Spec Comparison: New iPad vs. Asus Transformer Prime

Our first spec comparison for Apple’s new iPad was between the front runners (such as they are), the soon-to-be-replaced Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Amazon’s popular Kindle Fire. In today’s comparison, we’re going to look at a device that was hailed as an iPad killer when it shipped in December of 2011, the Asus Transformer Prime.

While the Asus Transformer Prime hasn’t set cash registers on fire, it is beloved amongst Android fans as the most capable Android device that offers the most bang for the buck. Asus deserves a pat on the back for being able to match Apple’s iPad pricing and offer as much as it does on the device.

In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that if you want a full-sized Android tablet, the Transformer Prime is the best choice of all Android devices for sale today, and it should be enough to hold its own against Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 device when it ships later this year. It even exceeds Apple’s new iPad in a couple of areas.

Below the chart, we offer our assessment.

The Specs
(Product images are intended to be close to scale, but may be off by a pixel or two)

 Apple new iPadAsus Transformer Prime
ProductThe New iPadAsus Transformer Prime
OS (current)iOS 5.1Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Dimensions (in.)9.5 x 7.31 x 0.3710.35 x 7.1 x 0.33
Weight (lbs)1.4 (Wi-Fi) 1.46 (4G)1.3
Display size (in., diag)9.710.1
Display Resolution2048 x 1536 (IPS, LED bklight)1280 x 800
Pixels per inch 264145
RAM (MB)1024 (1GB)1024 (1GB)
ProcessorA5X (dual core) 1 GHz;
quad core GPU
NVIDIA 1.4 GHz Tegra 3 Quad-core CPU
User Storage (GB)16/32/6432/64
Cloud StorageiCloud8GB of Asus Webstorage
Expanded Storage xmicroSD (up to 32GB)
Front Camera“VGA”1.2MB
Rear Camera5 MP (1080p) stabilization8MB
Camera Flashx
Microphone
Audio/speakermono spkr, stereo headphonestereo spkrs, stereo headphone
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n802.11 b/g/n
Radio (GSM)UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA/4G-LTEx
Radio (CDMA)CDMA, EV-DO/UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA/GSMx
Bluetooth4.02.1 + EDR
GPSw/4Gx
Battery Life, hours10 (9 w/ 4G) (42.5 watt-hr)12* (25 watt-hr)
Accelerometer
Magnetometer/Compass
Gyroscope
Video outHDMI (w/ accessory) + AirPlaymicro HDMI
USBxx
SensorsAmbient LightAmbient Light
ColorsBlack or WhiteChampagne or Amethyst Gray
Price US$ (Wi-Fi)499/599/699499/599
Price US$ (3G/4G)629/729/829x

* Third party reviews have pegged the battery life at 7-10 hours.

Operating System

The most important aspect of the Asus Transformer Prime is that it runs Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). ICS is a big improvement for Android tablets, but many Android devices run earlier versions of Android, and worse, many of those can’t be upgraded. With the Transformer Prime, users can get the latest that Google’s ecosystem has to offer.

With mobile devices, the world is largely divided into those who like Apple’s whole-widget, walled garden ecosystem and those who don’t, with a smattering of people who don’t know or care. If you fall in the camp that doesn’t like Apple devices, ICS is a must-have and puts the Transformer Prime above any Android tablet that doesn’t feature it.

We at The Mac Observer favor Apple’s iOS, however, believe that the App Store’s 200,000-plus dedicated iPad apps offer far more options than you’ll find on any Android tablet, and we believe that Apple’s ecosystem allows for a better user experience.

Your mileage will likely vary.

Processor

The Transformer Prime uses Nvidia’s 1.4GHz Tegra 3 Quad-core CPU, a very powerful mobile processor. Apple’s A5X is a 1 GHz dual-core processor with a quad-core graphics processor. The Transformer Prime has done very well in third party testing, while the new iPad hasn’t yet been tested.

Our educated guess is that the Transformer Prime has the edge when it comes to processors, while Apple’s integrated design will result in the new iPad having the better graphics performance when it does get tested.

If raw horsepower is what you want, however, the Transformer Prime has the edge. It has a higher clock speed and twice the number of cores—in short, it’s a speed demon for a tablet.

Display

For the foreseeable future, there is simply no contest on displays. Apple’s Retina Display has a resolution of 2048 x 1536 compared to the 1200 x 800 resolution of the Transformer Prime. The new iPad has more than three times the number of pixels, and at 264 pixels per inch (PPI) compared to the 145 PPI of the Transformer Prime, the new iPad will look gorgeous and then some.

We don’t expect to see any competing device be able to match Apple’s display resolution any time soon, and certainly not at the price point these two devices share (starting at $499).

In short, the new iPad has the better display between the two devices, and we are comfortable saying so before the device actually ships.

Battery Life

Asus wowed the geek community with its claim of 12 hours of battery life for the Transformer Prime. It turns out, however, that third party reviews have pegged that battery life at 7.5 hours, nine hours, or ten hours. That’s less than the 12 hours claimed by the company, but it’s close to (or equal to) the ten hours of battery life that Apple claims its device will get (the new iPad hasn’t been independently tested yet).

Asus included a 25 watt-hour battery in the device, so it’s not really surprising that it can’t hit the full 12 hours specified by the company. On the other hand, the Transformer Prime weighs 0.1 pounds less than the new iPad, even though it’s a larger device. At least some of that weight difference is the 42 watt-hours of battery life Apple had to include to power that gorgeous Retina Display we mentioned and still offer ten hours of battery life on the device. There’s always a trade-off when it comes to such things.

Storage

Apple’s iPad is offered with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of storage starting at $499. The Transformer Prime, however, offers 32GB of storage starting at the same $499, while $599 will get you 64GB. That gives the nod to the Asus device. In addition to the internal storage, Asus also included a microSD card slot that supports up to 32GB of additional storage for more music, video, or other content.

Apple’s new iPad can access microSD memory cards, too, but only as a reader and only with the optional Apple Camera Connection Kit. You have to actually transfer the data to the new iPad to make use of it.

For some users, the ability to have the additional storage matters. At the same time, Apple’s iPad product line has never offered a memory card slot, and yet the iPad has dominated this market since the release of the original iPad that created said market in the first place. That suggests that most people don’t care about this feature, but if you do, the Transformer Prime is your device.

The Dock

There are a variety of third party docking solutions, speaker docks, Bluetooth and dock-connected keyboards, and all manner of other accessories for Apple’s iPad product line. Asus’s Transformer line, however, offers a more integrated solution in the form of a dedicated dock that includes another battery (with up to 18 hours of claimed battery life), a keyboard, and a trackpad.

On the one hand, there will simply never be as many accessories available for any given Android device as there are for Apple’s iOS devices. Apple’s simple product line, proprietary Dock port, Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod (MFi) licensing program, and huge sales numbers ensure that accessory makers will line up for days to make accessories for those devices.

On the other hand, Asus’s mobile Dock means that the Transformer Prime can be used just like a laptop (hence the name), for those interested in using a touch-screen media tablet like a laptop. Some will see this as a solution in search of a problem, but some people think this is the bee’s knees.

We will also note that despite Apple’s insistence that fingers rock, there are a lot of external keyboards sold for the iPad. There is clearly demand for external input devices for tablets from both camps.

The reality is that Asus’s integrated solution is a great way for the company to differentiate its product, and if you’re interested in this approach, you should consider the Transformer Prime.

Conclusion

We haven’t seen the new iPad at the time of this writing, but we did see the difference in display quality on the iPhone 4’s Retina Display compared to earlier iPhone models. Accordingly, we think it safe to say that the new iPad’s display is going to be the best looking display on the market, and we certainly favor Apple’s walled garden business model.

Several analysts have said that Apple’s competition will have a hard time matching Apple’s specs and price, but Asus has taken the best stab at accomplishing this so far. At the same time, the device was intended to compete against Apple’s iPad 2, and it was a closer match to that device than anything else on the market.

The new iPad reset that bar, however, and when you consider the app ecosystem, Apple’s iCloud integration, and the display that we’ve gone on so much about, it beats the Transformer Prime without breaking a sweat.

As we noted above, however, if you hate Apple’s walled garden or simply prefer Android, the Transformer Prime is a great device, probably the best Android tablet on the market until the next generation—starting with with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1—hits the market.

The only other thing we’ll add is that we think Amazon’s content ecosystem for the Kindle Fire is second only to Apple’s iOS/iTunes ecosystem. It’s a distant second, but it handily beats what’s available for the rest of the Android world. If you want a cheap, small device consider the Kindle Fire. If you want a full-sized, high-quality Android media tablet competing at the high end of the market, consider the Asus Transformer Prime.

Everyone else should consider the new iPad.