I’ve been needing to buy a new Android tablet, but I’ve struggled to put my money down after getting burned on my first purchase, a Viewsonic 10s.
It’s not that it’s a bad tablet, the specs were very good for the price back in mid 2011 when I purchased it, apart from the screen which had poor viewing angles, but I knew that going in.
What was important about the device was that it had the latest Tegra-2 CPU at an affordable price and the manufacturer promised that Honeycomb was on its way as soon as Google released the source code.
Sadly, Google never did released the source and then later, nVidia decided to abandoned the Tegra-2 platform.
Before you think I’m from a parallel universe, there used to be two reference designs for Tegra-2 tabs. The one in the Xoom and other big-brand Tegra-2 tabs, and the other, “wrong” one in the Viewsonic 10s. Because almost nobody implemented a product based on the design used in the Viewsonic 10s (I suspect it was more of a prototype and the manufacturer jumped the gun by using it for a production unit), nVidia decided to drop support for it, meaning no further driver updates and no future beyond Android 2.2.
I’ve had my eye on the Asus Transformer Prime since it was announced. Quad core, Ice Cream Sandwich and a quite reasonable recommended retail price, which in US$ is about what I paid for my Viewsonic tab last year.
The only thing stopping me from buying one was lack of availability and the “Australia tax”, the imaginary fee charged by middle-men for shipping tech products into Australia. The Transformer Prime with keyboard retails for about US$650, while the RRP in Australia is AU$799 for the same device, even though the Australian dollar is stronger than the US dollar. Admittedly, we’ve got the GST to contend with, but even taking that off, the price of a unit comes in at around US$770.
The plan was to import a unit from the US once more stock was available, so imagine my surprise when I walked into a local electrical retailer on the day the first stock arrived and was offered one at $719 without even having to haggle.
At $719, discounting the GST, the price would be roughly the same as what I’d have had to pay to order one from the US, including postage.
I’ve now had the unit for a couple of days, and I have to say it’s a very impressive device.
Construction is top notch, and it feels very sturdy, despite being quite light. The mechanism that locks the tab into the keyboard works very well – I’ve had laptops that felt like the screen was going to snap off in my hands every time I opened them, not so with the Prime.
The screen is equaally impressive, and it’s almost too bright. I’ve noticed that on very low brightness settings with power saving mode enabled, the screen brightness seems to pulsate a little which is distracting, though probably part of the plan to squeeze as much life out of the battery as possible. With normal power mode I haven’t seen any issues and with IPS+ mode enabled and full brightness, I could probably work on my tan.
Although the keyboard looks a bit like the what you’d expect from a toy computer, I’ve found that it’s actually quite easy to touch type and I’ve had more trouble using the keyboard on a netbook. The key layout is well thought out, with the non-alphabetic or numeric keys on a typical keyboard replaced with dedicated Android functions for doing things like opening the settings app or controlling multi-media playback. There’s even a home and a search button, like you’d find on typical Android phone.
Ice Cream Sandwich is everything the reviews said it was. Although it’s very different to the phone versions of Android, even without any Honeycomb experience, I’m finding it to be quite intuitive and I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly. Many of the functions I’d like to have seen in Android are present in ICS, including simple things like being able to easily kill a task, or take a screen shot. The OS is fast and smooth with barely any hiccups when scrolling through large lists of items.
There’s been a lot of rumours flying around the net about wi-fi and GPS issues caused by the aluminium body of the Prime blocking signals. I knew about the issues before I purchased it and the first thing I did was check the wi-fi, which, in my opinion, is working just fine. It hasn’t quite got the range of my 7″ Galaxy Tab, but when there’s at least 2 bars, it performs just as well. The GPS, on the other hand is a bit flaky and doesn’t seem to work unless the wi-fi has a connection. Because of it’s size, and lack of 3G, the GPS is of limited use in my opinion, so I don’t consider this a major issue.
The only other negative I’ve found so far is that aren’t many high quality games available for the platform at the moment, though this is largely the fault of game developers. I purchased a lot of games recently during the 10c deals, about 45 or so, and I’d say about 20 of them won’t install, including the most graphically impressive ones. The worst offenders are pretty much anything by EA or GameLoft, which is very annoying. I’m just glad I didn’t pay full price for these prior to getting the Prime. nVidia’s personal Android market has a few nice looking titles on offer though.
Actually, to have a rant, I’ve had nothing but trouble with EA games on Android. I’ve purchased a few and I have as yet been unable to get any of them to install completely and run on any of my five Android devices, mostly because of DRM issues. I’ve also been unable to get a refund from EA. Sim City is the only one that actually installs, and it only installs on the Prime, but it crashes if I touch the screen. It will run for a few minutes using the mouse, but it eventually locks up. Never again EA, never again.
In summary, the Transformer Prime is the tablet I always wanted, and the laptop I didn’t know I needed. If you want a tablet, then the Prime would be a good choice. If you include the keyboard, then I’d argue that it would also be a suitable alternative to a traditional laptop for casual use, especially considering it’s 18 hour battery life and impressive gaming performance. The only change I’d make would be to include a second full-sized USB port, and fix the GPS, but neither of these issues are deal breakers, in my opinion.
Are you are wondering why I didn’t wait for the newly announced Transformer Prime TF700, with it’s 1920×1024 pixel screen and fixed GPS? If so, it’s because it won’t be out till the second half of the year, and got around twice as many pixels as my Prime, so it’s going to run a lot slower when doing anything 3D. Besides, it’s not like the pixels in the TF201 are visible unless I press my nose to the screen anyway.
I can also confirm that as yet, nobody I know has mistaken my Transformer Prime to be the leader of the Autobots.