With its newest 10-inch tablet, the Transformer Pad TF300T ($379 list 16GB; $399, 32GB), Asus eschews major hardware and design upgrades, opting instead for incremental improvements and a more value-focused remix of an existing tablet. The TF300T is a more affordable version of the current Eee Pad Transformer Prime ($499, 4 stars). Inside, you’ll still find the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor that made the Prime the fastest Android device to come through our labs. But some of the premium features like the aluminum back and Super IPS+ display are absent—and the price is $100 lower to compensate. The TF300T is still one of the fastest tablets available, but it doesn’t quite have the chops to topple the New Apple iPad ($499, 4.5 stars) as the best 10-inch tablet on the block. Solid performance, the latest Android OS, and signature keyboard dock make the TF300T a solid iPad alternative, but we’re still waiting for a spectacular Android tablet to blow us away.
Physical Design, Features, and Differences
The most immediately apparent difference between the Transformer Pad TF300 and the Transformer Prime is the textured plastic back. The dimensions are nearly identical, at 10.4 by 7.1 inches (HW), but the TF300T is slightly thicker (0.38 inches vs. 0.32) and heavier (1.39 pounds vs. 1.28 pounds) than the Prime. A power/dock connector sits along the bottom edge, the micro USB port and microSD card slot can be found on the left panel, the standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack is on the right, and the Power button is up top. The TF300T is available in three patriotic colors: Royal Blue, Iceberg White, and Torch Red. The entry-level model we reviewed includes 16GB of internal storage, and a 32GB model can be had for $399. There is no 64GB model, like with the Transformer Prime.
A standard IPS display replaces the Prime’s Super IPS+ screen. This might seem like marketing jargon, but there is a significant difference. The 1280-by-800-pixel resolution remains, but the TF300T’s screen maxes out at 350 nits, instead of the Prime’s outdoor-friendly 600-nit mode. The TF300T’s display still gets sufficiently bright, though it appears slightly dimmer than the screen on the iPad 2 ($399, 4.5 stars). The viewing angle is fine, but hues are cooler on the TF300T, and everything just looks more vibrant and saturated on the Prime. It’s still a high-quality display, with a higher resolution than the iPad 2′s 1,024 by 768 pixels.
The TF300T uses a similar 8-megapixel rear-facing camera to the Prime, with the only difference being a slightly larger aperture—f/2.2 rather than f/2.4. There’s no LED flash on the TF300T, but the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera is identical on both models. The Transformer Prime had some GPS connectivity issues, which were largely attributed to the tablet’s aluminum body. The plastic back on the TF300T should help out there. The tablet connects to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks and supports Bluetooth 3.0.
The optional keyboard dock for the TF300T and Prime are pretty much identical. The price remains the same at an extra $149, but the docks are not cross compatible between Transformer models. The keys are very comfortable, the multitouch trackpad is responsive, and you get tablet-specific function keys, while multi-key actions like Cut, Copy, and Paste work like they would on a laptop. The dock adds a 16.5Wh battery, a full-size USB port, and an SD card slot. If you’re considering the TF300T for productivity, you’ll want to pony up the extra $150 for the dock, as it adds functionality and sets the tablet apart from its Android brethren.
Performance, Software, and Multimedia
The Prime and the TF300T are still the only tablets available with the latest round of high-end quad-core processors. Though the CPU clock speed has been lowered from 1.3GHz to 1.2GHz here, the TF300T’s quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 still blazed through our benchmarks.
You get three performance modes: Normal, Balanced, and Power Saving. At the highest setting, the TF300T came up just short of the Prime, but still turned in some of the most impressive results of any Android tablet. Theoretically, the TF300T should have an advantage in memory with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, as opposed to the 1GB DDR2 RAM in the Prime, but the difference in memory benchmarks was negligible in my tests. During regular use, both tablets felt equally responsive and fast, excelling with games and power-hungry apps. Expect the same great performance from the TF300T, which is refreshing given the value-driven pricing.
The Transformer Prime received an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade earlier this year, and the TF300T comes with Google’s latest mobile OS right out of the box. The experience is nearly identical on both tablets, with Asus’s minor customizations to the look and feel of the software. Aside from cosmetic changes, the most notable addition is the Advanced Settings menu that pops up when you press the notification area. From here you can easily adjust display brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth settings, and see all of the updates from your various apps. For a closer look at the OS tweaks, check out our hands-on with the Transformer Prime with Ice Cream Sandwich. Android 4.0 is a big step forward with a smoothness and polish that rivals Apple’s iOS, but the same problems remain: A lack of tablet-optimized Android apps along with an easy way to find them in Google Play.
Bundled along with the standard Google app suite, you get some genuinely useful preloaded apps including SuperNote (a word processing and note-taking app), Polaris Office (an office suite that handles Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files), and MyCloud (Asus’s cloud storage solution that offers 8GB of lifetime cloud storage), which help increase the tablet’s productivity prowess. Netflix, Photoshop Express, and Temple Run are also preloaded and welcome. Bloatware, thankfully, is non-existent.
Photos taken with the TF300T’s 8-megapixel rear-facing camera look good, with little image noise and mostly sharp detail. Some finer textures still look a bit waxy, but that’s pretty typical of tablet cameras. The difference between the TF300T and the Prime is most apparent in low light situations—the TF300T has an advantage due to its larger aperture. Low-light images looked markedly better, capturing fine details with relatively low image noise. The Prime’s low-light images were grainier with a good deal more noise. The TF300T can capture 1080p video just like the Prime, and while smooth and sharp at 30 frames per second outdoors, video became grainy and choppy topping out at around 17fps indoors.
Much like the Prime, the TF300T is a media whiz. Xvid, DivX, MPEG4, H.264, and AVI videos all played smoothly at 1080p resolution. MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA audio files all played without a hitch.
The TF300T packs a 22-watt-hour battery, which Asus rates at up to 10 hours of normal use. With the screen set to maximum brightness, Wi-Fi connected, and the processor set to Maximum Performance, the TF300T turned in 7 hours, 53 minutes of continuous video playback—slightly better than the 7 hours, 38 minutes registered by the Transformer Prime, with its much brighter screen. Asus claims the dock accessory adds another 5 hours of battery, so the TF300T should last all day.
The Transformer Prime was a top-notch tablet when it was released last year, and the TF300T, which isn’t vastly different, except that it’s less expensive, carries that torch. But it seems like a placeholder while we wait for the Infinity Prime, with its 1080p high-resolution display. Much like Samsung with its Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) ($249.99, 4 stars), Asus is concentrating on affordability, rather than major spec upgrades. At $379 for the 16GB model, with the fastest processor available, the latest version of Android, and a versatile add-on keyboard dock, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300T is an attractive package. It’s certainly among the best non-Apple tablets available today, but we’re still on the lookout for an Android tablet that can top the iPad.