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

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple, ASUS

Introduction, Design and Ergonomics

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Tablets are growing in popularity, but the market is still immature. There are only a handful of serious contenders sold in North America (discounting the cheap knock-offs you can find on eBay and other sites). 

Apple’s iPad is the clear leader in terms of sales. It is trailed by similar Android-powered options like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Acer Iconia and (of coures) the ASUS Transformer Prime. We reviewed the Prime when it hit store shelves earlier this year and concluded that it was the best Android tablet money can buy. That makes a comparison with the new iPad obvious.

The constant stream of rants for or against Android and iOS devices in the media may lead you to think that the comparison between the two is highly subjective. I don’t believe that’s the case. There are a number of objective measurements that can be used to judge these products.

Yes, there is always going to be some degree of preference between operating systems, but we’re not really going to get into the iOS vs. Android argument here. That’s a topic that would require its own article, and most likely one several times longer than this comparison. Subjective points will be limited to design and ergonomics. 

Enough talk. It’s time for the competition to begin.

Continue reading our comparison of the new iPad (2012) and the ASUS Transformer Prime!!

Design 

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Apple’s new iPad looks much like the old iPad. There’s not a lot going on - just one button adorns the front and the rear panel is essentially a slab of matte silver material with an Apple logo and some obligatory FCC text. 

Yet the sum of these meager parts is an elegant and attractive device that never looks out of place no matter who is holding it or where it is being used. Apple seems to be the only company in the electronics business that understands most people prefer luxury over fun.

The Transformer Prime is also aesthetically pleasing and buttoned-down, but the design is not as cohesive. Instead of using a single piece of material on the back ASUS uses two - a thin frame that covers the edges and nearly flat piece of metal over the internals. 

ASUS also has to deal with the fact that the company has no corporate logo. It’s difficult to make your product look elegant when four chrome letters is the only way you can brand it. 

Build quality is in favor of Apple. The device is nearly seamless. In reality there is a gap between the display panel and the rear cover, but you’ll never notice it until you go looking for it. No other company builds a tablet with tolerances as tight as Apple.

I can’t say the same for the Prime, but that doesn’t mean it’s poorly constructed. Both devices feel rock-solid in hand and there is nothing wrong with the gaps between its materials. ASUS simply can’t compete with the tight tolerances of Apple’s tablet.

Ergonomics 

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Placing the ASUS Transformer Prime and the iPad 3 side-by-side proves that there is some room for differentiation among tablets. Though they are both flat slabs, they are different in their size, weight and materials.

While the Transformer Prime and the iPad 3 have a similar quoted display size (10.1” vs 9.7”) the physical shape of each tablet is quite different. This is due to the format of each display. While the Prime has a 16:9 widescreen panel the iPad uses an old-fashioned 4:3 format. In terms of total surface area the Transformer Prime is the larger tablet, but by less than 10%.

There are pros and cons to each format, but I think Apple has the better idea. The 4:3 format results in a tablet that is more square and thus easier to wrap your hands around. Using the Prime (and any other 16:9 tablet) is not easy when it’s held width-wise. 

Despite this, ergonomics is only a minor win for the iPad. Why? Size and weight. The Prime is just 8.3mm thin and weighs about 580 grams, while the iPad 3 is 9.4mm thick and weighs about 660 grams. The difference is a bit difficult to notice unless you have the tablets side by side, but over time the added weight of the iPad 3 adds up. It is a bit more tasking to hold for long periods of time.

April 12, 2012 | 02:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Except if, like myself, you like watching hd movies on your tablet. Just because 4:3 works for you, doesn't mean it works for everyone. Choice is great.

July 10, 2012 | 01:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i wonder how you do your battery rundown test since the transformer prime connected to its dock gives you superior battery life.

April 6, 2012 | 05:40 PM - Posted by chip (not verified)

I always found it strange how much emphasis people put on tablet cameras. I don't know too many people who use their tablets as cameras even twice a month.

On another note, where did you get the 4:3 stuff from? I understand the iPad has a 4:3 pixel ratio, but I'm pretty sure that that doesn't translate out to a 4:3 form factor. Are you sure about that?

April 6, 2012 | 06:44 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I'm 99% sure.

April 6, 2012 | 05:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How many times did I read "I prefer". Way to keep it objectively.

I agree android has ways to go in terms of all-around butter smooth experience, but it is the overall doctrine of "we know what is best for you" that android shatters. That's why apple locks everything down and you pay for everything as you.

That is the real experience users, who think for themselves, crave.

April 6, 2012 | 05:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have both of these tablets and the iPad is far better and nearly everything. I have had to reset the Prime so many times and the browser is so freaking slow at reacting to anything. Internet browsing is horrible on the Prime. Not the mention the horrible WiFi signal. ICS did help the Prime performance but over all i just hate the internet browsing experience on it. Now what I love about the Prime is its weight and ergonomics; it is much easier to hold then the iPad. I also think it looks better. The Prime is the best Android tablet on the market but when comparing it to the iPad it just doesn't hold up (this is just my opinion and experience).

April 6, 2012 | 06:02 PM - Posted by jameskelsey

Have you tried any of the other browsers in the Play store? They have many free ones.I like the Firefox ones because of the sync.They have Firefox,Firefox Beta and Aurora which is a Firefox Alpha.I use Aurora.

April 6, 2012 | 06:02 PM - Posted by jameskelsey

double

April 15, 2012 | 01:35 AM - Posted by Rauelius (not verified)

I disagree. I use my Prime a LOT more than my iPad3. Then again, I'm a True Power user, you may just use it as an appliance or a toy. I love media streaming from my server, Rooting and Overclocking, watching movies is better on the Prime due to the 16:9 display. BUT, if you prefer a simple toy(can't blame you, I love how solid and reliable the iPad3 is)then of course you prefer the iPad3. I like messing around with my devices which is why I visit sites like this and HardOCP. The iPad3 is more for the sheeple, while the Prime is more for Tech-Gear heads. It's a personal choice really.

April 6, 2012 | 05:52 PM - Posted by 1stkorean (not verified)

I am sure apple or maybe even that dead guy paid you dearly for this piece of iCrap. There is no doubt in my mind everything mentioned here is your opinion only, and there are no facts or figures to back what you are spewing.

This was several mintes of my life wasted that I can never get back.

April 6, 2012 | 06:31 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I used to slag apple off all the time to when I used android, now I can actually afford apple products they are the pinnacle of engineering! People who kick APple generally do this as they can't afford them!

April 6, 2012 | 09:26 PM - Posted by JSL

I could buy a loaded 12 core (dual socket 1366 + 2x X5650 Xeon's) Mac Pro right now if I choose to... but I choose to be smarter with my money than buying something that I can personally build at less than half the cost.

Your comment is quite assenine.

April 6, 2012 | 09:39 PM - Posted by ThorAxe

You forgot to mention the pads woeful browsing experience and pathetic wifi performance.

You have to love the screen though.

April 6, 2012 | 10:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There is nothing wrong with the browsing expirence on iPad, it loads complex web pages better than the stock Android browser and scrolling, zooming, etc.. is much smoother. As for the wifi issues some are having, when you're cranking out millions of these as fast as you can there's bound to be a few problems crop up.

April 7, 2012 | 03:55 AM - Posted by JSL

there's many comparisons using stock android browsers on a quite a few different android devices that show google's webkit browser (gingerbread and up) outperforming iOS's... and that includes android's webkit browser rendering flash objects which should cause the android browsing to loose out to iOS's webkit browser... but it doesnt.

April 7, 2012 | 12:54 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I forgot to mention it because it's not true. In fact, the web browsing experience on the iPad is one of its greatest strengths - it's night and day, Android is way behind.

WiFi performance? It was quite strong on my unit. Though I did hear just a few days ago that Apple is looking into WiFi connectivity issues and may replace some iPads because of it.

April 8, 2012 | 10:15 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

You say that browsing is one of the iPads greatest strengths so I would like to know when the iPad started supporting Flash? :)

April 9, 2012 | 04:21 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is that the best you've got? Everybody knows HTML5 is the way to go. Let it go man. Have you actually seen a iPad3? It really is that good. The display is amazing.

When people say Apple's A5X's only got 2 CPU core, we say it's weak, but when they've got 4 GPUs and 2048x1536 display we say it's unnecessary. I don't get it.

Just admit it. iPad3 is the best in the market, it's a fact. Accept it. Don't hate because the competition is weak.

April 10, 2012 | 09:10 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

Someone keeps forgetting to tell the vast majority of websites that still use Flash about HTML5 being the way go. I may not like it but it's everywhere.

Yes; I have seen Samsung's LTN097QL01-A02 panel in person. It's nice. I'm used to 2560x1440 which has over 500,000 more pixels, albeit over a much larger area, but I would still take my IPS panel over a PLS panel anyday. However, it's about the only thing that would tempt me to get it.

You have to realize that the new iPad has over four times the resolution of the iPad 2 but with only twice the GPUs so, if anything, it is now under-powered.

April 7, 2012 | 08:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have tried many Android and iOS devices and i don’t understand this "being locked into to the Apple ecosystem" comment. You are locked in to the Android ecosystem if you go that way. What’s the diff!
I can’t run things outside of either or across either.
Tall Poppy syndrome is major disease carried by most tech enthusiast

April 8, 2012 | 12:25 AM - Posted by chefbenito (not verified)

I'm a hardcore PC builder and diehard windows NV fanboy (at times) and I love my Blackberry and.....
My iPad. Great Review. Very Fair Also. Thanks

April 8, 2012 | 01:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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.

http://goo.gl/2RwEo

April 9, 2012 | 03:42 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why no mention of the impending Transformer Prime with the 1920x1200 screen? Has it been renamed Transformer Pad Infinity or something like that?

April 11, 2012 | 06:47 AM - Posted by Duscrom (not verified)

Honestly, this "Comparison" seems a bit biased, IMO.

First few things have already been mentioned, such as construction, camera tweaks, and so on. But the first thing that struck me as off, is you battery life tests. Engadget's review had the 3rd Gen iPad's battery life as shorter than the Transformer Prime by almost an hour. Also, you don't mention that bigger battery means longer recharge time (Hence why i'm sticking with my iPad2)

Secondly, I also feel that each OS has different strengths to the browsing experience. TPrime, for example, can easily force the PC version of a web page, where an iPad may not be able to load a desktop page. Secondly, Android browser.. DOES support Flash.. yes I hate flash, but Nostalgia Critic still hasn't switched to HTML5. Finally, Android allows 3rd party Browsers, such as Chrome. Which is superior to the default browser, and has things like desktop window syncing.

And, why did you stop short of going over TPrime's Hardware advantages? So, $499 gets you a 32 GB Prime.. or a 16 GB iPad... But the Prime you can expand the storage, and the iPad you're locked in at that 16 GB for life. I can do $699 for a 64 GB iPad, or $530 for a 64 GB TPrime. Second, HDMI out and USB host mode.. so people can put their pictures on the prime.

Now, I don't disagree entirely that, for now, the iPad is still the better tablet, but I feel this article did not even allow the Prime to stand up on it's own merits, while allowing the iPad to bask in it's merits. You didn't want to talk about the Software and OS, but you talked about the browsing experience, and not email, where android has the better experience. And So you mention the You Tube app crashed, but the android You Tube app is supirior, having better support for subscriptions, favorites, setting thumbs up.. and so on.

April 11, 2012 | 09:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why are the GL benchmarks running with the Prime set to normal not performance? The iPad automatically steps up its processor to performance when running?

Also, where is the cost comparison for performance.

Furthermore, the Keyboard dock is not sold separately in large parts of the world and should be included in tests, especially battery life.

Finally, given increase in speed in real world usage (messaging, document editing, searching) which comes from a physical keyboard why are these not in your "objective" tests?

I have a Prime and while it is far from perfect, most of the performance scenarios you use are skewed to ways people use iPads, not tablets. By your reckoning only a tablet that out ipads an ipad can have a greater value.I have no doubt that the 3 months that saw the ipad develop beyond the prime will be repeated when the next set of ASUS eeepad (infinity) comes out. But then people will be saying "oh of course its better but the ipad is 3 months old"

April 11, 2012 | 12:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Just bought the transformer prime today, currently have an ipad 2 16gb which i love but certain things really wind me up... Mainly the age old "no flash", but also the non expandable memory and i cant find anything that will let me use my ipad like i can use this asus...just done a quick google but no definitive answer, will it run windows 8?

April 14, 2012 | 07:22 AM - Posted by Brett (not verified)

doubt there will ever be an offical win 8 release for the Prime but I'd keep an eye on the XDA forums, I'm sure someone will give it a try when the ARM version of win 8 is released.

April 14, 2012 | 07:20 AM - Posted by Brett (not verified)

I'll preface this with I have used BOTH devices extensively so have hands on experience.

This is an appauling review. As noted in a lot of other comments there are a large number of factual errors, bad methadologies and misses 90% of the points where Transformer has some major advantages such as connectivity and the keyboard. It also downplays some of the iPads shortcommings. All in all it is like reviewing a station wagon and a ute and saying the Ute wins because it can carry 2 tons while ignoring the fact it only has 2 seats.

a) The design comparison is COMPLETLY ARBITRARY, you dont like the design. Many people do. The Prime is a unibody design exactly as the iPad.

b) The Asus lettering IS the Corporate logo.... just saying

c) The "tolerances" that the iPad is built to are identical to the Asus. This is clearly a lack of understanding what this actually means.

d) Given the two tablets have almost identical dimensions how does the display aspect ration make it easier to wrap your hand around the iPad? This is entierly subjective.

e) Both the Transformer Prime and the iPad3 have 8 bit per channel displays so can display EXACTLY the same number of colours. The iPad 3 has an increased colour gamut which is impressive and a great improvement on other displays but this distinction is not made clear. Apple uses dithering in the same way they did on early MacBooks to make up the extra colours for which Apple got sued for misleading advertising at the time.

f)I have no idea of the websites that you are using for the screen shots but I have NEVER had to zoom the text to make it readable on the Prime. Looking at the screen shot of the Prime screen the "Headder" text appears to be between 6 and 12 pixels high which is not a default size and makes this a completely misleading comparison. Even if a website did use this size by default even on the iPad 3 it is not a comfortable size to read.

A full size image of the total display would give context for the text size, this has not been done here.

G) It's clear that the iPad 3 has better post processing on the images than the Transformer. What is not mentioned here is there are several shooting modes available on the Prime not available on the iPad 3 such as panaoramic photos. There is also evidence of lense flair on the Prime image of the backyard not in the iPad image which could account for the differnce in that image.

I will note the article fails to mention the Prime has a camera flash where the iPad 3 does not. This makes a HUGE difference in the what situations the camera can be used.

H)The performance benchmarks are COMPLETELY USELESS as an indicator of CPU performance. They are BROWSER benchmarks specifically testing HTML5, JavaScript and other functionality such as media playback support. Not all tests in the Peackeeper benchmark are supported by both the Prime and the iPad 3, running the benchmarks on the Prime with different browsers (you actually have the option of alternate browsers on both platforms) gave vastly different results. Additionally the graph grossly distort the difference, the peacekeeper benchmark for example is only a 3% difference in performance which is generally within the margin of error not the 15% different the graph makes it appear to be.

Again EPIC FAIL.

I) The graphics benchmark is only a part of the story, the GL Benchmark 2.1 Egypt off screen test is jus that OFF SCREEN. it is run at the same resolution across all platforms (720p). That means that while the iPad 3 has better performance at 720p it cannot maintain that advantage rendering at native resoultion so the second you start playing 3D games either expect worse performance that the Prime or expect the resolution to be around 720P upscaled (which also means a performance hit).

What is also NOT mentioned about the iPad graphics pipe line is that for the games featured in the video it lacks some of the effects available on the Prime Tegra 3 platform. The advantages commented on in the video come down to the display and not the graphic chip set.

G)The browser load comparison was fair although I feel that the fact you can see the Prime has had 8+ apps opened in background prior to this test and both tablets have obviously had the sites opened before would have me question if there is caching involved in the difference of the load times. I agree the iPad is a smoother experience but there was also no mention of the fact that the Prime has FULL flash support which is a significant advantage.

The Prime, or more specifically Android still has a stability issue with the youtube app, I see this on other platforms, however this gets about zero usage in my day to day usage due to the flash support in the browser itself.

J) The Battery life comparison is also deeply flawed. Both the Peacekeeper and Youtube streaming tests are flawed for a bunch of reasons. Firstly the Youtube as a video source is problematic as it is both served and decoded differently for both platforms, most notably flash and mp4 are different video formats that are used. Secondly the a screen brightness of 30% on the prime is and use far more power than 30% on the iPad. This is born out in the different in the iPad results. matched brightness would be a far more even test. There is also no indication of the Primes CPU performance setting used.

As noted previously the peacekeeper test is a browser test and not all the same test are run on both platforms therefore the load will be different.

The biggest complaint I have about the article is it COMPLETELY ignores the keyboard dock, the memory expansion options and connectivity the Prime has over the iPad. The Prime has a microSD slot in the tablet itself so you can cheeply upgrade the storage, it has a full sized SD slot in the dock as well as a USB Host slot that supports USB sticks, USB hdds (RW formatted for FAT32 or NTFS), a mouse and other preferial. The additional battery can recharge the tablets internal battery when connected and more than double the usable time. The keyboard itself makes note taking extremely rapid compared to a virtual keyboard

All in all this is one of the most badly written and inaccurate articles that i have seen written on the subject.

April 15, 2012 | 01:28 AM - Posted by Rauelius (not verified)

Well said. Glad to see another Prime/iPad3 owner here. I hate how some reviewers (not this one) dwell on how awesome that the iPad3 has 4 GPU Cores. SO? My Tegra2 Powered G2x has 8, and the Prime has 12. Also, I ran peacekeeper and my Prime absolutely dominates my iPad3. Why? Try running it in Chrome, which is freely available to everyone and should be included in benchmarking.

Also, even after updated for the iPad3, some games still look better on the Prime. Shadowgun is just one of them. Dungeon Defenders may not be as sharp when I press my face against the screen, but from a normal distance they look similar, and the Prime version has much better lighting and was free to boot! Riptide is another game that looks better on the Prime. The water effect alone make the iPad3 version look laughable by comparison.

Another awesome thing that the Prime can do is connect to a 3DTV with the HDMI cable. Playing Riptide and Shadowgun in 3D is pretty darn awesome! Also, it shows the sheer power of the Tegra3, as it's not only rendering a 3D image on the TV (if the Hit playing Deus EX in 3D on my CFX 5850's is anything to go by, you NEED a lot of GPU power to do 3D) BUT it renders it on the tablet. Really a nice demonstration of the superiority in processing that the Tegra3 provides over the A5x. Not to mention the lack of lighting and shading provided by they PowerVR chip (which is similar to the built-in Graphics of the Intel Atom I believe) in comparison to the Tegra3 (which has been compared to the 7900GTX). I mean ask yourself, would your rather have Intel integrated graphics or a Geforce 7900GTX?

April 15, 2012 | 01:28 AM - Posted by Rauelius (not verified)

Well said. Glad to see another Prime/iPad3 owner here. I hate how some reviewers (not this one) dwell on how awesome that the iPad3 has 4 GPU Cores. SO? My Tegra2 Powered G2x has 8, and the Prime has 12. Also, I ran peacekeeper and my Prime absolutely dominates my iPad3. Why? Try running it in Chrome, which is freely available to everyone and should be included in benchmarking.

Also, even after updated for the iPad3, some games still look better on the Prime. Shadowgun is just one of them. Dungeon Defenders may not be as sharp when I press my face against the screen, but from a normal distance they look similar, and the Prime version has much better lighting and was free to boot! Riptide is another game that looks better on the Prime. The water effect alone make the iPad3 version look laughable by comparison.

Another awesome thing that the Prime can do is connect to a 3DTV with the HDMI cable. Playing Riptide and Shadowgun in 3D is pretty darn awesome! Also, it shows the sheer power of the Tegra3, as it's not only rendering a 3D image on the TV (if the Hit playing Deus EX in 3D on my CFX 5850's is anything to go by, you NEED a lot of GPU power to do 3D) BUT it renders it on the tablet. Really a nice demonstration of the superiority in processing that the Tegra3 provides over the A5x. Not to mention the lack of lighting and shading provided by they PowerVR chip (which is similar to the built-in Graphics of the Intel Atom I believe) in comparison to the Tegra3 (which has been compared to the 7900GTX). I mean ask yourself, would your rather have Intel integrated graphics or a Geforce 7900GTX?

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