Now Asus has added the Transformer Pad TF300T to the range. At around £400 (inc. VAT; £333.33 ex. VAT) it's significantly cheaper than the £500 (inc. VAT; £416.66 ex. VAT) Transformer Prime, yet comes with the latest version (4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich) of Android. Cost-saving measures have clearly been implemented — but do they detract from the overall experience?
Sit the Transformer Pad and the Transformer Prime next to each other and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. The size, shape and circular patterning on the back of the screen (which Asus says helps with grip when you're using the device in tablet mode) are all very similar.
As well as blue, the Transformer Pad will be available in white and red
Our review sample was the same blue colour as the Transformer Prime, but white and red versions will also be available in June and July respectively.
There are physical differences between the Pad and the Prime, though, and one that's immediately noticeable is that the new tablet's chassis is made from plastic rather than aluminium. There is a little give in the back of the tablet, but it's not enough to worry us. The keyboard section is made from metal, as in the Transformer Prime.
The Transformer Pad's tablet section has a plastic chassis, rather than metal as in the Transformer Prime
In notebook mode, with the keyboard and tablet sections together, the Transformer Pad weighs 1.181kg compared to the Transformer Prime's 1.123kg. The keyboard weighs 546g (compared to 537g for the Prime), while the tablet section comes in at 635g (compared to 586g for the Prime). This isn't the exceptionally lightweight device that many may be looking for.
The Transformer Pad is slightly thicker than the Prime, with overall dimensions of 180.8mm wide by 263mm deep by 9.9mm thick compared to 180.mm by 263mm by 8.3mm.
Like the Prime, the Transformer Pad has an LED-backlit 10.1in. touchscreen with a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. However, the Transformer Pad's IPS screen lacks some of the brightness of its predecessor's Super-IPS panel, and we recall the Prime being easier to use outdoors in bright sunshine.
The keyboard and tablet sections lock together very solidly, but are easily separated when necessary. You can attach an external mouse and/or keyboard via the USB 2.0 port on the top right edge of the keyboard section if you prefer these to the supplied keyboard and touchpad. We found both were fine to use, and the duality of a touchscreen and cursor control was easy to adapt to.
The Transformer Pad has an irritating tendency to topple backwards when the screen is tapped — something we also found with the Prime. The weighting of these devices just isn't quite right for touchscreen control in 'notebook' mode.
The keyboard section has the same inward curving edges that make it difficult to locate ports and slots. The aforementioned USB 2.0 port is on the right edge, along with an SD card slot, and there's a proprietary 40-pin power connector on the left edge.
The Transformer Pad has an isolation-style keyboard with several Android-specific keys
The isolation-style keyboard includes a number of Android-specific keys such as Home and Menu, as well as a top row that includes volume and playback controls, a key that takes you to the Android Settings area and keys that open the web browser, control screen brightness, toggle auto screen brightness, toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and disable the touchpad.
The tablet section carries the majority of the ports and slots, and has a very similar layout to the Transformer Prime. The top edge has just the on/off button. The audio jack is on the right side, while the left side houses a microSD card slot, a Mini-HDMI connector and a volume rocker. The proprietary power/docking connector is on the bottom edge. As with the Transformer Prime, the absence of USB charging is disappointing.
The Transformer Pad TF300T ships with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) as standard. It uses the same processor as the Transformer Prime, a quad-core ARM Cortex A9-based Nvidia Tegra 3 — although the Pad's CPU runs at 1.2GHz rather than 1.3GHz. This is supported by 1GB of RAM, as in the Transformer Prime. Internal storage for the Transformer Pad is either 16GB or 32GB, compared to 32GB or 64GB for the Prime; the same lifetime 8GB of cloud-based Asus WebStorage is available to owners of both devices.
With a microSD card slot on the tablet section, plus a USB 2.0 port and an SD card slot on the keyboard section, you're very well catered for when it comes to external storage expansion.
The Transformer Pad offers Bluetooth 3.0 short-range wireless connectivity, a boost from 2.1 in the Transformer Prime. Both devices offer 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, but the Pad adds support for Wi-Fi Direct — a useful technology that allows two Wi-Fi devices to communicate.
As with the Transformer Prime, the Pad's 8-megapixel main camera shoots 1080p video. However, in another cost-saving move, the flash unit on the Prime has been abandoned here. Both devices have a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera.
Although Polaris Office is a welcome addition, Microsoft Office-compatible files saved to microSD card or USB stick on the Android tablet opened in protected view on our desktop PC
Asus adds some applications to the standard Android 4.0 bundle, including Polaris Office, an excellent productivity application that lets you create and edit Word-, Excel- and PowerPoint-compatible documents. It's a very useful application to have on a keyboard-equipped tablet like this, although it didn't work perfectly for us. Whenever we had a USB stick or microSD card in place, Polaris Office delivered an odd screed of fast flashing black lines down the far left side of the screen. And although it saved documents, they opened from microSD and USB stick in protected view on our desktop PC.
There's also SuperNote 1.5, with which you can make notes that can include hand-drawn scribbles, time stamps, photos, voice recordings, videos and keyboard written text. You can also use it to make and save drawings. It's a nice app for jotting down and saving ideas.
Other additional apps include: App Locker for restricting access to specific applications; App Backup for backing up installed applications and associated data to internal storage or microSD; MyLibrary, an e-book reader that supports ePub and PDF formats; MyNet for streaming media; and MyCloud for access to the Asus-provided cloud storage.
Performance & battery life
The quad-core Tegra 3 processor remains as impressive as it was when we first saw it, even though it's running at a slightly slower 1.2GHz clock speed in the Transformer Pad. The touchscreen responded to taps and presses with alacrity, and we found little in performance terms to differentiate this tablet from the 1.3GHz Transformer Prime.
We did notice that the time display and unlock icon on the lock screen continually jumped up and down a couple of pixels. This is no deal-breaker, to be sure, but an irritation nonetheless. As with the reported GPS issues on the Transformer Prime, Asus may have left itself open to criticism by omitting to fine-tune things before release.
The Transformer Pad has two batteries — a 22Wh lithium polymer unit in the tablet and another 16.5Wh battery in the keyboard dock. Battery life is quoted as 10 hours for the tablet section, rising to a total of 15 hours with the dock attached. This is slightly more than the Prime tablet's 9.5 hours, but slightly less than its 18-hour total for tablet and keyboard.
In everyday use we had no trouble getting two days of general usage out of the Transformer Pad between charges. You can opt for balanced, power-saving or performance modes, which dictate how the processor is used. Power-saving and balanced modes cause the processor's power-frugal fifth core to kick in.
Asus has thought through likely usage scenarios, so that when the keyboard is attached and the unit is charging, the tablet battery charges fully before the keyboard unit, and when the two are attached the keyboard section drains first. That's just as well, given the proprietary charge cable.
The Transformer Pad TF300T implements a number of cost-saving measures and consequently lacks the sparkle of the Editors' Choice-winning Eee Pad Transformer Prime. In particular, the tablet's chassis is plastic rather than metal, it's slightly thicker and heavier, the screen is less viewable outdoors and the quad-core CPU runs slightly slower.
Still, the Transformer Pad is around £100 (inc. VAT; £83.33 ex. VAT) cheaper than the Prime, so you may well be prepared to accept the trade-off.