Asus and Nvidia have collectively taken the wraps off the next-generation version of Asus' well-received Transformer tablet line, and the new system aims to carve out a slice of the premium tablet market. It's far from a sure bet given the tremendous difficulty Android tablets have had cracking into the iPad-dominated industry, but the Prime impresses—at least, so far. We reserve final judgment until we've actually seen shipping hardware.
The Asus Transformer Prime, in docked configuration.
The Transformer Prime incorporates Nvidia's new Kal-El
processor and it's one of Tegra 3's upper-end launch systems. We've discussed Kal-El in depth several times before; the new chip contains a fifth 'Companion Core' to reduce idle power consumption and contains 12 GPU cores, up from Tegra 2's eight. NV claims that Tegra 3's GPU is up to 3x faster than Tegra 2's thanks to additional architectural enhancements.
The Transformer Prime uses the same dock as the Transformer and the tablet itself is the same size and offers the same size screen at a 1200x800 resolution. One new feature of the Prime, however, is what Asus is calling "Super IPS+." The display's normal brightness tops out at ~500 nits, but the Prime offers an alternate 'Super IPS' mode that pushes display brightness up to 600 nits for use in bright outdoor environments.
System ports and additional info
Asus has also worked with Nvidia to improve touch-screen lag and claims the screen responds with just a 50ms lag time, compared to an average lag of 110ms on competitor's products. Battery life has improved over the Transformer's claimed 9.5/16 hours for mobile and docked mode; the Transformer Prime can supposedly run 12 hours independently and up to 18 hours when connected to the dock. When we asked Asus how it conducted its battery life tests, the company responded: " In addition, battery life results were obtained with a constant 720P video playback with all ports on and screen brightness at 60nits. We are still optimizing battery life with NVIDIA and expect these numbers to hold true or improve slightly."
The new tablet will launch with Honeycomb 3.2, but Asus intends to offer an update to Ice Cream Sandwich once it finishes testing that OS.
Asus is positioning the Prime remarkably well, at least as far as the original Transformer is concerned. An extra $100 buys you 16GB more storage, a significantly faster system, and an improved camera, plus the Super IPS+ display. There's no arguing that the Transformer Prime's specs are much stronger than those on the iPad 2—even if Kal-El only matches the A6 overall, the Transformer Prime would come out ahead in terms of its price/performance ratio. It's an impressive, exciting machine and we're curious to see if the new generation of Android tablets can finally chip away at Apple's iPad.
Unfortunately for Asus, it's unclear if impressive specifications and good design are going to be enough. Thus far, none of the manufacturers that've introduced Android tablets have seen them go on to become smash hits, though we suspect the less-hyped devices from smaller players have done far better than the dramatic failures of the Motorola Xoom
or BlackBerry PlayBook
. Even so, the Transformer Prime is expensive, all the more so considering Asus wants $149 for a keyboard with a small battery, USB 2.0 port, and an SD slot in it. That's not nearly the rip off that the Atrix 4G's dock was earlier this year, but it's scarcely a compelling value. $649-749 buys a nice laptop these days, and we're not convinced that the Transformer Prime's price structure is going to win it any converts.
Somehow, in all the excitement over the iPad 2, OEMs have apparently forgotten that netbooks became popular precisely because they didn't
cost as much as full size noteboooks. Nvidia's Tegra 3 isn't going to be able to match the performance of an x86 laptop, which is going to make it harder for any tablet this expensive to carve out a niche for itself, particularly given the enormous economic uncertainty gripping the US and Europe. With tablets like the Kindle Fire
set to debut at $199, Asus may have priced the Transformer Prime too high for the buyers it's hoping to attract.