It's impossible to review a tablet without addressing the 800lb elephant in the room that is Apple's iPad but, despite their dominance, that hasn't stopped manufacturers like Asus and Samsung from trying to prise open Apple's vice-like grip on the market. The likes of Samsung's 7” and 10” Galaxy tablets and the Asus Transformer series of tablets have given the tablet fan a much wider choice, especially for those that find the iPad’s iOS not to their liking. Although, if you are interested in an alternative to the iPad you might want to be quick because, every day it seems, Apple file yet another law suit against one of the companies daring to compete with them!
The iPad’s competitors mainly offer the Android operating system of which the latest is the amusingly named ‘Jelly Bean’, which was launched in June. Fans of the Android OS are keen to point out its customisability compared to the comparatively more rigid iOS. This is illustrated by figures that show 39% of all tablet sales in the last quarter of 2011 were Android devices. So whilst Apple is still the biggest player in the market, the competition is growing and if you want an Android device, or you just don't like Apple, you are no longer limited to third-rate iPad knock-offs.
Asus’ latest release, in their tablet range, is the Transformer Pad TF300T, which is priced £100 lower than the Transformer Prime (that sounds familiar) but offers similar specifications to its higher priced stable-mate. Could this be the device to finally take a bite out of Apple's sizeable market share? As the name implies, the Transformer comes with a keyboard dock which transforms the tablet into a sort of notebook and includes Android's 'Ice Cream Sandwich' 4.0 OS. It also sports a 10.1” IPS screen, Quad Core processor and 32GB storage but does all this specification warrant the £399 price tag and is it a purchase worthy of your consideration?
Design and Build Quality
Our Transformer Pad TF300T review sample had a black plastic shell, although it's also available in red, white and blue. Whilst this isn't as impressive as the aluminium shell on the Transformer Prime TF201, it still looked attractive with its concentric circle style design to the rear and was comfortable to hold. The tablet has a proper 16:9 ratio screen, which is something we definitely prefer over the 14:9 iPad. A good sized black bezel surrounds the frame, so even those with the chunkiest of fingers shouldn’t encroach on the screen area. It feels reasonably well built and the few buttons it does have are firm and robust to operate. The rear does appear to have a certain amount of flexing, however, almost as if they made the shell slightly too big for the internal components. The Transformer Pad weighs in at 642g, which makes it a tad lighter than the New iPad, at 650g. However, the keyboard dock adds 379g to the total weight, although we doubt you will find this a problem when it's attached.
Features and Specification
The tablet features Nvidia’s Quad Core Tegra 3 processor which claims to offer 30% better graphics performance than the Tegra 2 processor and 1GB RAM, along with 32GB of storage. According to Asus, a 16GB version is also available, although it doesn’t appear to be as widely sold as the 32GB model. A few of the free Tegra enabled games that we downloaded were very good and whilst we can’t comment on how much better it is over the Tegra 2, the games certainly looked impressive and ran without issue.
During general use we did suffer occasional freezes but loading times did not appear vastly different, compared to the New iPad. For example, from home screen to fully loading the AVForums website it took 11 seconds compared to 8 seconds on the New iPad. Conversely, Angry Birds took just 9.6 seconds to get to the start menu, compared to 11.5 seconds on the New iPad. You certainly won’t be disappointed with the speed of the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor.
You get an 8 mega pixel rear auto focus camera with an F/2.2 aperture and a 5 element lens along with a 1.2 mega pixel front camera. Unlike the more expensive TF201 Transformer Prime, the TF300T has no flash capability and we found the camera really struggled in low light conditions so if taking photographs is a major consideration, you’ll need appropriately generous lighting to take any good ones.
The Wi-Fi is 802.11 b/g/n @ 2.4 GHz and a side by side test with the New iPad on the Speedtest.net app showed a download speed of 20.59Mbps on the TF300T compared to 21.20Mbps on the iPad. These speedtest apps are notoriously unreliable but downloading of programs such as the free 1GB Dark Meadow game was as fast we were expecting on our broadband connection. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how the walls in my house are obviously made of some Wi-Fi signal sucking material but, despite this, when moving away from the router the signal remained strong and no different from my other Wi-Fi devices. Unfortunately it does not offer any kind of 3G capability, so we’re afraid you are restricted to the availability of a wireless network.
The 10.1” IPS panel in the TF300T offers 1280 x 800 resolution and 10 finger multi touch support. Whilst not the Super IPS screen found on the Transformer Prime it still offers 1080P playback. However, the display was rather dark for our liking and had to be set to full brightness to get it to an acceptable level. We would rate the display quality somewhere between the iPad2 and New iPad. It’s not quite up to the quality of the New iPad’s Retina Display but then it is £80 cheaper than the equivalent 32GB iPad. The useable screen size is 208mm x 135mm and the display features 10 finger multi-touch support; so if you can fit all ten of your greasy fingers on the display, there are apps for you!
The photo above shows an identical page of a well-known website, with the TF300T on the left and the New iPad on the right. You can see the more widescreen format of the TF300T and the white screen colour compared to the New iPad. The default font is also different but, to our eyes, the differences in the quality of the image were not huge and we were impressed with the quality of text for browsing.
Home Screen, Interface and Pre-installed Apps
The TF300T comes with the Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' OS and although the new Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' OS has recently been released, it has yet to roll out to most devices. The home screen, as shown in the picture below, presents you with a row of program icons along the bottom of each page, which can be positioned anywhere you like. Along the very bottom left you have the home screen button, a button for the current apps you have open and a back button. The bottom right shows you any apps currently updating, the time, your battery life and any Wi-Fi information. From the lock screen you can go straight to the camera or to the home screen.
Since I haven't used any devices with Android on before, I can't comment on the previous versions and improvements, but what strikes me immediately is the ease of updating. Once you have said yes to automatic updates, any apps you have will update themselves automatically. I much prefer this approach compared to the iPad, where you have to go into the app store and then enter your password every time an app gets an update. This also applies to free apps, where a click on the accept button will download and install the app straight away without having to enter a password.
One of the major reasons that people favour devices with the Android operating system is the customisability of it. You can create folders by dragging apps or shortcuts onto each other and you can also have interactive widgets on the home page to give live information on emails and social media, for example. There are also a vast array of apps you can download from the Google Play Store, allowing you to customise the tablet to pretty much whatever you desire. I found the app selection to be very similar to the range available on the iPad but most appear to be priced rather more reasonably than their Apple equivalents. Some are even free, such as Angry Birds, although you do have to suffer adverts to get this popular app gratis. Along with the Google Play Store you also have the Nvidia Tegra Zone where you can directly buy games that are optimised for the Tegra3 Quad Core CPU, although these are also all available from the Play Store. Bizarrely, some of the games I located in both stores, were slightly more expensive at the Tegra Zone, even if only by a few pence.
The TF300T comes pre-installed with the usual apps such as a browser, a camera and YouTube; there's also Gmail, Music player, Google Maps and a book reader. In addition, you get a very useful app called Polaris Office, which allows you to create, edit and view Word, Excel and Powerpoint compatible documents on the go. Similar to Apple’s iCloud, the TF300T includes MyCloud which offers 8GB of free Cloud storage. Finally, it's worth mentioning that exclusive to this device is SuperNote, on which you can scribble, draw and type quick notes in various colours. It can be useful if you have an urgent note to take down and find it easier to scribble it rather than type it out. All these apps are found along the bottom bar, but can be moved anywhere on the screen or into folders if you are so inclined.
What sets the TF300T apart from the majority of its competition and, in our opinion, gives it an edge is the keyboard dock. You get a full Qwerty keyboard with mouse pad and plenty of shortcut keys for various programs such as the system settings, browser and even a handy screenshot button. Once the dock is connected a mouse will appear for access to the programs, but you can still use the touch screen if you wish. You also get left and right mouse button functionality although the right section of the mouse button acts as the back button. Using two fingers at once on the touch pad allows you to scroll left/right and up/down. We found this a bit fiddly as it would keep launching programs as we were scrolling through the pages on the home screen, so make sure you have both fingers firmly on the touch pad. It's also very easy to accidentally use the touch pad when you are typing, so care needs to be taken when using the keyboard.
The keyboard dock also gives you a 2.0 USB port and an SD card slot. We’d have preferred if Asus had added some speakers to it but we realise size constraints are an issue here. I would also have liked to see a button to awaken the TF300T from its slumber; the power button on the tablet itself isn’t far from reach but it would have been nice to have a dedicated button on the keyboard as well. Another great feature is that the USB port will also power and allow you to use an external HDD. We connected a 500GB backup drive and in the file manager we were able to access all of our files - this isn't something we knew a tablet could do, so we're very impressed with this feature.
The dock worked well during testing and is a great feature that turns what would otherwise be just a tablet into a sort of pseudo notebook. We did find it slightly uncomfortable for long periods, due to its size, but for typing emails and documents it does give the TF300T an edge over the standard tablets. Another slight negative is that with the keyboard dock attached, the balance is off and unless you have it on a flat hard surface it will tip backwards. Presumably this is due to trying to keep the overall weight low but perhaps slightly more weight to the very front of the keyboard dock would have solved this minor issue.
The tablet has a 22Wh Li-Polymer battery with gives a claimed battery time of 10 hours. Whilst this is a slightly lower specification than the 25Wh battery in the more expensive Transformer Prime, this does mean a much faster charge to 100% and it took around 4-5 hours to get to full from dead flat. During testing with a 100% full charge, after 8 hours overnight it had dropped to 96% and after 1 hour playing on one of the Nvidia Tegra enhanced games it had dropped down to 72%. The claimed battery lives are always optimistic and normally are based on using it with a low screen brightness and light web browsing but we'd be quite happy to get over 3 hours of gaming on a tablet device.
A key feature of the TF300T is that the dock also has a battery. It has a 16.5Wh Li-Polymer number that adds 5 hours claimed battery life to the 10 hours of the tablet alone. It also has a very nifty feature of allowing the dock to charge the tablet. Should you be away from a power source for an extended period, with both devices fully charged, once the tablet gets low you can attach the keyboard dock and recharge the tablet’s battery to give a few extra hours use, meaning you won’t miss that life or death Facebook friend application or that important tweet!
By the very nature of tablets, they are never going to win awards for sound quality and the TF300T is no exception. Speakers always appears to be an afterthought, added to a tablet once the main design is complete, resulting in the designers having to squeeze in the smallest speaker they can get away with. It's likely that the manufacturers assume most people use a tablet with headphones, so why go the extra mile on speakers. The speaker in this Asus tablet is apparently ‘high quality’ and to be fair it didn’t sound that bad. Like most tablets we’d recommend headphones if you want to get the best out of the TF300T but, aside from a slightly tinnier sound than we would have liked, it actually performed quite well. Although given the widescreen shape of the tablet we would prefer to see a proper left and right speaker configuration, rather than a single speaker.
As with the iPad and its App Store, there are also plenty of apps available from the Google Play store and the following apps are of particular relevance to your home cinema and media centre. First of all there is ‘Mobile Mouse’ which turns the TF300T into a wireless remote and mouse for your PC.
There are also free Apps from most of the major manufacturers, such as Samsung’s imaginatively titled ‘Samsung Remote’, which allows you to control their TVs and BD players with your tablet. Another example is LG's similar ‘LG TV Remote’, as well as several by Logitech for controlling a number of their devices such as the Squeezebox. Unlike Apple’s app store, where some remote control apps incur a fee, the Google Play store offers a number of such apps for free. So if you've recently purchased an amplifier or receiver there are apps such as the ‘Onkyo Remote’ for controlling the features of an Onkyo receiver or the ‘AVR-Remote for Denon/Marantz’, which does the same on Denon and Marantz AV receivers.
Coming from an iPad user background I was impressed by the large number of apps available on an Android device. I was particularly impressed that a lot more seemed to be free or cheaper than their Apple equivalents. You can even get an Android app to remotely control iTunes, although why you would want the restrictive iTunes when you don’t have an Apple device is another matter entirely. There are also interesting apps for purchase, such as the £5.64 ‘Splashtop Remote Desktop HD’ which its makers claim to be the only remote desktop app that streams the whole PC or Mac screen to the tablet with smooth high-res video and audio. A particularly useful addition if you want to get that new game you have just bought on sale from Steam downloaded and installed before you get home from work.
It is worth mentioning that when it comes to storage the TF300T is stated at 32GB, which gives you a useable space of 27.15GB. This should be more than enough for music, videos, games and even a couple of HD movies. Via the settings you can even see what apps are taking up the most space. Unlike the iPad, you do get a micro-HDMI slot for connecting to a display but unfortunately you don’t get an adaptor or cable included so we were unable to test how this fared. Should you be considering this device we would recommend just getting a micro HDMI to HDMI adaptor and use an existing HDMI cable (if you have one) rather than spending more on a HDMI cable with a micro HDMI connector.
- Nvidia Tegra3 1.2Ghz processor
- 8MP rear camera
- Latest Android 4.0 OS
- Highly configurable
- Keyboard dock
- Vast range of apps
- Easy to use
- Will work with External HDD
- Much cheaper than the iPad
- Not the brightest of screens
- Average speakers
- Unbalanced when used with dock
- No 3G
Asus Transformer Pad TF300T Review
With the iPad always beating at the door of its competitors (occasionally with torches and pitchforks), they have to offer something different or unique that can tempt customers away from Apple's monster, whilst keeping the standards high across the rest of the device. Many have tried by picking - or indeed, in some cases copying - a few key features but often failed because they were lacking in other departments such as a poor touchscreen or low powered processor.
Asus have really done their homework with this device and tried to cover all the bases and more, with a tablet that includes 32GB of storage, a speedy Nvidia Tegra 3 1.2Ghz processor, 1GB of memory and a 8 mega pixel camera, all for the same price as the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad. They also offer something different in the form of the keyboard dock that comes with their Transformer range. It gives you the best of both worlds, being both a tablet and notebook computer whilst offering a great deal of functionality as well. With a USB port, SD card slot and mini HDMI port, all of which are noticeably lacking on the iPad, the TF300T gives you a device that offers plenty of functionality but also ultimately delivers in terms of performance.
With its sleek looks, stylish concentric circle rear panel combined with the well-presented keyboard dock and the impressive Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ OS, the Asus Transformer has certainly left us impressed. The latest Android OS offers excellent customisability and really looks the part. There’s a huge range of apps, although it would be nice if developers would release more tablet specific apps. The Nvidia Tegra 3 1.2Ghz processor performs well and easily runs the likes of Google Maps, for example. For the gamer there are some very cool looking games such as the free Dark Meadow and Heroes Call THD, both of which run smoothly and show just how good gaming on a tablet can be.
At a £399 price point (available for slightly less if you shop around) it places the TF300T squarely in competition with the iPad market and offers a much better alternative than its bigger brother, the Transformer Prime TF201T, which is £100 more expensive. Yes it doesn’t have the refinements of the iPad, or those Apple features that you didn't realise you wanted but now can’t seem to live without, but, out-of-the-box, the iPad doesn't offer USB functionality, a SD card slot or even HDMI connectivity.
The TF300T is not without its faults. The IPS screen, at default, is very dim and we had to immediately raise the brightness to full beam when we first started using it; presumably this is part of the cost savings compared to the TF201T that had a Super IPS panel. The build quality is very good, although the back panel does depress slightly and you can’t really use it on your lap or a soft surface with the keyboard dock attached, as it is unbalanced and will topple over onto its back. As with most tablets the audio quality is very limited but good enough, although headphones are recommended if you want to hear it at its best. There is also no 3G option, so if you are not near a Wi-Fi connection and want to fully utilise it, this may be an issue.
Ultimately, as a current iPad user, the most positive comment I can make about the Asus Transformer Pad is that if tomorrow someone swapped it for my iPad, I wouldn’t really be too aggrieved. I am therefore happy to award the AV Forums Recommended Badge, as I feel Asus have released a device well worthy of your consideration.
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