- Superb functionality
- Plastic build may put some off
Asus won our hearts with the incredible folding tablet-top device the Asus Transformer, then did it with the Asus Transformer Prime and now the company is looking to do it again with the Transformer Pad TF300. While the Prime was the obvious successor to the original, the TF300 sits somewhere in between. Still packing a lightning fast Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, ports galore and, of course the trademark Transformer keyboard dock, it swaps metal for plastic, drops internal memory and battery life in a bid to save no less than £100, but does it retain enough to warrant a buy?
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Design
The tablet’s plastic construction is a little thicker than that of the Prime, with a 9.8mm thick body and a more hollow feel. With a spiral pattern across its plastic back, it has a comfortable tactile quality that reassures your fingers. Perhaps more generic than the stylised original Transformer, ship in red, white and blue adds a decent amount of character to the line.
When it comes to the dock, Asus matches the plastic fantastic tablet with a similarly styled full sized QWERTY dock. Slightly thicker than that of the Prime, but markedly thinner than that of the original, it looks simple, attractive and solid, offers the same connectivity options, and the keys appear to have a bit travel than the Prime.
As you can make out by clicking through on the images above or jumping to the photo gallery, the TF300 won’t wow you senseless with its shiny shiny factor, especially after seeing its bigger brother, however it will still impress you.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Screen
The screen on the Asus Trasformer Pad TF300 is identical to that found on the original, at 10.1-inches, with bearing IPS technology and a HD 1280×800 resolution.
Standalone, the screen is vibrant and bright, but next to the iPad detail looks soft thanks to the lower resolution. Next to the Transformer Prime, brightness is low because it uses IPS screen technology as opposed to Super IPS Plus. This is especially noticeable outdoors with bright sunlight wreaking havoc on viewability.
That said – is this a hit we’re prepared to take for a £100 saving? In England, yes. Somewhere sunnier? Maybe not.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Keyboard
As you can probably make out from the picture, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 keys have a bit more travel than those of the Prime. This probably has everything to do with the additional girth the TF300 packs, allowing for a pleasurable typing experience.
While we weren’t able to get full-sized typing speeds, we weren’t far off and the performance knocks the socks off a virtual keyboard, with the range of shortcut keys working incredibly intuitively. Asus’s on board virtual keyboard works pretty well too, with the option to activate a Swype style input or type traditionally. On a tablet however, we tend to prefer third party keyboards such as Swiftkey.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: User Interface
Identical to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime when it comes to UI, the TF300 runs Android 4.0 with some mild Asus customisations on board to improve user experience and power management. There are also some pre-installed applications that offer a DLNA service, Asus’s own cloud storage solution and reading solutions.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is a huge step forward over Honeycomb offering a more stable operating system, it’s significantly more intuitive and better suited to tablet usage. Five simple homescreens, customisable icons and widgets and a sleek, black apps drawer brings everything together elegantly. Compatible with all the latest and greatest Android has to offer, with the onset of such high quality apps as Flipboard for example, the OS is quickly rising in ranks to rival iOS.
Asus’s on board solutions to improve your TF 300 experience include: 8GB free cloud storage, thee Vibe store where you can purchase music content, books and newspapers and the reading hub. These are unintrusive, with the most noticable tweak to the interface being the power saving settings in the notification tab – a great addition to the UI.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Camera and multimedia
Clearly the same camera unit that made its way onto the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime lands on the TF300 and that’s a good thing. There’s no flash, which is a compromise of the price. The 8-megapixel sensor however is complemented by an f2.2 lens though, so Asus is making sure you’ve got the best light gathering capabilities you could expect from a mobile shooter.
As you can see from the sample images which can be clicked through, the Transformer Pad TF300 delivers a good amount of detail in well lit conditions and manages to keep noise at bay better than most mobile cameras when the lights go down. It focuses incredibly well, pulling into macro with no hissy fits, managing some great depth of field in the process. While it sports the stock ICS camera UI which we’re not huge fans of, you can download a plethora of third party camera apps from the market.
Video is shot at full HD at a smooth 30fps. As you can see from the sample above, it looks fluid, offers mid-capture tap-to-focus and while continuous exposure shifting can be a little sudden, it hits a happy place pretty quickly.
As far as playback formats go, the TF300 will handle MP4 files up to full HD, however we found AVIs and WMVs played back smoothly through a third party player (MX Player) only up to 720p.
The onboard speaker offers clear sound output though volume could definitely benefit from being louder. That said, coupled with Netflix, we did watch two movies comfortably in a quiet room with the dock acting as the perfect stand for the Transformer Pad.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Connectivity and Storage
We likened the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime to the Death Star it’s so well connected. As for the Transformer Pad TF300, the very same can be said. You’ve got a micro HDMI, a micro SD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a full-sized SD card slot, a full-sized USB port and 2 proprietary charging ports, one one the tablet and another on the keyboard dock.
There’s 16GB of memory on board the TF300 with expandability options galore. The micro SD card slot can be expanded by 32GB, the full sized SD card slot by 64GB and the USB port by an external hard drive.
When you consider that for the same price as, say, a 16GB iPad you can get an expandable tablet with an HDMI out and a keyboard dock, 50% more battery and a full sized SD card slot as well as a USB slot, the less than mind blowing design of the TF300 starts to become a whole lot more attractive.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Performance
Thanks to its quad-core Tegra 3 processor, speed is something we quickly got used to on the Asus Transformer Pad TF300. ICS is smooth and attractive giving the whole UI a sense of flow. When it comes to stability, we experienced the occasional glitch in the form of a stuttery menu. This didn’t persist or hamper usability, but did tarnish the user-experience slightly.
Web browsing is without a doubt a high-point of the Asus Transformer Pad TF300. The onboard browser does a good job of 95% of websites and for the rest quickly loading and panning. Any it doesn’t manage, Google’s Chrome Browser (in beta and available only for ICS phones and tablets) deals with beautifully. Thanks to the all plastic chassis, the GPS also works extremely well, in the face of the lacklustre GPS performance of the Transformer Prime.
Battery life has taken a bit of a hit. While the tablet itself keeps its siblings’ 10 hours of battery, the keyboard dock now adds an additional 5 rather than 8. The real world result is generally the same however – fantastic battery life that hardly ever needs charging unless using the screen at full brightness for long periods.
Asus Transformer Pad TF300: Conclusion
So if your idea of a good time is a slinky all metal body, a camera that flashes and sunlight penetrating screen brightness, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 will likely fall short of your tablet-top expectations and we would heartily recommend you snap up a Prime. If however you’re more concerned about a cost-effective netbook replacement that has a corking GPS unit, top-notch specs, a keyboard with decent travel and enough power to chew through even the most gruelling of 3D games, then you can opt instead for the TF300. It isn’t a perfect device, but at £399, it’s not far off being a perfect balance of price and performance.
Find out how to get more from this tablet in our Asus Transformer Pad TF300 tips and tricks video.