Asus Transformer Prime tablet first impressions

Last night I finally caved and picked up an ASUS Transformer Prime TF201-B1-GR and the mobile keyboard dock for it.

Transformer Prime

Yes, I actually bought a non-Apple tablet (that thinks it’s a laptop). I’ll wait while you soak that in.

After seeing both Derek and Morten, in the span of about 6 hours (ironically on the release day of the new iPad), using their Transformer Prime’s, I started to think about it a lot more and did some research.

I already have a work provided iPad 2 but find that I rarely use it at home since I have a laptop (MacBook Air). The iPad was a choice I made when it came time to get a new laptop at work…I opted to go the iPad route because of what I was mostly using the laptop for at work – to attend meetings, have access to my calendar and email anywhere in the building, etc. The iPad works fantastically better for these tasks than a laptop for me at least.

So at home, I wanted something different to play with. I already had an HP Touchpad which I hacked and put Android onto but it was a little bulky (think the size of the iPad 1, inside a case) and didn’t have any external ports for memory cards. Also the Android 4 install I recently did is still considered very alpha so a number of things didn’t work or weren’t aware of the hardware I was using.

I really liked a few things about the Prime almost immediately:

  • the nicely integrated and detachable keyboard dock (an optional, separate $150 purchase which is actually a no brainer because of what it adds) which adds a really nice keyboard, touchpad(!), SD card slot, USB port and battery pack that extends the Prime’s battery to over 18 hours
  • integrated microSD card slot for additional storage. I opted for the cheaper 32gb model because I can extend this with memory cards easily thanks to the two slot option with the keyboard dock
  • it runs Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) which is currently the best Android experience available
  • very speedy processor and video card that seems to rival Apple’s iPad speed. Simple things like just rotating the display always seemed laggy on my previous Android devices whereas this is very comparable

Transformer Prime

I’ve only had it for less than a day and already the frustration with the Android Marketplace (now known as the Play Store) has surfaced since unlike Apple’s App Store, there is no clear distinction between phone and tablet apps. I’ve talked about the fragmented Android marketplace before and now it’s even more obvious with a device like the Prime.

Transformer Prime Screenshot

I spent a bunch of time downloading apps only to find that they are really meant for a phone display. While they still work on the Prime, it’s not the best experience.

Another interesting point is the unboxing experience. It feels like Asus completely copied Apple’s method for packaging and presenting the device. Very similar foam padding inside the box, internal user guide bundle and even the shape of the charging cable feel more than simply ‘inspired by Apple’. But that said, it is still a good experience, with minimal excess like the days of old with the huge styrofoam inserts.

My Prime is the ‘Amethyst Gray’ model…the other color option was champagne which appears to be more silver/pearly white and this grey looks more like purple or stained deep red wine than gray. Whatever.

Asus has done a great job of not mucking too much with the Android experience and really making an effort to think things through rather than simply bolt them on like in the past. I’ve noticed a bunch of little things that work like you’d expect and want (finally an integrated screenshot solution via the keyboard or onscreen button). The keyboard also has an integrated trackpad which makes using a tablet much easier for some tasks while typing on the keyboard – something I found lacking on the Apple side when using an iPad + keyboard combo, so much so that I stopped using an external keyboard.

It’s easy to see something like this could be the future of mobile computing with the software and hardware finally working together in a manner that makes sense.

Once I spend more time with the unit, I’ll post more about my experiences. So far though, I’m enjoying it.

UDPATE: First weekend with the device and I’ve seen this message far too often in the stock browser:
Browser is not responding

Google’s own Chrome Browser (which is an early beta on Android) isn’t much better with it’s crashiness.

UPDATE #2: Well, I tried for a over a week to love the Transformer Prime but in the end, I returned it. Despite having some really killer features, I found the overall performance subpar when compared to my iPad 2.

The wifi was incredibly weak – something that seems to be well documented online, due to the aluminum shell which reduces the range of the antenna. While not a main reason I bought it in the first place, the built in GPS kind of worked and Asus has even begun offering a GPS dongle for all customers due to the weak performance of the built in module (they’ve also removed the feature from the unit’s main specs).

The final straw was when I was simply browsing the Play Store (app market) trying to find tablet specific apps and this popped up:
Even the Google Play Store (marketplace) is slow to respond on the Transformer Prime

I guess my Android friends are okay with this kind of performance…but I’m not and certainly not for a $700+ device (keyboard dock included). I wasn’t doing anything other than running a stock unit with the latest Android updates. I know I can root, unlock the bootloader, etc but I shouldn’t have to do that to simply use the browser.

I may try again with Google’s rumored upcoming 1st party tablet (which may actually be a rebranded Asus) or maybe even a Kindle Fire from Amazon which has a curated app store of apps that are optimized for that tablet.

2 Comments

  1. Your frustrations are nearly the same as mine, though I have the TF101 (and keyboard dock). I’ve actually found I’ve been using the tablified app to search for apps, but even then I’m not entirely trustworthy of what I find.

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