Connectivity and physical controls on the Prime as a tablet alone are about average for a slim designer model. Along the left edge you’ll find a hard-plastic volume rocker, microHDMI port, and microSD card reader. Along the top is the power button while the 3.5mm headphone jack is located on the right side. Along the bottom there are two slots that fit with locks on the keyboard dock, to either side of the Transformer’s proprietary 40-pin power and data connector. This has remained unchanged from the original Transformer, so you’ll be able to use your old charger if you own one.
So without its keyboard base, the Prime’s connectivity is about what you would expect. It’s superior to its closest rivals, the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but inferior to the likes of the Toshiba AT200 or heavyweights such as the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet.
However, throw in the dock and all that changes, thanks to a full-size USB 2.0 port and SDHC card reader. With the twin memory card readers of the tablet and base you could potentially get a whopping 256GB of storage onto this device, and even more using a memory stick. Our only regret is that the dock’s slimming diet has apparently forced Asus to give up the second USB port of the original. We’re all for attractive design, but only if it doesn’t compromise usability (especially over previous generation products).
Of course the dock also adds to the tablet’s longevity as it has a battery built-in (though again this isn’t as impressive as with the original since its capacity is no longer equal to the tablet’s), but we’ll get to how long the Transformer lasts on the go in a bit. The main purpose of the dock is to give you a physical keyboard and touchpad, greatly enhancing potential productivity.
Unfortunately, the chiclet keyboard is yet another aspect that has suffered compared to that of the original dock. Given the Prime is actually a few millimetres narrower than its predecessor, it’s no surprise that keys are just as cramped, despite examples like the HP Compaq Mini proving that it’s still possible to implement a larger layout on such a small device. However, not only is the Prime’s layout unchanged from its predecessor (including the annoyingly small right-shift key), but due to the slimmer profile key action is even more shallow than before, making constant typing almost uncomfortable for extended periods.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s usable and preferable to most third-party keyboard add-ons for tablets, but it’s definitely an area where many netbooks still have the edge. It’s also worth noting that the new Transformer is more top-heavy than its predecessor as the dock weighs less, so you have to be extra careful not to let it tilt off your lap.
With the touchpad, meanwhile, we have some good and some bad news, depending on how you use it. This time round Asus has gone for a ‘buttonless’ pad of the type found on Apple’s laptops and Ultrabooks like the Acer Aspire S3. The pad itself is smooth and responsive, and with the ‘buttons’ included its area is equal to the pad on the Transformer. Unfortunately, the clickable areas of the pad are very far towards the corners, leaving a large dead-zone in the centre and making them harder to use than the original’s buttons. Whether you find this an annoyance will depend on if you use them at all or just ‘tap to click’. And of course, you can always resort to touching the screen.