We've seen many a Honeycomb tablet in the past 11 months or so since Android 3.0 first hit the streets. But it was the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer that first dared to do something different, marrying an excellent (if a tad small) keyboard to what for all intents and purposes was just another Honeycomb tablet.
And so it was little surprise to learn that ASUS would be first out the gate with the quad-core Tegra 3 system on a chip. And from the first early glimpses -- official and unofficial alike -- it was pretty clear ASUS was doing something special with the Transformer Prime as well.
While we're still waiting to get our hands on the all new Transformer Prime, ASUS walked us through the new hardware in press briefing. And, like us, you're going to be chomping at the bit for this guy. Sleeker. Sexier keyboard dock. More powerful. Better battery life. More storage. And it's coming in a matter of weeks.
We'll walk you through it after the break.
The Transformer Prime -- read our full review -- is a mix of familiar and new. It's still a 10.1-inch Android tablet. And like its predecessor, it'll function as a mild-mannered tablet, or in concert with a detachable keyboard dock that adds battery life as well as the obvious functionality.
One of our (few) complaints about the original Transformer was that it was a bit plastic. That shouldn't be a concern with the Transformer Prime, which has switched to a metallic-spun finish. It'll be available in either "Amethyst Gray" (sort of a grayish-purple), or "Champagne Gold."
Thinner and lighter
The Transformer Prime is just 8.3 mm thin -- that's thinner than the 8.6 mm Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and far more svelte makes the original Transformer look like a relative fatty at 12.98 mm. It's also shed some tonnage, weighing in at 586 grams, versus the 680 grams of the original Transformer but not quite as light as the Galaxy Tab 10.1's 565 grams.
Super IPS+ display
The display is what's being called Super IPS+, which ASUS says will be excellent outdoors and is 1.5 times as bright as its competitors at 600 nits. It's covered in the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass as well as a "hydro-oleophobic" coating (which first gained notoriety on the iPhone 4) to help fight fingerprints. The display has the same 178-degree viewing angle of its predecessor.
Battery life should be pretty impressive, rated at 25 watt-hours for the tablet only for 18 hours of 720p video playback 60 nits of brightness, or 18 hours with the optional keyboard dock attached. That'll vary some, of course, but Android Honeycomb tablets have, for the most part, had decent battery performance.
Tegra 3 and the fifth companion core
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And battery savings will be further aided by the new Tegra 3 chipset. We've been calling it "quad-core" since we first saw it debut as "Kal-El" back in February 2011, but that's not quite right. It's actually got a fifth core available. Known as a companion core, it's a low-power core that runs many of the basic functions and apps while leaving the quad-core processor dormant.
Clock speed wasn't specifically mentioned, but the Tegra 3 tech specs point to 1.4GHz for the companion core, and 1.3GHz for the quad-core processor, if you're worried about that sort of thing.
We've never really been wowed by tablet cameras -- either because they suck, or the device is too unwieldy -- but ASUS has bumped up the specs here as well. The rear camera is now an 8MP shooter. It's promising a fast shutter speed and dynamic autofocus. It's got an F2.4 aperture and has a backlighted CMOS sensor. The front-facing camera is still 1.2MP. Specs are just specs, of course; we'll see what they amount to.
ASUS went back to work here as well, with a pair of 17x12 mm speakers, 6 percent larger than what's on the original Transformer. We absolutely no idea if that'll make a difference.
A big draw of the original Transformer was a bevy of full-size ports. And they haven't gone anywhere. In addition to the microSD card, microHDMI and 3.5 mm headphone jack on the tablet, you'll find a full-size SD card reader and USB 2.0 port on the keyboard dock.
The Transformer Prime will come in two variants, with the 32GB version as the low end. Need more storage? A 64GB version will be available as well. Plus there's the microSD card and cloud storage.
The keyboard dock
This was really the differentiator for the original Transformer, and it's back for the Transformer Prime. You get a nearly full-size keyboard with multitouch trackpad, bonus battery live and the added ports. And if it's anywhere near as good as the original keyboard dock (and we won't be surprised if this version's better, too), you'll easily be able to go from Android tablet to Android laptop.
Not to start on a down note, but the Transformer Prime is going to launch with Honeycomb. That's a little disappointing -- especially since we haven't seen Ice Cream Sandwich even demoed on tablets yet -- but ASUS is already (and unsurprisingly) promising an update at Android 4.0 just as soon as possible.
ASUS will have some homescreen and launcher customizations, along with its WebStorage, MyLibrary, @Vibe Music, MyNet and MyCloud apps. There also will be a host of preloaded applications, of course, including SuperNote for basic paint and note-taking function. Polaris Office is on board as well NVIDIA's Tegra Zone portal app.
This will tend to vary somewhat depending on where you're buying and what country you're in, but the base price is $499 for the 32GB version, and $599 for the 64GB version. The keyboard dock will run another $149. All will ship sometime in December.
Additionally, the original Transformer is dropping to $399 for the 16GB version and $499 for the 32GB version. The keyboard dock is $149.
What's still up in the air
Our conclusion of the original Transformer likely will still apply to the Transformer Prime. You can throw all the hardware in the world at the problem, but you're still going to have justify spending $500 -- or $650, with the keyboard dock -- on the Transformer Prime. And that's as much as a decent entry-level laptop.
But it's much more fun to just ignore that sort of making-sense and instead look at the Transformer Prime at what, at least on paper, it appears to be -- top-shelf hardware with the promise of an upgrade to the newest version of Android -- Ice Cream Sandwich. And that should be one hell of ride.