Review: Asus Transformer Pad TF300
The Asus Transformer Pad 300 is a lot of fun, to say the least. It’s one of those niche devices that is neither this nor that – in this case it’s not quite a laptop, but it’s not just a tablet either. Much like the relatively new phablet (phone + tablet) scene. In this sense it’s a little limited by its very own design: it can’t be all that a laptop can be, although it most certainly can be a tablet. But if you want just a tablet, you can get the even newer and Jelly Bean-wielding Google Nexus 7 at a much cheaper price. So it really comes down to what you want from your device. However I think Asus have done a very good job with this one – at times, the Transformer Pad 300 gave the impression of a convincing laptop.
|High-resolution camera||Keyboard and trackpad takes some getting used to|
|Very fast||Virtual keyboard is essentially unusable/redundant|
|Helpful keyboard shortcuts||Still a little buggy|
|Comes with free cloud storage||Some physical hardware feels flimsy|
|Impressive battery life|
WHAT WE LIKED
Clearly the main feature to address is the keyboard – this is what sets it apart from other devices. While you can get keyboards for most of your tablets, they’re usually third-party and aren’t as tailored to the laptop. What we really enjoyed about this particular device is that it’s designed by Asus, with the tablet in mind – it’s a seamless addition. In fact, I don’t think I could even consider the tablet without the keyboard. What was really appreciated were the keyboard shortcuts – it makes navigating the device very easy and enjoyable.
You have shortcuts to activate/deactivate bluetooth and WiFi, a back button, a launch browser button, screenshot, shortcut to settings and even a homescreen button. They’re all very useful, and definitely made using the device a lot easier. The keyboard too, was phenomenal. They really peaked with this rendition. Having used the Transformer Prime for about a week, and personally owning an Eee Pad Transformer TF101, I can confidently say that this is their best keyboard yet.
The 1GB of RAM and Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC, at times, really turn this charming and elegant device into a raging bull. I was astonished at how quickly apps were both downloaded and installed. Navigating the homescreen, folders and switching between apps was a delight. Coming back to my TF101 leaves me greatly disappointed indeed. Everything felt almost instantaneous on the Transformer Pad 300, and this greatly boosted incentive to use WebStorage – Asus’ cloud server. With the tablet comes 8GB of free storage – 3GB more than what Google offer with Google Drive. Uploading and downloading to and from the server yielded virtually no downtime with the tablet’s killer processing power. It’s this sheer power that made it seem a convincing laptop. This was most evident while using Google Chrome with the keyboard. Chrome, while being a mobile app, feels very much a desktop program – probably the use of tabs. Coupled with the sleek keyboard and great CPU, I felt like I was using a high-end laptop – it was so quick!
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE
No device is without ill-defining features, and the Transformer Pad 300 is no exception. While the keyboard and trackpad were very good indeed, it did take some time to get used to. Initially, I really disliked the trackpad – the material was rough and difficult to scroll with. I felt like I had to drag the cursor around the screen. I much preferred the Transformer Prime’s metal trackpad, without the physical button present on the TF300 and TF101. This physical button also really irks me – especially on the Pad 300. It’s incongruous with the overall design of the tablet – it’s a big, chunky plastic button that makes a loud hollow crack when pressed. It’s not very appealing, and it seems to detract from the rest of the tablet’s physical achievements.
While Asus seem to have cleared up a lot of the buggy firmware issues found in other Transformer models, it’s still a little present on the Transformer Pad 300. I was very impressed by how much they cleaned up the overlay, until about 5 minute before I was finished with it – I received a dialog box error saying “Unfortunately system UI has stopped”… and it proceeded to do so. I lost the task bar for about 5 minutes as well as the wallpaper. It seemed to fix itself up pretty quickly though, so it’s no major problem. However, while I was testing the video quality of the graphics processor I noticed the time on the task bar clock had frozen – I’m assuming around the same time that the UI stopped:
While the CPU was indeed marvelous, and the 1GB of RAM ensured a smooth ride, at times the OS felt a little jerky. Changing pages on the home-screen didn’t feel as smooth as it does on the Transformer Prime – I was a little let down with that, although I probably wouldn’t have noticed it had I not used the Transformer Prime earlier that week. One of the big let-downs with the Transformer models is the charger, strangely enough. It’s not such a good quality charger, I found myself many a time having to manually fix it. A couple times it stopped working; I did a quick Google search and discovered that it’s usually the displacement of two physical wires that causes the charger to malfunction, and a quick tamper with them will usually fix it… But that’s not something I would want to rely upon in any product. It feels incomplete and low-quality.
The design of the tablet (docked and un-docked) is very professional. Initially I didn’t think very highly of the Royal Blue colouring, but it grew on me very quickly, and I much prefer it to the metallic finish of the Transfomer Prime. On its own, the tablet is surprisingly slim – just under 10mm. The rounded screen edges, and the back-curvature make it a really attractive looking tablet. When docked, it really feels like a laptop. In fact, a few friends were startled to see the that it could be undocked – they assumed it to be a laptop!
The keyboard is really a pleasure too. The keys are soft and low, easy to type quick with. The keyboard is compact, but I didn’t find that I was stumbling over keys at all. Comparing the screens of the TF101 and 300 side-by-side, I found that the TF300 produced a much nicer and more varied colour - the TF101 seems to have a bit of a blue hue. Compared with the Prime, the TF300 is a little lacking. The Prime’s screen provides a greater depth, and a more vivid colour. But that’s not unsurprising given the price difference between the two. When docked, the TF300 is also slightly smaller than the Prime, as well as heavier, coming in at 635 grams.The Asus software overlay is really nice too. Some of the wallpapers are really beautiful, and the task-bar at the bottom gives off the impression of a functioning laptop when docked and a distinctively Android tablet when un-docked. The tablet comes with a variety of widgets and some of the Asus ones are really helpful. There’s a nice Task Manager widget as well as a good battery-life widget, and an Asus WebStorage widget which lets you quickly upload a variety of different media.
USABILITY AND SOCIAL FRIENDLINESS
The Asus overlay is nice and simple – it’s not excessive, like some other manufacturer’s. We really appreciated this, because it made for a faster-running device without a steep learning-curve. A couple hours on the TF300 and you’ll feel right at home. This is great, because there are heaps of ways to customize your device – and a lot of this is simply drag and drop. Want an app on your homescreen? Just long-press it in your app menu. Want to uninstall, or look at information about that app?… Just long-press it in your app menu! It’s so simple, but it makes the device very versatile – nothing is rigid, you can change your home-screen to tailor your needs whenever you want. The app menu is really nice and simple too – flipping through pages takes you to widgets once you’ve looked at all your apps. There’s also a really handy link to the Play Store within this menu. I did feel as though the TF300 was lacking in the social area. The apps and widgets available to interact with social networking and social media aren’t very involving. But because that doesn’t seem to be the primary purpose of the TF300, I feel as though the overall achievements of the device are not detracted from.
- Camera: The TF300′s camera is really nice indeed. It’s an auto-focus camera with some neat tricks, one that stood out the most was the ability to change the focal point of the image. Just tap anywhere on the screen and that becomes the focal point, it’s very cool. Check out the image gallery for an example of this.
- TegraZone: TegraZone is Nvidia’s Play Store essentially – it’s a big listing of games and apps that take full advantage of the device’s superb SoC (System on a Chip). It’s good fun if you really want to push the device to its limits.
- My Net: My Net is a networking app essentially – it lets you view other media devices on your network and interact with them: playing music or videos from or to your tablet. It’s a nice addition, however I didn’t use it very much. On reflection maybe I should have…
- Docking/Undocking: The few times that I did want to use the TF300 as a tablet, I felt as though I was being punished for it. Un-docking was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve yet to undertake - you really have to pull the device out (Note: there is an unlock button, and yes it was held firmly each time). I thought perhaps this rigidity would pass with time, but it did not. It became really aggravating, as each time I tried to un-dock the tablet, I’d forget to lock the screen – all sorts of home-screen mischief would occur.
- Function Keys: On the keyboard there are 6 function buttons (in blue font), indicating alternate functions for specific keys. Two of these function buttons are used to activate the functions themselves: that’s 1/3 of the function buttons available. I take issue with this, because I feel it to be a waste of space on the keyboard: why not just have function-activation button? That allows for a bigger control button, or an elongated space-bar, or just an overall button size increase. It’s not mystery as to which button I’d remove: the one on the far right (see picture in gallery). Nobody has the hand-dexterity to both hold down that button and use the function keys to the immediate left.
- Camera: For all the cameras merits, it lacks the simple LED flash available in the Transformer Prime. It isn’t such a big issue, but it’s worth noting.
|Operating System||Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.x|
|Processor||NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A9|
|Screen||10.1″, 1280 x 800 resolution|
|Camera||8 MP camera, 1.2MP front facing camera|
|Storage||16GB internal, expandable microSD|
The Asus Transformer Pad 300 is a truly unique device. It’s perfect for those seeking a tablet with that little bit extra – it can most definitely be used as a substitute for a netbook, and maybe even a laptop, depending on what your expectations are of it. If you’re looking for a simple word processing and social networking device, perhaps even for some multi-media usage, then definitely consider the TF300. It’s cheaper than a lot of the really good laptops out there and is definitely a lot more fun to use. Especially with Google Chrome now out of Beta, this device feels like an appropriate mix between desktop and mobile. It runs ICS beautifully, with hardly any hiccups. Compared to the older TF101, it’s a great leap forward. However a comparison to the TF201 is a little difficult – they each have their own advantages on one another. If you were seriously comparing the two, it would probably come down to your available budget. Regardless, the TF300 is one of the nicest ICS-running devices I’ve used yet and I must admit I’m considering trading in my old TF101 for one!