With the Transformer Pad TF300, Asus has set the goal to take the user experience of the award-winning Transformer Prime to the masses. Of course, this is easier said than done, and it is not easy to reduce the pricing to $399, while keeping the user experience nearly identical. In order to achieve that goal, Asus has redesigned the Transformer Pad to use less expensive materials while keeping most of the the internal hardware and features intact.
And this bet may just pay off. As it stands, the Asus Transformer Pad touted by Asus to be a $399 Transformer prime, which means that users could get a 32GB TF300 with the keyboard dock, for a price that is comparable to a 16GB iPad. If you take into account that a 64GB TF300 would only cost $25 more (the price of the MicroSD), you realize that it can be a formidable competitor for a 64GB iPad sold for $700. In this review, we will to put things in perspective by going over critical aspects of the Transformer Pad TF300. Ready?
|Dimension||6.96 x 10.66 x 0.51”||7.11x 10.35 x 0.38”||7.11 x 10.35 x 0.32”|
|LCD||10.1” IPS panel||10.1” IPS panel (350nits)||10.1” Super IPS panel 600nits|
|Resolution||1280 x 800||1280 x 800||1280 x 800|
|OS||Android™ 4.0||Android™ 4.0||Android™ 4.0|
|SoC||NVIDIA® Tegra® 2||NVIDIA® Tegra® 3||NVIDIA® Tegra® 3|
|Frequency||(1GHz dual-core)||(1.2GHz quad-core)||(1.3GHz quad-core)|
|RAM||1G LPDDR2||1G DDR3L||1G LPDDR2|
|Storage||16GB/32GB||32GB||32GB / 64GB|
|Rear Camera||5MP, 720p video recording||8MP, 1080p video recording||8MP, 1080p video recording|
|No flashlight||No flashlight||LED Flashlight|
|WiFi||802.11 b/g/n,||802.11 b/g/n,||802.11 b/g/n,|
|Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR||Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR||Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR|
|I/O||Mini HDMI/ microSD/ Docking connector||Micro HDMI/ microSD/ Docking connector||Micro HDMI/ microSD/ Docking connector|
|Battery Life||Pad-only 9.5 hr||Pad-only 10hrs||Pad-only 9.5 hr|
|Pad + Dock 16hrs||Pad + Dock 15hrs||Pad + Dock 18hrs|
First, if you want to take a quick look what’s in the box of the Asus Transformer Pad TF300, you can take a look at the video below. Overall, the tablet comes with a cleaning cloth, a charger and a cable. The optional keyboard dock comes pretty much bare, and don’t forget that it has an internal battery.
We all perceive the gadgets usefulness differently depending on our lifestyle, so let me tell you where I come from. Most of my (computing) time is spent using a powerful desktop computer (a PC) with large displays. If I need to get some real work done outside of the office, I use a laptop (Macbook Pro + Win7). On the go, I keep track of emails with a smartphone, but I tend to reply only moderately from it because typing long emails is a bit painful on a touchscreen. With the tablet, I check news websites and social networks a lot, and I often use a laptop or tablet on my couch.
Because tablets have such a long battery life, I have been searching for ways to use them as laptop replacement in some situations like trade shows and meetings where I don’t do anything drastic like programming or video-editing.
At first glance, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 looks very much like the Transformer Pad, which is most likely the device with which you are most familiar. Upon holding the device, one can feel that it is slightly thicker. The specifications show that the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 is 0.11lbs heavier than the Asus Transformer Prime. That’s about 50g, or ⅓ of the weight of most smartphones. In my opinion, this has no real incidence in the user experience, even if the extra thickness makes it less “luxurious” than its Transformer Prime (TF201) cousin.
The slight change in the industrial design was done to make the pricing of the Transformer Pad TF300 more competitive, in terms of value/price. The most notable change is the use of a plastic body instead of an aluminum body. This is pretty obvious when holding the device in the hand when compared to the Prime. If you think that this may be an issue for you, I would recommend checking one out in a store. I personally think of this as an “aesthetic” matter, and not a practical one.
In terms of ports, the Transformer Pad TF300 is pretty much equivalent to the Transformer Prime (TF201). On the left side, you can find MicroSD and HDMI ports. On the other side, there’s a 3.5mm audio jack. Finally, at the bottom, there is the main proprietary connector for the USB, but also for the optional keyboard dock.
Speaking of the dock, I still feel that this is really the genius behind the Transformer Pad series. It provides a perfectly integrated keyboard solution for the Transformer Pad TF300 tablet. It also acts as an extended battery (+5hrs) and a screen protector. This crushes any keyboard solution on competing platforms, period.
For anyone who needs to type in any serious way, the optional keyboard is an amazing option. You may think that for typing a 100 words paragraph here and there, the virtual (on-screen) keyboard is good enough. Try that with 20 or 30 emails, and let’s talk again… You may want to consider using a physical keyboard.
This particular option is awesome for those who are 95% happy with using a tablet, and just want a productivity boost coming from the physical keyboard. In addition of having an internal battery, the Keyboard dock also features a full-size SD card and a full-size USB port.
I previously had a lot of questions about the USB port, so to be clear: it is designed to work with USB keys and other low-power mass-storage devices. However, it may not work with an external 2.5” or 3.5” HDD/SSD, and will most likely not work with a USB 3G modem (use a WIFI Hotspot instead).
ASUS says that the Keyboard dock of the TF300 is not “100%” compatible with previous Transformer models. We noticed that the thickness was different, so that would probably explain the issue. That said, the connectors are the same, so in a pinch they would connect. However, if you want to establish a “solid” link between tablet and keyboard, it’s probably better if the fit is perfect.
User storage (an incredible value)
Just like the TF201, the Transformer Pad has excellent storage options. The TF300 comes with 32GB (versus a max. of 64GB for the TF201), however, it can be extended by another 32GB with the tablet’s microSD port, and by a further 256GB with the full-size SD card. That brings the potential storage capacity to 32+32+256 = 320GB! On top of that, Asus throws in 8GB of free online storage, “for life”.
If you think about the fact that competitors, like Apple, have built a fortune for up-selling flash memory ($100 premium from 16GB to 32GB, and $200 premium from 16GB to 64GB), this is a huge added-value for the end-user. A branded 32GB microSD costs about $23 on Amazon, so this means that you can get a 64GB Transformer Pad for $422. Compare that with a $700 bill for a new iPad 64GB (WIFI), and you will quickly realize that the price difference this is no pocket-change.
IPS Display (very good)
The specifications for the Transformer Pad TF300 show that there is a difference between its IPS Display and the Transformer Prime (TF201) Super-IPS display: the maximum brightness of the TF201 display is 600nits, versus 350nits for the TF300. From where I stand, this could make a big difference when using the tablet outdoors, but other than that,the overall user experience with the TF300 is very similar to what I had with the Asus Transformer Prime. In fact, I even find this TF300 unit to have a slightly better contrast than the TF201. Unless you plan to use the tablet outdoors, or in a very bright environment, I don’t think that you should worry too much about the brightness difference.
Killer Apps (very good)
Keyboard: The Asus Transformer comes with two virtual keyboards. The first is the Android stock keyboard, which is just like any other Android 3.x tablet. The second one is from ASUS and mimics the layout of the dock keyboard. It is completely functional and I really like the fact that it has more keys visible at once, however it may take time to get used to it.
At the moment, I prefer the Android keyboard, and I may try adapting to the ASUS keyboard but right now, the key positioning induces too many typos. I also have the keyboard dock, so I tend to use it as soon as some serious typing is required. Also with Android 4.0, key response time has been improved, and it’s great because it was one of those things that I complained about previously.
Skype (average): since we did our Transformer Prime review, Skype now works with video out, and overall, the experience is good enough, even if the application could use some improvements. First of all, it is quite slow and could be more responsive. This is true for Skype “mobile” in general, not only the Android version.
Also, we can’t get the incoming video in full-screen, which is a bit frustrating, given that the display is nice. Frankly, Skype could have done a simple magnification, even if the image is a bit blurry. On the other hand, the audio quality is pretty good, and comparable to a computer.
Email: without the keyboard dock, the email experience is very similar to other Android tablets. The support for Microsoft Exchange, GMail and POP email is good, so even professionals can use it (check with your IT department). With the keyboard dock, the email experience goes to a new dimension. Now it is possible to work for a longer period of time, and type faster in general. If your life revolves around sending emails, you should seriously look at the dock.
Office docs: as a pre-loaded option to deal with Microsoft Office documents, Polaris Office comes with the Transformer Pad TF300. It can open a number of MS Office documents, but let me set the expectations: this is not a replacement for MS Office – not by a very long shot. I was able to consistently crash the app with a simple 50KB Word document, and I found simple spreadsheets and even Powerpoints to be quite slow. In short, it may technically “work”, but don’t expect to be productive with it. You may find a better substitute, but as far as we know, there are not silver bullets to replace MS-Office, and that’s probably why Windows 8 is so exciting for Office users.
Web browsing: The web browsing experience is comparable with other Android tablets, and I did not notice any particular gains in speed. Actually, The Asus Transformer Pad TF300 was on-par with the Sony S tablet, and slightly slower than the iPad 2 in terms of page load speed. The difference be as high as 2 or 3 seconds depending on the page. It didn’t bother me, but one may have expected the Asus Transformer Prime to come out on top, because this may be seen as “performance-related”.
Facebook (slow): Facebook upgrades its app so often, that they typically change from one review to the next. This time, I am not impressed with the current version of Facebook for Android Tablets. For example, the background image in my profile page wouldn’t display properly, and more importantly, the Facebook app was quite slow… to the point that I’m ready to use the website instead. The iOS app doesn’t have the same “features” yet, but hopefully, the implementation will be better.
Maps+GPS: As you may know, many Asus Transformer Prime users had experienced GPS issues, so I took the TF300 for a spin, and used my smartphone as a WIFI Hotspot. It worked without any issues: the GPS of the tablet was able to poinpoint my location, and I was able to download the map tiles over the hotspot with Google Maps. As I was driving, the dot was properly moving accordingly. Phew.
Supernote: We have briefly tried the Supernote application, using fingers. We guess that it will be possible to buy a compatible stylus if you want to. Unlike the S Memo app in the Galaxy Note, there is no handwriting recognition integrated (or we did not find it), however, you can easily switch from the pen (scribble) to the keyboard in one click.
Just like in the Galaxy Note, it is easy to insert pictures, either by shooting them with the camera or selecting from the gallery, and you can include videos, drawings (from paintbook), audio recording, or other image or text files (but no map – S Memo allows it). In the settings, there is a “scrible recognition speed” feature, which may look like the speed of the handwriting recognition, but I could not find it anywhere.
If you want to create a drawing, you need to select “Paintbook” instead of “Notebook” when you create a new set of pages. In the Paintbook page you have access to more drawing features such as different brushes and more color options than in the Notebook page, and the keyboard is not available there. Although the number of brushes and geometric shapes you can draw with is more important in the Asus Supernote, the size and color choices you have for each of them is more limited than in the Galaxy Note S Memo app.
We find it annoying to have a separation between notes (Notebook) and drawings (Paintbook), especially as you cannot insert videos and audio recordings when you are in a drawing. You have to insert a drawing in your Notes to be able to insert a video on top of it… I have no idea why Asus made this so complicated since they could have just integrated all the features in one place.
Books: no problem there. There is a large choice of eBook apps and providers. The easy way is to use the android market, but I personally like Amazon’s Kindle as it is neutral in the operating system war raging in the mobile world. The experience is good, and clearly the ASUS Transformer TF300 is probably a bit of an overkill for reading books anyway.
Video: The ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 hardware should not have any problem handling MPEG-4 / H.264 videos, even at very high bitrate (40-60Mbps). I don’t have any 1080p file that would go anywhere near 20Mbps, so it’s a bit hard to test this one, but the 1080p files that I had on hand worked without a hitch.
I also tried to connect the Transformer TF300 to a 55″ TV via HDMI and if your video file is good enough, it looks impeccable. This wasn’t even a “high profile” 1080p video and it looked very nice. Check this out:
Normally, the TF300 should be able to use the same CODECs than the TF201. Here they are:
Decode: H.264 1080p30/60i (HP @ 40Mbps), VC1-AP 1080p30, MPEG2 1080p30/60i, MPEG4 1080p/30, DivX 4/5/6 1080p30, XviD HT 1080p30, H.263 4CIF/30, Theora, VP8 720p30.
Encode: H.264 1080p30 (Baseline), MPEG4 720p30 (Simple), H.263 4CIF/30, VP8
Video Teleconference: H.264, MPEG4, H.263, VP8
Speaker (excellent): Asus has made some changes in the speaker system. The TF300 features a visible speaker at the back of the tablet. It is actually better than the Transformer Prime’s and provides a noticeably louder sound, with more “volume” to it. It’s pretty impressive for a device that is 20% less expensive.
Gaming (very good)
In terms of gaming, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 is one of the best option on Android. It is basically as good the the Transformer Prime, and if you take into account that ASUS and NVIDIA made sure that a number of high-profile games run with a gamepad (Logitech, Xbox, PS3…), it can pretend to offer very decent gaming outside, but also inside. Although I would not call it a console-replacement, the graphics quality of some games is high enough to make them good plays on a big TV.
Photography / Video
The Asus Transformer Pad photo quality is among the best in the “tablet camera” market. We have tested it against the iPad 3 and the Transformer Prime: it does a slightly better job in terms of exposure than the iPad 3, and delivers more realistic colors than the Transformer Prime which has too much red.
On a sunny day, the iPad 3 delivers over-exposed photos that have the only advantage of providing more details in the parts of the images that were in the shade (see example). The Transformer Pad snaps very well contrasted photos shot in similar conditions, we do not get as much detailed in the shade, but the general result looks better. I comparison, the pictures shot with the transformer Prime are too red.
When I looked carefully at the details, I noticed that some parts in the background are slightly more blurry in the Transformer Pad photo than the one taken with the iPad 3, although the resolution is higher (8 MP for the Pad).
Overall the Transformer Pad camera is very good, especially knowing that the device is so much cheaper than the iPad 3. The only downside is the lack of LED flash, I wonder why Asus decided to skip it, it might not be that expensive compared to the cost of the sensor.
The Transformer Pad video quality is also great and it is comparable to the iPad Gen3. The video does not look as fluid as it should, it was a little windy where I was standing and I had a hard time to hold the tablet still enough. You can check all the pictures in original size (8 MP for the Pad and the Prime and 5 MP for the iPad 3) in our Flickr account.
System performance (excellent)
The Transformer Pad TF300 comes with a Tegra 3 system on a chip (SoC) that is cadenced at 1.2GHz. That’s 100MHz less than the Transformer Prime (TF201), but the TF300 is equipped with new DDR3L memory that could make up for some of the performance difference. i have also noticed that the Antutu benchmark has detected that the Tegra 3 SoC runs at 1.5GHz, so there’s a possibility that the frequency is variable, and I will have to check this with NVIDIA. Let’s go over the numbers, and I’ll comment:
Nenamark 2 graphics test: Nenamark 2 basically shows that on Android, the Tegra 3 chip does provide a significant advantage when compared to other players on the market, including NVIDIA’s own Tegra 2. Recently, the iPad Gen 3 scored remarkable numbers, but I have yet to test an Android tablet that uses the same PowerVR GPU than the iPad Gen 3. This time will eventually come, I’m sure. When reading the numbers, keep in mind that “Megapixel per second” abstracts the screen resolution.
Antutu shows an overall system performance score that falls within what we would expect by reading the specifications. The Transformer Pad TF300 is just a hair slower than the Asus Transformer Prime, mainly due to the lower SoC frequency.
Geekbench 2 is a more CPU-centric benchmark that demonstrates the impact of DDR3 on this system. Despite the lower frequency, it manages to score higher than the 1.3GHz Tegra 2 connected to DDR2 memory. Also, Geekbench is a multi-core benchmark, so the quad-core nature of Tegra 3 gives it an easy win over dual-core CPU SoCs such as the Apple A5, and A5X.
Of course, beyond the synthetic benchmarks, what’s more important is the “perceived” performance. As such, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 is one of the best Android tablet on the market, and the only “real” competitor that I have seen to date is Asus’ own TF201, aka Transformer Prime.
According to Asus, the Transformer Pad TF300 gets slightly better battery life than the TF201 (9.5hrs, vs 9hrs). This is probably due to the slightly lower SoC frequency, and that’s inline with what we’re seeing on the ground.
If you use the dock, that’s a slightly different story. The TF300 keyboard dock is supposed to push the battery life to 15 hours, while the TF201 keyboard dock should push the battery life to 18 hours.
With this new product, Asus is pushing the power of a high-end tablet lower into mainstream territory. In terms of functionality, it is very fair to think of the Transformer Pad TF300 as a $400 Transformer Prime. This doesn’t mean that the TF300 feels “cheap” at all. It doesn’t, and I would say that if you don’t care much more the “luxury” aspect of aluminum and ultra-thin design, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 will perform just like a Transformer Prime, and that includes the great user storage possibilities.
In fact, I would recommend Asus to throw in $25 to ship a 64GB Transformer Pad TF300 for $424. That’s an extremely compelling argument if you think that the 64GB iPad Gen costs $700. If you want to download 4 or 5 movies for a long flight, this is a big deal.
Finally, this pricing allows users to get the full Tablet+Keyboard combo, practically at the price of most “naked” tablets in the $500 range. For anyone who considers using it as a “serious” (for work) computing platform, this is pretty much the deal in town. Just a few months ago, I didn’t think that I would associate an “excellent” rating with a $400 product, but to make a long story short, Asus did it again…
Thanks to Eliane Fiolet for testing the camera and many apps!
Obviously, we recommend reading the Asus Transformer Prime review, but also the iPad Review (Gen 3) as they both fall into the same category. If not, the good old iPad 2 is now sold for $399 (16GB+Wifi).