Super Tablet vs. Ultrabook: Closer Than You Think

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I’ve had a number of Intel based Ultrabooks in house for the last several weeks and I’ve become a fan; however, I’ve also had the first Super Tablet, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 based Asus Transformer Prime running the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, and in a number of ways it is better than an iPad (suggesting next month’s iPad 3 release is timely).    However, the two products are starting to overlap a lot.   Neither can replace the other yet, but with each step the gap is getting narrower. 

I was going to compare the Asus products to each other but I think the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook comes closer to the perfect blend of size and performance at the moment so I will use it instead.   I’m using a pre-production Dell (it is due to start shipping shortly) and Asus is still backordered on the Prime so I was lucky to get my hands on one.   Both are technology leaders for their categories.  

Specs

The Specs don’t tell the entire story but let’s do a top level comparison.  

The Transformer Prime has a display brightness (needed with a tablet) with the ability to put out 600 nits in IPS+ mode on a 10.1” 1280x800 touch display armored with Gorilla Glass and in the Dell XPS 13 they put a 13.3” display in an 11” form factor giving it a 1366x768 resolution, 300 nits and also using Gorilla glass but no touch. Advantage Tablet.

Weight: With the base the Asus is consistent with its tablet roots and comes in at around 2.3 pounds, followed by the Dell at 3 pounds but this is very close. Advantage Tablet.

Battery life: The Asus with the base attached should get around 16 hours of battery life or about twice the 8 hours the Dell will provide.   Advantage Tablet.

Price: The Asus Transformer Prime comes at around $860 with the base; the Dell is at $999. Advantage Tablet.

Processor Performance: Dell with an Intel 1.7 GHz i5 standard (you can upgrade to an i7) 2 core processor with Hyper-threading (4 virtual cores) and Intel graphics and the Asus Transformer Prime comes with a 1.3 GHz 5 core Tegra 3 processor and NVIDIA graphics.  Since the Asus uses the 5 core fore efficiency not performance the edge goes to the Ultrabook here.  

Capacity: The Dell has a 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD drive (which you can upgrade) while the Asus has 32 or 64 GB of flash memory. Advantage Ultrabook.

Ports: The Asus has (with the base) a USB port, MMC/SD/SDHC card reader, microSD card reader, mico-HDMI output and a headphone jack.   The Dell Has USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, MiniDisplayport, and a headphone jack.   Advantage Tablet.

Connectivity: Both have Wi-Fi, the Dell has Bluetooth 3.0, the Asus Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Advantage Ultrabook.

On spec the tablet wins four of these categories, several just by a hair, and the Ultrabook 3 also by a hair a couple of times. But since the two products don’t run the same software, and it is partially because of compatibility requirements that the Ultrabook suffers software tells a different story.

Usability

The two products have vastly different uses.   The Asus is surprisingly good with tablet games, in tablet mode far better for reading and with the very high-nit screen it actually works reasonably well outdoors (the screen is high gloss not low glare so it looks nice but does have a glare problem) but in this high power mode battery life will drop significantly.    The Ultrabook is a notebook so it will run Microsoft Office and Outlook.   But Office Costa (Home and Business Edition) an additional $150 which isn’t cheap, on the other hand without it you really can’t do a lot of business things easily.    

The long battery life on the Transformer make movies and browsing on the web for hours a blessing but the Ultrabooks larger screen makes it better for shared viewing and if you want to bring up work and a web page at the same time.   Both require dongles to connect to a second larger display and both will use mice if you want a more PC like gaming or work experience.    

You aren’t going to use an Ultrabook as a reader nor are you able to live on a Tablet quite yet, you can come close with ever improving productivity apps, but it just isn’t where it needs to be yet for a Windows or Mac user to drop their PC in favor of it. At least not most of them anyway.  

So on usability the Ultrabook has the edge for practicality and the tablet has the edge for entertainment.   I could see taking the Tablet on a vacation but never on a business trip but the Ultrabook could be wed with a Kindle reader ($75) and be fine in both modes.   

Wrapping Up: Waiting for the Next Generation

Give me an Ultrabook with touch, a removable high nit screen, and just two more hours of battery life and it is my perfect product.   Give me a tablet like this Asus Transformer prime with a larger screen and a true office like productivity pack and I’m there.   The Asus has a shorter path but requires a third party app Asus doesn’t control, Intel or AMD could drive to a Transformer Ultrabook specs with a larger screen more battery life but it likely would push the price and weight outside of a reasonable range right now.   

But in a few months Windows 8 will bring Office, and the core apps are bundled on the ARM version, to the platform.   Prices are dropping fast on PC hardware and transflective displays like the Qualcomm Merisel technology continue to advance suggesting the next generation for both products could be far closer to my ideal.     


Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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