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We’ve already spilled quite a bit of information about the new Eee Pad Transformer Prime, but so we’ve only been dealing with specifications. With the UK launch scheduled for January, we now have production models to play with, so here’s an exclusive hands-on review.

As you might guess from the name, the Eee Pad Transformer Prime (TF201) is the successor to the Transformer (TF101), but while there’s a clear similarity between the two tablets, there are also some notable changes. Most obvious is the finish and the Transformer Prime has the same ‘spun metal’ case as the ASUS ZENBOOK and it’s available in two colours — Amethyst Gray and Champagne Gold.

ASUS has tweaked the Transformer Prime’s dimensions with a few judicious design changes. The speakers that sat at either side of the Transformer TF101’s screen now sit at the back of the Transformer Prime and the overall length has been reduced as a result. The width, however, ha increased slightly, but this is a good thing — it makes the bezel that runs around the screen the same thickness on each side, which in turn makes it easy to keep errant thumbs away from the screen when the Prime is flipped from portrait to landscape orientation.

The most impressive design change, however, is with the reduction in thickness and weight. Although the Transformer TF101 was only 6mm thick at each edge, its curved back actually measured 18mm at its deepest point. The Transformer Prime, on the other hand, measures a mere 8.4mm at its thickest point and 143g have been lost from somewhere, bringing the weight down to just 537g. As a result, the Transformer Prime is very comfortable to hold in one hand, making it ideal for use standing up, sitting down or even lying in bed.

ASUS has retained the 10.1” Corning Gorilla Glass screen with 1280 x 800 resolution for the Transformer Prime, but it hasn’t been able to resist making a few changes here, too. The Transformer TF101’s display was already excellent, thanks to its IPS technology that gave an astounding 178° viewing angle. The Transformer Prime, however, gets a Super IPS+ display that optionally allows the brightness to be cranked up for excellent outdoor visibility (albeit at the expense of battery life).

A lighter tablet means the Transformer Prime is more likely to be carried around and ASUS has acknowledged the increased portability by fitting an 8-megapixel camera that can capture 1080p video. The inclusion of a backlit sensor means the camera is much more capable at low light levels, but ASUS has also fitted an LED flash for added photographic flexibility.

The other major change, of course, is the processor and the Transformer Prime is the first Android tablet to use NVIDIA’s new Tegra 3 quad-core chip. In short, this brings more performance and less power consumption — NVIDIA’s figures put it at five times as powerful as the Tegra 2 overall, with three-times faster graphics. Four cores certainly make it an extremely capable performer, particularly when it comes to gaming, but the trip up its sleeve is a fifth core that comes into play for less demanding tasks, which is why the Tegra 3 can still be so frugal.

One thing we haven’t mentioned so far is the component that set the original Transformer apart from the competition — the clip-on keyboard. The good news is that this is still a key (no pun intended) feature of the Transformer Prime, but the even better news is that it’s no longer an optional accessory and instead, it comes in the box. This too has had a bit of a makeover to reduce its size and weight (it’s now 80g lighter than before), but it still packs the same near full-size keys and trackpad. It still packs its own secondary battery too, which adds six hours to the Transformer Prime’s standard mains-free performance for a whopping 18 total hours of mobile use.

The Transformer Prime ships with Android 3.2 Honeycomb, plus the usual welcome selection of ASUS applications and interface improvements — not to mention ASUS SonicMaster technology for enhanced audio performance. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is just around the corner though, and the Transformer Prime will obviously be user-upgradeable to this new version of operating system once it is released.

So, how much can we expect to pay for this tablet computer with class-leading performance and battery life, plus a bundled clip-on keyboard that converts it into a compact ultra-portable on demand? Unbelievably, the Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201will launch with an SRP of just £499 for the 32GB model — stay tuned to Tech in Style for stockist information nearer the launch time.

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