Here we have 2 high-end (ish) 2nd generation tablets, the Motorola Xoom, and the Apple iPad 2, together with 2 high-end 3rd generation tablets, the Apple iPad 3 (Also known as 'the new iPad'), and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. All are very good tablets, now let's put their specs together and see which one turns out to the best.
First let's compare the specs (if you're planning to buy one of these, don't make your choice based on specs)
Apple iPad 2 Motorola Xoom Apple iPad 3 Asus Transformer Prime OS iOS 4 (iOS 5.1 upgradable) Android 3.0 Honeycomb (3.2 and 4.0.4 ICS upgradable) iOS 5.1 Android 3.2 Honeycomb (4.0.3 upgradeable) Size/Weight 9.7 inches, 8.8mm thick, 601g 10.1 inches, 12.9mm thick, 730g 9.7 inches, 9.4mm thick, 652g 10.1 inches, 8.3mm thick, 586g Screen 1024x768 pixels, LED Backlit 1280x800 pixels 2048x1536 pixels (Retina Display) LED Backlit 1280x800 pixels, LED Backlit Super IPS+ LCD Sound Mono speaker Stereo speakers Mono speaker Stereo speaker (with SRS Sound Enhancement) Memory 16/32/64 GB storage, 512MB dual-channel RAM memory 32GB storage (expandable with MicroSD Card slot), 1GB single-channel RAM memory 16/32/64 GB storage, 1GB dual-channel RAM memory 32/64 GB storage, 1GB single-channel RAM memory Primary Camera 0.7 Megapixel, 720p HD video 5 megapixel, 720p HD video, with Dual-LED flash and Geo-tagging 5 megapixel iSight camera, with Geo-tagging, 1080p video 8 megapixel camera, with LED flash, Geo-tagging, and 1080p video Secondary camera VGA (640x480 pixels) 2 megapixel VGA (640x480 pixels) 1.2 megapixels Chipset Apple A5 Nvidia Tegra 2 T20 Apple A5X Nvidia Tegra 3 (Kal-El) CPU Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 Quad-core 1.3GHz Cortex-A9 GPU PowerVR SGX543MP2 (dual-core graphics) ULP GeForce PowerVR SGX543MP4 (quad-core graphics) Improved ULP GeForce (Kal-El GeForce) Sensors Accelerometer, 3-axis gyro, compass Accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer Accelerometer, 3-axis gyro, compass Accelerometer, gyro, compass Web Browsing HTML (Safari) HTML, Adobe Flash HTML (Safari) HTML, Adobe Flash
So, now we have the specs cleared, let's actually get into detail!
When it comes to design, the Motorola Xoom is a clear loser. Despite being VERY sturdy, it is relatively thick, and quite heavy. The Xoom is not exactly bad to look at, but it just doesn't do as well as the other tablets. Both the iPad 2 & 3 have the same aluminium design, however, the iPad 3 is thicker, not to mention slightly heavier than the iPad 2. The Asus Transformer Prime has a very beautiful design, indeed. With a metallic spun finish as its back cover, the Transformer Prime is also slightly thinner than the iPad 2 (refer to the specs) and slightly lighter.
Winner: Asus Transformer Prime
The Motorola Xoom has a relatively high resolution, but Motorola just screwed up when choosing the screen they would incorporate in their tablet. The Xoom's screen has a very weak brightness, and weak colors, whereas the iPad 2, with a slightly lower resolution, has an LED-Backlit screen, which is very bright, not to mention colorful. The iPad 3 also had an LED-Backlit screen, but the iPad 3 has an excellent (very) high-resolution Retina Display. The Asus Transformer Prime also has an LED-Backlit screen, but this tablet also has a Super IPS+ screen, which boosts the brightness, and makes outdoor usage much easier, and gives the screen a larger viewing angle (178°).
Winner (Screen): Apple iPad 3 (although it can be debated as being the Asus Transformer Prime)
The iPad 2 & 3, plus the Asus Transformer Prime *, have only one speaker, while the Motorola Xoom has two stereo speakers, which can get to really high volumes, not to mention how accurate the sound is.
* it has been claimed that the Transformer Prime's sound's not very high, even at max volume
Winner (Sound): Motorola Xoom
In reality, the Apple iPad 2 & 3, plus the Motorola Xoom are exactly the same when it comes to CPU power, after all, all of these have an ARM-based Cortex-A9 Dual-core processor clocked at 1GHz. The Asus Transformer Prime SoC (Nvidia Tegra 3), however, is an ARM-based Cortex-A9 Quad-core processor clocked at 1.3GHz, with a fifth 'companion core', which is designed to operate at very low power, and at a very slow clock speed, to handle background applications. Also, the Asus Transformer Prime has three power management modes, 'Power Saving', 'Balanced', and 'Normal'. In Normal mode, all four cores can operate at their full speed, 1.3GHz. In 'Balanced', all four cores can run at 1.2GHz. In 'Power Saver' mode, the display power is lowered, plus, the clocks get lowered to 600MHz, if all four cores are active, 700MHz if three cores are active, and 1GHz if only one or two cores are active. These Power managing modes are very efficient and useful. I can conclude that the Asus Transformer Prime wins by far, when it comes to CPU power.
Winner (CPU): Asus Transformer Prime
It's with the GPU that things get technical. The Motorola Xoom sports Nvidia Tegra 2's ULP (Ultra Low Power) GeForce. This GPU has an 8-core shader architecture, where 4 cores are dedicated to pixel shaders, and the other 4 are dedicated to vertex shaders. The GPU is clocked at 333MHz, and it is claimed to have the power of 4.8 GFLOPS (FLOP stands for floating-point operation). The main problem with this GPU is that it's architecture, having as many pixel shader cores as vertex shader cores, only allows the GPU to use all of it's cores when it finds a situation where the ratio of pixel shaders to vertex shaders is 50% : 50%, which doesn't happen often. Therefore, in most occasions, the ULP GeForce isn't using all of it's power. One other problem I'd like to address to Tegra 2 is the lack of optimized games, especially with games that were originally made for the iPad. When a game is not Tegra 2 optimized, you can expect performance to be low, i.e. laggy. Tegra 2 owners should look for so-called THD games, which are games that are optimized for Tegra-based Android devices. Basically speaking, Tegra 2 is quite capable, however, few apps are available that actually take full advantage of it.
The Asus Transformer Prime is the first tablet to incorporate Nvidia Tegra 3's improved ULP GeForce (aka Kal-El GeForce). This GPU still uses the same core architecture as the Tegra 2, except that this one has a total of 12 shader cores, 8 pixel shader cores, and 4 vertex shader cores. This is done so that the GPU would operate at maximum efficiency in a situation where the pixel : vertex shader ratio is 75% : 25%, which occurs much more often. Kal-El GeForce is clocked at 500mhz in the Asus Transformer Prime, although the clock can vary in different devices (FIY: the Asus Transformer Pad 300 GPU is clocked at 400mhz), which brings it's total theoretical power to 12 GFLOPS. The Kal-El GeForce is supposed to beat the iPad 2's GPU by a small margin, and we'll see why later. As for the lack of optimization problem in Tegra 2, it currently doesn't really change in Kal-El (although Kal-El, as opposed to Tegra 2, is powerful enough to keep a perfect-ish framerate, even without optimization), however, many game developers are turning their heads to Tegra 3. They're not just making Tegra 3 optimized versions of their games, they're actually optimizing the games and adding extra features, like enhanced effects, such as particle effects, realistic physics, and enhanced textures (features that are Tegra 3 specific, that is, are not available for ANY other GPU). Android phone/tablet users must have heard of games being produced for the iPad but not for Android devices. Well, Nvidia Tegra 3 is slowly changing that. It is noteworthy that these enhanced features are not made possible because of the Kal-El GPU, but because of Tegra 3's Quad-core capabilities, and this is because games are still very dependent on the CPU, and since Tegra 3 is the only Quad-core mobile CPU available, it is also the only one that can have these enhanced features. For now, the iPad is still the best gaming machine, but I feel that Tegra 3 has a lot in store, fortunately for Android users. Sorry for the bias there, everyone!
Note: It is important to note that the Android OS is not gaming optimized, nor very performance optimized. While a Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 gives the iPad's iOS a very smooth UI, the same CPU occasionally lags on the Android OS, especially Android 3.0 Honeycomb. If anyone owns a Xoom (Wi-Fi only) or an Asus Transformer Prime, and still hasn't upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, I highly recommend you do so, because Android 4.0 is much smoother, and is more adept to playing games.
Both the iPad 2 & 3 use variants of the same GPU, Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX543. The PowerVR SGX543 is clocked at 200MHz, and has a total of 4 shader cores. The biggest advantage the PowerVR GPU has over Nvidia Tegra 2's (& 3's) GPUs is that PowerVR uses an unified architecture, that is, where pixel and vertex shader cores are not separated; depending on the situation encountered, any core can act as either a pixer or a vertex shader core. This is very good, because this way the SGX543 GPU can give its whole potential in any situation, whereas the Nvidia Tegra's GPUs would only work at full speed with a specific pixel : vertex shader ratio, as stated earlier. What Apple did in its Apple A5 (iPad 2) SoC, was that it used the GPU named PowerVR SGX543MP2. The MP2 means that it is basically, two PowerVR SGX543s together, so that there are a total of 8 unified shader cores. This gives the iPad 2 a huge advantage, because it has, basically, two GPUs working together. And this does reflect on its performance. the iPad 2 can deliver very smooth graphics, for example, in the game Infinity Blade II. Now, the iPad 2 is great for games, but the iPad 3 is simply an exaggeration!! Apple's A5X (iPad 3) SoC features a PowerVR SGX543MP4, which is, basically, four PowerVR SGX543s working together, and that's two times iPad 2's GPU. With a unified architecture and multi-core graphics, both the iPad 2 & 3 are excellent choices, when it comes to games, capable of delivering very smooth graphics.
Note: All of the GPUs above have the latest graphics technology for mobile devices, OpenGL ES 2.0. Therefore, the graphics QUALITY is unchanging, all that changes with the GPUs above is performance.
Winner (GPU): Apple iPad 3
When it comes to web browsing, all Android devices have always had an advantage over iOS devices. iOS devices have a Safari web browser, while all Android devices have a Google Chrome based browser. It is noteworthy that iOS and Android both are HTML5 compatible. With browsing speed, it has been claimed that Android tablets can load pages much faster than the iPads. Android devices also feature hardware accelerated Adobe Flash compatibility, to give the Android a real desktop-like browsing experience. One year ago, Adobe Flash were a huge advantage for Android devices, however, it seems that Adobe Flash will soon be replaced for HTML5, indeed, many Flash web applications already have been replaced for HTML5 powered applications, therefore, Flash is no longer a large advantage for Android devices.
Winner: Motorola Xoom and Asus Transformer Prime
Let's start with the worst device here. Apple really didn't put any effort into their iPad 2's cameras. The iPad 2 has a rear camera of 0.7 megapixels, which can shoot 720p HD movies. A VGA front camera was included in the iPad 2. The Motorola Xoom, like the iPad 2, can also shoot 720p HD movies, but the Xoom has a very good 5 megapixel rear camera, and a 2 megapixel front camera. The Xoom also has a dual-LED flash together with its rear camera. The Asus Transformer Prime has a rear 8 megapixel camera, with an LED flash, and a 1.3 megapixel front camera, and it can shoot 1080p video. Compared to the iPads, the Xoom and the Transformer Prime have relatively large aperture cameras, while the iPads' cameras have a pretty small aperture. the iPad 3 has a 5 megapixel rear iSight camera, capable of filming videos in 1080p, and a VGA front camera. When specs are compared, the Asus Transformer Prime would be the winner, but the iPad 3's iSight rear camera can shoot pictures with much more quality than the Transformer Prime.
Winner: Apple iPad 3 (if you count the front camera and camera flash, Asus Transformer Prime)
I was astonished to see that, on the big picture, the Asus Transformer Prime stayed head to head with the Apple iPad 3. In the end, I have to declare a tie between the two tablets. After all, both are amazing tablets, with awesome features, and capable of delivering next-gen performance. If you are in doubt between buying one or the other, I will say one thing, and this applies to all four tablets here: There's never a tablet that's ultimately better than the other, it depends solely on what you want in a tablet. In some cases, even the Motorola Xoom may be your most suited choice. This review only evaluated tablets on a general scale. If you like a standard tablet, with a good camera with superb quality, and good web browsing, the Motorola Xoom is fine for you. If you like a slim tablet, lightweight, powerful, capable of delivering very smooth graphics, and don't really care about cameras, the iPad 2 is for you, if you do care about cameras, the iPad 3 should be a good choice. And finally, if you like slim, lightweight, with (pretty much) flawless performance, a relatively good camera, and a gorgeous design, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is perfect for you.
If anyone disagrees with my statements on this review, your views are very welcome!
Overall Winner: Tie between Apple iPad 3 and Asus Transformer Prime
Note: The iPad 3 is more of an upgraded iPad 2, that's why the iPad 2 didn't win on any category: Where the iPad 2 was supposed to win, the iPad 3 was always a tad better.
Here are some benchmarks of these tablets, for who have performance on their mind:
Now, it isn't normal for the iPad 2 to win over the Asus Transformer Prime over such a large margin. Of course, it is possible that the iPad 2 & 3 are simply unprecedented, when it comes to gaming performance. There are other theories, too, however. Many people claim that GLBenchmark is heavily iOS optimized. If the latter is true, it would mean that the Xoom and the Asus Transformer Prime should both get much higher scores than they actually did in this benchmark. It is not of my knowledge which alternative is true.
Observe these results. What happens is that the last benchmark was offscreen, that is, it doesn't use the tablets' native resolution, but rather, it uses a chosen resolution, in this case, in 720p. This second benchmark was made using each tablets' native resolutions. The higher the tablet's resolution is, the harder it is for the GPU to keep a high framerate. The differences between the Motrola Xoom's, Apple iPad 2's and 3's, and the Asus Transformer Prime's native resolutions are as follows: 1280 x 800, 1024 x 768,
2048 x 1560, and 1280 x 800, respectively. As you can see, the only resolution that stands out from the rest is the iPad 3's Retina Display, and that's why the Apple iPad 3 scored less than the iPad 2 in this benchmark, while having 2x the hardware of the iPad 2: it had to render frames with twice the resolution than that of the iPad 2. I can't explain the fact that, in the offscreen test, the difference between the Apple iPad 2's and the Asus Transformer Prime's scores are so big in the offscreen test, and so small in this benchmark. It is strange, because the native resolutions for both of these tablets are very close to 720p, so, naturally, there wasn't much of a change in resolution between the two benchmarks, yet the difference in scores was puzzling. This benchmark even makes me question the validity of the 'iOS optimized' theory I described before. Well, given the fact that this second benchmark is more real-life situation based than the offscreen test, I can say that the Tegra 3 is indeed pretty much the same as the iPad 2 and 3, in terms of performance. Indeed, Tegra 3 managed to get about exactly the same framerates as the iPad 3, with the iPad 2 just about 4fps (frames per second) ahead. This is an excellent example of how specs mean nothing!
Also, keep an eye on Asus' newly announced tablet, the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity 700. This one comes in silver and purple colors, and has a stronger CPU: a Quad-core Cortex-A9 clocked at 1.6GHz!! This pad also features a superb 1920 x 1200 screen, a certain improvement over the Transformer Prime's 1280 x 800 display. However, the higher resolution raises some concerns for me: despite having a faster CPU, the Infinity probably still has the same Kal-El GeForce GPU, that means that the Infinity will get much less graphics performance than the Transformer Prime, for the same reason that the iPad 3 didn't get such a high score in benchmarks.
Pics: (Apple iPad 2 & 3, Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, Motorola Xoom, respectively)
ipad.jpg asus transformer prime.jpg