Asus Transformer Prime – UK Review

My HTC Desire and 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab went on ebay at the end of 2011 to fund my purchase of an Asus Transformer Prime. Through a £499 pre-order on ebuyer.com, I was lucky enough to receive this amazing Android tablet a few days before the official UK release and have now had a week or so to play about with it. Here are my impressions!

 

Hardware

The UK version of Asus Transformer Prime is the 32GB Prime + Dock combo, tightly packed in a single box with a charger and cable. Docked together, the Prime was a little heavier than I expected, no doubt due to the additional battery in the dock and the counterweights below the keyboard to stop the whole thing toppling over. On its own, the Prime tablet is pretty light and feels like a solid, premium device in the hand. The design tends to make you hold it landscape (as opposed to an iPad’s portrait design), which means your right hand can easily cover up the single speaker. I also found that my microSD card wasn’t flush to the chassis and tended to stick out by a few millimeters. Not much, but enough to slightly spoil the smooth tapering of the Prime’s edges. Minor gripes aside though, the overall look and feel of the Prime is one of class and quality. I opted for the Amethyst Grey version which in reality is more a light shade of purple.

Purple Prime, docked and closed. It's an Android ultrabook!

 

Ice Cream Sandwich

After logging in, the Prime immediately prompted me to download an update aka Ice Cream Sandwich. My Galaxy Tab ran Gingerbread, so I’ve bypassed Honeycomb completely in my Android user experience. ICS is very intuitive and easy to just pick up and use: swiping from screen to screen is fast and (for the most part) stutter free, as is jumping to the App drawer. Despite the quad-core CPU, there’s still the occasional delay switching if you’ve been running a few apps, and there’s a noticeable delay when navigating within the YouTube app.

The ICS browser is very good, especially as it now finally syncs bookmarks with Chrome on the desktop. I did however switch to ICS Browser+ so that I could set the user agent to Desktop and make all web pages the “full” version rather than mobile versions.

My fairly standard homescreen. I like how this live wallpaper changes depending on the time of day.

 

Display & Peripherals

The screen looks amazing, definitely on a par with my Samsung Galaxy S II. My old tablet was a seven inch, so this ten inch display gives me more space to stick icons and widgets than I know what to do with. I bought myself a £5 HDMI cable and was very impressed with the output onto my large screen TV: playing some 1080p video looks stunning. I’m not too sure whether I’d use this feature much, but it’s nice to have the cable “just in case.”

I tested out a few other peripherals: my PlayStation 3 controller worked fine when plugged into the USB port on the keyboard (tested with Grand Theft Auto III), although I couldn’t get an Xbox controller to work. USB flash sticks and mice all work plug-n-play style, but like a PC you need to “unmount” memory devices before physically removing them. There’s a one-click option to do this in the notification area, but I forgot one time and ended up with a blank SD card. The Prime reads NTFS-formatted drives no problem, so you can copy huge movie files for offline viewing.

1080p video output from the Prime to my Sony Bravia. Playing Shadowgun THD with the PS3 controller is a bloody joy!

 

Bundled Apps

Some of the apps bundled by Asus are actually very good indeed: I was particularly impressed by the bundled Splashtop Remote Desktop app that lets you remote view and control a PC. Resolution is top-rate and there’s almost no lag at all. You may have seen videos of the Prime “running” Skyrim – this is how it’s done. Note that you need to install the Splashtop server on your PC first, and on the Prime it’s called MyNet instead of Splashtop.

The bundled DLNA/UPnP media streaming app is also very good, way better than the Samsung equivalent. It picks up the devices and navigates through folders very fast. I installed the free app UPnPlay as a backup, as well as DICE Player for the odd MKV that played with no sound in the stock player.

The Prime comes with the Google Music app pre-installed. At first I thought this was a mistake, since Google Music is not yet (officially) available in the UK. But of course it acts as a local music player too (duh).

 

Gaming

Games on the Prime take mobile gaming to the next level. There aren’t too many out yet that take full advantage of the Tegra 3 processor, but the ones that do (search for “THD”) all look jaw-droppingly good. Console quality? Well, not quite but it’s getting close. Better than PS2 for sure. The ability to plug in a PS3 controller and connect the Prime to a TV makes this a perfect second games console.

 

Tablet Apps

I installen Beansoft’s Thumb Keyboard as I found typing on the stock virtual keyboard almost impossible while holding the Prime in landscape. Thumb Keyboard splits the keyboard into two and works a treat with almost no training time at all. Tablet-specific apps are still a bit thin on the ground, but I found Flixter Movies, IMDB, Feeedly and Pulse all take advantage of the tablet form-factor. TweetDeck looks awful on the tablet (almost as bad as the Spotify Android app), so I opted for TweetComb instead. This has columns and looks like TweetDeck on the desktop.

 

WiFi and GPS

There’s been a lot of complaints about the WiFi and GPS on the Transformer Prime. Personally I think GPS on a tablet is almost as pointless as a camera, so I’ve not even bothered checking it. I did do some WiFi tests and am happy to say that I’ve not experienced any problems. I have 30Meg broadband and with the Prime in the same room as the router, I get a consistent 29Mbps on WiFi (my Samsung Galaxy S II gets about 20Mbps). In my bedroom (on the same floor as the router but through a couple of brick walls) I get around 15Mbps on WiFi for both the Prime and the GSII.

 

CONCLUSION

The Asus Transformer Prime is as near as possible the perfect tablet for 2012. The Prime’s speed, display and overall design is superb and everything I’d hoped for from a quad-core mobile machine. I don’t have a laptop so with the combined dock this is the only mobile computer I need.

The bugs and problems I’ve encountered so far are minor: I’ve experienced the occasional screen “jitter” (where the image jumps up and down for a fraction of a second) but this is rare. The stock ICS browser was perhaps a little bit laggy, but I’ve now switched to ICS Browser+ and find this a bit smoother. A couple of times I found that I couldn’t type on the dock’s keyboard automatically, but I think this was due to my 3rd-party Thumb Keyboard app confusing it.

But these are minor issues, none of which comes anywhere near to spoiling my satisfaction with the Transformer Prime. Its unique design means that unlike the Samsung Galaxy Tabs, the Prime can be be called an iPad wannabe. So I will take Asus up on their kind offer to extend my warranty but there’s no way anyone’s gonna prise this Prime outta my hands!

  

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  • Post

    You’re very lucky.

    Unfortunately,I returned my prime yesterday because the wifi was awful, barely managing 600 kbs when in any room other than the router – really disappointing for a wifi device.

  • TTricky

    My Prime is going back next Wednesday due to too many problems. I suffer from the horizontal lines (which I’ve just read somewhere that there might be a software fix for it – I’ll have to try when I get home). The haptic feedback mechanism makes a horrible noise (the vibration when you press buttons) and the camera focus clicks horribly loud, to the point where you can hear it whilst recording a video. Gutted – because it’s otherwise a superb machine and exactly what I was looking for (a portable, long lasting, high powered internet device).

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Yikes, that’s not so good. Good luck with the replacement!

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Hmmm, yeah I read there’s a  firmware update out in the US that attempts to fix the GPS issue and horizontal lines some folk get on ICS. Don’t think the upgrade is out in the UK yet though.

    Your other issues are all things I personally could live with: I don’t have haptic feedback enabled and use my smartphone for taking photos, not the tablet.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the review. Just a few questions:

    1. Is the extended warranty free and you just need to call Asus to ask for it? What if your Transformer Prime isn’t faulty?
    2. How well do Skype with Video and BBC iPlayer work?
    3. Please detail what makes Spotify look so awful? Also, does it work fine otherwise or does it crash at all?

    The reviewer says in the comments section of this review that he had no problem with Spotify but iPlayer doesn’t work for him (see question 4 from jbrandonbb).

    http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/asus-eee-pad-transformer-prime-1045764/review?comments_pg=2#comments

    I don’t yet have an easy way to watch BBC iPlayer on my TV, so it’s good all you need is an HDMI cable in order to connect this to a TV. The weight/battery length make this much more suitable than my laptop.

    Thanks.

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Hey bradavon, to answer your questions:

    1. afaik, yes all you do is call Asus UK to extend your warranty (I’ve not done it yet but will do this week). This is for people whose Transformer Prime is not faulty but who want to have an 18 month warranty instead of the standard 12 months.

    2. The iPlayer app is not yet available from the Market for Transformer Prime, but you can just use the website version instead. This works really well and looks fabulous on the Prime’s screen! I’ve not tried out Skype yet so can’t comment on that.

    3. Spotify works fine in that it plays music as expected, but the feature-set is about a year behind the iPhone version and the general look and feel of it makes you think it’s an app from 2002 not 2012.

    So, the Transformer Prime would be perfect for viewer iPlayer on your TV. Unless you can find an apk of the app or until they mark the app as being compatible with the Prime, you need to use the website but that’s no problem. Just remember to use the browser menu to “Request Desktop Site” to prevent it defaulting to the mobile webpage version.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the reply. It’s most helpful. Any luck finding a decent cover for it? I’d be after some type of slip on case.

    Agreed about Spotify for Android but at least it works. That’s a relief. It can be rather buggy though, randomly crashing or pausing during the middle of a song.

    I take it you’ve not tried the smartphone iPlayer APK file? I can e-mail it to you if you wish.

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    You can “Request Desktop Site” from the stock ICS browser, but I found I had to do it every time I visited a page i.e. it didn’t remember my preference. the ICS+ browser lets you set-and-forget this for all sites.

    There are many support threads about the lack of functionality and bugs in Spotify for Android, but Spotify seem to be in no particular rush to address any of these. But as you say, at least it works for the most part.

    Not tried the iPlayer APK – thanks for your offer, I’m jer AT pansentient DOTCOM :p

    As for a cover, I bought a Navitech soft case supposedly designed for the Prime but it’s too big. So, looking around for another one….

  • Anonymous

    That’s it now. I remember reading it won’t stick to “Desktop”. FYI Dolphin HD also has the same user agent setting.

    I also read about those so called Prime cases that are anything but. There’s a cheap one on Amazon. I guess it’s too soon for properly made cases to be released.

    E-Mail sent.

  • Licenced

    Hi. Thanks for the review. 

    I meant to come back and post at the time and ask you about any success with the Spotify app but I see now from your posts on Get Satisfaction that you’ve come across the same issues as many others.

    It certainly leaves me a little incredulous at Spotify’s seeming lack of support for Android. You’d hope this issue is very very high on their radar, but it’s impossible to get any word from their reps about development or release plans or indeed any real response apart from ‘sorry, not supported’.

    I’d urge anyone reading this to go and +1 the support thread – every little helps.
    http://getsatisfaction.com/spotify/topics/when_will_spotify_be_ready_for_android_ics 

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Cheers, yes Spotify installs but won’t run on the Prime. I will try an uninstall/reinstall tonight just to be sure, but it does seem that ICS is not supported by Spotify for a reason (i.e. it doesn’t work).

  • Paul Roberts

    I have spotify running on my sgs with ics (cm9 alpha)

  • Anonymous

     I thought Spotify worked on your Prime (see comments above)? The Prime is my perfect tablet and I’d use Spotify all the time, so this would really annoy me. What does “won’t run” please? As long as I can stream, search and mark for offline use tracks I’ll be okay.

    I suspect it’s a case of Spotify being painfully slow to update any aspect of the mobile software, except for iPhone. Where’s the iPad app already?

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    It worked for a few days (when I wrote the original reply to you) but I’ve not managed to get it working since.  You can install and login, but it force-closes itself a second later. 
    Spotify say that they do not support Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich yet, but I’d expect them to release a fixed version within the next few months.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. I’ve +1ed it. I’ve also replied here (remember to click the Kudos button):

    http://community.spotify.com/t5/Spotify-Ideas-and-Feedback/Spotify-needs-to-support-Android-3-Honeycomb-Android-4-Ice-Cream/idi-p/715

    Now Spotify are going to stop checking that site.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. Have you tried leaving it before pressing anything? I find Spotify FCs if I press it for about the first 5 seconds using a Froyo Desire.

    At least there’s Splashtop for when at home . . .

  • Anonymous
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