Walt Mossberg of All Things Digital has been wondering for a while whether he should stop putting out a yearly guide to buying PCs and concentrate on just tablets instead. The idea behind it is that tablets are set to soon replace the laptop, while the desktop is already a zombie.
Now, these sweeping generalizations aside it is true that the both the laptop and desktops face a considerable challenge from light, portable, powerful computers which can run for hours more than even the current generation of laptops can manage.
Yet the one area that devices like the tablet PC fall behind is productivity. How can something that makes even typing difficult turn into a productivity device, critics ask. And without productivity becoming a big part of the tablet’s selling point it will never really be able to threaten the domain of laptops, leave aside remove it completely.
To sum up, the one thing that is needed for a tablet is a capable keyboard and support for mouse. Throw in extra USB ports, and the tablet becomes more of a PC challenger.
Tablets following the iPad, have shied away from adding a keyboard. But ASUS with its first generation transformer bravely went where others feared to tread, and added a removable keypad to its tablet. This little bit of innovation made the transformer one of the best selling tablets.
Now, ASUS has come out with its second generation Transformer, which it calls Prime. This new Transformer, which ASUS debuted sometime back, but is only now making its way to the hands of reviewers, is a wholly different beast, and all the points of difference with its older cousin is positive.
The Prime is a 10.1 inch tablet, with an IPS display. Its guts are made up of Tegra 3 Processor, as we noted in our article when Ee Pad Transformer Prime launched:
The Eee Pad Transformer Prime is the second generation reiteration of the Ee Pad, that rather bulky, thickish tablet whose main selling point was its ability to be converted into a laptop (sort of) by attaching a specially designed keyboard.
This time, the Eee Pad is thinner and lighter than the iPad 2, something that we did not think possible, keeping in mind that the iPad 2 itself is thinner than the iPhone 4 which is no fat brick either.
The Eee Pad at 8.3mm is plenty thin, and it has got itself a Zenbook like aluminum body. At 10.1 inch the screen is slightly bigger than the iPad 2, and it has Super IPS + with a 1280×800 display, all of it under gorilla glass. Then there is the matching detachable keyboard dock. The Eee Pad comes in two colours, an alluring shade of champagne gold and a amethyst grey. Suffice it to say that the Eee Pad is one sexy looking device.
And looks is not even the main part of the story here. Inside, the Ee Pad has got itself an Nvidia superhero Kal-El, the Tegra 3 quad core processor. Nvidia says this is the first mobile CPU which brings ‘PC class’ power to mobile devices.
The processor promises 5x the power of dual core Tegra 2 processors, and some really powerful graphics capability via 12 GPU cores. The tablet comes equipped with a micro HDMI port, and there is a USB slot in the dock, an SD card slot, 1GB of RAM, GPS, a gyroscope, SonicMaster audio and a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera. There is an 8MP camera with f/2.4 lens at the back and a back-illuminated CMOS sensor that captures 1080p video.
The dock, or the keyboard, gives it the ability to turn into a productivity device, because you know, it is still quite difficult to type on a tablet.
The point is how well do all these things work? According to Engadget, pretty well. The animations are fast, and scrolling happens without a hitch. Almost. There is still that small bit of stutter that has plagued Android OS from the beginning, which is surprising given the faster processor that is now housed inside the Prime. While the keyboard is a big improvement over typing on a virtual keyboard, it is still way behind a full sized keyboard. The keys are small and cramped, and the trackpad, though it works very well, is small. There is also a problem in clicking the buttons that come with the trackpad. You need to press the right at the extreme right corner, and the left at the extreme left corner to get it right. The browsing experience is little changed from the previous version of the Transformer, apparently because it can’t take advantage of the 4 cores in the Tegra.
Games are substantially improved, and the Tegra shines in this department. The rendering is smooth and additional graphics details are rendered without a hitch. However, this is true of only games that have been optimized for the prime. Other games will still suffer. The good news is more optimized games are on the way, so hold tight.
The 8 MP camera takes good pictures for a tablet, though it is not of the same class as is found on the iPhone 4S, or Galaxy S II. The display is gorgeous and works well even in sunlight.
The dock with the keyboard is a fine addition that transforms the tablet into a laptop. On top of that it adds additional battery life, upto 6 hours more. The tablet itself worked for 10 hours in the engadget test, coming very near the iPad 2 battery life. One problem that the Engadget reviewers found, the tablet being heavier than a standard laptop display, has a propensity for falling over backward if not supported.
As far as the software is concerned, the Prime is running Honeycomb, and gives the standard Honeycomb experience, but ICS is on the way.
Conclusion: the Prime is the best Android tablet on the market right now. As we said in the beginning, it is also the only tablet on the market right now that has the potential to replace you PC, though it is not there yet, it has taken a major step in the right direction. All hail the Transformer Prime.