But of course it's also a heck of a lot more than that. With this you'll get a full USB 2.0 port and an SD card reader, giving you yet another way to expand the storage. You can use that USB port to plug in an external mouse if you like, but the idea is of course to instead use the little trackpad that's built into what is ostensibly a wrist-rest at the bottom of the keyboard but, thanks to the petite dimensions here, doesn't offer much respite at all.
That trackpad may be small but it is at least reasonably responsive, letting you use gestures for scrolling webpages and even for navigating around the tablet's myriad home screens. (Though if you want to pinch-zoom you'll have to reach up on the display.) In fact if anything it's too responsive, picking up the most subtle of brushes from your fingers as you type, often causing the cursor on your tablet to jump unexpectedly and unwantedly. There's no way to disable the trackpad automatically while you're typing, which is a major annoyance.
Also annoying are the trackpad buttons, built into the bottom. Push in on the left for a primary click and on the right for secondary, but try and click anywhere toward the middle and it just won't move a bit. The button itself seems plenty wide, but only the outer extents can actually be clicked. Thankfully you can simply tap anywhere and just ignore the buttons altogether.
The keyboard itself is passable, but far from good. The island keys are tiny and have a very light touch to them, but we just wish for a bit more room. Everything is cramped but, it must be said, most of the important keys are reasonably generously sized -- except, unfortunately, for the right shift.
One final annoyance: when mounted in the dock, the whole contraption is disconcertingly top-heavy, the Transformer itself weighing considerably more than the lid of your average laptop. This made the thing very prone to tipping over backward. In fact we inadvertently sent ours tumbling off of its perch and toward the floor while writing this very section of the review. Some deft reflexes, honed on years of Samurai Showdown
and its ilk, saved our tablet from crashing into the floor, but suffice to say you should always use yours in a secure location.
But the question, of course, is whether you should use this dock at all, and we honestly think that we might. While typing on a keyboard this small is certainly a chore, it sure as heck beats using an on-screen keyboard. And, while we aren't entirely fond of the trackpad, it certainly makes selecting blocks of text much easier than tapping and dragging and tapping again with your fingers on the screen. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the experience is far better here than on Motorola's various lapdocks
Performance and graphics
The Prime is something of a curiosity around these parts in that it's the first tablet to ship with NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3 SoC. Actually, let's just call it what it is: the first quad-core tablet, period. We've run our usual spate of benchmarks (listed above for your viewing pleasure), and the combined scores are among the highest we've yet seen, handily beating the Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 7.0 Plus we recently tested in most cases.
Suffice to say, all the mundane bits -- swiping through menus, opening apps -- run as briskly as you'd expect on a quad-core slate. The Prime's display is as responsive as it is gorgeous, and we made ourselves at home quickly -- so much so that we found ourselves tapping the screen even when we were plugged into the dock. Make no mistake: the Prime is fast, but we suspect Honeycomb's 3D animations aren't the best way to highlight this, given that dual-core Tegra 2 can stomach these flourishes well enough already.
That said, we were sorry to still see some occasional stutters and hiccups from time to time, instances where the device would hesitate for just a half-second or so before responding. There are three performance modes that are easily selected between in the pop-up settings menu, but even on its highest we couldn't get it to be a consistently smooth operator. They're the kind of stops and starts we've seen on just about every Android device to date and it's a bit of a shame that even four whopping cores running at 1.3GHz can't do away with them.
Pity the Engadget editor who had to babysit this thing while it ran unplugged, looping through our battery drain test for hours and hours.
Yes, wow. Pity the Engadget editor who had to babysit this thing while it ran unplugged, looping through our battery drain test for hours and hours. ASUS says the Prime's 22Wh pack should last a maximum of 12 hours without the dock and indeed, it squeezed out an impressive 10 hours and 17 minutes in our battery rundown test, which involves looping a video with the brightness fixed at 50 percent and WiFi on but not connected. That's a scant nine minutes short of what the iPad 2 accomplished in the same test, a difference that could just as well swing the other way should we test these two a second time. This was also running in standard power mode -- upshifting to economy mode likely would have delivered an even more longevous result.
Much of this is thanks to the new Tegra 3 chipset, which is not only fiendishly quick but also freakishly efficient. The chipset is capable of processing each frame that's rendered to the screen and determining the minimum necessary brightness of the backlight to properly display it. The backlight is constantly cycling up and down while the color temperature is dynamically cycled to compensate. The net result: great visuals and killer battery life.
ASUS promises a further six hours of dependability when docked with the keyboard and we're happy to report that figure is right on the mark. We clocked in at 16 hours and 34 minutes when running with the keyboard dock. That's a huge figure.
We should also tell you that the Prime can charge via the bundled AC adapter or over USB. But -- and there is a but -- the dock doesn't yet support USB charging, so if you want to prime yourself for a potential 18 hours of runtime, you had best start out near an outlet.
We wish we could use this as an occasion to walk you through ICS on a tablet but alas, that day isn't upon us just yet. The Prime ships with Android 3.2.1, and you know what that means: Honeycomb, jazzed up ever-so slightly with a few removable widgets, power management profiles and handy settings shortcuts, which you can access by swiping or tapping the clock in the lower-right corner. Those settings, by the by, include Bluetooth, WiFi, IPS / Super IPS+ mode and auto-rotation for the screen. It's quite similar to what Samsung is packing in its TouchWiz'd Galaxy Tabs these days.
Those widgets, meanwhile, are pretty harmless and not particularly exciting, with weather and mail, as well as a larger one that cobbles together weather, calendar, music, Gallery access and a shortcut to the last website you visited. Again, these are easy to dump if you like your homepages a little more pristine, as we typically do.
As for pre-installed apps, the Prime comes with @vibe Music, Amazon Kindle, App Backup, App Locker, Big Top THD, Bladeslinger, Google Books, Davinci THD, File Manager, Glowball, Movie Studio, MyCloud, MyLibrary, MyNet, Netflix, Photaf Lite, Polaris Office, Press Reader, Riptide GPk ShadowGun, SuperNote, WebStorage, yskk, Zen Pinball THD and Zinio. Yes, that's a lot of games, and you'll want to be using them -- if only to show off just how good this thing is at 3D gaming.
And it is good. Very good. ShadowGun is the showcase title here and it runs beautifully. NVIDIA has been promising "PC-class" graphics and, while we wouldn't quite take it that far -- the game lacks some of the visual polish of top-shelf PC shooters -- it is safe to say these are the best graphics we've yet seen on a tablet. The water effects in particular are very good, and more importantly it's a fun little shooter.
We're usually quick to dismiss the cameras on tablets because, really, other than the odd video chat just because you can we don't ever find ourselves flipping on either front or rear sensor. But, we dutifully did here to test out the Transformer Prime's picture-taking abilities and, it must be said, it does an admirable job with its eight megapixel rear shooter. Its auto-focus sometimes took a bit too long to make up its mind and the resulting pictures occasionally seemed under-saturated, but the camera took more than acceptable looking images even in less than optimal conditions. So, if you really want to lug around a 10-inch camera, you could do a lot worse.