Asus Transformer Pad TF300 review: Value tablet delivers a solid, but mixed, experience

This Android 4.0 tablet packs plenty of storage, but it makes a few sacrifices to achieve its value price.

The 10.1-inch Asus Transformer Pad TF300 aims to reshape the tablet market by delivering top-tier performance at a value price. It largely succeeds in this mission, delivering performance that's on a par with its pricier Transformer Prime sibling. However, the Transformer Pad had to make some compromises in components and display to achieve its goal. And more worrying than those compromises--which include a slightly heavier weight and different build materials than what's found on the premium Prime--were the frequent glitches I seemed to encounter, with no rhyme or reason, while using this Android 4.0 tablet.

Priced at $379 for 16GB of storage, and $399 for 32GB of storage, the Transformer Pad is the new value tablet in Asus' lineup. The Transformer Prime, which was released last December and was the first Tegra 3 tablet, remains at the top of the pyramid, for now; that model stars at $100 more than the Pad for the 32GB version. (Asus has already announced high-definition, 1920 by 1280 resolution 10.1-inch models, coming later this spring/summer season.)

Those prices also put Transformer Pad in direct competition with the 16GB Apple iPad 2, which is priced at $399. And if you're just interested in specs, the Transformer Pad has the advantages over the iPad 2 in spades, starting with the fact that you can get twice as much internal storage for the same price. Why anyone would consider spending just $20 less for the 16GB model is beyond me, though; for the cost of less than two movie tickets, you can double your storage capacity for your media and apps. The Transformer Pad's extra bang-for-your-buck resets the bar of expectation for other 10-inch class Android tablets, too, since no other tablet offers 32GB for $400.

Transformer Pad: What You Get

Given their shared heritage, it's only natural to wonder how the Transformer Pad stacks up to the Transformer Prime, which is currently our top pick among Android tablets (only Apple's third-generation iPad and iPad 2 rank higher). The answer is simple: They have a lot of shared DNA, but the two tablets are not identical.

Both run on Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor and come with 1GB of RAM; both offer 32GB of storage in addition to a microSD card slot; both have an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera (no flash on the Transformer Pad, unlike the Prime) and 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera; and both have a keyboard dock accessory that transforms the tablet into a compact, netbook-like clamshell. The Transformer Pad comes with Bluetooth 3.0, and it adds Wi-Fi Direct support so wireless devices can directly connect with one another.

Those similar processing specs--the Transformer Pad has a slightly slower clock speed, 1.2GHz to the Prime's 1.3GHz--powered the Transformer Pad to comparable performance results to the Transformer Prime. This means the Transformer Pad ranks among our top-performing tablets. We saw a few minor differences between the two in our testing, but nothing that should impact a buying decision. In a preliminary battery test, the Transformer Pad's battery lasted 7 hours 7 minutes, same as on the the Transformer Prime.

The displays are different, too. Both are 1280 by 800 resolution IPS panels, but the Prime has a Super IPS+ display with 600 nits brightness, while the Transformer Pad maxes out at 350 nits. That brightness edge makes the Prime better suited to those who need to use the tablet outside in sunlight.

I also noticed some other, subtle differences between the two tablets' displays. Neither tablet did better than average in our image testing suite, and the Transformer Pad actually bested the Prime at displaying an image of a Web site, and of an athlete's hand grips. Of the two, the Transformer Pad has a slightly larger air gap between the touchscreen glass and the LCD beneath; this created a slight bit more glare, but it wasn't as distracting as on some competing tablet models. Images overall didn't have as much contrast and detail as on the Prime, though the Prime's display also seemed to be too bright overall.

The Transformer Pad comes with stereo speakers (side-by-side in a single speaker outlet at the speaker back right of the tablet). I found the audio output passable, but unimpressive. Although both models have Asus' SonicMaster audio technology, the Transformer Pad lacks the Prime's sub-woofer--which would explain why I preferred the audio output by the Transformer Prime. I found audio on the Transformer Pad sounds thin and echoey by comparison.

Physical Design

The Transformer Pad measures 7.11 by 10.35 by 0.38 inches, and weighs 1.39 pounds. That makes it a shade thicker than the Prime (by 0.6-inch), and 0.11 pound heavier; and 0.5-pound lighter than the new iPad. I found the Transformer Pad size and weight to be an improvement over Asus' previous low-cost tablet, the Eee Pad Transformer TF101 (0.2-inch thicker, and 1.49 pounds). But the Transformer Pad is still heavy enough that I wouldn't suggest it for lengthy one-handed reading sessions.

Unlike the aluminum-clad Prime, the Transformer Pad tablet is made of plastic, with a concentric circle design at back. While I could feel a bit of give in the plastic back, it is still of a far superior design compared to the ample flex in the original Transformer TF101. I also liked the feel of the volume rocker and power buttons; I found them easier to press than those on the Transformer Prime.

The Transformer Pad comes in blue, white, and red. The blue version ships first, available this week, while the red and white versions will follow in June, according to Asus.

One of the big hooks of Asus's Transformer series is that the company's tablets can use the docking port to connect into the optional $149 Mobile Dock. The Mobile Dock, redesigned to match the Transformer Pad tablet, provides a highly portable option for productivity fiends to supplement their tablet with a keyboard, multi-touch trackpad, USB 2.0 port, and SD card slot, plus an additional battery, too. The dock adds another 1.2 pounds to the overall weight of the tablet, but it's still an appealing option if you crave the tactile feel only a physical keyboard can provide.

I really liked the design of the new Mobile Dock. The keys had a bit more flex than I'd like, though, with the keyboard dipping when I touch-typed my way through emails and documents. I did appreciate the dock's new touchpad design, which has an easy-to-press single mouse button. this dock laces (By comparison, the touchpad on the Prime is actually a clickpad pointing device with an easy-to-press single button, combining touchpad with mouse buttons in one.) Unfortunately, when connected though, the dock didn't always seem to work smoothly; the pointer often ended up moving easily without me having intended for it to have jumped location, an effect I had not experienced with other Asus tablet/dock combinations.

Asus outfits the Transformer Pad with a selection of pre-installed software and several welcome Android customizations, such as redesigned menu buttons, and a redesigned settings pop-up that brings frequently used settings to the forefront. Asus also provides its own software, like Asus WebStorage (with 8GB of free storage), MyLibrary ebook reader, MyNet (for streaming media from a PC to the tablet), and MyCloud (for wireless desktop access); and third-party software like Polaris Office 2.0 and SuperNote 1.5 for annotating and drawing.

While using the Transformer Pad, I did experience a few oddities and glitches. Occasionally, I saw a flicker in the display's edge, and had to do a cold reboot of the tablet to regain control of it. I also had apps freeze on me several times. The tablet ships with Android 4.0.3, and Asus says it'll release firmware update in the unspecified near future to support Hulu. Whether this update will fix the random wonkiness I experienced, though, remains to be seen.

In spite of the stability issues I encountered, the Asus Transformer Pad makes for a good, large-screen value Android tablet. The extra storage you'll get will come in handy, but you'll have to be willing to sacrifice niceties like a subwoofer, rear-camera flash, and super IPS display to go with this lower-cost model. If you like the idea of extra storage and saving some bucks, the Transformer Pad makes a good choice.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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