NVIDIA and Asus Unwrap Transformer Prime Tablet with Tegra 3 Processor

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News Posted: Tue, Nov 8 2011 9:29 PM
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.


System specs

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.
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I would content that your comment "...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" does not represent a parity comparison. The Prime is loaded with features not present on the average laptop computer selling in the stated price range. For example, what $649-$749 laptop do you know have has a multi-touch screen, gps sensor, 8mp camera, and 18 hour battery life (for $649 you would get the dock as well). Moreover, you would need to look at the cost of similar sized ultra-portables to make a fair comparison. The only relevant point concerning price is the statement on processor speed, but even here it is hard to make a fair comparison since both computers are running different operating systems which will profoundly affect user experience. A better comparison, perhaps would be to benchmark how long it takes to achieve similar tasks on both platforms.

Finally, the biggest appeal of the tablet is the form-factor. It is this particular element that adds value in a comparison based analysis that places the price point of the Prime in the compelling range. Notwithstanding I think they would have a better appeal to the buyer if they could get the tablet + dock at the $599 threshold, since breaching that price point represents a significant purchase in the minds of many consumers.

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AKwyn replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 7:49 AM

While the Kindle Fire may of been the tablet that pushed Tablet competition further. The ASUS Tranformer Prime is going to be the one to cement it. While it's not priced at $199 (and while I do wish that it'd include the dock with it), it does have the processing power and the form factor that's at least comparable to a netbook of an equivilant price. As I said before in an earlier thread, the form factor of a tablet or a notebook is going to be the wave of the future for tablets heading forward, I mean the fact that it can be both makes it really appealing for consumers...

What I find interesting is that NVIDIA managed to help them in every aspect of the tablet creation, including the screen; which I have to see in person to believe for myself. The fact that they're working together to improve the battery life and the response time certainly helps cement it's position which it's work hard to make. As we've been shown, the Terga 3 processor is certainly fast enough to replicate the performance of a similar netbook and is certainly capable enough to do other stuff as well... While it is true that the Terga 3 is powerful enough to replicate a netbook experience, it's not enough to match the performance of an x86 laptop, which just disappoints me as I'm sure tons of people had high hopes for Terga 3

I've said before that there'd still be a place for a full fledged computer and this one really comes close; however, I predict more time is needed before they can make an interface that seamlessly has the PC and the tablet experience in one (Windows 8 does have it but it's not seamless.) But hey, where can you find a tablet that has gyroscopes and GPU sensors and also comes with a dock that makes it into a netbook.

 

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Joel H replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 10:15 AM

KPelletier,

The flaw in your logic is in the assumption that the Prime's features constitute non-fungible goods. If I'm *specifically* looking for a tablet, maybe the Prime is a great deal. I covered this by referring both to the price and features of the original Transformer, as well as acknowledging the iPad.

If I'm not *specifically* looking for a tablet, the Prime isn't all that attractive. It's much more expensive than tablets like the Fire, and while it carries advantages commensurate to that price point, it's much harder to justify.

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"In the perspective of a buyer looking to get a tablet, and I put the Dock aside, I see that for $499 the Prime offers me 32GB of storage vs 16Gb on the Ipad 2, a better rear camera, a supposed better battery life, expansion and a pentagon core chip. On paper It looks great. But the Ipad still has that great Itunes ecosystem support, and runs flawless with its A5 chip. "

"With that said, I still think Joel made a lot great points, and right now, the market is flooded with too many options, I'm not saying that the Prime can't compete, as their is a market for every type of tablet. I see the Prime as a enthusiast tablet that will appeal to the power user as well as regular people. "

"Ultimately I think that Android is what is holding non Apple tablets to spark a greater interest in consumers. Win 8 will really be the OS to revive and push that market whole wide in my opinion, not Android."

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Schmich replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 10:50 AM

"the Prime is loaded with features not present on the average laptop computer selling in the stated price range. For example, what $649-$749 laptop do you know have has a multi-touch screen, gps sensor, 8mp camera, and 18 hour battery life"

The same goes for laptops vs the prime though. You can run x86 software that everyone is used to. Most importantly the productivity/office suits are much better on x86. You'll also have a lot more horse power with any laptop compared to Kal-El.

Price needs to go down and maybe they need to make a cheap version of the keyboard dock. Maybe one with a smaller battery, or not battery at all.

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Joel H replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 11:04 AM

I'd echo what Schmich says on this, actually. Toss in the keyboard for free (or offer it at a $49 price point, max), and the Transformer Prime is more of an awesome tablet that can double as a "notebook." At $149, it's a really expensive notebook (with substandard *notebook* features).

This isn't necessarily an easy problem to crack. It took years for smart phones to absorb enough PDA functionality to become effective PDAs. As a consumer, I'm interested in a low-cost ($300 or less) tablet or a mid-range ($600) notebook. A hybridized tablet/notebook that hits a $649 price point lands in a weird spot when it comes to meeting either of those sets of criteria. It's a gorgeous tablet that's more expensive than what non-iPad buyers have thus far been willing to pay, or a notebook with substantially weaker features than what you'd expect for $649..

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Joel H replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 11:17 AM

Also, I should note that I'm not questioning the build quality or overall performance of the Transformer Prime -- I think it looks like an exciting system, and I'm genuinely curious to see what it can do. My concerns have more to do with the price and the difficulty the entire Android ecosystem has had when it comes to launching tablets that people have bought in large quantities.

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Joel H:
o, I should note that I'm not questioning the build quality or overall performance of the Transformer Prime.....

"I don't see it other wise, it's pretty clear , I like your analysis."

 

Schmich:
and maybe they need to make a cheap version of the keyboard dock. Maybe one with a smaller battery, or not battery at all.

"I think you hit a home run deep into center field. Asus should duly note that. Like Joel said it should come with a free one, but what's most important  is that a generic keyboard with no battery should be made optional."

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Building the fastest and greatest Tablet is pointless if it's out of most people's budget. Unless you have plenty of money to spare and already own a Laptop/desktop then this is fine, but for those who have a choice of either a new laptop or tablet for the same price, many will choose a laptop. Tablet's are great but their not ideal for students, or work compared to a laptop. This is why the HP Touchpad and Amazon Fire tablets sold so fast, because it was cheap!

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BBroerman replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 12:09 PM

Now this, I could definitely get into... Definitely the best tablet I have seen to date. Even better than the convertible slates that I've been looking at... Can't wait till this ships.

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Oooh, subtle... the name of the new chip is, if I am not mistaken, Superman's original Kryptonian name.

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JDiaz replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 2:14 PM

I'll just add that the Tegra 3 is already suppose to support Windows 8. So it should be possible to upgrade the Prime when the time comes to Windows 8.

In the meantime, another feature for ICS is better support for multiple cores. So the ICS update should make better use of the Tegra 3.

Also Asus is still selling the original Transformer. What they're doing is putting the Prime as the premium version and the original as the more consumer friendly version. Pricing for the original being $399 for 16GB and $449 for the 32GB version. Price of the dock for both versions remains the same though.

While I suspect Asus will lower the price a bit in couple of months once Tegra 3 shows up in more products and hopefully all the manufacturing shortages, like the present hard drive issue, are shorted by then.

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JDiaz replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 2:23 PM

Yes, they're using superhero naming system for each new iteration of Tegra over the next few years.

The first is Kal-El for the Tegra 3, then comes Wayne for the Tegra 4, Logan for the Tegra 5, and finally Stark for the Tegra 6. What comes after that they haven't reported yet but probably depends if they can continue producing a new chip every single year by then.

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JDiaz:
In the meantime, another feature for ICS is better support for multiple cores. So the ICS update should make better use of the Tegra 3.

"So in a sense, ICS is to Tegra 3 as Win 8 is to Bulldozer? Stick out tongue

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AKwyn replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 5:16 PM

JDiaz:
In the meantime, another feature for ICS is better support for multiple cores.

Cool... So if I buy this tablet and I upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich then I'll have a hell of a beast on my hands... Every day the Transformer Prime sounds more and more appealing.

 

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edrftr replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 8:21 PM

I 'want' one, but the price is not justified. I need a portable physical keyboard layout for taking notes in class, and the reader qualities would be very useful to couch PDF reading. As a student I can't afford either model. I'll just wait. Maybe, with luck, some yuppy will buy one thinking it will perform like a laptop and discard it to craigslist in a few months at a reasonable price range. That's how i get my netbook upgrades.

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edrftr replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 8:25 PM

OptimusPrimeTime:
a generic keyboard with no batter should be made optional.

Good point, but that keyboard should be standard, the battery pack keyboard should be optional.

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Android tablets only talk about the hardware. But it's the total user experience (apps!) that is most important and that is where the iPad still trumps them.

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realneil replied on Wed, Nov 9 2011 10:55 PM

PhilippZ:
Android tablets only talk about the hardware. But it's the total user experience (apps!) that is most important and that is where the iPad still trumps them.

 

I think that they're two distinctly different things and shouldn't be compared so much.

My iPad is pretty elegant and it's function is superb too. While there are a lot of apps out for it, one can only use a small portion of them on one device. (so there is a huge choice for iPad users)

But this thing has some great features and will only get better with time as new apps come out for it. It has a lot of power under the hood, and if that all works correctly, it will be a compelling experience. There are quit a few excellent apps out there that are Android specific.

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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KreepyK replied on Thu, Nov 10 2011 12:02 AM

Superior hardware offers the possibility for a richer and more productive user experience but in no way guaranties it.

The problem with Android and the open community in general is it's strong corrolationg with hackers and Hackers, while genious, are masochists when it comes to interacting with machine and as long as that correlation holds the open community will remain plagued with the terrible user experience.

I would chose my old pentium 2 machine running Windows 98 over a core i7 running DOS anytime.

For the better of mankind.I really hope your prediction of compelling experience would hold, for the better of mankind.

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CDeeter replied on Thu, Nov 10 2011 12:13 AM

Price and performance aside, is it just me, or is this thing gorgeous? Is that brushed aluminum or titanium they are using for the shell?

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jonation replied on Sat, Nov 12 2011 4:05 PM

it is very very sexy for an inanimate object.

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zeke9796 replied on Sun, Feb 12 2012 4:52 PM

Im not completely understanding the, excuse me but, stupid logic that any would be considering this over a notebook. i only stumbled upon this amazing tablet, which it really is, because i was looking for exactly that, a tablet. also, in an above comment you stated that it is a "really expensive notebook with substandard features" but the go on to say that $600 is a "mid-range" notebook price. and tell me again how portable and easy it is to ACTUALLY lug around a laptop that costs only $650. because as far as i see, there isnt one that costs merely $650.

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