Asus Transformer Prime

Asus's original Transformer set out its stall as a tablet that could legitimately claim to be for both business and pleasure - as long as you bought the optional (and expensive) keyboard dock, that is.

With the Prime Asus has bundled the keyboard and tablet in one package, but don't think that means the internal specifications have been glossed over in the process.

The powerful Tegra 3 processor and Ice Cream Sandwich OS put this machine at the very top of the Android pecking order (at least for now), and it's more than a match for anything Apple or Samsung can throw at it.

While it has a few faults here and there, and will - on a fresh boot - require a few firmware updates before it's properly up and running, it represents a solid step forward from Asus in the increasingly crowded tablet arena.

asus-transformer-prime-1 Hardware and initial impressions

In terms of design, the Transformer Prime looks different from its predecessor in several ways.

Gone is the odd-coloured rubber back, replaced by grooved metal. It's not as 'grippy' to hold, but the upside is that it now looks a lot sleeker and far more consistent in style.

The thin, curved body hides a surprising number of ports - over half of which serve no purpose other than docking into the keyboard and powering the device. A mini-HDMI port sits on one side of the machine, as does a Micro SD card slot.

The Prime feels reassuringly solid and comfortable to hold. It weighs in at just 586g, which compares very well with the third-generation iPad (652g) and slightly less well with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (565g).

As with the Tab, the 16:9 widescreen dimension makes it great for playing films in landscape orientation, although holding the device in portrait makes web pages a little top-heavy.

I had some stability issues during my first few days of using the Prime - mainly graphical glitches that required a hard restart to solve - but firmware updates have come in thick and fast since then.

Indeed, while writing this review yet another bug-fixing patch was released. I'm a month in and I've yet to encounter anything serious enough to warrant a written warning.

asus-transformer-prime-4 Software - Utilities

One of the Prime's best features is one that really shouldn't be quite so rare at the moment - Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

If you're coming from Gingerbread or iOS then the differences should be like night and day. Operations are smooth (no doubt thanks to the Tegra 3 processor), multitasking is a lot simpler, and the use of widgets and other visually arresting details mark it out as more contemporary than iOS in its current state.

Even those used to Honeycomb on a Xoom or Galaxy 10.1 should find some of the new features - like the faster default browser - useful. ICS isn't worth upgrading on its own, of course, but it's a very welcome addition to the Android arsenal.

Elsewhere, Asus has bundled in its own 'cloud solution' named MyCloud, which syncs up with the associated PC suite painlessly; Polaris Office for file management and word processing; MyLibrary for reading installed ebooks; and MyNet, which acts as a local sharing application for media files.

The applications may not have the looks of highly polished Google- or Apple-made offerings, but they all work well and are - thankfully - easy to set up.

If the preinstalled word processor isn't enough, there's always the option of using Google Docs or one of the many other Office apps, with the keyboard circumventing the usual touchscreen typing issues. It could do with proper mouse support, however, as the interface feels clumsy when the keyboard is attached.

Keyboard dock

Just as tablets running Windows 7 feel utterly wrong to use, Android isn't the finest OS for handling trackpads.

Trying to use the Prime as a laptop feels like a series of compromises, with some apps requiring you to tap icons despite accepting the trackpad controls.

Then there's the keyboard hardware itself, which can be kindly described as 'plastic-y' and more accurately described as 'horribly spongy'. The buttons are full-sized, which is obviously a big plus for any lengthy typing sessions, but there's little travel compared to a full-sized laptop (or even a decent netbook or ultrabook).

The rubber grips on the rear of the keyboard do little to inspire much confidence, either, with the tiniest of slopes (such as a pull-out keyboard surface on a desk) causing the machine to rapidly slide forwards whenever you're typing.

On the positive side, the keyboard itself acts like an extra battery pack for the tablet, effectively doubling the amount of battery life and subsequently bringing the machine's charge up to beyond netbook levels as a result.

asus-transformer-prime-5 Software - Games

Slot an Xbox controller into the full-sized USB port on the side of the keyboard and once again the Transformer - well - transforms.

Support for the device is straight out of the box, with a little pause when you first plug it in. From there, jumping into the pre-installed Tegra Zone portal and purchasing one of the (graphically-rich) titles is a cinch.

As with all Android tablets, you can also install OnLive and be playing titles like Darksiders (with 'proper' controls) in seconds. It's a great complement to the increasing number of Android games available on Google Play, and makes it arguably a more rounded tablet for gamers than even the iPad, despite the relatively limited number of platform exclusives.

The only downside is that it's a bit hit and miss as to which games support a controller, but if you're a retro games fan you should be well catered for with the wide range of customisable Android emulators on Google Play. Just about every computer and console is covered.

There may be some wait for the latest big name iOS release to head over to Android (still), but the Prime is more than capable of pushing polygons when they do arrive, and the ever-increasing number of Tegra exclusives makes it a formidable tablet gaming machine.


If you're buying the Prime for purely work purposes, there are still a few too many niggles to make it a solid winner over bulkier laptops and netbooks.

In terms of battery and size it has many models (with maybe the exception of the upcoming ultrabooks) beaten, but the keyboard isn't quite there and the software - compared to, say, Microsoft Office - won't satisfy advanced users.

However, on the flip side the Prime offers up one of the best Android media tablets around. The slickness of Ice Cream Sandwich and the speed of the Tegra 3 processor (not to mention the added versatility offered by the USB port) means it's hard not to come away impressed.

Asus Transformer Prime

Fast and powerful, the Prime improves on its predecessor in almost every area
Will Wilson
Will Wilson
Will's obsession with gaming started off with sketching Laser Squad levels on pads of paper, but recently grew into violently shouting "Tango Down!" at random strangers on the street. He now directs that positive energy into his writing (due in no small part to a binding court order).