Asus reveals trim, stylish Transformer Prime

Asus' Eee Pad Transformer has quickly become one of the most popular iPad alternatives in the rapidly growing tablet market. Now, the company has officially unveiled the next-generation Transformer Prime. This slimmed-down successor measures just 1/3" thick, almost exactly matching the slender profile of the iPad 2. At 1.29lbs, the Prime is actually a little bit lighter than Apple's latest.

Despite shedding weight, the Transformer has managed to put on some muscle in the form of an Nvidia Tegra 3 system-on-chip. Otherwise known as Kal El, this quad-core chip doubles the number of CPU cores in the Tegra 2 SoC found inside the original Transformer. The Tegra 3 also has an additional companion core designed to extend battery life when the system isn't being taxed. Asus calls the chip's graphics component a "12-core GeForce GPU." However, it didn't provide any additional information on the integrated GeForce.

Like its predecessor, the Transformer Prime features a 10.1" IPS panel with a 1280x800 display resolution. The Prime also boasts a "Super IPS+" mode that's claimed to deliver a brightness level of about 600 nits. Asus says this mode offers better color reproduction and should make the screen easier to read in outdoor environments.

The panel's scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass has been skinned with a "hydro-oleophobic" coating that's said to resist smudging. The same coating has been applied to the Prime's textured metal exterior, which has a "spun" finish similar to Asus' Zenbook. This exterior will be available in gray and gold hues—with matching keyboard docks, of course.

Yes, the Transformer's defining characteristic makes a return with the Prime. The dock is thinnner now, but it still packs a touchpad in addition to the chiclet keyboard. There's also an auxiliary battery in the dock that purportedly extends the Prime's 12-hour run time to an impressive 18 hours.

The dock plays host to a full-sized USB port and an SD card slot, while the tablet sports a Micro HDMI port, a Micro SD slot, and a 3.5-mm audio jack. Amazingly, the built-in speakers are actually slightly larger than the ones in the original Transformer—and Asus says they sound better, too. The cameras have also been upgraded to 8MP rear and 1.2MP front units. The former can record 1080p video if you can get over how silly you'll look while recording video with a tablet.

Although the original Transformer's $400 asking price has surely helped its popularity, the Prime will start at $500. Asus is going to keep selling both models, so it makes sense to price the Prime at a premium. Besides, it's still a better deal than the iPad 2. The base iPad model only gives you 16GB of built-in memory for $500, while the Prime offers 32GB. A 64GB model will be available at $600, the same price as the 32GB iPad 2.

So when, exactly, will this new Transformer be available? Asus isn't giving a precise date, but the Prime is slated to launch in December. It will arrive with Android 3.2, a.k.a. Honeycomb, and receive an over-the-air upgrade to Android 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich, when the new OS code has been "optimized, tested and approved."

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