was set to medium and Wi-Fi was on. We managed to get about 7hrs of playback time from the tablet alone and once we plugged it into the dock, it charged the Prime to about 44 percent so we were able to get another 4hrs from this which gives us a grand total of 11hrs. Surprisingly, this is roughly the same time we got with the older Transformer as well which is really good since despite the increase in processing power, the battery life has remained more or less the same.
The Transformer Prime TF201 is currently being sold for Rs.49,999, although you can find it in online store like Flipkart for Rs.46,000. While it’s expensive for a non-3G tablet, it’s a very good upgrade from the previous version but we still wouldn’t recommend buying this now, especially when the Transformer Pad 300 has launched. This is a very similar tablet to the Prime in features and specs plus, it’s also 3G ready and a bit cheaper as well. Asus has yet to launch this tablet in India so we’d recommend waiting for it if you’re on a tight budget and want 3G. Remember that the storage capacity will be lesser and it won’t have the IPS+ display but other than that, it’s going to be the same. Hopefully, once that launches the price of the Prime will drop, which will make it a better buy.
Specifications (Click for a larger Image)
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