Transformer Prime Wi-Fi performance: A hands-on test

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Transformer Prime WiFi Performance

Does Asus's Transformer Prime have a Wi-Fi performance problem? That's the question countless people have been asking as reports of connectivity issues with the tablet continue to stack up.

Though the Transformer Prime has been favorably reviewed by many tech sites and users, some early adopters say their tablets are getting weak Wi-Fi connections and thus slow Internet speeds compared to other devices. The most common theory is that the tablet's all-aluminum casing may be interfering with connectivity when it comes to Wi-Fi as well as GPS functionality. The fact that Asus recently announced a new Transformer Prime TF700T model with a redesigned back panel and "enhanced" wireless connectivity has only fueled that line of speculation.

It's not clear exactly how many people are experiencing connectivity issues with the Transformer Prime; to be sure, plenty of Prime users say they're perfectly happy and that their tablets work fine. When I spent a week using the Transformer Prime for my in-depth review in December, I didn't encounter anything out of the ordinary. At this point, though, enough users are reporting problems that I thought it was worth investigating more closely.

Transformer Prime Wi-Fi Strength: Testing Method

As luck would have it, I ordered a Transformer Prime of my own a couple of weeks ago. With the tablet now in hand, I set out to test its Wi-Fi performance compared to two other Android devices: a Motorola Xoom tablet and a Droid X2 phone. I tested each device on two different wireless networks: an AT&T DSL-based Wi-Fi network with a relatively large range and a Verizon 4G-based Wi-Fi network with a relatively short range.

In both tests, I first placed each device in one location near the access point, then in another location away from the access point. I measured each device's Internet connection speed using SpeedTest.net. I performed each measurement three times per device in order to lessen the effects of random fluctuation; I then averaged each device's three scores to determine its final number for each scenario.

Aside from the change in devices, all of the tests were as consistent as possible. Each device was placed in the same exact spot in each location, and the tests were performed one after another in immediate succession. There was no other activity on the networks at the time of the testing.

Transformer Prime Wi-Fi Strength: The Results

All right -- so here's what I found:

• Test #1: AT&T DSL Wi-Fi network

Near the access point (strong connection -- three to four bars):

• Prime: 1253 kbps download, 450 kbps upload

• Xoom: 1247 kbps download. 259 kbps upload

• DX2: 1232 kbps download, 265 kbps upload

Away from the access point (moderately weak connection -- two bars):

• Prime: 1242 kbps download, 413 kbps upload

• Xoom: 1247 kbps download, 252 kbps upload

• DX2: 1239 kbps download, 268 kbps upload

• Test #2: Verizon Wireless 4G Wi-Fi network

Near the access point (strong connection -- three to four bars):

• Prime: 11371 kbps download, 9851 kbps upload

• Xoom: 10525 kbps download, 5337 kbps upload

• DX2: 7863 kbps download, 5255 kbps upload

Away from the access point (very weak connection -- one bar):

• Prime: 1718 kbps download, 2674 kbps upload 

• Xoom: 6304 kbps download, 5254 kbps upload 

• DX2: 7217 kbps download, 4385 kbps upload 

Transformer Prime Wi-Fi Strength: Thoughts and Conclusions

So what does that all mean? Some thoughts and conclusions, based on this data:

  • When in an area with a strong Wi-Fi signal -- three-to-four bar territory -- the Transformer Prime actually has better Wi-Fi connectivity than other Android devices. It outperformed the Xoom and the Droid X2 in download and upload speeds in both of my testing scenarios.

  • When in an area with a moderately weak Wi-Fi signal -- two-bar territory -- the Prime holds up about as well as other Android devices. In my AT&T DSL Wi-Fi network test, the Prime was more or less able to maintain its connection speed even when it was far from the access point. The tablet's results were pretty much on par with the Xoom's and the Droid X2's.

  • When in an area with a very weak Wi-Fi signal -- one-bar territory -- the Prime tends to perform more poorly than other Android devices. In my Verizon 4G Wi-Fi network test, all three devices suffered a significant drop in connection speed when they were far away from the access point, but the Prime's drop was much greater than the Xoom's or the Droid X2's. The Prime's connection was still usable, in my case, but its relative drop was certainly more pronounced than the other devices'.

Now, this is by no means a large-scale, conclusive study, but the findings do seem to match up with the fact that I experienced no Wi-Fi problems during my initial review of the Transformer Prime: Whether I was using the tablet in my home, my office, or a public place like Starbucks or Panera, the wireless signal was always reasonably strong. It appears the below-par Wi-Fi performance crops up only when the Prime is in an area with a particularly weak Wi-Fi signal. (It's also entirely possible, of course, that some of the early Prime units had a hardware issue that's caused more severe Wi-Fi connection issues for some users; at this point, we can't completely rule out that possibility.)

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I conducted some less controlled side-by-side testing with public Wi-Fi networks, too, by the way: I sat in a few different places in and around a Starbucks and then another restaurant with free Wi-Fi and ran speed tests on both the Prime and a Galaxy Nexus. In all of those cases, the Wi-Fi signal ranged from two to four bars and the two devices' connection speeds were roughly comparable.

Bottom line: Based on my initial review and my new targeted testing, the Transformer Prime appears to perform as well as or better than other Android devices in most typical Wi-Fi usage scenarios, where the Internet signal ranges from strong to moderately weak. In a limited set of circumstances, however -- when the tablet is on the outskirts of a Wi-Fi network and the signal is exceptionally weak -- the Prime does appear to have lower Wi-Fi performance than other devices. This may explain why a subset of users is reporting issues with the tablet while other users are reporting only positive experiences.

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JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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