Around midday yesterday, I received my review kit for the Transformer Prime, complete with dock, wireless gamepad, and HDMI cable - meaning I'm well equipped to take a deep dive into the hottest new tablet to hit stores. But to be completely honest, an in-depth review on a product this brand-spanking-new requires more hands-on time than can be had in two days. The full review will be up on Friday, but in the interim, enjoy the initial impressions and gadget porn below.

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First up, let's run over the specs, largely from our official announcement post:

  • 10.1-inch SuperIPS + display with Gorilla Glass
  • 1.3GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 Processor with 12-core GPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 32GB or 64GB internal storage with microSD card slot
  • microHDMI port
  • 8MP F2.4 rear shooter with continuous flash for video recording, 1.2MP front camera (1080p camcorder!)
  • 8.33mm thin
  • 586g (1.29 lbs.)
  • 12 hour battery life playing 720p video, 18 hours with keyboard dock
  • Metallic spun finish
  • Two available colors: Amethyst Gray and Champagne Gold (show below, respectively)
  • Android 3.2.1 - will be updated to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) as soon as possible after release
  • $499 for 32GB model, $599 for 64GB, and $149 for the dock
  • North American availability is expected to begin the week of 12/19 - this is straight from Asus's mouth in the Prime details that were sent to us (and again confirmed a few hours ago), contrary to the other "official" date of December 8 that we heard earlier today. That said, they're basically shipping them out as fast as they can make them, and some very limited supplies may begin to trickle out earlier than that. 

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Asus further steps things up with other goodies, perhaps chief of which is variable power settings that function much the same as those on a laptop. "Normal" mode is effectively high performance, with everything capable of running at full speed as needed. "Balanced" caps the CPU at 1.2GHz, and "Powersaver" mode sets the ceiling at 1GHz for single/dual-core modes, 700MHz when three cores are being used, and 600MHz when all four main cores are active. I'd love to tell you it works like a charm, but the hell if I've had even the slightest urge to crank things down from "Normal." I will at some point in the next day or so, for science!

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Enough about the tech inside - let's move on to the outside. All class here, as expected: the entire package is incredibly attractive thanks to the slim dimensions, relatively light weight, and spun aluminum design. The color - in my case, amethyst gray - is certainly appealing (definitely more so than the brown used for the original Transformer), though in some lighting it takes on a strong purple tint that some people may not enjoy. Regardless, I think the design and color are both stunning.

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But we've seen thin, light, beautiful tablets before (although in my opinion, the Prime is the best yet) - what many of you are really here for is the performance. After all, this is the first tablet to come packing four cores (or five, if you count the companion core) via the highly-anticipated Tegra 3 processor. I've run the Prime through real-world use cases (movies, games, browsing, email, and so on), and I have to admit that I'm absolutely amazed. I had high expectations going in, and they've all been surpassed - no small feat.

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For example, browsing is fantastic whether you have plugins enabled or not. Truth be told, I don't know that I have ever used a device with such smooth browsing. Another example is gaming - as expected, games are absolutely stunning. Glowball stands out the most graphically, though Da Vinci, Riptide GP, and Shadowgun are both plenty impressive.

Luckily, it seems all that extra power doesn't take a toll on battery life; in my use, the battery seems likely to outlast my TF101 (original Transformer), and Asus's real-world testing scenarios seem to reinforce that:

Battery Life with Docking Station – Streaming video from SD Card

System Setup –  Test One

ASUS Transformer TF201

ROM – US 8.8.3.23

Pad + Docking Station

1080P video playback (six files in the playlist, replay the playlist located on the SD card until the unit shutdowns)

MX Video Player

WiFi on

log in to Gmail (send an email every 15 minutes to the test account)

log in to Browser (open three tabs, Asus Home Page, MSN and CNN)

log in to You Tube

Open Polaris Office Document

Open SuperNote

Open Angry Birds

Panel set to 50%, always on

Balanced Performance

Volume  level  - 33%

Battery Life – 10 hours and 39 minutes (Pad Only Results)

Battery Life – 16 hours and 18 minutes (Pad + Docking Station)

 

Battery Life with Docking Station – Streaming video via WiFi

System Setup –  Test Two

ASUS Transformer TF201

ROM – US 8.8.3.23

Pad + Docking Station

1080P video playback (stream a 1080P video via WiFi until the unit shutdowns)

MyNet via home media server

WiFi on

log in to Gmail (send an email every 15 minutes to the test account)

log in to Browser (open three tabs, Asus Home Page, MSN and CNN)

log in to You Tube

Open Polaris Office Document

Open SuperNote

Open Angry Birds

Panel set to 50%, always on

Balanced Performance

Volume  level  - 33%

Battery Life – 10 hours and 2 minutes (Pad Only Results)

Battery Life – 15 hours and 27 minutes (Pad + Docking Station)

Reported battery life claims of up to 12 hours for the Pad and 18 hours for the Pad/Docking station are achieved playing back a 720P video clip off the SD card in airplane mode, power saving mode, and video set at 60nits.  Actually, those numbers were easily exceeded with the retail units.

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The dock, too, is amazing - it's incredibly thin and light, especially in comparison to the original TF101 dock. It feels better, too - the keys have an almost rubberized texture to them now that's quite pleasing.

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It's still too early for many other details, but I'll leave you with a tl;dr: thus far, the Transformer Prime seems to be the best tablet I've ever used in virtually every regard.

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Feel free to ask questions in the comments below - assuming they're valid/reasonable/answerable, I'll be following pretty closely and will address them as possible. And once again, be sure to check back on Friday for the full review!