Asus Transformer Pad TF300
For Android tablet fans, the Asus Transformer Prime TF201 represented that moment when they could say to their iPad 2-toting buddies: "Hey! I have something thinner, lighter, and -- at least on paper -- more powerful than you do. Also: keyboard! Ba-bam!"
Well, there's the possibility it didn't go quite like that, but I think you get my point.
Still, the Prime had someand its Wi-Fi speed wasn't as high as some expected. And by "some," I mean me. Also, starting at $500, it wasn't exactly cheap.
Enter the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 Series. The TF300 starts at $380 for 16GB of storage, comes with Android 4.0.3 installed, replaces the Prime's metal unibody with plastic, lowers the speed of its Tegra 3 processor, and removes the flashlight from the rear 8-megapixel camera.
Are those changes enough to diminish the enthusiasm tablet enthusiasts should have for this new tablet? I'll give you a hint: No.
Again, if you took the Transformer Prime TF201, added a few millimeters of girth, replaced its aluminum unibody with plastic, and made it slightly heavier, you'd essentially have the Transformer Pad TF300. There are a few other design differences, but those are the basics.
The TF300 measures 0.38 inch thick -- compared with the Prime's 0.32-inch thickness -- and the plastic outer shell doesn't feel quite as sturdy or as full as the Prime's metal body does. Those differences are readily apparent (although the TF300 is still relatively thin compared with most tablets); however, without using a scale, I initially had trouble discerning which was heavier. In fact, the TF300 weighs 1.4 pounds, 0.08 pound more than the Prime.
|Asus Transformer Pad TF300||Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201||Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101||Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||Apple iPad (2012)|
|Weight in pounds||1.4||1.32||1.52||1.24||1.34|
|Width in inches (landscape)||10.4||10.4||10.7||10.1||9.5|
|Height in inches||7.1||7.1||6.9||6.9||7.3|
|Depth in inches||0.38||0.32||0.51||0.34||0.34|
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)||0.8||0.8||1.1||0.8||0.8|
Our TF300 model sported a Royal Blue finish with a finely grooved back and an embossed silver Asus logo in the middle. Other, less regal-sounding colors, Torch Red and Iceberg White, will be released in June. Along the right side of the back is a 1.5-inch-long speaker grille slit, replacing the basic speaker holes on the Prime.
The TF300 brings over every physical slot and input from the Prime. Along its left edge sit a Micro-HDMI input, a microSD slot, and a volume rocker that protrudes more dramatically from the tablet's body than on the Prime. An equally protruding -- and now easily depressible -- power/sleep button pokes out from the top edge. The 1.2-megapixel front camera and 8-megapixel back camera from the Prime are here, however, sans an LED flashlight.
The TF300 now -- even more easily than the Prime did -- slides into its keyboard dock. If you own a Prime, you can also place it in the TF300's dock. Attempting the opposite, though, isn't advised. While technically you can force the TF300 into the Prime's dock, it never fully locks into place. Also, you're probably risking damaging the connector by doing so. Officially the TF300 is not compatible with the Prime's dock, so don't expect much help from Asus if you damage something by going down this ill-advised path.
The keyboard dock itself feels identical to the Prime's aside from its plastic body, with the only other major difference being that the USB port has a cover that remains adhered to the device when you open it. The keyboard still feels comfortable, if maybe slightly cramped for large hands like mine, and while the buttons are smaller than a MacBook Air's, they're fairly soft and well-spaced. Using this keyboard on a regular basis wouldn't be my first choice, but I could see myself getting used to its somewhat cramped (for my hands) feel after a while. Still, with Asus reverting to plastic, I'm a bit perplexed as to why the TF300 keyboard costs the same as the Prime's. They're both $150, but like the tablets themselves, the slightly heavier metal body of the Prime's keyboard just feels like it's a better-built device.
The TF300 is the first Asus tablet to come preinstalled with Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and while it's the best version of the Android OS yet, unfortunately for the TF300, it still lags behind iOS in app support. Check out the Ice Cream Sandwich section of the Transformer Prime TF201 review for details on what Ice Cream Sandwich brings to the table over the previous version the Android operating system, Honeycomb.
The TF300 also comes with plenty of Asus goodies installed. Once you register the TF300, Asus MyCloud gives you 8GB of free cloud-based storage space for the lifetime of the tablet, at Asus WebStorage. It also provides remote access to the desktop of a PC or Mac and connects you to the @Vibe online music and radio service.
The File Manager accesses the TF300's root directory, providing easy and organized access to every file on your drive or expanded memory unit. MyNet lets you stream content to DLNA-enabled devices on your network, and with MyLibrary, Asus' e-reader software, you can read and purchase new books directly through the interface.
With SuperNote you can not only type notes, but "write" notes with your fingers as well. You can also draw graphs and take pictures or video right from the interface. This could be especially useful for taking notes in a class or maybe getting in a little Draw Something practice.
With App Backup you can back up any installed application to the internal storage or microSD card. This makes it so you can reset your tablet without losing apps or app data. The Prime also comes with a free Polaris Office app that pretty successfully approximates Microsoft Office, allowing users to create PowerPoint, Word, and Excel docs. Finally, App Locker lets you password-protect any app on your tablet, preventing anyone from opening it unless the correct password is entered.
Via Asus' tweaks to the Android interface, you can choose to run the Tegra 3 CPU in normal, balanced, or power-saving mode. While in normal mode, the CPU runs at full speed. In balanced mode and power-saving mode, the CPU speed is throttled to save on battery life. This CPU-throttling feature was also on the Prime, and I'm still waiting for other vendors to adopt similar modes, as they are pretty useful.