Two second generation Android 10" tablets, both destined for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Unless your dead set on the quad core Transformer Prime or are a Verizon Wireless customer in need of 4G LTE, the choice isn't as easy as you might think. The Transformer Prime appeals to enthusiasts who want the first quad core tablet on the market and have a need for speed. The Motorola Droid XYBoard is for those who want very fast connectivity anywhere, along with the comfort of nearby Verizon stores to offer support. It also adds popular second gen tablet features like a digital pen and an IR blaster with AV remote to control your home theatre gear, while Asus eschews those bells and whistles.
To make things more interesting, Motorola just announced a WiFi only version of the XYBoard that drops the "Droid" name. It will sell for $499 for the 16 gig model and should start shipping the week of January 18. So for those of you who don't want 3G/4G and the associated upcharge and monthly costs, there's a XYBoard for you too.
Also interesting, but perhaps dismaying for you early adopters who've already bought the Transformer Prime, is that Asus at CES today showed off the TF700, which is much the same as the current Prime but has a 1920 x 1200 pixel display and redesigned back to improve WiFi and GPS reception. We hear the TF700 will available in Q2 of this year.
Both tablets have extremely bright IPS displays that are viewable outdoors. They have great viewing angles, rich colors and sharp text. Though Asus attempted to reduce glare compared to the original Transformer model, it has more glare than the XYBoard, and thus we found the XYBoard easier to see outdoors though it does reach quite the same max brightness (approx.. 450 nits vs. 600 nits). The Motorola Droid XYBOARD 10.1 is one of the most color neutral tablets we've seen, and white backgrounds are white rather than slightly purple (Transformer Prime) or blue (Samsung). That plus the lower glare make the XYBoard a slightly better choice for extended reading, be it eBooks or web pages.
Winner: really close, but Motorola XYBoard 101. Wins for less glare and better color balance.
Performance and Horsepower
No surprise here: the quad core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU is faster. It has a max clock speed of 1.4GHZ when running a single core and 1.3 to 1.2GHZ when running all 4 cores. The Motorola runs on a second gen dual core TI ARM 9 family CPU clocked at 1.2GHz. That TI CPU is reference hardware for Ice Cream Sandwich, but as you've probably heard, the Transformer Prime is scheduled to get ICS starting on January 12. The XYBoard's CPU is no slouch, but it's not a groundbreaking CPU like the Tegra 3 or the new 28nm Qualcomm Krait.
In terms of synthetic benchmarks, you might not notice the difference. Quadrant, Sunspider, Vellamo and Linpack numbers are the same, in fact the XYBoard scores 100 points higher on Quadrant. But AnTuTu shows a huge increase with the Prime scoring 10,000 vs. 6,000 for the XYBoard 10.1. And GLBenchmark shows the new Nvidia GPU has some muscle, with scores that are 33 to 100% better on various sub-tests.
Experientially, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime feels faster. Navigating the UI is snappier and we saw none of the brief jitter we saw on the Motorola XYBoard 10.1 when playing GTA III. In fact, everything is a little faster on the Prime: from loading images and stories in Pulse and Google Currents to formatting documents in Polaris Office.
Winner: Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
Design and Ergonomics
Raise your hand if you think the iPad 2 and even the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 are really, really pretty but impractical from an ergonomics standpoint. Unfortunately, Asus followed those two manufacturers designs, and made a really thin and slippery tablet. It's hard to keep a hold of. Get a case. The swirled aluminum back isn't anodized or hardened we reckon since it scratches very easily. Get a case. The metal back apparently interferes with GPS reception and standalone GPS doesn't work reliably for navigation. Our Prime has laid its sexy back only on a polished wooden coffee table, a smooth wood desk and foam core cardboard with a smooth white surface. It has scratches. Get a case.
The Motorola Droid XYBoard 10.1 is your basic hard as nails ninja. It's super rigid, doesn't feel delicate and could be used as a weapon. It has an aluminum back that so far hasn't scratched. It has rubberry sides that are easy to grip and allow for antennas to get a signal. It has a smaller footprint too, making it more ergonomic. I'll take function over form any day, though I actually think the XYBoard is pretty cool looking too.
Both tablets are around a third of an inch thick and weigh 1.29 (Prime) to 1.3 lbs. (XYBoard 10.1).
Winner: Motorola Droid XYBoard 10.1
Both tablets can play MPEG4 1080p video with ease. Both have micro HDMI ports. The Droid XYBoard 10.1 has video plus stereo out over HDMI. The Transformer Prime can do 5.1 audio, but we had trouble finding components that played nicely with it, even when playing video with stereo audio tracks. We mostly got the left channel only for stereo clips and left plus subwoofer for 5.1 tracks. We have a feeling that Asus and Nvidia need to tweak their driver and perhaps offer settings that control output over HDMI (make stereo a selectable option).
The Prime can also output 3D content to 3D TVs--very cool.
We'd declare the Asus Eee Pad Transfomer Prime the easy winner thanks to 5.1 audio out and 3D over HDMI, but it's not quite there yet. The Motorola outputs reliable stereo audio plus video over HDMI to HD TVs and AV Receivers. And there's something to be said for things that just work, no? So for now, we're at a tie.
Special Sauce and Software
As noted, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime doesn't go in for the bells and whistles: think of it as a Lotus Elise sports car. Power windows and creature comforts are stripped in the interest of bringing you a relatively affordable pocket (or tote bag) rocket. Software is pretty much the same as on the original Transformer: a basic eBook reader that supports side loading but lacks formatting options, DLNA, the full version of Polaris Office (good stuff), Splashtop Remote, a file manager and App Locker (a way to back up your apps).
The Transformer Prime does have one cool feature that sets it apart from other tablets (except the upcoming Lenovo IdeaTab S2): an optional keyboard dock with a secondary battery, one USB port and a trackpad. The $149 keyboard dock turns your Prime into the Android version of Asus' Zenbook ultrabook.
The folks at Motorola knew they weren't bringing you a bleeding edge CPU, so they threw in a trendy new IR blaster with Dijit AV remote so you can tap your home theatre gear into submission and get TV listings too. There's a digital pen and N-Trig active digitizer so you can take notes and doodle (though Moto has the weakest pen features among active digitizer Android tablets, something we hope will be remedied by Ice Cream Sandwich).
Motorola includes several business apps as a few fun things too. You get Motocast for wireless access to your Windows or Mac computer's files. You can use Motocast to stream media too (it will make your computer transcode the file to a lower resolution first, not great) but it's not a remote desktop control app like Splashtop included with the Transformer Prime (it's hidden in the MyCloud app). I personally find remote file access more useful than controlling my computer using the tablet, but we all have different needs and only you know what's useful to you. You can buy Splashtop for Android tablets in the Market as well, in case you don't buy a Prime but love remote control and access. There are remote file access apps in the Market too that work over WiFi.
The Transformer Prime mounts as a standard mass storage device in Windows (Mac users will need to download the free Android File Transfer app from Google). The XYBoard makes you use Motocast USB or Verizon's V Cast Manager (uggh). I really wish there was a way to mount the XYBoard using standard mass storage, but I know many of you will prefer the newbie friendly Motocast with its iTunes sync feature.
Winner: Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime if you the netbook transformation option, remote PC control and mass storage mode over USB. Motorola Droid XYBoard 10.1 if you prefer remote file access and an iTunes-like interface to sync non-DRM media from iTunes.
Here's our Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime vs. Motorola Droid XYBoard 10.1 Comparison video: