What's better, the new iPad or the Asus EeePad Transformer Prime?

The new iPad needed to make a statement. It needed something big in order for Apple to show it was still top trump in the hardware department compared to the competition. This it's done, but only just.

The Retina Display is the iPad's big feature. It’s the justification behind nearly every purchase. But what if you don’t want all the resolution? What if you're just after a different post-PC experience? For that, the logical answer has to be the Asus EeePad Transformer Prime. With a more powerful processor, an included keyboard dock and a nice enough screen itself, the Transformer has staked a big enough claim to be mayor of tablet-town in its own right.

On paper the differences between the two are so thin that a straight specs comparison just won’t cut it. Besides, ultimately, it's about how these things perform in every day life that let's you know which of the two is superior. So, we incorporating both of them into our daily tech routines to see which we preferred. Which is better, the iPad or the Asus EeePad Transformer Prime? Read on to find out.

Office work

1st: Prime
Included keyboard, Google apps integration

2nd: the new iPad
Screen does great, Google apps could be better

Office Apps

First up, let's get the boring stuff out the way. Everyone is going to be using a tablet to do a bit of work from time to time, so it’s handy to know which can make your working day a little easier.

Sending emails is the first vital box to tick in our lengthy testing checklist. The Transformer Prime uses Android, which makes it a lot more Google friendly. This is handy, for those using Gmail and Google Apps for the majority of our work. The built-in mail app with the tablet is decent enough, but Gmail’s own is better. It works flawlessly, as does the notifications system that Ice Cream Sandwich uses. The added keyboard also means that you can be quickfire on your replies as well. Good stuff then form the Prime.

The iPad’s extra display resolution does come into play during email. Text is far, far easier to read and images and attachments just look better. Apple’s mail app is also one of the best. It's very easy to setup and, thanks to the rethought notifications system in iOS 5, it kept us posted on emails throughout our playtime.

Unfortunately, the Google apps, which can be used natively within Android, don't play quite as nicely on iOS, and because of this we decided to use Apple's own Pages to write with instead. iCloud certainly helps with the cross-platform syncing but it doesn’t behave anywhere near as well as Android and its apps.

We tested the likes of spreadsheets and sharing documents on both tablets. The pre-installed Polaris Office took care of business on the Asus but the iPad struggled with it only allowing us to view .xls files but not edit them, at least without downloading something like QuickOffice Pro at a cost. This could pose a problem for some, but then again downloading an application which can read all different documents is not a particular challenge on the iPad, just get Pages, Keynote and Numbers.

Notifications

A brief word on notifications, which are very handy should you not be standing next to your tablet when emails arrive. By default, the Prime uses a rather wimpy ping to alert you, compared to the iPad’s much more audible bong. We also noticed that over a period of around three days, leaving push email on both tablets would have a much bigger impact on the Prime than the iPad’s battery - an issue worth considering should you be the sort who wants emails instantly.

In the end, we are going to have to give this one to the Asus. It has a beefier Google Apps integration and the included keyboard works wonders when writing just about anything. We should say though, if you don’t use Google Apps, the difference is so minute you likely won’t notice.

Socialising

1st: The New iPad
Great Facebook app, iMessage v. useful

2nd: Prime
Better camera for Skype, Skype less battery draining

Facebook

Let’s start this one off with the big boy - Facebook. Since its launch, the dedicated Facebook iPad app has continued to get better and better. Using the same slide-out menu draw we see in other iPad applications, it's easy to navigate and just as good as the browser-based desktop version of the site. Built-in notifications which can be customised also help improve the whole Facebook experience.

Conversely, the Transformer Prime suffers from the lack of a custom built ICS Facebook app experience. As is the case with all Android applications, they are more shared between phone and tablet than designed specifically for each. It just doesn’t look quite as slick on the Prime, is the bottom line.

This is also where Android reveals one of its niggling irritations that in time can damage your entire tablet experience - lag. Despite having a potent quad-core 1.3 GHz Tegra 3 chip inside, Android is just not as smooth as iOS on these tablets. Apps might load quicker but, once you are running, any interactions have a slight slowdown, especially scrolling text.

The result, from our tests, was that, despite relatively minor differences, we found ourselves always picking up our iPad when we wanted to chat to people. The only exception was Facebook chat where the keyboard on the Prime, yet again, proved invaluable.

iMessage

Any text messages we received were pushed straight to both our iPad and our iPhone, thanks to iMessage. This new feature of iOS 5 is one of the best free messaging clients we've ever seen on a mobile device and the cross hardware syncing is superb. A big box ticked for the iPad on the social front.

Twitter

Now on to Twitter. iOS 5 has done some great work incorporating Twitter into the nuts and bolts of the operating system. We love, for example, that you can tweet pictures directly from within the camera app. Then again, Android also does a good job of sharing things and has always had very good integration on this front.

As it goes, we're fairly indifferent on the Twitter experience between both, really. A deal-breaker for some might be that that you can use the likes of Instagram and Hipstamatic on the iPad, which is one of our favourite ways of tweeting images. There are equivalents on Android but they're not as slick.

Skype

Finally comes Skype. The iPad does of course come with Facetime built in but, ultimately, it’s Skype that will become the go-to application for video chat. So how do they behave on each? In short, great. In long, not so great.

Skype is a battery gobbler if we ever saw one. It kills both the Transformer Prime and iPad’s power fairly quickly if you don’t tell the application to log out automatically after you've used it. Don’t bother with notifications on the iPad because that's where it does the big damage. Video calling on both fronts was decent enough but we did find the landscape positioning of the camera on the Asus a lot better to use. The keyboard dock also meant we didn’t have to hold the tablet with our hands.

In the end, we felt that the iPad was the winner here, partly because of the significant benefits of iMessage. Things like dedicated Facebook apps, Tweetbot and the official Twitter app are just better on Apple's tablet. Sure, battery is a bonus on the Transformer but socialising is smoother on iOS.

Out and about

1st: New iPad
3G, lighter weight, better video watching

2nd: Prime
no 3G, heavy, great but missing touch of class

Form factor

A tablet is too big a thing to stick in your pocket but just the right size for your rucksack. We do a lot of scooting about town at Pocket-lint, going to interviews and the like, where we would normally bring a lightweight laptop. For our test of these tabs we took to taking either just the Transformer Prime or the new iPad.

First up, with the keyboard dock attached, the Prime is damn heavy. It might be lighter without, but we never really seemed to use it as a straight tablet without the keyboard. In fact, the Prime rather started to feel more like an Android-powered netbook.

Conversly, the iPad is very light at just 660g to the Prime’s 1,123g when docked. If you happen to cycle, as we often do, it makes a significant difference to your overall rucksack weight. It might not seem like much but, thrown in with all your other necessities it can become the straw that breaks your back, let alone that of the camel.

3G

Neither tablet caused us many issues in terms of working away from home, except for one major thing - Wi-Fi. The iPad we used came with 3G reception, meaning we didn’t have to run for a Starbucks whenever work needed doing. The Transformer comes only in Wi-Fi form which can be a slight irritation from time to time.

So the iPad wins here, pretty much outright thanks to the inclusion of 3G. We should also add that on sleep mode, the iPad appears to last forever, whereas the Transformer Prime would drain more, prompting the need to carry a charger with us everywhere.

The only other caveat comes with the convenience of the SD card reader in the Transformer which you need an adapter for if you have an iPad. It might not be a big deal for everyone but, if getting photos or video from your camera to the web is big for you, then it's worth taking note.

At your friends

The iPad and Transformer Prime found themselves having a little road trip to a friends at one point during our testing. Both were loaded up with media which we wanted to share with our mates. Most meetings result in some sort of music related debate unfolding, so it was vital that both could push out audio to a bigger sound system. 

At the most basic level, we did this using the Prime's 3.5mm headphone jack. Sure it works, but playing back the latest tracks is no where near as exciting if you can't do it wirelessly. One of our friends had themselves an Apple TV hooked up to a sound system. The result was four of us sat around the iPad, each picking out different tracks and pushing them to the Apple TV using AirPlay. A much more rounded experience than that of the Transformer.

Videos and photos also got themselves sent to the big screen, all thanks to the Apple TV. We did carry a digital AV adapter kit for the Apple tablet just in case, should we need to connect it directly via HDMI, but in the end it wasn't needed. As for the Asus, sending video and photos was fairly easy, done simply using a micro-HDMI cable or wirelessly by slightly more rough and ready third party apps to DLNA-certified devices.

There are DLNA-type apps for both platforms, and perfectly good ones, but when someone's got an Apple-certified speaker dock system, which many folk have, or, better still, an Apple TV, it's the easiest of all options to be with the iPad. It's no major slight on the Transformer. Everything is still possible on the Asus tab but it's just that little less smooth.

On the train

Long train journeys can be made a lot less boring with a tablet. Their screens are just the right size for watching video. First up you need to load some content onto your little darling; not difficult with both the iPad and the Asus. What is irritating with the Apple tech, however, is having to ensure that all your video is in an iPad-friendly format, whereas the Asus will play back just about anything. Either way, with a selection of films loaded onto our tablets, we set off across London.

The Prime has a really, really nice screen. Its Super IPS+ mode makes viewing video in direct sunlight entirely possible. Don't expect the battery to last particularly long, however, as it sucks up quite a bit of juice having it on full blast like that. Movies look great with the blacks particularly impressive; just as good to the eye, in fact, as quite a few LED TVs we've seen. The Tegra 3 chip also means 1080p video is handled flawlessly. Which is nice. 

The iPad does claim the win here in the video stakes, though. Its video application is just a lot slicker than Android. There is no stuttering when you scan to different parts of a film and titles are laid out nicely with box art formatted for the high resolution Retina Display. The display also works magic with 1080p content, looking fairly stunning even on such a small screen. The iPad is definitely the movie fans choice.

Taking photos

Both the Asus and the iPad have rather nice cameras on them. The Prime manages 8 megapixels, the iPad just 5 but with a lot of optic tech nicked form the iPhone 4S, which is the best phone camera we have ever seen. No pressure then.

Both performed admirably when we shot 1080p video of Senna (the PL pooch) looking cute. They also opened their apps instantly - a good thing as he only looks cute for short periods of time.

Both the ICS camera app and the iPad’s are very nice to use and pretty much matched like for like in terms of functionality. It’s the ability to edit shots after that gives the iPad the win here. iPhoto is brilliant, as is iMovie. Android just can’t quite do things as well, despite having the likes of Photoshop Express available. Quality is also just that bit better on the iPad as is playback.

On the sofa

1st: New iPad
Crisper browsing

2nd: Prime
UI lag but good in games

Browsing

In between socialising, tweeting, travelling and working, the Transformer Prime and iPad got a fair bit of downtime. That was unless we fancied a quick browse of the Internet, in which case they became the perfect device.

Sitting on our coffee table were both the Prime and the iPad, but nearly every single time we would reach for the latter to check the web. Why? Two very simple reasons - the Retina Display makes text and web pages look incredible and, second, the smoother scrolling and Safari app just run better. Sure Flash might be absent, but it didn't pose us a problem in practice.

The YouTube app on the iPad is also much more simple than that of Android, meaning that should we want to show a friend a music video or other YouTube fodder, we could search just that little bit quicker. In fact, for all those coffee table based tablet activities, the iPad is the go-to device.

Some might say that the processor makes a difference, but not once did we notice either of them feel remotely slow, which in the real world is all that matters. Unless your hobby happens to be running CPU benchmarks on tablets, in which case then the Prime might be for you.

Reading

They might not be eBook readers but both the tablets can certainly be used quite happily for books. The Kindle app is available on both Android and iPad and has a vast selection of tomes from which you can choose. This makes it pretty much level pegging on both. If you do include the likes of iBooks and Newstand, the iPad wins hands down, simply because it has access to an even bigger library of content. Few are going to argue with the page-turning animation on iBooks, or the way titles like the Yellow Submarine look. It's one of the best ways to impress friends and something we found ourselves doing regularly when they spotted the tablet at home.

Gaming

Gaming deserves a mention here with both tablets boasting cutting-edge GPUs. The Tegra 3 SoC inside the Prime is capable of doing all sorts of wizardy as demoed through the Tegra Zone app included. We used Shadowgun to test how things looked and they were indeed very tasty. The quad-core GPU on the A5X in the new iPad allows for things like Sky Gamblers, which also is a looker, but plays pretty badly.

This leads us on to our main grumble with gaming on tablets. What use is all that graphical quality if things don’t play well? Being inventive with the touch interface is what will make things excting and both iOS and Android have plenty of apps which do so. Take things like Angry Birds or Cut The Rope - they are just as fun on both platform. What the iPad does here, however, is have a bigger library of better tablet-style fun, giving you more to get your teeth stuck into; good graphics or not.

Keeping in sync

1st: Prime
Contacts better managed, Google accounts sync
2nd: the new iPad
iTunes connectivity

Both tablets here excel in syncing terms but in two very different ways. The Prime builds on its capabilities as an office tablet/netbook with quite frankly brilliant Google syncing capabilities. We love that the first time you turn it on, all you need do is log in once with your Google credentials and then everything - contacts, mail, documents and all - is present on the tablet. Better still, you don't need to connect it to your computer at all. It all happens the second you connect to a Wi-Fi network. 

On the other hand, media syncing is handled so much better by the iPad. Take iTunes Match for example. We signed up for it the second we took the iPad out of its box, an hour or two later once our entire music library had been scanned and we were streaming the whole lot to our tablet. It means you don't need to keep any music locally on the device, as once iTunes knows you own the track, it is pushed down to it from iCloud. This is a feature we love. 

The rest of syncing however is much more clunky with the iPad. Every time we connect a new Apple device to our iTunes we appear to have some sort of issue with our contacts book, as multiples of the same person are repeatedly created. You can do the whole lot wirelessly using iCloud but that, from what we tested, created quite significant battery issues. 

Photo stream is a nice touch and we like how images just appear on all your devices once the iPad is connected up to it. The problem is that it costs to extend your 5GB iCloud allowance which you will easily use up should you use Photo Stream. The Transformer Prime on the other hand can be told to send every image to your Google+ account, which has unlimited storage space. Throw in the use of app services like Ubuntu One Music and clients like DoubleTwist and it it can make life very clever indeed - not to the levels of Apple simplicity but definitely clever.

Swings and roundabouts really, but if we had to pick, we would say the Asus grabs it in the syncing department, or any Android device for that matter. They just do it better than iOS. 

Conclusion

If you were to go on score alone, this game has ended with a win for the iPad. As it goes, we like them both very much with each happily justifying its cost. But the iPad performs so admirably as a tablet, with that clean Apple experience that's easy to use and understand, and that's very, very hard to ignore. The only area where the Prime beats Apple to a pulp is in terms of using it for work.

In the end, it was the iPad that we would always pick up, either from our coffee table or to stick in our rucksack, as we went out, and that speaks volumes. It was just more compatible with our daily lives. Naturally, everyone's lifestyle is different and we urge you to read the sections in this trial that best reflect your reasons for wanting to buy a tablet.

One interesting by-product of this experiment though was the more profound effects of the Prime beyond a tablet device. It began to replace the daily usage of our regular laptop. We mentioned earlier that rarely did we remove the tablet from its keyboard dock. Instead we started using it as a high powered netbook.

So which is better? Well, if you want the core tablet experience - web browsing, reading, lightweight computing and fun - then the iPad is for you. If, however, you are after a work laptop replacement with some extra or to replace a laggy netbook, then the Prime is king.

- iPad review

- Transformer Prime review