It might be a long time before cameras on tablets will match up to the best examples mobile phones can offer, but for now the one on the Transformer Prime’s rear is leading the pack. The 8MP shooter features a back-illuminated CMOS sensor with an F2.8 aperture and LED flash, and supports dynamic auto-focus.
It takes usable photos, especially in good light, and also lets you record video in up to 1080p where most tablets ‘only’ support 720p.
The Transformer Prime’s 10.1in, 1,280 x 800 screen is even more impressive. To say it’s the best we’ve yet seen on any tablet is an understatement, and it actually justifies Asus’ marketing hype of calling it Super IPS. Viewing angles are as close to flawless as LCD gets, with hardly any noticeable shifts in colours or contrast. Dark detailing is good (if not quite perfect) and blacks are deep, all without compromising the brilliantly bright whites. There are no backlighting issues or bleed to spoil the party either.
With its retina-searing 600nits brightness this is also one of the few tablets that’s actually usable in sunlight, and regardless of the kind of content you’re consuming, Asus’ latest Android effort makes it all look vibrant and almost three-dimensional. It’s a real pity the Transformer doesn’t support a pressure-sensitive stylus (like the Wacom one used on Samsung’s Galaxy Note or the N-Trig supported by the Lenovo ThinkPad and HTC Flyer) as this is the kind of quality display anyone editing photos or creating illustrations would want.
(centre) You can see the relative screen brightness compared to the original Transformer and iPad 2 in this shot. The iPad is on the left, the Transformer (TF101) on the bottom and the Transformer Prime (TF201) is top right. (/centre)
Unfortunately the audio doesn’t begin to compare, despite the SonicMaster branding. Though it’s improved over the original Transformer (and indeed superior to most rivals) that’s not exactly saying much. Perhaps the biggest failing with the speaker is that it’s located in the exact area you cover with your right hand while holding the tablet in landscape mode. It’s also worth noting that audio from the headphone jack is on the quiet side, which is an unnecessary annoyance.
While we’re on the topic of entertainment, we’re glad to report that media playback on Tegra 3 is everything we hoped it would be and more. You might have tried playing back HD video on previous tablets (including the first Transformer) to end up with a juddery mess – or, in the case of Full HD 1080p content, a slideshow. Well, no more. Unfortunately Android Honeycomb’s stock player doesn’t support a huge range of video content, but a quick trip to the Android MarketPlace for a trial version of DicePlayer (other media players may also work as long as they support hardware acceleration), and the Prime played back every single test file we threw at it – including a high-bitrate 1080p MKV that even most dedicated hardware media players like the WD TV HD can’t handle!
When your tablet plays back video material that dedicated hardware can’t cope with, you know you’re on to a good thing. Hard as Samsung worked to ensure its Tegra 2-based Galaxy Tab 10.1 played back a large portion of 720p content smoothly (above and beyond its rivals including the Apple iPad 2), there were still plenty of limitations. With the quad-core Transformer Prime these are finally a thing of the past. Oh, and did we mention outputting that glorious HD video content to your TV is as easy as plugging in a microHDMI cable? And Tegra 3 gives you enough power to handle 3D video and gaming, so that you can, for example, watch 3D YouTube videos with a compatible monitor or TV? Yep ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your portable HTPC.