Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
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 some GPS issues and 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.
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.
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.
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|
|Balance mode||Peformance mode||Power saving mode|
|Asus Transformer Pad TF300 (without dock)||8.7||8.4||8.7|
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.