Display and Audio Quality, Software
Display and Audio Quality
Then again, bigger tablets have bigger displays. Having just reviewed the Kindle Fire, the jump to the 10.1” display on the Prime was a bit jarring – but pleasurable. While viewing websites on a smaller display requires much shuffling of fingers to zoom in on certain parts of a page, the Prime is able to render most sites in Landscape mode without any zooming or scrolling required.
ASUS has been quick to point out that it is providing an IPS display on the Prime, something most tablets should – but don’t – do. Combine this with a resolution of 1280×800 and you have a recipe for excellent media enjoyment. Watching HD video via YouTube was an excellent experience thanks to rich colors and decent viewing angles. I was surprised by the crispness of images and the excellent contrast in bright scenes. Dark images, however, revealed black level performance is only average. Some detail is lost in shadows that can have more depth when viewed elsewhere – though to be fair, no other tablet I’ve used does better.
One potential issue with the Prime, as with any tablet, is the glossy display that can make outdoors use difficult. To combat this, there’s a feature called “Super IPS mode” included. It ramps up the brightness significantly, allowing for use in sunlit environments. Here in Portland we haven’t seen much of the sun as of late, but outdoors use during bright, mostly cloudy days was possible with Super IPS turned on. Don’t be surprised if your battery kicks the bucket quickly with this mode on, however.
Audio is provided by a strange configuration that places just one speaker on the rear right side of the tablet (when holding the tablet in landscape mode). ASUS apparently decided it would be better to include on powerful speaker rather than two small ones, and I agree. Volume can be turned up high enough to fill a small room with sound and quality is much better than average.
The only problem – one shared with the recent Kindle Fire, which had a similar audio solution – is that your hand will cover the speaker if you hold the tablet in a certain way. It’s less of an issue with the Prime than with the Fire because of the larger size.
While I still contend that cameras feel a bit silly on tablets, not everyone agrees. The camera on the original ASUS Transformer was a fine unit which took good pictures as long as plenty of light was available. For the Prime, it’s been upgraded to an 8MP sensor and now includes a continuous flash. There’s also been some software tweaking to further improve image quality.
Image quality isn’t to the standards of professional photography, to be sure, but it’s also quite good for a mobile device. Overall, the Prime seemed to have an easier time of still, close-range shots than of landscape photos, as they often appeared washed out when later reviewed.
Still Honeycomb – Ice Cream Sandwich Coming Soon?
By the time you read this, the Prime may be available with Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. It may even be shipping with it. At the time of this writing, however, Honeycomb remains the default operating system – and there is no official ETA.
Not just the operating system is the same. Most everything, from the background to the pre-installed applications (minus some games and demos provided by Nvidia), are the same as what were available on the original Transformer. That’s not necessarily a knock, since the Transformer had just enough to provide extra value to buyers but not so much as to distract from the stock Honeycomb experience.
My favorite app is Polaris Office, which acts an acceptable Android stand-in for Microsoft Office – at least if your needs are basic. Since both Transformers can potentially be used with their dock as an ultraportable laptop, it’s a wise decision to include something that can write and read Office documents.
Besides what comes from ASUS, our Prime review unit was also equipped with a number of pre-installed games and tech demos from Nvidia. Most of these, at least in terms of gameplay, were pointless. Even Shadowgun, one of the more fully realized games made available, proved difficult to control. I didn’t have much desire to play after the first ten minutes. It should be noted that the ASUS informed us in an email that not all of the tech demos and games will be available in shipped units. Frankly, that’s no big loss.
Gamers might receive more use from Nvidia’s game center, which is essentially an additional app store focusing on games that can flex the muscles of Tegra products. You can find these apps on the official Android Market, but if properly curated, the Nvidia store could prove a decent short-cut given that the official market is often difficult to navigate.
As for Honeycomb itself, well – it what it’s always been. A functional operating system, but not capable of giving iOS much competition, particularly now that version 5 is available. Everything in Honeycomb works fine, most of the time – but there’s simply not much refinement to it, something that has become more noticeable as I’ve spent more time with it on various devices. Thumbnail views when multi-tasking don’t always display correctly, the app selection remains sub-par, and even the way shortcuts and widgets arrange themselves when flipping from portrait to landscape mode is annoying.
I also ran into a few glitches while using the Prime. In one instance, exiting YouTube failed to stop the audio of the video I was watching, nor did the audio stop after I closed YouTube using the multi-task thumbnail. Only restarting the device stopped it. And in several instances, 3D games failed to resume properly after I switched to another app, then switched back. Finally, the keyboard gave me trouble several times by not properly orientating itself as I switched between landscape and portrait. While such bugs can happen on any device, the frequency with which I encountered them in this case seemed noteworthy.