The upcoming ASUS Prime Transformer is perhaps the first tablet to really compete with the iPad in every way: build, design, power, and even price. So which is the best? Let’s take a look.

Size

The iPad is a 9.7″ tablet, and is 241x186x8.6mm. The Transformer Prime is larger, with a 10.1″ screen, and measures 263x181x8.3mm. That is to say, it’s longer and wider, but thinner still. Comparing the size of tablets where the screen varies by .4″ is ludicrous, but what I will say is this: as you look below, you’ll find that the display is denser, the look is cooler, and the screen has a better aspect ratio for media. This is all due to the size, so the Transformer Prime wins this one.

Winner: Transformer Prime

Appearance

Apple’s iPad (and frankly all of their products) has an iconic design. It’s striking. ASUS didn’t try to copy it, they went a different path by using the same concentric-circle design on their recent ultrabook, the Zenbook. It looks great, and I think that in the hand the iPad really needs a case because otherwise it feels cold. But even then, with all that, the iPad 2 still does look better than the Transformer Prime, though it’s great to see companies getting closer and closer to Apple in terms of design.

Winner: iPad 2

Display

The iPad’s 9.7″ screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which works well for most applications but has those vicious black bars when watching HD media. The Transformer Prime is slightly larger at 10.1″, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and has a higher resolution 1280×800 (compared to 1024×768), which is 16:10. The ASUS has a (barely) denser display and HD video won’t completely fill the screen, but it will fill more of it.

Both have IPS screens, though so far what we’ve heard and seen from reviews, the Prime Transformer has a better display than the iPad 2, thanks in part to it’s IPS+ display technology. It’s bigger, brighter, has better contrast and viewing angles, and has a lower power setting that cuts the quality by 5-10% to save battery life. The iPad and iPad 2 have great displays, but after a year and a half it’s no surprise a competitor has a better one.

Winner: Transformer Prime

Operating System

iOS 5 vs Android Honeycomb 3.2 That’s sadly an easy one: iOS 5. Android’s tablet-specific OS just doesn’t compete with iOS, though the coming of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) may change that, though based on reports thus far it isn’t as much of a game-changer as Google would have us believe.

However, that may not be true for tablets, but that remains to be seen. As of now, iOS 5 is better. ASUS has promised that the Transformer Prime will be updated to Android 4.0, though no date has been given for when that update will kick in. And until we get to see Android 4.0 in action on a tablet, iOS wins this bout.

Winner: iOS 5 (iPad 2)

Processor

Apple’s A5 processor has been the benchmark for all phones and tablets, and while it’s only a 1GHz dual core CPU, thanks to proper software implementation it runs the iPhone and iPad buttery-smooth. ASUS has taken a decisively different turn with the Transformer Prime, working with NVidia on their latest Tegra 3 processor. This thing sounds like a beast.

The Tegra 3 is a 1.3GHz quad-core CPU, which is actually more power than some netbooks get (in terms of straight up processor speed). Quad-core laptops don’t really exist; they’re a rarity. Dual-core tablets are still relatively new, and Android has only recently updated its software to make better use of two cores.

Now four? It’s great for benchmarks, and great for making sure the tablet will be relevant for at least two years. But the sad truth is that power will likely go unused for at least 6 months. Yet even then the processor is, in general, way faster than what the iPad 2 has to offer. Most benchmarks currently available show that the Transformer Prime is faster than the iPad, though the GPU performance still lags behind ever so slightly.

My opinion is that the Transformer Prime is faster in day-to-day use, though the iPad 2 is still better at graphics processing.

Winner: Tie

Storage

This one is fairly simple. Apple offers three storage options with the iPad: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. The ASUS Transformer Prime offers two sizes: 32GB and 64GB. Both tablets have the same starting price, meaning the iPad’s 16GB model is the same price as the Transformer Prime 32GB model, which is better for price, but not storage!

The kicker? The Transformer Prime has MicroSD card expansion with up to 32GB cards. That clarifies the winner in this category.

Winner: Transformer Prime

Camera

Tablet cameras are silly. For video chat, they’re useful, but why anyone would want to hold up a tablet and snap pictures with it is beyond me. Or video, for that matter. That’s why it comes as no surprise that the iPad has a mediocre camera (the same as the iPod Touch, in fact), while the Transformer Prime features an 8MP that shoots 1080p video, and a 1.3MP front-facing camera. That alone makes it better than the older, though perhaps useless camera on the iPad 2.

Yet, to sweeten the deal for the Transformer Prime, early accounts on the camera show that it in fact is a decent shooter, and has the same quality at some smartphones released earlier this year. It’s no iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S II, but it’s better than the competition.

Winner: Transformer Prime

Price

Both the iPad and Transformer Prime have the same bottom price point, $499. For that the Transformer prime ships with a bigger display, a better screen, a better camera, a faster processor, twice the space (with room for expansion), and it’s even thinner to boot. So while the price may be the same, in terms of hardware you get more bang for your buck with the Transformer Prime.

However, Android in general lacks the games and apps that are available on the iPad (and iOS in general). Infinity Blade II and Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies are just two recent examples of exactly that. However, that makes the question of price, in this case, dependent on what you plan on using the Transformer Prime for. For everything but apps (that means web-browsing, streaming media, watching and storing media, accessing flash content, productivity, etc.), the Transformer Prime wins. And in this case, that makes the Transformer Prime the winner, but by a close margin. Because apps are almost enough to balance against everything else.

Winner: Transformer Prime

Extras

The Transformer Prime comes with one awesome extra: a keyboard that the Prime plugs directly into, doubles the battery life, and helps transform (pun intended) the tablet into a laptop. The software may not quite be there to make the the two a laptop replacement, but there is nothing for the iPad that does anything even close to that. There are battery cases, and there are keyboard attachments, but nothing that does both.

Yet the iPad 2 has so many extras you can purchase and use that the comparison is almost unfair. You could spend a year’s worth of income on iPad 2 accessories alone, while the Transformer Prime has…well, that keyboard. As great as the keyboard is, it’s nothing new. The original Transformer had one just like it, and while that doesn’t take away from the newer model, the fact that there’s very little else available for the Transformer Prime, the iPad 2 has accessories out the wazoo.

Winner: iPad 2

Overall

The Transformer Prime doesn’t just look, from specs alone, like a better tablet. The testing available online thus far shows that it. But even then it’s a close call, because the iPad is a tough competitor. It has a deathgrip on apps, and has only barely been beaten in processing speed. And even Tegra 3, built by NVidia, a company who’s main business is graphics cards, isn’t as powerful in graphics processing as Apple’s tablet, as tested by AnandTech.

Even then, Tegra 3 is faster in regular use, the display is more advanced, denser, has better contrast and brightness, and even power adjustments. The Transformer Prime sells at the same price as the iPad 2 with double the memory and the option to expand with MicroSD cards. It can be purchased with a keyboard that doubles as a battery (which also doubles the battery life). And it’s thinner to boot.

As I use my tablet more and more these days, the question of whether apps for full web-access is more relevant than ever. For me, it’s a hard call to make. I want to play the latest games, which almost always come out on iOS and not Android, but I also want to have a real internet experience with Flash. Which is more important? I don’t know.

Yet in the end, based on the tally above, the Transformer Prime is our winner today. Look forward to it the week of December 19th.

Winner: ASUS Transformer Prime



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.