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Eee Pad Transformer Prime First Look: What We Like, What We Don't

Today, we finally got our hands on ASUS's Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201, the first tablet powered by Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 processor. Though we've only had the device for a few hours, our early tests show that the new CPU is living up to its billing with record-breaking benchmark speeds and the ability to show added detail in games.  

Like the Eee Pad Transformer TF101 that came before it, the Transformer Prime has a 10.1-inch IPS screen with a 1280 x 800 resolution, runs Android 3.2 Honeycomb, and has an optional keyboard dock that, when attached, turns the tablet into a clamshell-style Android notebook that can swivel open and closed. In addition to its speedy new processor, the Transformer Prime sports several other improvements over its predecessor, including an 8-MP camera with F2.4 aperture and 1080p capture, a new series of power-saving modes, and a slimmer design.

Though we have early access to the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, retail availability isn't far behind. ASUS told us that the tablet will hit retail stores during the week of 12/19 and may be available for order online the week before that. The Prime will be available in two colors, Amethyst Gray and Champagne, in 32 and 64GB capacities for $499 and $599 respectively. The keyboard dock will go for $149.  

We'll be posting a full review of the Transformer Prime TF201 in the next day or so, but we've already made several observations in playing with it for a few hours. Here are our initial impressions.

What We Like About the Eee Pad Transformer Prime

  • Design: The original Eee Pad Transformer had a functional aesthetic, but it wouldn't win any beauty pageants. The Transformer Prime has a gorgeous back with an amethyst gray (in our case)  circular spun metallic pattern that looks very much like the lid on the ASUS ZenBook UX31 notebook. At only .3 inches thick, the Prime feels a lot slimmer than its .5-inch thick predecessor and, at just 1.3 pounds, this is one of the lightest 10-inch tablets we've tested, on par with the iPad and only .1 pounds heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

We also appreciate that the front bezel is completely black, not rimmed with extra plastic like the original Transformer. However, the bezel is noticeably thicker than the Galaxy Tab 10.1's.

  • Blazing Benchmarks: On most synthetic benchmarks we ran, the Eee Pad Transformer Prime blew away Tegra 2-based tablets like its predecessor. However, on certain tests like An3DBench, the new tablet scored a little lower than the original Transformer. We can only attribute this to older benchmarks not knowing what to do with the quad core chip.
    Benchmark Eee Pad Transformer Prime Eee Pad Transformer TF101 ThinkPad Tablet Galaxy Tab 10.1 Sony Tablet S Linpack (Single Thread) 47.36 N/A 36.8 29.4 28.9 Linpack (Multi Thread) 70.27 42.4 63.3 53.7 58.3 Nenamark 59.7 35 42.2 42.1 30.4 Benchmark CPU 4096.7 3125.8 3089.3 3057 3193.8 Benchmark Graphics 581.79 344.8 402.5 442.7 427.6 An3DBench 8050 8579 7703 7616 7624 NBench Integer 5.11 3.9 3.9 3.9 3.9 NBench Memory 4.4 2.8 3.36 3.34 3.33 NBench Float 1.57 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.17
  • Enhanced Visuals: Nvidia says the Tegra 3 chip's greater speed allows faster frame rates and more rendering effects in games and our experience lives up to the hype. Our Eee Pad Transformer Prime came with a number of games preloaded, including a special Nvidia demo called Glowball, which allows you to roll a ball around a 3D environment using the tablet's accelerometer.

On the Prime, the ball rolled quickly with plenty of lighting effects, reflections, and billowing cloth flags on the borders of the play table. 

However, when we copied Glowball over to a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (LTE version), which uses a 1-GHz Tegra 2 CPU, the image was so dark that we couldn't see the giant clown head that was visible on the Prime and the ball moved so slowly that we could hardly control it.

When we turned off all the effects on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the image was hideously ugly and the ball was still slow as molasses.

We also tried playing Riptide, a jetski racing game, the Prime showed more movement in the water and even displayed splashes when we landed after jumping.

Even when we weren't splashing around, we noticed detailed light effects on the water with the Transformer Prime.

The motion remained smooth when we played the game on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, but the water was much less detailed and there were no splash animations.

  • Super IPS+ Display: By default, the Eee Pad Transformer Prime displays up to 380 nits of brightness with 178-degree viewing angles, much more than you'll find on most tablets. But wait, there's more. If you enable Super IPS+ mode, the brightness turns up to an eye burning 600 nits for improved outdoor viewing. We haven't had the chance to test the display in direct sunlight yet, but we were impressed with the image brightness when testing the tablet indoors.
  • Three Power Modes: Unlike any other Android tablet we've seen, the Eee Pad Transformer Prime allows you to speed up or slow down its CPU to focus on performance or battery life. With the quick launch control panel, users can choose between Normal mode (full performance), Balanced mode (1.2-GHz cap), and Powersaver mode (1-GHz cap with 1-2 active cores, 700-Mhz cap with 3 active cores, and 600-Mhz cap with 4 cores active). Powersaving mode also caps frame rates at 35 fps and puts the display into a low-power state. We ran all our tests in Normal mode, but we'll test the other modes more in the future.
  • Sexy, Secure Keyboard Dock: The Transformer Prime's keyboard dock looks and feels even better than we remember from our testing of the  Transformer TF101's dock (the two docks are not compatible). The keys have a more tactile feel and the metallic deck shares the same luxurious amethyst gray color as the back of the tablet.

The locking mechanism seems greatly improved from the original Transformer keyboard. Where it took us several tries to pop the original Transformer into its dock, the Prime popped in with one try and locked securely.

What We Don't Like About the Eee Pad Transformer Prime

We haven't found a lot of things we dislike so far, but here are a couple of small nitpicks:

  • Tiny Power Button: You'll need to hunt around for what could be the world's smallest power button. It's on the top, near the camera.
  • No USB Charging: ASUS told us that the Prime would charge via USB connection to our PC, but that didn't happen in our tests. Like most of its competitors, ASUS is also guilty of using a proprietary docking port for charging and syncing, which means you can only use the bundled cable.
  • Weak Haptic Feedback: We're pleased to see that the Transformer Prime has haptic feedback, even though it is disabled by default. Unfortunately, it's very faint and there's no lever to increase the force.

Stay tuned for our full review of the Eee Pad Transformer Prime.