Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Asus Transformer Prime

On the day everyone wants to talk about the new iPad, let me do something quite different. I’m going to talk about the Asus Transformer Prime instead. Asus launched its latest Android tablet last December with the most awesome hardware specifications the Android platform has seen. Perhaps even the best of all tablets out there. It’s the first tablet with a quad-core CPU. The new iPad announced today still sports a dual-core CPU (with quad-core graphics, whatever that means…).

I got my hands on a Transformer Prime yesterday. My workplace was going to get us tablets, and the main options were either to go for the Transformer Prime, or wait out for the iPad 3. I was undecided, but a colleague chose to go with the Transformer Prime, and the box had just arrived.

The Transformer Prime looks pretty nice. It’s not “nice” in the same way as an iPad is, but Asus has managed to establish its own styling. The back of the tablet is all metal, with a spun pattern finish. The front is not unlike an iPad: glass from edge to edge, with a sizable black margin surrounding the actual screen. There’s no home button, of course, on this Android tablet.

One feature of the Transformer Prime that caught my interest is the keyboard dock. It attaches to the tablet and turns it into a nifty looking netbook. Yes, you’d imagine that such detachable contraptions will look clumsy and ugly. But this one actually look quite sleek. The keyboard and “screen” opens and closes up just like you’d expect a netbook or notebook to do. The keyboard dock also packs an extra battery and a SD card reader, and weighs 537g (the tablet itself is 586g, bringing the total weight to 1.123kg).

The keyboard here is not quite something you can compare with that on a real notebook. It’s small, crammed, and maybe I’m just not yet used to it, but I don’t feel like I can type very productively. But of course, considering that most tablets don’t even have an option for a real keyboard, this is already infinitely better. A real keyboard makes it so much easier to compose emails, write blog posts, etc.

Considering that nowadays so many things are done “on the cloud”, it’s not like you really need to carry a compute powerhouse with you. A tablet with a keyboard dock can be a pretty attractive option. Can it replace my notebook at work?

Unfortunately, not. I tried to picture myself carrying the Transformer Prime, arriving at work, putting it down on my desk and start working on it. The screen is not big enough. The screen has not enough pixels. I can’t multitask with multiple applications side-by-side. I can’t view multiple websites at once. I can’t connect a second monitor. It is not a work computer replacement, even if you don’t need a powerful work computer.

But I think it’s pretty handy to bring for meetings, whole-day-out-of-office events, or other such occasions where you want to get some work done, but don’t need to do heavy work.

The extra battery on the keyboard dock extends the Transformer Prime’s total run time to 18 hours (the tablet on its own runs for 10 hours). That’s pretty good for non-stop work well beyond any normal work day. I imagine battery is never going to be a concern on this tablet. It’s a clever thing to put the battery there too, since it weights down the keyboard to give it some stability when holding up the tablet.

The keyboard dock doesn’t come that cheap though. It’s about US$150, or S$200.

A few weeks ago, when I got excited about getting a tablet from my work, I was quite impressed with the Transformer Prime’s specifications. Then, I discovered a little problem. It was lacking one feature – there is no 3G built-in. It’s not a problem when you have Wifi. But you don’t get Wifi everywhere, and it’s troublesome to figure out if there is working Wifi. I always use the 3G on my phone and on my current iPad. I don’t care about Wifi anymore. The lack of 3G on the Transformer Prime is a little of a let down. Sure, I can tether from my phone, but I don’t consider that an idea solution. Maybe for some others this does not bother them too much.

The good news is that a 3G-enabled Transformer Prime will come up in the near future.

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