Analysing Smart vs Ultra with the Samsung Series 9 and ASUS Transformer Prime

Updated on 20 January 2012 by


I’ve been tracking ‘smartbooks’ for a few years now. I’ve tested the Android-based Compaq Airlife 100 and owned the Toshiba AC100. I also have a couple of Android tablets here in my life, one of which I use daily for work. I have tried many times to integrate them into my work processes but only the Galaxy Tab 7” has made any impact because it fits nicely as a microblogging and social networking tool. There are some good music, radio and podcast apps that I use too. The problem with the ‘laptop’ style devices is that although they are light, fun and have good battery life (8hrs out of the 800gm Toshiba AC100 was great!) the quality of apps doesn’t match the scenarios where you use the product – on the desk.

Try finding a quality blogging app, any sort of basic video editing program that works without stuttering or crashing and try selecting and then dragging images from one app into another, doing some heavy multitasking, running a large external monitor, securing and encrypting data, connecting USB hard drives and audio components, importing images from an SD card and many many more activities. In some cases there are solutions but there’s always another brick wall round the corner, even if it’s just an unsupported JavaScript input field in a browser or an unexpected crash.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich will bring new products and focused software development to the large-screen Android space and as the number of sold products rises, more and more software houses will start to take the platform seriously but that could take a few years. In the meantime, Windows or OS X on an X86 laptop is the only way forward for productivity. [Yes, there are some very interesting developments in the IOS world. In many cases the devices are too locked down to be good enough for a smooth productivity experience though.] For mobile users, the 1KG mark is about as good as it gets. While we’ve had netbooks at that weight for a while we’re now starting to see laptops with high-quality processors at the same mark. The Samsung Series 9 is one of them. the Toshiba Z835 (occasionally showing at $699) is another and there will be a lot more during 2012

What surprised me today was the price of the ASUS Transformer Prime 64GB with the keyboard dock. In Germany you’re looking at €750. Did you know that the Samsung Series 9 11.6” 64GB is only 100 Euro more? That’s two devices with a similar screen resolution, similar weight, similar style and similar price but in completely different computing categories. I thought it would be interesting to put them side-by-side with each other to see where they shine. Obviously there’s no winner but if it’s productivity you’re looking for, go for the Samsung Series 9 every time!

The Transformer Prime is quite the flexible beast. As a tablet it works extremely well. 600gm, good battery life, relatively (to other Android tablets) good battery life, touch input, some great social and geo-enabled apps, good quality 1080p video playback, great sharing capabilities and some impressive gaming experiences. While I’m not a fan of 10” ‘social’ tablets, if you’re looking for something in that range, the Transformer Prime has to be near the top of your list.

I’ve rated the ASUS Transformer Prime against 17 criteria and it scored 115 points

I’ve also rated the Samsung Series 9 11.6”against the same criteria. It scored 110 points


Additional reading: 2 years ago I wrote about
ARM’s ‘lock-in’ opportunity in ‘social netbooks.’
So far their customers haven’t capitalised on that opportunity


An overall points score is pretty useless if you don’t know the distribution so for some more detail I used a comparison and choosing tool I put together some time back. It allows you to set your priorities on the score criteria and to get a recommendation as to which is the best.

series9 transformer prime

Remember that this is based on one persons ratings and there’s room for argument in many areas but take a look, set your priorities and see what device suits you.

The point here is that these two devices look quite similar, look quite sexy, but have completely different hidden specifications and are good for different things.

The Ultrabook excels at productivity, multi-window working, a full web experience, connectivity options and processing power.

The Android-based smartbooks and tablets excel in battery life, social and sharing, low-cost applications, touch user interface and overall price.

The Bottom Line

What needs to happen over the next year is that each category learns from the other. Intel, Microsoft and their customer seem to be making progress towards some of the smartbook features. I wonder how long it will take to get the apps on smartbooks sorted out though. Ultrabooks, ultrathins and similar PC-based devices look to have the better position right now and that’s good for Intel, bad for ARM.

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10 Comments For This Post

  1. alan says:

    What’s the difference between the Samsung Series 3, 7 and 9 notebooks?

  2. michael says:

    If they created 800g in weight smartbook that gave 8 hours of usage years ago, why can’t they do the same with the current ultrabooks or netbooks? Obviously a 11.6 should be about 980grams today.

    The transformer prime is pretty heavy.IF you include the keyboard, the weight goesup considerably and its not aslight as the Ac100

  3. James says:

    There is no real comparison for Smartbooks to Ultrabooks. You’re comparing what amounts to tech toys to real work computers.

    Even more modern ARM devices are just starting to enter the performance range of low end Intel ATOM chips for CPU performance.

    So of course those Smartbooks would need a lot less power to run, when even the lowest end Ultrabook is still multiple times more powerful than the best ARM has to offer yet.

    Meanwhile, there hasn’t been any big breakthroughs in battery technology. So today’s systems have to provide more performance with pretty much the same battery capacity they’ve been stuck with for years.

    Even ARM has had to improve it’s energy efficiency, coming up with ways to reduce power usage even more, to prevent a hit on run time with the increases in performance they are starting to provide.

    Like how the Tegra 3 in the Transformer Prime has a fifth low power core for basic operations. So the main quad cores are only used as needed.

    Run them at full power all the time though and the run time will be a heck of a lot less! Since they’re basically leveraging idle modes to conserve power and reduce waste power usage.

    While as for netbooks, the new Cedar Trail line up has yet to actually ship, but lower average and max TDP should give them a nice boost in run time.

    Ultrabooks on the other hand are still on Sandy Bridge, so we’ll have to wait to see how Ivy Bridge effects those run times and whether we really have to wait for Haswell for a real enough improvement. Though by then we’ll also be seeing Windows 8, which promises to be more energy efficient.

    A desktop OS being another reason why traditional PC’s can’t yet be as energy efficient as ARM devices. Since a desktop OS like Windows isn’t designed to take advantage of power saving methods, like turning off cores when not needed. While also having a lot of background processes that prevent complete idling needed to allow anything to be turned off as well.

    Really, put a desktop OS on a ARM system as they are now without optimizing for power efficiency like they’re planning for Windows 8 and you’re going to see a big hit on run time!

    Like one of the reasons why Intel even bothered with Meego was because it was optimized for the ATOM for better energy efficiency.

    So let’s understand the differences and limits of technology and that there aren’t any simple solutions yet. So they’re limited with working with what they got right now and we’ll just have to wait to see if the improvements they’re planning pan out.

  4. Michael says:

    Actually 90% of all mobile users merely use their devices to surf the Internet, light office work etc.
    That is why tablets are doing so well and is a big hit. People really don’t need the power and performance of an ultrabook while on the go. Most CPU intensive applications are done on their primary PC at home which, in most instances, is a i5 or i7 computer.

    Why Smartbooks failed was because the OS could not handle touch screen. But if the manufacturers fine tune Smartbooks, it will wipe out ultrabooks. Why? firstly, its light and thin. Secondly, battery last a long time.

    I hope the manufacturers revive SMartbooks again because, the most us, just want to use outr mobile devices merely to surf the Internet, check emails, and light MS Office stuff. You hardly can find anyone doing CAD, video editting on the move.

  5. James says:

    Sorry but you’re confusing being limited with what people actually want to do with their devices.

    Services like Citrix don’t provide remote desktop OS access on mobile devices because everyone only wants to surf and run basic apps on the go.

    While Smartbooks didn’t fail because the OS couldn’t handle touch. They failed because they were too pricey and provided too little to justify them. Who wants a Smartbook that cost as much or more than a netbook but only provides less than half the performance and is limited to mobile OS that at the time were very limited?

    Really, ARM is only getting in a position to finally rival Intel in the ATOM market. While what people want to do also has to factor that more and more people have to do work with computers and that means a lot more than just 10% of all users will want something more capable.

  6. Mellin says:

    I would also give the TP the active-standby notifications advantage which is HUGE.

    But ultimately, these are 2 very different categories of devices that overlap eachother in a few simplistic activities.

    I believe what threatens PC’s ultimately, is the fact that most people simply do not need them. All our “Grandma’s” have been using/maintaining complex PC’s for years while doing nothing more than email & browsing. For most people in the years ahead ARM-based tablets will be all they will ever need. “Real” computers will always exist, people like us will always need them, but the rest of the world is going to move on.

  7. James says:

    I disagree that there’s a real threat to the PC, only in how we view them will really change.

    The older generation argument fails to factor that newer generations won’t follow the same pattern. Since unlike the older generation, the newer generation is more use to computers and more prone to integrate them into their every day lives.

    Add the increasing number of computer related jobs and usages that didn’t exist before means PC’s will continue.

    It’s just that what we consider PC’s will eventually merge and become symbiotic with a wider range of devices than we have traditionally thought of them.

    However, the ergonomics and practicality of physically working for long periods, along with the limits of many of these other devices, still will have us often returning to the traditional PC usage for some time yet and may never completely die out.

  8. Adam says:

    The term PC is already beyond antiquated itself.

    “the older generation”??? You’re REALLY arguing that buying decisions for computing devices will be split based upon age boundaries? -There are some serious mental gymnastics necessary to convince yourself of that!

    The app-focused world, “fast enough” computing (fast enough to run the apps I want), form factor flexibility, and intuitive user interface design means that it’s FAR, FAR easier than ever for someone to switch computing devices. (Cost is a factor that favors ARM, too) The “older generation” doesn’t care about what OS they use, they care that its’ easy to do the things that they want to do.

    I completely agree with your comment about ergonomics playing a part here, too, though.

    If when you say “PC” you’re talking about a form-factor, then I agree with you; the full keyboard and a screen hardware form factor will not disappear. If when you say “PC” you are saying “devices with x86 or x86 CPUs”, I just don’t think the average consumer cares. If it meets their other requirements. If you mean full “Windows vs. Alternative OSes” I also think we’re at a point in time where OS will NOT matter as much.

    The Mobile App Platform war is one of the more important ones, but Android seems to be the only one showing up on the battle field and it looks like they’re going to win by Default. Apple and MS seem to not have any desire to make their respective mobile app platforms available on all hardware platforms. Defacto “victory” to Android.


  9. Adam says:


    Half of the pros and cons for each device were a function of the HARDWARE PLATFORM, and half were a function of the OPERATING SYSTEM and therefore applications that run on the system.

    That’s also by far and away the most expensive price I’ve heard quoted for the transformer prime.

    The really interesting comparison is when you compare the two devices as if they were running the same software and apps (assumption: Windows 8) especially with a more reasonable price on the Transformer Prime.

    -The cons on the ARM side then start to quickly disappear; the big challenge is going to be app availability on Windows 8 ARM, which the BlueStacks Android App Player should help with considerably.

    Differentiating which of these are hardware platform vs. software platform pros and cons is very enlightening. (Then legitimate price, capability, form factor, mobility, performance comparisons can be made and Intel’s total value equation doesn’t look so hot; Win8 ARM is going to reveal that the emperor has no clothes and those profit margins will come a tumbling down… (If they can’t find a way to adjust the total value equation in their favor to justify the price premium.)


  10. James says:

    Windows 8 will also support all Windows Phone OS apps btw. So add those to what BlueStack player offers and the efforts of MS to create cross platform apps for all devices using Windows 8 should make things interesting at the very least.

    Adam :
    The term PC is already beyond antiquated itself.
    “the older generation”??? You’re REALLY arguing that buying decisions for computing devices will be split based upon age boundaries? -There are some serious mental gymnastics necessary to convince yourself of that!

    Nope, though I think you’re misinterpreting what I said a bit as you seem to be arguing what Mellin was suggesting and not what I was suggesting.

    I was pointing out that the older generation of our grandparents are different from newer generations because computers weren’t a integral part of their lives from the beginning. So how they view and use computers will of course be more limited than generations that did grow up with computers being part of their lives.

    It basically falls to familiarity and ways of thinking about things. People more familiar with something will of course use it at a higher level of proficiency than those not familiar.

    So as those older generations become the minority, we’ll see a shift in how much people use computers for only basic uses and start to see more and more advance users.

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