New Toys: Transformer Prime

It’s been two weeks now, give or take. And I love this device. Looooooooove it. Oh, there’s a few flaws (every once in a while, it’ll burp when an app shuts down, and reboot the tablet), but it’s pretty much exactly what I need for 90% of the stuff I do with a computer these days.

For those who don’t know, the Transformer Prime is the first Tegra 3 tablet. If you want more specs than that, well, check out either of those links, and you’ll get ‘em. Performance-wise, it’s fast. Blindingly so. I’ve not managed to make it chug at all, and I Have a bad tendency to leave everything running indefinitely, and never actually shut the thing down, just put it into standby.

Transformer Prime.jpg
My Prime, with the keyboard attachement, sitting on top of my 17″ Compaq.

The weight is just about perfect. @dogandgarden has a Transformer, the previous generation, Tegra2 model. The Prime is dramatically lighter in hand, and thinner as well. Given the screen size is the same, the edges are a fair approximation of the original, minus a few thirds of an inch in any direction. What this means is that I can use it as a reader almost indefinitely: it weighs about the same as a trade-paperback.

What this also means is that it’s perfect for the stuff I want to read. Articles, especially long ones (I have a lot of love for the LongReads RSS feed) fit perfectly, via GReader Pro. The only issue I’ve found so far is that video doesn’t play in GReader Pro since the update to Ice Cream Sandwich. Flip it out to the right browser, though, and it works just fine, and hopefully, GReader will get fixed fairly soon.

The form factor and weight also make it perfect for reading comics: this is something I’d avoided on my Samsung Captivate because a 4” screen is still not quite enough to read comics on. By the same token, it’s perfect for online magazines, which render beautifully.

The same is true for ebooks. I’ve been spending more and more time reading on my phone in the last year, and this just brings it up to real-world level. I can read this thing for hours without any more fatigue than I’ve had from reading a turn-the-pages book for the same length of time.

Gaming performance is what you’d expect for an Nvidia chipset, especially a class-leading one. Stellar. I tend to bounce in and out of games and my other stuff, and it never misses a beat. To be honest, though, gaming is a bonus. It’s not why I bought the device.

There has been some minor weirdness since Asus rolled out the Over-The-Air update from Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich.

The primary one of these is the mentioned weirdness in video playback.

I noticed it first in GReader Pro: the video would simply not play: just do a load and pause routine. So, I tried popping it open with the display in web browers button, and same problem there. I’ve used the Dolphin browser on my phone for ages, and I have a lot of love for it, but I wasn’t able to use the button (either in GReader Pro, or Dolphin) to bump into the Youtube app (which wouldn’t have helped with things like Vimeo, anyway). I even tried ‘sharing’ as an email, then copying the link, but when I tried to share as email I got consistent “this link is either deleted or unavailable”: for some reason GReader Pro had stopped linking properly to the video that was embedded. And, surprisingly, so had Dolphin HD. I found the same problem with the OEM Browser.

So, after a little research, I found I wasn’t the only one with this problem. While there wasn’t a fix, different browsers were, apparently, showing different reactions to the situation. Opera for Mobile, sadly, had the same problem. SkyFire was a little better, but had huge issues with Vimeo; it only displayed a big, black box where the video was supposed to be.

However, after switching, on recommendation, to BOAT Browser, most of the problems cleared up. GReader Pro is still an issue, but with BOAT as my default browser, I can open the page in the browser from GReader Pro, and it renders properly.

This is, now that I have a work around, a minor irritant at worst. Hopefully, this’ll help out other people, as I don’t think this is an issue with the Prime, but rather with apps interactions with Ice Cream Sandwich.

It should also be noted that the first thing I did in BOAT is set it to represent itself as a desktop client, not a mobile client. The 10” screen on the Prime is more than enough to render well-designed webpages as they’re meant to be seen, and not on their stripped-down mobile sites.

I’m also still getting used to the keyboard. But I can see this add-on being invaluable in the long term for me, as it makes my tablet nearly a complete replacement for my laptop.

The keyboard is somewhere between ¾ and 7/8 the size of a regular keyboard. What this means is that I get my ‘pinkie stretches’ wrong occasionally when I’m touch-typing. Otherwise, it’s brilliant. The trackpad on it doesn’t get in the way of my typing, and is pretty responsive. As soon as you dock the tablet to the keyboard, it pops a little pointer on the screen, and you’re off to the races.

The battery system in the keyboard is superbly smart too: it really does just charge up your tablet from the keyboard, under the correct assumption that that’s the one you’d want fully charged when you de-dock. Which means it makes sense to store your table on the keyboard when you’re not using it: it’s basically a big, extended battery pack.

Battery life itself is excellent. I was off sick the other day, and spent the day drifting in and out of sleep on the couch, watching Netflix on TV. In the meantime, the Prime kept me company. Read my multiple GReader Pro feeds (I think you’ve figured out by now that this is one of my primary apps), caught up on my Long Reads feed, which I’d neglected since about Christmas, browsing, social media, and games (specifically, FieldRunners HD, Pixel Rain, Wordsmith, and a Zuma clone). In ‘normal’ mode (you can switch from power-saver, normal, and performance in the taskbar/status area with a touch) I got about eighteen hours of use (including standby) with about thirty-percent left in the keyboard, and sixty-five percent left in the tablet itself. I can see an EASY seventy-two hour charging cycle, especially if you do thinks like turning off wifi and Bluetooth when you’re sleeping, even if you don’t shut down completely. Also, if you don’t geek out on the sheer power of the device, and install the matrix-style live wallpaper to chew up power (but it’s SO PRETTY).

I only had honeycomb on the tablet for a couple of days before ICS was pushed out for it, so it’s hard to compare the differences. But it definitely feels like the battery is lasting longer.

I also spent that time using my phone as a wireless access point, rather than my home network, because I wanted to see what mobile data usage was like on a day like that.

If you have less than 2gb a month, you don’t want to use your phone/tablet in this combination often. However, with a complete (and large) game download (42meg) I topped out at about 200meg for the day’s usage. The speed was probably twenty-five percent slower than my home network, visibly, but definitely useful, especially if you set your phone/WAP up where it gets strong HSPA signal. And better still if you have LTE, I guess. Some of us ain’t that lucky!

What I found out though is that with my old 6gb a month plan, I could do days like this every day, and still have plenty left over. Admittedly, this is less a test of the tablet, but the use of the two in conjunction is important to me.

As a footnote, it should be noted that my 3000Mah extended battery didn’t fare anywhere near as well as the tablet. I had to plug the phone in after about twelve hours acting as an access point: I was at 15% battery remaining.

I’m waiting for my very cheap, very basic neoprene sleeve to be delivered. Hopefully, it’ll be soon, because while the brushed aluminum (in grey, which definitely has a sheen of purple) is beautiful, I’ve already got two or three scratches on the back of the tablet from putting it down on the coffee table. If you don’t protect it, you’re going to scratch it, and the same goes for the base of the keyboard (although less of an issue: it has rubber feet keeping the aluminum off the surface you’re putting it on). Just having something to slide the whole assembly into, and/or place it on top of instead of the hard/dirty/gritty surface of a table, will make all the difference. Expect to see some battle damage though.

Unless I wanted the familiarity of my laptop for looking up issues relating to the tablet, or photoshop crunching, I’ve not turned it (the laptop) on since I got the tablet. There’s just no point. The tablet, so far, appears to be good enough that I can ditch my laptop for everything, and probably even go back to a full-on desktop, if I want to. And I’ll be honest, that’s not something I expected to happen. As I said at the start, for 90% of my daily usage, the tablet is not only capable, but better than my laptop. I’m interested to see how I feel about things after a few months, but for the moment, the honeymoon is in full swing. The only downsides are what appears to be first-out-the-gate issues with ICS, and I expect those’ll get fixed as time, and apps, develop for it.


3 Responses to New Toys: Transformer Prime

  1. Simon Sage says:

    Obviously, I find this shit super-interesting. I wrote an article about replacing laptops with tablets awhile back (, but this is swaying my opinions a little bit. For me, the keyboard dock form factor is the perfect use case for tablets, but having seen a ton of Windows 8 “ultrabooks” at CES, I have a feeling the big-boy PC world is going to come crashing down on the the current tablet world hard. Obviously the Windows counterparts are going to cost twice as much for the near future, but I don’t see any smartphones-née-tablets surviving five years from now.

    All that being said, I’m curious to hear about the few things that you keep coming back to the “real” laptop for, and do you see those needs being address soon? You mentioned Photoshop, and it sounded like gaming was still a secondary consideration. Anything else? Adobe has been cranking out some pretty sweet tablet apps, although they’re probably insufficient if you need to do hardcore editing.

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  3. markramsden says:

    I’ll take the direct stuff first (this is, as you say, a superbly interesting discussion, in that we don’t know where the industry is going).

    Laptops. I see laptop days as numbered. Now, that doesn’t mean that laptops are going away by any means, but the traditional small, light laptop will assuredly get over taken by tablets. The power is coming, and if the Tegra timeline is anything to go by, mine is simply the tip of the iceberg. There will be uses for ‘big’ portable computers though: (photographic and video) editing is one, at least in the short-term, and gaming is the other. I see those as sticking around only as niche markets though. Seriously, this second generation of tablet/keyboard combination is that good, from my use so far.

    Netbooks, however, are as good as dead. There’s simply no niche left for them between tablets (lighter, as powerful or more so, with better screens, better battery life, and as much functionality). Netbooks were the (in my mind) precursor to these now-serious tablets. The logical step from laptop to tablet is very-small-laptop, but at the end of the day, a tablet like mine, that you can use with all the functionality of a netbook, but then cut in half in terms of weight and size, makes them obsolete.

    The photoshop apps are reportedly fairly good. They work, they do layers, the works. They don’t, however, support RAW formats (yet)(actually, I had to go google it and it’s true: no RAW support in mobile photoshop apps yet), which means from an editing-on-the-road standpoint they’re not up to snuff yet. Additionally, PHotoshop express has the features, but limits output to 1600px on the longest edge, which is simply NOT acceptable for me. I’m going to try it out anyway, as dpreview’s review says it’s also “laggy on a [dual core] Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1” and I’m interested to see if that goes away with the quad-core Tegra3.

    Like you, I don’t believe in the “Post PC era”. Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), I see the increase in tablet usage as the resurrgence of the desktop PC. I got my laptop as a portable desktop replacement: but it doesn’t have the firepower to do a lot of stuff. The reality is, the battery in my laptop is pooched, and won’t be replaced: I’m looking at a new desktop instead, and will simply do all my photoshop editing there.

    Which brings us to gaming. As I said, I see things like the monster desktop replacment Alienware gaming ‘laptops’ as the ones that will survive. They’re a niche, for sure, but at the same time, they’re also barely laptops. Given their weight and size, they’re portable in the sense that yes, you can pick them up and carry them around. BUt you wouldn’t want to at, say, a convention. Like I said, those kinds of laptops will stick around, but they’ll be a niche. And I think, for the next few years at least, the low-end laptops will stick around too: they’re a good compromise for students, etc, and anyone who wants the storage capacity of a computer but still needs the portability. that’s going to change too, though, as the interface improves (more on that, with regards to the Prime, in another post) and solid state storage comes down in price. I think by the time the Tegra5 hits, we’ll be looking at base models with 128gb in them, not the 32gb of this current round.

    Gaming means horsepower though, and while the Alienware and similar stuff is good, there’s no (much like my other love, cars) no replacement for displacement, right? Which means being able to swap that chip easily, add more ram easily, and change and add video cards as you desire. And that’s still where desktops rule. In opposition to laptops, I see the low-end desktop going away completely. There’s no point to it anymore: if you want a low-end desktop, you buy a base laptop. Does the same job. If you want firepower, you buy a serious machine. If you want portability, you buy (i think) a good tablet.

    The other thing with gaming is that developers still haven’t embraced mobile/tablet as anything more than a bookend: casual gaming for filling time on the go. I think that’ll change soon though: the hardware is there in the Tegra3, and I’m sure for whatever Apple comes up with for the iPad3 as well, to support things like WoW. A quad-core 1.3ghz and dedicated GPU should be plenty. Is it a bone-breaking, 1920×1600, 100fps system for first person shooters? No, definitely not. But, the people who demand that are again, a niche market. Most people just want to play the games. And the mobile hardware is getting really, really close to letting you. The ergonomics and the simple willingness to program, and put the effort into the interface and platform is really what’s lacking right now.

    There is one more thing. I tend to sit on the couch with the tablet, and it’s not quite big enough for typing on, on my knees/lap. The desktop puts my body in the right position for writing longer pieces and, yes, in an old-school way, puts my body and mind in the right state for that kind of writing. Again, this is why I see the desktop making a resurgence. There’s still a place for this, be it the home, home-office, or workplace. But as more and more people respond to life online with short bursts, things like the 7/8’s keyboard dock, and even SWYPE (which I adore) make even multiple short paragraphs (say, anything up to a mid-size email or online update) so easy that a more robust system is unnecessary. It’s only when you get to that level of formating/coding/gaming/editing where you’re being serious about it (as opposed to casual) that the desktop comes back. But I think the laptop-as-intermediary step is now pretty redundant.

    The way I look at it is “the right tool for the job”. For 90% of the time, my tablet will be awesome. For storage, and serious firepower (for whatever reason) I’ll need a desktop. I don’t, however, need that laptop anymore. It fills a hole in the middle of those two others that simply, for me, doesn’t exist anymore. And it’s a hole that’s getting smaller and smaller. Yes, I’ll probably still take my laptop to my folks place, etc. But it’s only so I have somewhere to dump gigs of pictures to. Chances are, I can leave the editing until I get home, and aren’t rushed.

    Little bit disjointed: i’ve tried to cover a lot of ground, because, well, there’s a lot of ground to cover. What I really need is to get paid to do this shit. 😉

    Oh! Also (and finally) I’m intrigued by Win8. And I’ve no problem with the ‘big boy PC world’, because competition gives me the shit I want, and not this bullshit “patent/sue the competition out of existence” method of getting ahead that seems to be the way business is done now.

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