For 5 months, there's been just one quad core Tegra 3 tablet on the market, the Asus Transformer Prime. Asus is launching a second quad core tablet, the Transformer Pad TF300, which should be in stores within a few weeks. It's the slightly budget version of the Prime. Meanwhile, Acer has surprised us with an excellent 10.1" ICS Tegra 3 tablet that's available now and is priced between the two Transformers. In this comparison smackdown, we're comparing the two that are available right now: the Acer Iconia Tab A510 and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, both running Android OS 4.0.3.
Honestly, I didn't expect the Iconia Tab A510 to hold its own against the Prime. Acer generally makes budget tablets and the Prime is one of the hotter high end tablet offerings. But the Acer A510 is quickly winning me over thanks to its pleasing display, very long battery life, excellent performance, solid WiFi and GPS and stability.
The Acer Iconia Tab A510 lists for $449 for the 32 gig model (currently the only storage option). The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime 32 gig model is $499 and there's a 64 gig option for $599.
Design and Build Quality
We all know that the Asus wanted to challenge the iPad 2 for high style and metal casing. The Prime is one of the thinnest tablets on the market at 0.32", and it weighs just 1.3 pounds. It has a swirled aluminum rear casing that looks lovely and distinctive. The drawbacks? The metal surprisingly can scratch, and the very thin tapered sides leave ports exposed. The charging/dock connector and micro HDMI port are thus rather delicate. The taper means that a microSD card sticks out beyond the casing just a bit where the taper falls away, and that makes it too easy to accidentally eject the spring-loaded card. The small power button is hard to operate because it's so darned small and your finger slides down the taper when trying to press the button.
The Acer Iconia Tab A510 is a pleasant though not remarkable looking tablet. It's 0.43" thick and it weighs 1.54 pounds. It has a soft touch back with the Olympic rings logo (Acer is an official sponsor of the 2012 Olympics). It's available with a black or silver back and the soft touch feels great in hand. It's comfortable to hold, and all ports are protected. The buttons are easy to operate.
Winner: For those who prefer function over form, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 wins. If looks, thinness and metal make your heart go pitter-pat, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime wins. Personally, I'll take the Acer for it's more functional design.
Both tablets have capacitive 10.1", 1280 x 800 resolution displays. The Transformer Prime has an IPS+ display that can get wildly bright in + mode (600 nits). That's great for those who need to use the tablet outdoors, but it does drain the battery more quickly than standard IPS mode. It's plenty bright in standard IPS mode, and this is a very high contrast panel, which makes things look sharper. The display has Gorilla Glass for durability.
The Acer Iconia Tab A510 has a bright and colorful display with wide viewing angles that are equal to the Prime's. It can get quite bright, but not 600 nits bright (only the Prime has that feature among tablets). The A510 has a slightly cooler color bias (toward the blue) vs. the warm Prime, and it has slightly deeper colors.
Winner: Both have very pleasing displays, but the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime wins for IPS+ mode for those who need to use it outdoors. Otherwise, it's a pretty close race.
Both tablets run on the quad core (plus fifth companion low power core) Nvidia Tegra 3 T30S with GeForce Graphics. They benchmark nearly identically in Quadrant (3800), AnTuTu, (9500) GLBenchmark and Sunspider (1800). They are the fastest Android tablets on the market. They both play THD Tegra 3 optimized games well and can handle 1080p high profile video with ease. They feel equally fast, but Acer manages to avoid those wait/force close delays in the Android web browser (chalk that up to software and firmware optimization).
Sound, HDMI Out
My Transformer Prime has always been cranky about HDMI out. It likes some TVs and cables and not others. It's never outputted 5.1 audio to our full featured Sony AV receiver (it should be able to do this). The Acer Iconia Tab A510 played nicely with 2 HD TVs, our AV Receiver and several micro HDMI to HDMI cables. It played a 1080p high profile video with 5.1 audio through our AV receiver's HDMI port.
The Transformer Prime has two small stereo speakers located next to each other on the rear toward the side. That means no audio separation and volume is average. The Acer A510 has stereo speakers on the far ends of the bottom edge for great separation and volume is louder than average (it can fill a room when watching a video). Acer tablets used to have anemic audio, but the A510 sounds great.
Winner: Acer Iconia Tab A510
We forgive the Acer Iconia Tab A510 for being thicker than the Prime because that casing houses a massive 9800 mAh, 2 cell, 36 Wh Lithium Ion battery. Acer claims up to 15 hours of use on a charge, and while that's optimistic like most manufacturer claims, 11 hours is perfectly possible with WiFi on and brightness set to 60% in a mix of uses. That's 2 hours more than our Prime's 25Wh battery lasts us. But if you spring for the Asus keyboard dock, you get a secondary battery that charges the Prime's battery for a total of 38Wh, and that combo lasts a bit longer than the naked Acer tablet.
Winner: Acer Iconia Tab A510.
WiFi and GPS
Ouch, this has been the Transformer Prime's Achilles Heel: pretty much no GPS reception and sometimes weak WiFi. Our Prime's GPS doesn't work without aid from WiFi triangulation, and WiFi reception and throughput have been OK since we did the "squeezy Prime" thing and pressed the upper edges of the display bezel to improve internal contact mating. But the Acer Iconia Tab A510 still has a -5 db better signal and 3-5Mbps better throughput on our 25/25Mbps FIOS service. GPS works perfectly on the Acer (with WiFi off) and we got a 3D fix inside and a 12 satellite fix outdoors.
Asus is now offering a free GPS dongle to US customers, and it plugs into the bottom dock connector. Owners report that it works well, but we haven't been able to try it yet because Asus' online registration doesn't recognize our tablet's serial number.
Winner: Acer Iconia Tab A510
Both tablets run a fairly vanilla version of Android OS 4.03 Ice Cream Sandwich. There are no UI customizations on either tablet. Acer includes their Ring app launcher, their Clear.fi media server/dLNA solution and the Aopeo music streaming service. Gone are the eBook and video players found on previous Acer models, and we don't miss them. Acer includes the full version of Polaris Office for tablets, so you can view, edit and create MS Office files and access files on Box.net. Acer Print handles printing to USB and network printers (HP PCL and Postscript printers).
Asus loads more apps, including the very good Splashtop remote desktop app, a mediocre eBook reader, dLNA server/client, Asus WebStorage and their very pleasant SuperNote rich note editor where you can enter text and draw with your finger or a capacitive stylus. Asus includes a limited version of Polaris Office that views MS Office files.
For you geekier types, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is easy to root and it's simple to unlock the bootloader if you want to load custom ROMs. The Prime has a locked bootloader. You can submit a web request to get the bootloader unlocked, but Asus warms this may invalidate your warranty. As a counter, in general there are more custom ROMs available for the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime.
Here's our Acer Iconia Tab A510 vs. Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime Comparison Smackdown video. And yes, we will also have a review of the Asus Transformer TF300 and a smackdown or two between it and these two tablets.