Hands on: Asus Transformer Prime -- the world's first quad-core tablet

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Man -- what a month it's been for Android.

First, we had the introduction of Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, and its accompanying Galaxy Nexus flagship phone. Now, another mobile tech first is about to drop into our lives.

Asus Transformer Prime Quad-Core Tablet

The new Asus Transformer Prime tablet is officially set to launch later this month -- on the week of December 19 in the U.S., according to Asus. The Transformer Prime is the world's first quad-core tablet, and armed with Nvidia's new Tegra 3 processor, it pushes portable touch-based computing to powerful new heights.

Processing chops aside, the Transformer Prime has plenty to offer -- both as a straight-forward tablet and as a keyboarded PC-like device. The Transformer Prime, like Asus's first-generation Transformer, is built to connect with a custom docking accessory that effectively turns the tablet into a laptop. Unlike its predecessor, however, the Transformer Prime is sleek, thin, and oozing with electronic-style sexiness.

I've been spending the past couple of days using the Asus Transformer Prime. I'll have a full in-depth review for you soon -- I wanted to take some more time to get to know the tablet and test it in real-world conditions first -- but I thought I'd take a moment to share some quick first impressions with you now.

Asus Transformer Prime: The Body

Let's start with a moment of truth: For all of its positive assets, "sexy" is simply not a word I'd use to describe Asus's original Transformer tablet. The first Transformer always struck me as a bit clunky and utilitarian -- traits that may have been a worthwhile tradeoff for the added functionality, depending on your perspective, but not traits that made for an eye-catching or lust-inducing gadget. You know, the kind of gadget an average shopper sees and just has to pick up and try.

The Transformer Prime is that kind of gadget. The tablet itself is gorgeous, with a sturdy metallic-spun shell available in either an "Amethyst Gray" or "Champagne Gold" design. It's thin as can be -- 8.3 mm, making it the thinnest tablet on the market today -- and weighs 1.29 lb. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is 8.6 mm thick and weighs 1.25 lb.; the iPad 2 is 8.8 mm thick and weighs 1.33 lb.

Asus Transformer Prime Tablet

While the Tab and the 'Pad muster up their own forms of sex appeal, the Transformer Prime one-ups them both by managing to combine both a sexy form and advanced functionality. In addition to its quad-core processor, the Prime packs a micro-HDMI port, a microSD card slot, and a high-end 8-megapixel camera (plus 1.2-megapixel front-facing cam for video chat).

And then there's its killer feature: the dock.

Asus Transformer Prime: The Dock

Let's face it: If you're buying an Asus Transformer tablet, you're probably going to want the accompanying keyboard dock. The Prime's dock follows the tablet's lead and is thinner, lighter, and -- you guessed it -- sexier than its predecessor. It matches the new tablet's look, too, with the metallic-spun casing available in either color scheme.

Asus Transformer Prime Keyboard Dock

The Transformer Prime tablet snaps in and out of the new dock effortlessly. Once connected, it allows you to use the integrated QWERTY keyboard and trackpad to get around the Android interface and type with ease. At first use, the keyboard itself strikes me as being roughly comparable to the one on the original Transformer dock: small but fairly painless to use. It's more pleasant to type on a full-sized tablet keyboard, of course, but the Prime's seamless integration provides a major benefit that can't be ignored. 

With the dock attached, the Transformer Prime looks and acts like a high-end laptop. The top half -- the actual tablet -- swings up and down like a lid and closes to form what functions as a single-piece unit. This thing really looks phenomenal and feels good to hold. Plus, with the dock connected, you gain a full-sized USB 2.0 port, a full-sized SD card slot, and an additional battery that can tack an extra six hours of usage onto your tablet. Not too shabby.

Asus Transformer Prime Docked

Asus Transformer Prime: The Performance

I'll get into performance in much more detail in my full review, but at first impression, the Transformer Prime just flies. I mean, this tablet is fast. I'm honestly not sure quad-core is something an average tablet user truly needs at this point, but for a power-user, gamer, or anyone who just wants top-of-the-line technology, the added processing muscle puts the Prime in a league of its own.

Swiping through graphical displays -- like the home screens, for example, or the three-dimensional carousel in an app like YouTube -- is consistently fast and fluid on the Transformer Prime, more so than on comparable dual-core devices. And the gaming potential is huge: Already, developers are working to create new versions of games designed to take advantage of the Tegra 3's quad-core capabilities, with higher frame rates and smoother, more realistic effects.

[IN-DEPTH: Does quad-core really matter?

On top of that, a quad-core tablet actually uses less power than a dual-core equivalent -- which means you end up getting better battery life. Asus promises 12 hours of use with its new Transformer Prime, 18 if you're connected to the dock. I'm still evaluating the battery life on my review unit, but so far, it's been hanging on and barely losing juice, even when I'm throwing a lot of resource-intensive tasks its way.

Asus Transformer Prime: Everything Else

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We're only scratching the surface of Asus's new Transformer Prime tablet. In my full review, I'll dive deep into the device's performance as well as all aspects of its hardware, including the upgraded cameras and Super IPS+ display. I'll also explore the Prime's software -- it ships with Android 3.2.1 and the promise of an Android 4.0 upgrade -- and take a close look at Asus's OS-level modifications and how they affect the user experience.

UPDATE: The full review is now online. Follow the link below:

Asus Transformer Prime: The Rolls-Royce of Android tablets 

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

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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