Name: ASUS Transformer Pad 300 (TF300T)
Type: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £398.99 from Amazon
A fusion between the best parts of an Android tablet and a notebook, offering incredible value for money, is the ASUS Transformer Pad 300 the best Google powered tablet that money can buy? Read on to find out!
The big draw to the 10.1-inch ASUS Transformer Pad (AKA the TF300T) is the way it pairs up with a supplied keyboard dock. Offering the best bits of an Android 4.0 tablet and a keyboard-packing notebook, the two connect through a docking port in the keyboard’s hinge, clicking into place and easily separated with a the slide of a locking catch. With the tablet packing a powerful Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, it’s offering equivalent performance to ASUS’s premium Transformer Prime tablet, but shaving off £100 from the price to make it affordable at a few pennies shy of £400.
If it’s not lacking in performance, where then have the corners been cut? That would be in its build quality, though even then it’s only a marginal step down from what’s offered by the Prime. While the Prime tablet features a textured metal back, the Pad gets a lightweight, cheaper plastic covering, available in blue, white or red, depending on your preference. The screen too is a bit of a downgrade, using a 1280 x 800 IPS panel compared to the Prime’s Super IPS panel. While viewing angles are reasonable, it’s highly reflective, and lacking in the deep blacks of its bigger brother, not to mention the insane resolution’s offered by the new iPad’s Retina Display. And while there are ports for microSD and micro HDMI on the tablet itself, there’s no SIM slot, meaning you’ll be limited to Wi-Fi connectivity.
Even with these relative shortcomings, the Pad feels very close to the best Android tablets on offer, especially with that price tag. As well as the impressive specs under the hood, the keyboard really sets the Transformer Pad apart from the pack of also-rans in its price category. While it too flexes a little, with a plastic construction not quite a match for the Prime’s equivalent, it’s a generous addition to an already low-priced package. Typing away on the chiclet keyboard is comfortable enough, but the real surprise was the quality of the track pad; controlling Android with a pointer, it was responsive and smooth, and even supported multitouch gestures. There’s even a full-size USB 2.0 port and and full-size SD card reader on the side of the keyboard dock. Paired with the right productivity apps, you can get some serious work done here.
Another excellent feature of the dock is the way that it helps boost battery life. The tablet alone can already comfortably stream 7 hours of continuous HD footage, but pair it up with the dock and the battery life jumps to 15 hours, thanks to it housing its own power cell. The two devices charge and share juice intelligently too; when both are connected together and plugged into a wall socket, the Pad charges first. Once the Pad has run out of battery it’ll draw power from the keyboard dock, and if the dock needs juice and the tablet has some to spare, it’ll power both. It’s an intuitive system that means you can easily squeeze a few days out of the two with moderate use without ever needing to reach for the charger.
The tablet alone is reasonably svelte at 263 x 180.8 x 9.9 mm and 635g, while it’s still relatively compact when paired with the dock, measuring 263 x 180.8 x 19.4mm and with a weight of just 1181g. It’s just as portable as a small notebook, and carrying both components around with you wont feel like a chore.
Interface, Apps and Gaming
The ASUS Transformer Pad uses Android version 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s a versatile, highly customisable OS that’s going from strength to strength as Google tweak and update it. Whereas rivals like HTC and Samsung needlessly re-skin the OS for their tablets, ASUS have left things pretty much untouched from the stock Google offering aside from a few ASUS-branded widgets. Long-pressing on any of the five homescreens lets you add app shortcuts or live widgets, with your complete collection of apps and widgets a single tap away in the top right hand corner. A universal search, pulling in both web and locally stored content, is accessed by tapping the icon in the top left corner. The bottom right corner offers up system and notification information, such as remaining battery power, Wi-Fi signal strength and unread messages. With only volume and power buttons physically present on the slate, the right hand bottom corner has a software back-button, home key and multitasking “background apps stack” key.
Thanks to the powerful Nvidia processor and 1GB of RAM, swiping through the interface was smooth and responsive at all times. No matter how many intensive tasks we threw at the Pad, it was always ready for more.
With the Tegra 3 built for hardcore mobile gaming, you’d expect nothing more, and ASUS were keen to push the Pad’s gaming potential when it was first revealed at this year’s MWC conference. The Pad comes pre-installed with the Tegra Zone app portal, which highlights games that run particularly well with the tablet. Games like Diablo clone Heroes Call and Riptide GP ran like a dream, with little graphical flourishes that only the Tegra 3 could allow for.
For both games and general productivity apps, Android still lags a bit behind Apple’s iOS, but the Google Play App store is improving all the time. It’s here to browse to your hearts content, and recent revamp of the store makes finding quality content, movies and eBooks easier than its ever been.
As well as the Tegra Zone app, the Transformer Pad comes pre-installed with the standard Google Apps suite (Search, Messenger, Google+, Play Store, Maps, Local, Latitude, Navigation, Gmail, YouTube and Talk), as well as a selection of third-party apps. Both Supernote (which allows you to combine touchscreen doodles, photos, audio and typed text) and Polaris Office (letting you edit word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents) highlight the Pad’s superb productivity chops.
eBooks are handled by Google Books, Kindle, Press Reader and Zinio apps, between all of which is offered a wide selection of free and paid for books and magazine, with the widescreen display handling magazines and comic books particularly well. ASUS also offer their own web-storage solution through MyCloud, and DLNA sharing over MyNet. Both work well, but Google Drive and Dropbox are readily available, and likely a more useful offering for many than ASUS’s MyCloud.
Overall, it’s a sensible, generous selection of apps that highlight the tablet’s many strengths.
As previously stated, there’s no 3G connection on the Transformer Pad, so if you’re hoping to browse the web or stream content on the go, you’re out of luck unless you can find a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Ice Cream Sandwich’s stock web browser is a strong offering. Featuring tabbed browsing and multi-touch controls like pinch-to-zoom, load times are generally fast, with pages generated without any graphical or structural hiccups. Navigation with the supplied keyboard and track pad was excellent too, working in much the same way as browsing on a laptop would, along with multitouch controls too. Text is legible and clear, while the Tegra 3 processor meant that even demanding Flash video playback (missing on Apple’s iPad) was a smooth and enjoyable experience.
Despite this, we’d still recommend downloading the Ice Cream Sandwich-compatible Chrome browser app from the Google Play store. Syncing all your settings and bookmarks from the desktop version, it’s a more stable, slick way to browse with the tablet.
The revamped Google Play store makes getting media content onto your tablet easier than ever, but ASUS have also made transferring your own content onto the device incredibly simple. With transferring via USB or SD card with the keyboard docks ports, or using the charging/transfer cable with a desktop computer, a drag-and-drop interface makes it a far easier affair than using iTunes or other bespoke file management services. Why can’t it always be this simple, eh tablet manufactures?
Though its speakers are tinny, media playback with the Transformer pad was enjoyable. A long battery life meant that you could watch plenty of content without the restraints of a charger, with the widescreen format of the tablet well suited to movies and TV shows. Colours are a little muted, and blacks not as deep as we’d like, but all in it’s a good viewing experience.
Navigating your library of content by default is handled with either the Play Music or Gallery apps. Neither of these are ideal. Play Music is nice and visual, collecting your tracks into either a scrolling artwork view, or into categories like album, artists, songs, playlists or genres. Though there is a search option, you’ll potentially find it difficult to browse through all of your music at a glance, particularly if you make use of the copious storage on offer. Gallery is even worse, offering just a thumbnail of your chosen video with no further info alongside your captured photos, which makes browsing through a series of TV shows (which likely have the same opening credits) a real pain. We’d heartily recommend downloading one of the many third-party media managing apps instead here.
Still Camera and Video
There’s a superb 8MP camera on the ASUS Transformer Pad. Though taking photos on a tablet is never ideal, the f2.2 lens took sharp, naturally coloured photos, with manual settings for ISO levels (between ISO 800 and ISO 50), exposure and white balance, along with plenty of scene select options. There’s even a Panorama mode, often missing from Android tablet cameras.
1080p video capture can be recorded too, with SD footage captured if you choose to use the front-facing webcam. Again, it was sharp and judder-free, though the built in mic wasn’t the best at picking up clean audio. A basic video-editing app comes pre-installed, should you want to try your hand at being a tablet-based Kubrick.
The Transformer Pad has a few failings. It doesn’t have a 3G connection, making mobile use a pain. It’s screen is very reflective, and lacks a little vibrancy. It’s also not quite a match for the build quality of its stablemate the Transformer Prime, nor rivals like the iPad. However, this is not a tablet to be sniffed at; immensely powerful under the hood, it fires through intensive 3D gaming apps with ease, comes packed with a superbly comfortable keyboard dock, and manages its battery life like a pro. It’s also incredible value for money, both in terms of its generous storage capacity and the quality of its in-the-box keyboard dock. It’s very easy to recommend, and will be particularly well suited for those hoping for both an entertainment and productivity device.
By Gerald Lynch | July 4th, 2012