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Asus Transformer Prime Ice Cream Sandwich Update
Date: Jan 20, 2012
Author: Dave Altavilla
Introduction To Ice Cream Sandwich
When we first received the new NVIDIA Tegra 3-powered Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime for testing, we had solid communication from both Asus and NVIDIA that this tablet was one of Google's test vehicles for their upcoming Android 4.0 operating system, also referred to as Ice Cream Sandwich.  Besides the fact that the folks at Google have a bit of a sweet tooth, at least when it comes to development project code names, this new iteration of Google's OS reportedly was targeted primarily at performance enhancements, with a few feature-adds and UI tweaks thrown into the mix. 

Both NVIDIA and Asus were keen to see ICS hit the Transformer Prime as well, since the new OS makes better use of hardware resources to accelerate the user interface itself.  And as we've said before, Asus always seems to do a good job with rolling out firmware and software updates for their tablet products; a tradition carried over from their motherboard lineage perhaps.  In fact, just as we set out to publish this piece today, Asus kicked out another firmware update that we'll be testing right away.

With that said, we thought you'd like to get a closer look at what Android 4.0 brings to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, both in terms of a quick overview of new features and of course the requisite performance snapshot as well.

First, here's a quick run-down of what's new with Ice Cream Sandwich.

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Features and Enhancements

  • General performance enhancements
  • Virtual buttons in the UI
  • Easier-to-create folders, drag-and-drop style
  • Customizable launcher
  • Pinch-to-zoom functionality in the calendar
  • Integrated screenshot capture (hold down Power and Volume-Down buttons)
  • Improved error correction for keyboard
  • Ability to access apps directly from lock screen
  • Improved copy and paste
  • Better voice integration and real-time speech to text
  • Face Unlock
  • New tabbed web browser
  • Automatic syncing of browser with Chrome bookmarks
  • New Roboto font
  • Data usage detail
  • Ability to shut down apps that are using data
  • Improved camera app with zero shutter lag
  • Built-in photo editor
  • Refreshed "People" app with social network integration
  • Android Beam - NFC feature allowing you to share media with friends
  • Hardware acceleration of the UI
  • Resizeable widgets – (new for cellphones)
  • Wi-Fi Direct
  • 1080p video recording

    So as you can see, some of the new features with ICS as subtle tweaks, while others, like Face Unlock, screenshot capture and data usage details are more prominent additions to what is already a relatively refined smartphone and tablet OS.  Let's take a closer look at ICS, next.
    User Interface: Small Tweaks
    While we didn't spend a lot of time working with the new face unlock feature, we did manage to grab a few screen captures of things like the data usage app, some of the enhanced settings and controls that Asus makes available on the Prime, and a quick look at the new tabbed browsing experience.

    Data Usage Details

    About tablet and Asus customized settings

    The data usage app is going to come in handy if / when Asus decides to release a 3G-enabled version of their Transformer series.  For now, this feature is more suited to handsets than anything else, though it's nice to have available regardless, especially if you're tethering to a handset for the time being. As an aside, what you also might find interesting is that the "WiFi direct" feature introduced with ICS allows you to directly share or stream files and media between devices. Also, as you'll note above, Asus has rolled out the 4.03 version of Ice Cream Sandwich, which was released in mid December.  This update offers a few bug fixes, improved graphics performance, and better image stabilization in the video camera app, among other enhancements.

    Apps icons appear bigger, bolder, more detailed

    As they say, "it's the little things" that sometimes make the most difference.  Here you can see ICS' new Roboto font as well as the bolder, more detailed app icons that are just easier on the eyes.  Even the home screen fonts have better spacing and are easier to read in general.

    Tabbed Browsing and Roboto Font

    Tabbed browsing isn't anything new in the tablet arena for Android 3.x but it is new for the stock Android webkit browser on smartphones.  As you can see here, the Roboto font carries over to the browser in some areas, as well, like the address bar.  We'll also note that this version of the browser appears to have somewhat cleaned up the font issue we noticed on the Prime running Honeycomb while browsing in portrait mode.  Screen fonts in general are easier to read in our opinion in the browser as well. 

    We'll also note that, in addition to these visual optimizations, which are more subtle, ICS offers a much more responsive UI experience overall.  Swiping between home screens, apps and widgets just renders faster and more smoothly and that experience carries over to the web browsing experience as well.  Scrolling is more fluid with less noticeable screen draw when browsing and pinch/zoom response time seems faster as well.  This is due to Android 4.0's new hardware accelerated UI capabilities taking advantage of additional resources in NVIDIA's Tegra 3 SoC. 

    On that note, let's fire up some quick benchmark numbers now and see if Android 4.0 puts up scores that correlate to some of these performance enhancements as well.
    Performance Quick-Take

    After updating the Asus Transformer Prime to ICS, we took a look at how the device compared to other tablets, as well as our previous set of scores with the Prime running Honeycomb (Android 3.2), by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace. The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks, while the third evaluates browsing performance.

    General Performance with Android 4.0
    General Compute, Javascript and Browsing/Rendering Performance

    Somewhat surprisingly, the Transformer Prime's performance dipped slightly in the Linpack benchmark after being updated to ICS. The device was still clearly faster than the other Android-based tables represented in the graph, but versus the original installation of Gingerbread the Prime with ICS trailed by about 7.5%. This benchmark, however, does have some degree of variability so the actual difference may be slightly higher or lower and ever perhaps within the margin of error with this test.

    The Sunspider benchmark showed a fairly significant degradation of Javascript performance going from Android 3.2 to 4.0. The Prime offered good performance in this test before the update, but after the ICS update the tablet's performance in this test dropped about 18%.  Optimizations in this area are hopefully forthcoming.

    Rightware's Browsermark tells a different story, however. In this test, the Transformer Primer's performance increases slightly after the ICS update, but the delta is modest. The Prime was the second fastest tablet we had tested with Browsermark before the update, and it maintains that position after the update, though it was able to somewhat close the gap between it and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus. 

    Unfortunately we weren't able to run our current suite of GLBenchmark graphics test numbers with the Asus Transformer Prime and ICS.  The app is now crashing on this new version of Android.  Hopefully the benchmark's author will be able to rectify that so we can give you some comparison numbers here in the days ahead.

    And that about wraps-up our quick-take look at Android 4.0 on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime.  As we get more time with the OS and with future updates, we'll be sure to pass our experiences on to you as well.  Stay tuned.

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