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iPad 3 (2012) vs. Transformer Prime: Tablet Titan Showdown

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple, ASUS

Performance

Performance - Objective Testing

The new iPad 3 is only a partial performance upgrade over the previous model. While the GPU has two additional “cores” the CPU has remained unchanged. It is still dual-core and still running at 1 GHz.

That puts it at a severe on-paper disadvantage against Tegra 3, which offers four cores running at up to 1.6 GHz (though they run at between 1 GHz and 1.4 GHz in the Transformer Prime). But there is more to performance than hardware. Software can have an impact as well - as is evident in browser benchmarks.

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Despite being down two cores and at a clock speed disadvantage the iPad 3 and Prime are essentially tied. The iPad 3 wins slightly in Peacekeeper, the tablets nearly tie in Sunspider, and the Prime wins slightly in BrowserMark. It’s hard to say that either tablet is clearly superior in this comparison.

What about graphics performance? Both Nvidia and Apple make big claims about their respective parts, and the iPad 3 does see a theoretical doubling of the tablet’s graphics capability. Let’s take a look at GL Benchmark’s Egypt - Offscreen. This benchmark provides a gauge of performance at a set resolution, so it’s a good indication of relative capability.

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The iPad 3 clearly takes this one. It is not four times as fast as Tegra 3, which is what Apple claims, but it does offer about twice the performance. Neither of these tablets run this benchmark slowly, but the iPad 3 is more capable.

Let’s have a look at some other benchmarks that provide an indication of raw horsepower - GL Benchmark’s Fill Rate and Triangle tests.

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This is where Apple is deriving its claim that the A5X offers four times the graphics performance of Tegra 3. Obviously this is a win for Apple, but as with all tests that only gauge fill rates or texture and/or triangle rendering, it can’t necessarily be applied directly to real-world performance. 

Subjective Performance - Gaming

Objective benchmarks have limitations. It’s difficult to use them to judge cross-platform performance because software and operating system optimization can have a massive impact on real-world results. GL Benchmark seems to indicate that the new iPad whoops the Tegra 3 powered Prime in graphics performance, but that doesn’t mean your enjoyment is enhanced by a similar amount. 

At this point the gaming experience between the iPad 3 and the Prime is virtually identical. Both tablets have access to a handful of beautiful games. The standout for Apple’s tablet is Infinity Blade 2, while the most attractive game for Android is Shadowgun, a game which is also available for iOS but enjoys a few specific enhancements (such water and cloth effects) if you run the game on a Tegra 3 device.

Such comparisons are a bit unrealistic, however, because the vast majority of games on both platforms are either rendered in 2D or rendered in 3D that’s far below the maximum capabilities of either device. For example, one game I’ve come to love on iOS is the tower defense game Kingdom Rush. It’s wonderful fun. It’s also entirely 2D. It does nothing to strain the iPad 2, nevermind the new model.

The same can be said for Android. Some of the best games I’ve played on Android devices are titles like Game Developer Story and Sentinel 3. Both of these run well on smartphones, nevermind tablets. 

It turns out that Apple and Nvidia’s argument over gaming performance is irrelevant because only a handful of developers will push the limits of the hardware made by either company. 

Subjective Performance - General Use

Real-world performance will make-or-break a tablet, and often the hardware is only part of the equation. Software, such as the web browser, is equally important. To find out how each of these tablets handled the web I decided to compare the browsing experience side-by-side. And I even recorded it.

There’s no question which I prefer. Apple’s iPad 3 offers the better experience. Part of the reason for this is what you see in the video above - it’s a tad quicker. Pages are usable more quickly and some page elements load faster. 

But the reasons go beyond that. Even today, after several firmware updates and the Ice Cream Sandwich update, the browser on the Prime sometimes cuts out on me.

This seems to happen most frequently when I am browsing a page that hasn’t completely loaded yet. If I attempt to scroll down the browser will sometimes freeze for several seconds. After that I will be presented with a prompt that tells me the browser is not responding. If I decided to wait the browser soon becomes responsive once more, but the temporary freeze puts a damper on the pleasure of the experience.

I also noticed that, ironically, the YouTube app seems quicker on the iPad 3. Though the Prime should theoretically have no problem with HD video, I sometimes found that videos would stutter or skip or that the YouTube app would freeze entirely. 

Most annoying were two crashes that closed the YouTube app but did not stop the audio of the clip I was watching. I could not re-open the app and the app did not show as if it was running in the multi-tasking view or in the Android settings. The only way to make the audio stop was to reboot the Prime.

Don’t get me wrong. The Prime works well and responses quickly most of the time. But the iPad 3 works well and responses quickly almost all of the time, and the difference is noticeable. I eventually became tolerant of the Prime’s jerky performance and learned not to bother it when it seemed to be day-dreaming, but such an adjustment should not be necessary.

April 6, 2012 | 02:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This review is incorrect. It IS in fact a single piece of metal. I have torn mine apart at least 15 times.

April 6, 2012 | 07:58 PM - Posted by JSL

Confirming.

Matt, you're mistaking the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (TF101) for the Transformer Prime(TF201).

Might want to check out tear down video's if you're not going to take apart your own. Its a single piece for the aluminum housing of the TF-201 Transformer Prime.

April 8, 2012 | 01:21 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

Sorry for the mistake, then.

It's a little beside the point, though - what I was trying to get across is that, for some reason, ASUS decided to make it appear as if there are two pieces of trim on the back of the Prime.

That seems strange and unattractive. If it's just one piece, then that's actually even more unusual. I don't know why ASUS would go out of its way to introduce an additional (perceived) seam to the device.

April 6, 2012 | 02:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Also.. setting these screens at a percent based brightness puts the prime hugely at a disadvantage. It is WAY brighter than the Ipad. Also, the prime has a cpu clock of 1.4ghz MAX, 1.6ghz is only availible through overclocking (it is technically in ther kernel, but disabled.) This review is riddled with misinformation. I expected better from PCPER.COM.

April 6, 2012 | 02:41 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

"That puts it at a severe on-paper disadvantage against Tegra 3, which offers four cores running at up to 1.6 GHz (though they run at between 1 GHz and 1.4 GHz in the Transformer Prime)."

...

April 7, 2012 | 10:26 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Show me one device running at 1.6ghz. Tegra3 will never run that high. Tegra t33 will.

April 6, 2012 | 10:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There is not much of a brightness difference between the iPad 3 and the Prime and the iPad is lighting many, many more pixels, which gives it a huge disadvantage too...

April 14, 2012 | 05:05 AM - Posted by Brett (not verified)

More pixels does not mean more power. the iPad has more pixels but each pixel uses much more power. Brightness has a far greater effect on power consumption.

The point being made is the Transformer Prime at 30% brightness will be FAR brighter than the iPad 3 and therefore use far more power. Equal brightness test would be far more useful comparison

April 6, 2012 | 02:37 PM - Posted by pdjblum

You are comparing crapple to oranges. There has never been a large market for tablets. MS tried selling tablets ten years ago, and failed miserably. There is, however, a large market for iPad's; the reasons for this I will leave to those who want to delve into the psyches of the people buying iPads.

The vast majority of people buying iPads are not interested in how they match up against competing products: in their minds there are no competing products. To them, they are not buying a tablet, they are buying an iPad. And the vast majority of people buying iPads would not be interested in what tech sites have to say about them. They are an impulse purchase. The people that buy them do not think about why they need them or what they will use them for. They find this out after they buy them.

The vast majority of enthusiasts are not interested in gadget reviews or comparisons between gadgets. Those that are, can find plenty of them on theVerge.com and many similar sites.

Not only is the market for android tablets minuscule when compared to the market for iPads, but Android is obviously flawed, as you love to reiterate every time you have a chance. What enthusiast cares anyway. Most get much more excited about video cards and psu's and even fans.

I am sure the Windows 8 tablet experience will be terrific, but once again, people are not interested in tablets. They want there iPads. I say, let them have them and stop making them a fixture on this world class enthusiast site.

April 6, 2012 | 03:07 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

The amount of content that PC Perspective offers for traditional PC enthusiasts isn't decreasing, and we think it'd be foolhardy to ignore other devices. The tablet is developing into a very small PC - and we review laptops. So why ignore them?

April 6, 2012 | 04:57 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

I'm a computer enthusiast, gamer, and I spend about $8m a year at my company on computers and electronics. I read the entire review and thought it was great. This guy that is flaming your review is simply a troll.

April 6, 2012 | 10:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Agree, anyone that thinks the iPad is not the overall winner here has not used one.

April 6, 2012 | 04:54 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

"There has never been a large market for tablets"
Not sure where you get your information, but there is a HUGE market for tablets including iPads, Nice android tablets like Prime/Iconia/streak/playbook/etc, and crap android tablets that are made by companies in China you have never heard of.
Wake up.

April 7, 2012 | 06:59 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

I have to agree. It's a sad day when on the home page of a PC hardware site there's yet another also ran review of yet another new Ipad, which technically isn't even called the Ipad 3 anyway. Ipad people as you say couldn't care less about the specs on the unit, how sharp the screen is, or it's storage capacity. They want it because they are sheep that want to buy what everyone else they know buys. Most Android users won't switch to Apple because of the mess that is Itunes, and the fact that if you have a decent size MP3 collection you'll need to shell out a King's ransom for the 32 or 64gb Ipad. Notice I said most users though, as Android users are far more open minded when it comes to the idea of switching tablets. To Apple users it's a religion and anyone else is to be shunned as a non-believer!

April 6, 2012 | 03:03 PM - Posted by jameskelsey

I think a big part of the choice between the two has to be whether you want to be locked into the Apple ecosystem,it's a walled garden.Or have more choice with Android,also if you use the dock it doubles your battery life.

April 6, 2012 | 04:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ditto. I think it has less to do with hardware details and more to do with this so-called "Eco-system". I personally started out as a devout iOS user, and as I became more adept with mobile devices, I was drawn to Android. I started to feel like I was a prisoner with Apple and iTunes. Android on the other hand is a tinkerers paradise. It was so easy to root my tab... took about 5 minutes. Installing a custom ROM was also a snap. I still have an iPhone, but it will probably be my last. I just don't do well with authority I guess.

April 6, 2012 | 10:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Only thing is, as far as tablets are concerned, Apple's "walled garden" is far superior to Android's open ecosystem. The quality and quantity of apps optimized for Android Tablets is simply pitiful, and most phone apps look like crap blown up on a larger screen..

April 6, 2012 | 04:26 PM - Posted by Vasu (not verified)

For me it doesn't matter if the OS is a walled garden or a public garden. What matters to me is whether the device works without an issue every time. I switched from iPhone to Samsung Galaxy II and after my initial honeymoon, I am praying to God how soon my current contract ends so that I can switch back to iPhone. Android although is very promising, is not quite stable. Period.

April 6, 2012 | 04:40 PM - Posted by JSL

you might want to update your rom/firmware ;)

April 6, 2012 | 05:55 PM - Posted by jameskelsey

I hear that the Apple OS's are more stable than Android and Windows all the time but have seen quite a bit of the opposite.I watch a lot of the shows on TWIT.TV including IPad Today and MacBreak Weekly.Most of production is done with Macs and most of the hosts use Mac and IOS.If you watch live you'll see them have problems quite often with apps, software and the OS that get cut out of the shows downloads.Apple,Microsoft and Android all have pro's and con's and all have their own problems, most of which I think are due to the software or drivers installed on them.A lot of Apple users seem to wear blinders when it comes to seeing any flaws in the Apple environment,I don't really understand why,it's just a device not a child or a puppy.I use Windows and probably only get a couple lockups and reboots a year,and I use a lot of alpha and beta software.I also have a HP Touchpad that I paid $99 for and put Android Ice Cream Sandwich CM9 alpha on it.This is a device that was designed to run WebOS and has Android on it.Not all the functions are working yet but it is a Alpha release,I find it very stable and enjoy all it's options.

April 6, 2012 | 04:54 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The problem with the iPad is that you need an adapter for EVERYTHING. The Prime has a micro SD slot (which every mobile device should have) and well as micro hdmi. On top of that, there is no good dock for the iPad, while the Prime's dock is far and away the best tablet dock in existence, giving you usb 2.0, full size SD, a good keyboard, and much greater battery life. This is the big separator, making the iPad more of a toy for most people, while the Prime has serious potential to be a productivity tool without poorly designed productivity add-ons. Also, 4:3 displays are a joke and the fact that the iPad is still vertically oriented by default is silly. And the Prime gives you more bang for your buck: take the 2 base models. The Prime comes with 32gb storage on board and expandibility and micro hdmi, while the iPad of the same price comes with half the storage and no expansion options built in. The iPad legitimately only has a display advantage, which will be irrelevant when the TF700 launches in summer.

April 6, 2012 | 11:07 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Dude, your an idiot. Show me any Android "productivity" apps that compare to iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand. The primes battery life is only greater when you use the keyboard dock, which you have to buy separately. A4:3 ratio display is much better for use in portrait and landscape than a 16:9 display than can be best used only in landscape -- hell just get a $399 windows laptop at Offfice Depot.

October 13, 2012 | 04:05 AM - Posted by Brian Eargle (not verified)

A 16:9 display of text rotated 90° is really sweet for reading while lying down.

April 6, 2012 | 11:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree. Just the keyboard dock by itself totally sold me on the Transformer. Add to that the USB Host which is a H U G E plus. I can connect my camera to it and view photos, download them, re-arrange them into albums .... With the iPad, I had to buy a $40 dongle (which wouldn't work with the iPod Touch!) and could not be used as a universal host! Then, I couldn't create albums from the photos that I could re-arrange. I had to sync with iTunes, upload the photos, rearrange them and resync them back to the iPad. So much for a post PC device! It's the extensibility of the Prime that sets it notches better from a hardware perspective than the iPad. I haven't seen the iPad 3, but I can easily believe that it has a better display. However I have never seen any page look as bad on the TP as the one in the review. I did go to the PC Perspective site and some of the fonts do look bad. But it's a very inconsistent site. Some pages (like this review) looks very good and some like the sections ("Latest ...") of the home page are using a font that doesn't look that hot on my desktop either.

I'm not sure why the default browser is being used on the Transformer Prime instead of the Chrome browser which is noticeably faster than the default browser.

I have noticed that the default exposure on the TP camera has to be dropped by 0.5 to 1 stop when shooting in bright sunlight or mixed light. But the photos while not comparable to my DSLR are still fairly decent. I still haven't found a reason for having a camera on a tablet though. I use it very rarely and it made no part of my buying decision. The front facing camera is useful for meetings though.

April 6, 2012 | 05:13 PM - Posted by John Crane (not verified)

You said this comparison was not going to be subjective, but every judgment you made was subjective, presented without factual evidence other than your personal preferences.

You said measurements. Measurements are expressed as NUMBERS. Where are your numbers? Where are the specs?

Do most consumers prefer luxury over fun? If that;s true, how come there are more Android smart phones in the market than there are Apple phones?

I'm trying to decide whether this is a puff piece on Apple, or a hit piece on everybody else. I am sorry that I wasted my time reading this because I REALLY would like to know what's Apple got that nobody else has got? Maybe they just have more shills in the media, and that's all.

Prove me wrong. Write a decent, OBJECTIVE article with facts and numbers.

April 6, 2012 | 06:43 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

The new iPad has:

Better battery life.
Better GPU performance.
Far better absolute display resolution and pixels-per-inch.

April 6, 2012 | 07:00 PM - Posted by JSL

as long as you still enjoy 4:3 aspect ratio. :|
and one can argue about battery life...

April 6, 2012 | 09:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What is wrong with 4:3 on a tablet? Webpages, ebooks, emagazines, many games, etc.. look great in portrait AND landscape mode. Maybe if you watch a lot Widescreen video--but the iPads hi res display shows every pixel of a 1080p video anyway.

April 7, 2012 | 10:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

...and a lot of negative space while doing so.

April 10, 2012 | 12:14 PM - Posted by crobartie (not verified)

agree, 4:3 is much better for tablets
reading books is nicer

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