Asus Transformer Pad TF300
Review It’s no secret that I like the Asus Transformer Prime a lot. Still, £500 is a lot for a tablet even if it does go like the clappers, is made of aluminium and has a cracking keyboard dock with a built-in extra battery.
Can you tell Pad from Prime at a glance? No
Asus has now addressed that issue by launching the Transformer Pad as a replacement for the original Nvidia Tegra 2-based TF101 Transformer and as a more budget-conscious alternative to the Prime. In short, you get a Tegra 3 chip, 32GB of storage and the keyboard dock all for £399.
Though not as slim or light as the Prime, the Pad sans dock only gives away 1.6mm and 49g - both negligible, IMHO. More importantly, the curvaceous styling apes the Prime right down to the swirly pattern on the lid so few observers will notice it’s not a Prime when you whip it out on the train.
From tablet to laptop
Being made of plastic rather than aluminium, the Pad is not as rigid as the Prime, or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but you have to be pretty brutal with it to detect the difference.
A more positive side effect of the plastic body is that the GPS radio can now go about its business without obstruction, and the unit feels altogether less cold and dead in the hand.
A nice-to-use keyboard, an easy-on-the-eye display
The ultra-bright 600cd/m² screen of the Prime with its "Super IPS" mode has also been ditched in favour of an altogether less retina-scorching 350cd/m² LCD panel.
That just means the Pad’s 1280 x 800 screen looks more like that of every other high-end Android tablet screen on the market when the brightness is turned up to eleven. Like all the IPS screens Asus uses, it still supports impressive viewing angles and demonstrates very good colour balance.
The Pad's "Performance" mode doesn't ramp up the Tegra 3's clock speed quite so high as it does on the Prime, but the on-board memory is now DDR 3 rather than DDR 2.
My Antutu benchmark tests averaged out at just a sniff over 10,000 which, if not quite as impressive as the Prime, is still near the top of the pile. In everyday use, whether you are just flicking around the UI or playing Shadowgun, the two machines are effectively indistinguishable from a performance perspective.
Both the tablet and dock batteries clock up at 22 and 16.5Wh, respectively, and are smaller than those used in the Prime though there’s not a massive difference in run time. Looping a 720p video drained the tablet battery in six hours. Using the dock battery extended that to 10.5 hours. That’s 60 and 90 minutes less than the Prime in each case.
All the other Prime goodies have made it over to the Pad, including the dock’s USB and SD card slots, the 8Mp main and 1.2Mp secondary cameras, and the Micro SD card slot in the tablet itself. The keyboard dock - plastic body aside - looks and feels near enough identical to the Prime’s, though I didn't have them both side-by-side to do a forensic comparison.
The ol' red, white and blue
It may be my ears playing tricks on me but the single rear speaker seemed louder on the Pad than on either the original Transformer or the Prime. Whatever, the results are impressive and make the Pad a great device for watching movies or playing games without earphones.
But the best thing about the Pad though is the price. At £399 for the 32GB version, the Pad represents a worthwhile saving over the Prime. With any luck, the 16GB version will make it to these shores for nearer £350 which I reckon will make it a very compelling purchase.
The new Asus Transformer Pad gives you 95 per cent of the Transformer Prime experience for 80 per cent of the price - with the added bonus of reliable GPS. What you lose is negligible; what you gain - £100 - is not to be sneezed at. Our new best Android tablet? Oh yes. ®
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