Asus Transformer Pad TF300 review:

Asus Transformer Pad TF300

While the TF300, like the Prime, allows you to take screenshots with the "recent apps" button, one of my favorite features of the Prime has been criminally axed. The Super IPS+ (In-Plane Switching) mode, which boosted the Prime's screen brightness -- making reading in sunlight a bit easier -- is unfortunately gone from the TF300's feature set. Bummer.

Hardware features
The TF300 is only Asus' second tablet to house Nvidia's quad-core processor, the Tegra 3. The Pad TF300 includes a 1.2GHz Tegra 3, compared with the 1.3GHz version found in the Prime. However, the tablet has 1GB of DDR3 RAM -- as opposed to the DDR2 RAM used in the Prime. The TF300 comes in either 16GB or 32GB storage sizes and has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 3.0+EDR, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and GPS (yep, it's an official spec this time!)

The Mobile keyboard dock includes an extra battery that -- while connected -- feeds the Prime its power, meaning that the dock's battery will deplete its reserves before the tablet's.

Through its Micro-HDMI port, you can connect the tablet to an HDTV or monitor and play full-screen Android games using both wired Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game pads, as well as supported wireless game pads through the use of an USB dongle. However, the USB dongle requires a full USB port, necessitating the use of the keyboard dock to accomplish this setup. Also, while our Micro-HDMI cable easily plugged into the TF300, moving the tablet around, even a little, dropped the signal to the monitor. This was not something we experienced on the TF201.

The TF300's IPS screen sports a 1,280x800-pixel resolution and, aside from having lower overall brightness than the TF201's, is of the same quality, with wide viewing angles, a satisfying contrast ratio, and no visible color tint problems. Don't expect iPad levels of clarity or Galaxy Tab 7.7 black-level depth, but it's still excellent compared with most tablets.

Tested spec Asus Transformer Pad TF300 Apple iPad (2012) Asus Transformer Prime TF201 Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Maximum brightness (Super IPS) 331 cd/m2 455 cd/m2 358 cd/m2 (570 cd/m2) 336 cd/m2
Default brightness 135 cd/m2 160 cd/m2 183 cd/m2 336 cd/m2
Maximum black level (Super IPS) 0.22 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.27 cd/m2 (0.45 cd/m2) 0.3 cd/m2
Default black level 0.09 cd/m2 0.17 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2 0.3 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,504:1 941:1 1,220:1 1,120:1
Maximum contrast ratio (Super IPS) 1,500:1 928:1 1,325:1 (1,266:1) 1,120:1

The screen feels more responsive than the Prime's when swiping through screens, nearly reaching iPad levels of sensitivity. Apps load quickly (only a hair more slowly than on the Prime) and menus pop up in a snap. Also, there's still that great, smooth Tegra 3-induced, 60-frames-per-second screen transition effect when closing apps or swiping through apps and widgets.

Thankfully, apps like the Marvel comics app are beginning to take advantage of Tegra 3's extra horsepower by offering smoother transitions between panels in digital comics. Not quite iPad-smooth, as there's still some judder, but smoother than when the Prime debuted.

The TF300's Web speeds in the default browser were a few seconds slower than the iPad's when travelling to the same sites; but still a couple seconds quicker than the Prime, on average. Also, when quickly swiping down long Web pages, there was no visible clipping.

Thanks to its hardware scalability, I used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the tablet's CPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. The TF300's frame rates were just about identical with the Prime's approaching 60fps, with the Tegra-exclusive screen water splashes in tow. The frame rate feels lower than the iPad's, however, and after playing the game on the iPad's high-resolution screen, it was difficult to go back to the TF300's "low" 1,280x800 pixels, as much as I love water splashes.

I tested the TF300's theoretical download speed using the Speedtest app, with the tablet less than 5 feet away from our closed network test router. The TF300 delivered performance consistently faster (by about 5Mbps) than the Prime and was only about 3Mbps behind the iPad. When I ran the same test through a couple of walls, about 30 or so feet away from the router, the iPad's lead increased to about 6Mbps and the TF300's lead over the Prime decreased to 4Mbps. As a real-world test, I downloaded Angry Birds Space, delivering the following results. These results are an average of three iterations; all of the three iterations per tablet were within 5 percent of each other.

Asus Transformer Pad TF300 Asus Transformer Prime TF201 Apple iPad (2012)
Angry Birds Space download speed (in seconds) 19 21 12

The TF300 is using the exact same wireless hardware as the Prime, so it's possible that its new plastic casing helps improve Wi-Fi performance over the Prime. Speaking of which, GPS performance is much improved over the Prime as satellite connections are much easier to find, although signals didn't get to impressively high levels.

Thanks to its plastic body, the TF300 had no trouble accessing GPS satellites (when outside) in my testing.

The 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera performs largely as you'd expect a tablet front-facing camera to, with little redeemable value beyond its use as a crude video chat device. The 8-megapixel back camera, however, seems to have improved over the Prime's. While I miss the LED flash, what I get in return is a camera that takes noticeably higher detailed shots. The TF300 is running a different version of the camera firmware, though, so hopefully some of these improvements will make their way to the Prime, since the hardware is, by all accounts, identical.

1080p video recorded with the rear camera was as detailed as the Prime's, but didn't capture quite the number of fine details the iPad's camera does. Also, image stabilization is lacking compared with the iPad's when performing even slow, methodical pans. It's not terrible by any means; the iPad just delivers smoother moving pictures. I was able to play both 720p and 1080p movie files from outside sources smoothly on the TF300 with no problems.

The TF300's speakers produced fuller, louder sound than the Prime's and even at maximum volume I noticed nary a distortion and no tinniness. Now, you won't be replacing your home-theater-in-a-box with a TF300 anytime soon, but for a tablet, it delivers pretty soundly...<cough...>. I'll um, I'll just let myself out.

I did experience a few random app lockups, but nothing consistent and nothing a quick app force-stop command couldn't fix. Also, once when I connected to the dock, the screen displayed some weird graphical anomalies. The app shortcuts began to pulsate and the edge of the screen started to "tear." I only experienced this once, but it's worth mentioning.

The TF300's battery lasted over the course of about two days, matching the Prime's battery life over the same period, with each tablet performing largely the same tasks. Asus claims 10 hours with the standalone battery and 15 hours with the keyboard dock attached. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

The chart below reflects the results for the TF300's battery life in hours with the mobile keyboard dock.

Balance mode Peformance mode Power saving mode
Asus Transformer Pad TF300 (with dock) 13 12.2 13.2

Here are the battery test results (in hours) for the TF300 as a standalone tablet without the mobile keyboard dock.
Balance mode Peformance mode Power saving mode
Asus Transformer Pad TF300 (without dock) 8.7 8.4 8.7

Our take
The TF300 isn't as thin or sturdy as the Transformer Prime. You also lose the rear camera flashlight and its screen isn't as bright. You do get roughly the same overall speed as the Prime with slightly faster Wi-Fi performance, a better rear camera, and an actual GPS feature that Asus can openly tout on its specs sheet.

The TF300 doesn't lose much compared with the Prime and actually gains in a couple areas. At $380 ($400 for 32GB) it's cheaper than even an iPad 2, but unfortunately, the Android OS still lags way behind in app support compared with iOS. Still, if Android is your thing, the TF300's price makes it the current best value for a full-Android tablet on the market.

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