The Transformer Prime is the most hyped Android tablet of the year so we quickly said yes when ASUS requested a full product review of the world’s first quad-core Tegra 3 device. Unfortunately we only had about one full day with the Transformer Prime before we were allowed to post about it tonight, so we tried to touch on all the major high points of the device. Read on for our initial impressions.
ASUS Transformer Prime Highlights
The Transformer Prime comes available in two colors, Amethyst Grey and Champagne Gold. We happened to receive a Champagne Gold tablet and Amethyst Grey dock station, so we got a look at both options. Right away we noticed the high-end feel of the Transformer Prime thanks to its aluminum casing.
The bezel around the screen is a little wider than some tablets, but it tapers off on the back side around the edges so it feels slimmer in the hand. Sitting on the tablet next to each other, the Transformer Prime is a hair thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (0.33 in. vs 0.34 in).
Inside the box we found a wall charger, data cable, manual, warranty card, and screen wipe.
Gaming with Tegra Zone
There are many benefits to NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 processor, but the most obvious one is the premium content available from Tegra Zone. There are currently about 25 games available, but that number is expected to grow to 40+ by the end of the year and 12+ are said to be optimized for specifically for Tegra 3.
Most of the titles that NVIDIA pre-loaded for us were still early demos, but they looked good in the early stages. All the Tegra 2 games we tried ran beautifully and we tested several other titles from the Android Market. New games from EA Mobile and Glu ran with no problems, but several titles from Gameloft were not yet supported.
Gameloft has shown they will support just about any device that sells, so we look forward to playing some of their future titles like Modern Combat 3 and Gangstar Rio.
Tegra 3 also supports just about any game controller, so you can sync up your Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, or Logitech gamepad up to your Transformer Prime. Gamers can also connect the tablet to an HDTV set and enjoy 3D graphics thanks to NVIDIA’s 3D Vision technology. We didn’t get a chance to try the 3D Vision experience yet, so check back later in the week for the results.
Some say benchmarks are pointless, but we still like to play around with them and compare the results. For this round of testing we compared the Transformer Prime (Tegra 3), Galaxy Tab 10.1 (Tegra 2), Galaxy Tab 8.9 (Tegra 2), Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (Exynos 4210), and Sony Tablet S (Tegra 2). All devices were tested with the latest software and the Transformer Prime was running with the Normal power profile.
We did our best to stick with benchmarks that are freely available in the Android Market or the web.
Antutu: First up was Antutu which measures memory performance, CPU integer performance, CPU floating point performance, 2D graphics, 3D graphics, SD card readingwriting speeds, and database IO. Tegra 3 dominated in the RAM and CPU tests, but the graphics, database, and SD card speeds were comparable to the current generation of tablets.
CF-Bench: Next up we tried CF-Bench which calls itself the “premiere multi-core-capable CPU benchmark.” Tegra 3 scored about 2x higher in the native tests which gave it a higher total score, but Java performance was on par with the others. Even though the benchmark produces a final score, the developer notes that “you should take those with a grain of salt. It is simply not theoretically possible to produce a single number that accurately describes a device’s performance.”
GLBenchmark 2.1: Next we went with GLBenchmark 2.1 which measures “quality and performance of the underlying OpenGL ES 2.x implementation.” We performed the Egypt and Pro tests in 720p offscreen mode so the results wouldn’t be affected by different resolutions. The Tegra 3 easily outscored the competition on the Egypt test and the Exynos in the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus
NenaMark2: Moving on with graphics performance we tried out NenaMark2. This test is also an OpenGL|ES 2.0 benchmark for high-end mobile devices. Tegra 3 scored the highest framerate, but the Exynos 4210 inside the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus was close behind.
RightWare Browsermark: Finally we turned to another test called RightWare Browsermark to confirm the browser performance. Tegra 3 was faster than Tegra 2, but once again the Exynos 4210 (Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus) turned in the highest score. I’ve seen other sites like HotHardware show Tegra 3 with a higher BrowserMark score, but even they had it nearly on par with the Exynos 4210.
It’s impossible to review a tablet such as the Transformer Prime in 24 hours, so we will need to spend another week with it before giving it a final score. Even with the short amount of time we spent with the device, we can easily say this is the best Android tablet on the market. If you pre-ordered the Transformer Primer looking for the best in design, performance, gaming, and battery life then you will not be disappointed.
Here are some of my random thoughts in bullet form after playing with the Transformer Prime for a day:
- Good enough PC replacement: The big question with this device is – Can it replace a PC? The display might be a little small and the keyboard is cramp, but yes the Transformer Prime is good enough for about 95% of the computing tasks most consumers would want to perform. The combo price is still $650 ($499 tablet + $149 dock), so you might get more bang for your buck with a mid-range Windows laptop. However, as prices continue to drop and the Android ecosystem advances, I think this could be a much closer battle later in 2012.
- Browsing on par, nothing special: Web browsing on the Prime feels the fastest of any Android device I have used, but there is still the occasional stutter or jerkiness, especially when viewing mobile Flash Player content. Of course Flash has never performed that well and Adobe is pulling the plug on it, so what do you expect? ASUS already has one software update coming tomorrow to tweak performance and then Android 4.0 is arriving at a later date, so performance is expected to improve.
- Keyboard dock is awesome: Some might consider $149 to be pricey for a keyboard dock, but ASUS did an excellent job of cramming in value to it. The integrated battery increases battery life by 6 hours, the touchpad has multitouch gestures, there are full size USB 2.0 and SD card slots, and I love all the Android shortcut buttons. The SD card slot is great because you can currently add up to 256 GB of storge and it’s supposed to support the SDxC standard up to the full 2 TB of storage that we will see in future memory cards.
- Surprisingly stable: The Transformer Prime has a pinhole to perform a hard reset of the device, but I never had to use it. The overall Android OS was very smooth and the only force closes I experience were with some of the rushed game demos.
- Super IPS+ display impresses: You have to see the display to believe it. The Super IPS+ mode offers 600 nits of brightness, which is great for outdoor readability. The display also has an awesome 178 degree viewing angle that is great for sharing content with friends.
- Built-in underclocking (power profiles): This something I asked NVIDIA for with Tegra 2, so I’m glad they worked with ASUS to deliver three unique power profiles. Users can easily switch between Normal, Balanced, and Power Saver. “Normal” mode unleashes the full performance of the Transformer Prime with Tegra 3. “Balanced” mode caps the CPU frequency to 1.2 GHz. ASUS has added an additional “Powersaver” mode that caps CPU frequency to 1 GHz in single/dual core mode, ~700 Mhz when three cores are active and ~600 Mhz when all four cores are active. In addition, the Powersaver mode caps the frame rate at 35 fps and places the panel into an additional power saving mode.
- Game consoles are dead: So the current crop of Tegra Zone games doesn’t top PlayStation 3, but they are definitely as good as Xbox or PS2. NVIDIA uses a similar GPU architecture inside Tegra as their desktop GeForce cards and I think we will see a wave of games ported over. As others in the industry have pointed out, consoles as we know them are fundamentally dead and mobile devices will eventually replace them. Tegra 3 offers gamers support for HDTVs, 3DVision, and compatibility with a host of gamepads.
- I want a Tegra 3 phone and laptop: We still need to perform the full set of battery performance tests, but it appears Tegra 3 devices will offer some of the longest battery life and that’s why I want to see one inside a phone. There are plenty of cases where I would rather choose “Powersaver” mode and underclock my phone to extend the battery life a couple hours. The increased performance of the Tegra 3 processor also makes me really excited about the potential of Android on bigger displays. It should have no problem running a 13 inch laptop.
My expectations were high, but ASUS wowed me by delivering the best Android tablet experience I’ve seen to date. We will continue to explore the Transformer Prime over the coming days, so feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments. Next up we will take a closer look at camera performance, battery life, and productivity performance with apps like Adobe Photoshop Touch.