Asus Transformer Prime: Power plus style -- this could be good

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

We've seen a lot of Android tablets launch over the last several months, and let's be honest: To some extent, they've all started to blur together. With its newly announced Transformer Prime, Asus may soon stand out from the pack.

Asus Transformer Prime

Asus's Transformer Prime has plenty going for it: The tablet has a slim, sleek design -- thinner than any other tablet on the market, according to Asus -- and it's packing a lot of power in its pretty little body. The Transformer Prime is the world's first quad-core tablet, running Nvidia's speedy new Tegra 3 processor. And like Asus's original Transformer model, the Transformer Prime comes with an optional keyboard docking accessory that effectively turns the tablet into an Android-powered notebook PC.

I haven't had a chance to check out the Transformer Prime in person just yet -- few people have -- but I got a guided tour of the tablet via teleconference last night. I've gotta say, on paper at least, this thing looks pretty damn impressive.

Transformer Prime: Bridging the Android Tablet Gap

The Transformer Prime has the potential to bridge the gap between the two types of Android tablets we've seen so far: the sexy tablets and the function-packed alternatives. On the one end of the spectrum, you've got products like Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- a slim and sexy Android tablet if there ever were one. But along with its slim form and enticing design, Sammy's Tab has some drawbacks: The tablet has no support for external storage, no direct USB connectivity, and no dedicated HDMI out-port.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have tablets like the Motorola Xoom or the even more extreme Toshiba Thrive. These products are more robust in what they offer, but they also come with a less svelte look -- something that, comparatively speaking, might not be as appealing to the mainstream tech-buying market.

The Transformer Prime appears to be a marriage of those two worlds. It's about as sexy as you can get, with a "metallic spun" finish in a choice of Amethyst Gray or Champagne Gold designs. The tablet is 8.3-mm thin (slightly thinner than the Galaxy Tab's 8.6-mm form) and weighs just 1.29 lb. (slightly heavier than the Tab's 1.25-lb. body). Asus says the Prime's display is 1.5 times as bright as other leading tablets, with a 178-degree viewing angle.

Transformer Prime Tablet

Under its hood, the Prime's Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor promises some serious computing capabilities. The quad-core chip delivers five times the performance of its dual-core predecessor, according to Nvidia, with lower power consumption and better battery life as a result of the distributed workload. Asus lists the Prime at 12 hours of heavy duty use (with constant 720p video playback and jacked-up screen brightness), or 18 hours when connected to the optional keyboard dock.

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

About that dock -- well, that's a quality of the Prime you really can't ignore. Even just as a tablet, there's enough going on with the Transformer Prime to grab any tech fan's attention. But then you add in the keyboard dock -- which also includes a built-in touchpad -- and the tablet suddenly gets infinitely more interesting. While you can find third-party keyboards for practically any Android tablet, the appeal of the Prime's seamless PC-like transformation is undeniable.

Transformer Prime Dock

The Prime features a microSD card slot and micro-HDMI port. With the keyboard dock attached, you get a full-sized SD card reader and USB 2.0 port as well.

Other specs of the Transformer Prime include 1GB of RAM; 32GB or 64GB of internal storage; an 8MP rear camera with auto-focus, LED flash, and 1080p HD video capture; a 1.2MP front-facing camera for video chat; and a 10.1-in., 1280-by-800 Super IPS+ display with Gorilla Glass.

Transformer Prime: The Nitty Gritty

The Transformer Prime is set to launch sometime in December, initially with Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) on-board. Asus says the tablet will definitely get an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade, with a time frame to be announced once Google officially releases the code.

The Prime is not a "pure" Android device, it's worth noting; Asus has made some modifications to the OS and bundled in at least a couple pieces of third-party software (SuperNote, Polaris Office). But so far, Asus has been fairly on the ball when it comes to Android upgrades, so the potential of unacceptably extended delays seems less worrisome than with other manufacturers' OS-modified models.



Now, the Transformer Prime ain't cheap: It'll set you back $499 for the 32GB edition or $599 for the 64GB edition. The keyboard dock will run an extra $149. Asus says it'll continue selling its original Transformer tablet as the baseline edition and sees the Prime as its "premium" model. Clearly, the Prime is not going to be for everyone.

But if you're willing to pay the price, is the Transformer Prime worth the dough? Until I've had the opportunity to use and thoroughly test the tablet, it's hard to say for sure. Rest assured, though, I'll be spending some quality time with the Prime as soon as Asus makes review units available. Stay tuned for my full review and hands-on impressions.

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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