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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 14, 2012 | 10:14 PM - Posted by Rauelius (not verified)

I own both a 32GB Prime and a 32GB iPad3. Love them both, but I find the Prime more fun to play with, while the iPad3 is a reliable little toy. With the Prime I can check/download torrents, stream video/audio from my media server, edit or create word documents, change keyboards, try new cameras, root and overclock, tool around with.

In all reality, the Prime is for someone who visits this site, while the iPad3 is great for a Mom. I like having both because the iPad is awesome, stable fast, and the gesturing is so awesome, I barely ever use the home button, especially since I have a case that unlocks it when I open it.

The iPad is like the Accord/Camry of Tablet, a solid reliable tablet. The Prime is like a tuner car, like a Lancer Evolution or Camaro. You don't want to tool around with it, then get a Camry/iPad, you really wanna have fun with your device get the Camaro/Prime. Both have a place in my heart.

April 15, 2012 | 01:27 AM - Posted by PAK (not verified)

As an iPad 3 owner I have to say that I also think this comparison has issues in several regards.

Measuring brightness by percentage (rather than by actually measuring the brightness) is deeply flawed when attempting to gauge battery performance. The comparison also failed to mention a major annoyance of the iPad 3, which is that it takes approx 7 hours to charge from zero to 100%, and 100% doesn't actually mean 100% either (it can charge for another hour after reaching "100%"). Oh, and don't even think about charging it from standard USB ports, otherwise you can increase those times significantly.

When measuring webpage loading time care must be taken not to use a page which has flash elements (or that the flash is disabled on the Android side) otherwise the iPad is going to be faster purely because it's not loading the flash elements.

YouTube comparisons are also flawed for similar reasons. You may well be comparing a different video codec, bit rate, and resolution. Though, if Android is performing worse, it does still point to worse software performance in one way or another.

Pretty much all movie and TV content also expects a 16:9 display format. The iPads display is much better with both resolution and colour accuracy, but the tiny letterbox renders 16:9 content almost unwatchable without zooming in, which cuts off the edges. Otherwise it's tiny and the resolution does not make up for that! The resolution has set the standard in terms of web page reading and standard book reading which is why I bought one. But, if you're mostly watching video content, I would have no hesitation in saying the iPad is NOT a good solution due to the 4:3 format and tiny letter boxes.

Design wise the iPad has sharp edges which are NOT comfortable to hold for long periods. The back is also extremely poor in terms of grip. Basically I will HAVE to use a case on the back of the iPad whether I want to or not. Why people take the looks over basic ergonomics such as holding comfort I'll never know, but they do and Apple deliver!

The requirement to buy extremely overpriced accessories just to connect USB devices or an external display is also a major negative for Apple, and it won't send a 720 or 1080 signal either, meaning most content played from iPad to TV scales extremely poorly.

One thing in defence of Apple is I have to say my WIFI performance has been good. The iPad 3 gets a strong signal in places where my Dell laptop, with intel 5300 wireless, struggles. However the speed does seem to top out at 2MB per second, where the laptop is about 10x as fast.

Overall, other than the screen, it came down to software for me. iOS just has more apps of better quality. Someone mentioned iMovie and iPhoto in the comments, and how Android cannot compete. Both of these apps are a joke for content producers. To call them limited would be a massive understatement. But he's right, in that Android usually cannot compete even with pretty pathetic apps like these. It says more about the sorry state of competition than anything.

But the better quality does not come cheap either. Its already cost me a good $50 just to bring the iPad up to the level of my Android phone. Generally things which are available for free on Android cost money on iOS, and the same apps are often double the price or more on iOS, especially when talking about iPad specific versions.

To sum up, it's a much more mixed bag than this comparison suggests, and once Android adds a screen with equivalent resolution it will once again come back to the issue of software quality and whats available on a devices marketplace. I actually have more faith in Microsoft delivering an OS which can drive the hardware better than Android, though whether that will translate to software support on the ARM side of things for them is another matter..

April 15, 2012 | 02:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yep, a horrible review. I like the iPad but, for reasons already stated by others, opted for the TF201. It has its faults and there are some iPad features I would love to have, but docking keyboard, extra space, cheaper accessories, (fewer but) cheaper apps and more... I'll stick with Prime for now and await developments.

May 3, 2012 | 11:48 PM - Posted by Squishy Tia! (not verified)

What I'm finding a bit odd with this review on the camera area is that the photos were not taken at the same angles. You'd be very surprised what a few degrees will do for glare and color saturation capability. Both devices should have been put on a tripod with holder for each device to ensure proper alignment between shots.

The color space shot is also misleading. I'm having a hard time believing that the TP can't display purple (the colored bands on the right side of the satellite photo were almost all blue on the TP in the pic vs. blue transitioning into purple on the iPad 3, leading me to believe that again, it's apples to oranges as the color band obviously was a moving/changing background. It also does no justice that the pictuers were not taken dead on like just about any credible reviewer would do (not calling you uncredible, but this is a glaring gaff).

I'd like to have seen more info on the quality of audio. Not audio measured through the tiny thimble sized paper speakers, but through the headphone jack. What is the stereo separation? What is the S/NR, with a line level connection to A/V equipment and headphones attached? Granted I'd be using the HDMI out of the TP into my Yamaha RX-A3000 for audio streaming at home and not bluetooth (I hate BT audio with a passion) so my Mac Pro could have WoW running on it and I could have music from whatever I want without dealing with iTunes (yes, I use a Mac Pro and OS X, but hate iTunes, and hate it even more now that the security question additions have gotten insanely stupid for the iTunes store).

As others have noted, 30% on one display != 30% on another display. You should have measured the battery life using cd/m^3 where both displays had the same brightness output. I suspect that with that measurement, the iPad 3 loses a lot of its vaunted battery life advantage.

The browser tests are also unfortunately not idea. Safary is highly optimized for the iPad. An equal comparison would have been Chrome, as it is Android's "highly optimized" browser, especially in ICS. Both the default browser and FireFox (a.k.a. Slowdown Salad) have the issue you mention regarding the browser becoming unresponsive for seconds at a time, especially when loading. I get that even on my Epic 4G using FF (I only use FF because it handles flash better than the default browser). I've seen FF even stop responding when trying to scroll on a fully loaded page, whereas Chrome I've not seen do this yet.

Website fonts looking bad are the fault of the *website*, not either of the displays. As long as the displays are operating at their native resolutions, text in any browser should be crisp and clean, and if it's not then the site is using a font that likely looks horrible on desktop displays, since, you know, LCD TVs and desktop monitors use the exact same type of technology as the LCD displays on the tablets, only on a larger scale. One thing to note: from the looks of it, since the iPad 3 and TF displays are showing the same page dimensions in the comparison photo, and text is the same size roughly, the iPad is using scaling to show the webpages. That's what gives the appearance of darker, thicker text. You have the same phenominon when viewing a webpage on say a 1920x1080 HDTV at native resolution vs. scaled resolution. I know this because I use 1600x900 for my web viewing even though I have a 32" HDTV as my monitor due to eyesight. Text is crisper at native resolution, but smaller when not scaled like the iPad 3 is doing.

Both can tout as many cores as they'd like. If none of the software leverages it, it then comes down to optimized code and top clock speed of the cores in use. iOS will likely win here because of the sandbox control Apple has over all of its developers and what it allows to be used for development (the SDK). Android has more options, but fewer developers know how to properly delve into those options and push the envelope yet. Unfortunately for the user experience that's about the only advantage the sandbox approach has.

I have a huge music collection. I use WinAmp (the older version, not the currently bugtastic 1.12 Android version), and having access to a good, simple, non-bloated music player and up to 96/128 GB of space makes a difference. The TP wins there (it should have no problem reading an MSDXC card of 64 GB in either Honeycomb or ICS).

I rarely comment on reviews, but this one is quite flawed indeed. But I'll say this: For simplicity/ease of use, the iPad 3 will win hands down. That's what it was designed for: the LCD (least common denominator). That isn't to say you can't do anything with the iPad 3, but you have to work a lot harder to get great utility with anything "outside the box" on it to the point of jailbreaking it for some of the nicer things. The TP (and every Android tablet out there) offers more overall utility capability, should the developers make use of it, and in this case, the TP wins hands down for both utility and expandability. You've got the following expansion options for the TP: Dock w/ keyboard that has up to 128 GB of its own storage via SDXC card, full size keyboard, and extended battery life, plus easy plug and play output via the MHDMI connection. On the iPad 3 you have a dock connector and BT, and the need to by proprietary dongles/hardware to connect to it, and it can't be used as a host device (nor properly accept a host device as a slave).

So which is the winner? Other than display resolution, it boils down to what you will use it for. For all the technical aspects of it, either one could win depending on who's using it. Unfortunately the method of measurement in this review is too skewed to properly show the true strengths and weaknesses of both tablets, and that's a shame.

May 3, 2012 | 11:51 PM - Posted by Squishy Tia! (not verified)

Just an edit to the above - I can't believe Safary got by me....should have put it in TextEdit and spellchecked first. Grr.

May 6, 2012 | 01:43 PM - Posted by Want TFP (not verified)

What about the known and/or previous issue with the gps and wifi signal of the TFP? For those who own one, has this issue been resolved or at least improved? I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments, especially those who own both the iPad and the TFP. I am considering purchasing a TFP over the iPad 3 but would like some clarity regarding the previous issues with wifi.

May 7, 2012 | 04:58 PM - Posted by Squishy Tia! (not verified)

GPS is still a problem, though anybody that gets a TFP can contact ASUS for a free GPS dongle should they feel unhappy with the way the satellites are detected. I know I'll be getting the dongle, for when I need to use navigation in my car.

The wifi on my TFP is pretty good. I should be getting a full four arcs at all times with both a Netgear N900 router and a Netgear WN2500RP wifi range extender in my house, but the aluminum casing makes the signal shift between full and three arcs lit up. I still maintain good performance however. I'll be able to test it more fully this Friday when I go bowling, since I can see how well (or if at all) it picks up the public wifi in the bowling alley. I say "if" because even my Epic 4G can't get a good signal there and it has no aluminum case to deal with. If the TFP gets a useable signal, then I'd say wifi isn't an issue.

May 7, 2012 | 05:06 PM - Posted by Squishy Tia! (not verified)

Oh, and one thing the review did NOT cover is that the TFP cannot be properly charged via USB. USB outputs at a max of 5v @ 0.5A whereas the TFP requires its wall wart to charge properly, since it requires the 15v @ 1.2A output by said wall wart.

You'd be surprised how many people plug the TFP into USB ports thinking it is charging only to see (like I did) a "Battery: 46% (Discharging)" indicator.

The wall wart plug charges the TFP at approximately 35% per hour, and a USB connection with the TFP completely turned off charges at a pathetic 3% per hour.

This isn't a bash on the TFP - I own one. I'm just putting out the info so others can see it to be aware that when on the road, make sure you bring your wall plug adapter with you or you cannot charge your TFP.

Also, the site devs really need to move to UBB encoding for comment areas. Having to use these cumbersome and very limited HTML tags is so 1995.

June 27, 2012 | 08:24 PM - Posted by wx (not verified)

tf - better graphics, more powerful, more costumizable, more expandable, more versatile

ipad - better ui, better screen, better camera

battery life - more capacity on the ipad, although battery life is pretty relative as the test is pretty flawed, all reviews of real life usage so far give pretty much the same amount of battery life to both, ipad winning by slight margins.

And then ipad is considered the superior device because all of the better stuff that the TF has are all just niches.

I don't want to sound impolite or anything but, did you guys kept the ipad and returned tf? If you know what i mean.

July 3, 2012 | 10:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Apart from the review which I found was a good read, could you please contemplate for a while on the following question:

What is the purpose of a bar graph?

Now, think about the following:

What information does a bar graph containing values in the range 0-380 but only showing 320-380 on the axis provide?

Misinformation. (I hope it's not disinformation)

Eyeballing the bar graph of e.g. your Peacekeeper benchmark (which should be a visual representation of the ratio between the values - I sincerely hope you managed to come to that conclusion by contemplating on my first question) tells me the iPad is about 20-25% faster than the Transformer. The values, however, show a difference of ~4%. Similar for SunSpider etc.

How does that affect credibility?

February 24, 2013 | 09:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

iknow 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. like Iconia PC tablet dengan Windows 8 on my web

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