The latest release in the Transformer line of Asus tablets is a simple hybrid for simple needs. The TF103 delivers a full slate of features and a sturdy -- albeit outdated -- design with an optional keyboard. And in a big improvement over the previous model, the new Asus Zen user-interface has useful preloaded apps, free storage and media services, and plenty of customization options.
Yet, the Transformer Pad TF103's biggest selling point is its competitive $299 starting price -- $299 in the US, £240 in the UK and AU$429 in Australia. That's as low as it gets in the tablet-hybrid category; it's one of the most affordable Android tablets with a keyboard around. It cuts a few corners to get there, however. Its downfalls include a boring out-of-date and overwhelmingly plastic design and laggy trackpad.
Still, the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 remains a basic tablet-hybrid. Even with its unfashionable look, its many features, slick user interface, and cheap price tag make it an attractively affordable option for students, writers, and anyone who needs a keyboard one-the-go.
Editors' note: The Asus Transformer Pad TF103 and the cheaper Memo Pad 8 both use the Asus Zen user interface, so parts of these reviews may look the same.
The TF103 lives up to the Transformer Pad name by easily transitioning from a tablet to laptop-like device. As a standalone slate, its design is rather humdrum, with a soft and smooth matte finish on the back that provides little grip support. Manufacturers have been hopping on the thin-bezel bandwagon, but Asus ignores this trend and slaps on an unfashionably thick black frame around the Transformer Pad TF103's 10.1-inch screen.
The top edge of the Transformer Pad TF103 is home to the power button and microphone pinhole, with the microSD card slot, Micro-USB port and volume rocker on the left, and a solitary headphone jack on the right. The dual speakers can be found in the center of the left and right sides on the back of the tablet.
Asus made the Transformer Pad TF103 with a cost-effective plastic build. It's on the heavy side, weighing 1.2 pounds (544 grams), with most of the weight located in the tablet itself. Its girth is unfashionably thick too -- even more so with the dock attached.
The Transformer Pad TF103's design doesn't look like much of an upgrade from previous models, but the updated hinge on the dock is the most sturdy to date. Connecting and disconnecting the two is almost foolproof. When attached to the keyboard dock and closed, the Transformer Pad TF103 sports a clamshell-esque design that also slightly dates its aesthetic.
The plastic keys on the keyboard dock have a cheap feel to them and it's a little cramped to type on, but it beats typing on an onscreen keyboard. After a while, I soon got used to the smaller workspace. I can see how folks with larger hands might have more trouble adjusting to it though. The dock also offers the added bonus of a full USB port -- a rare sight on a tablet.
The Transformer Pad TF103 ships with Asus' new Zen user interface, which features a trendy flat design, a bevy of customization options, and many software goodies, like Asus' suite of apps.
The Asus apps help fine-tune your tablet to your needs and offer a few cool perks. The Splendid app allows you to calibrate the colors of the screen easily, the Power Saver app is a robust battery-saving feature, and the AudioWizard tool is essential for optimizing audio quality when listening to music or watching a movie.
If you're familiar with the Android OS, you will easily find your way around the Zen UI. If you're a little wet behind the ears, Asus offers a ton of tutorials to guide you through the getting-to-know-you process. I found the tutorial for the robust SuperNote app the most refreshingly useful -- it could give Samsung's Note line a run for its money if the Transformer came with a stylus instead of a keyboard.