Design: Everything Old is New Again, But Less Pretty and Shiny
The Asus Transformer Pad TF300 has a plastic back with an embossed swirl pattern that mimics the Transformer Prime's design, and the TF300 is a little bit heavier and thicker (thick enough that I wouldn't want to force it into a TF201 Prime dock). WiFi and GPS? Yes, they work great! Asus has worked that problem out. Bluetooth and WiFi so far coexist nicely, though we've noticed Bluetooth speaker audio sometimes falls behind the video track even for non-streaming locally stored videos.
But does the Transformer Pad TF300 look nearly as pretty or sexily thin as the Transformer Prime? Nope. A blue ABS plastic back is no esthetic replacement for a super-slim metal backed tablet. And there lies the dilemma: great looks and high quality materials vs. a more robust design and better wireless reception. The TF300 is slightly thicker (though still thinner than many tablets) and weighs 1.4 lbs. vs. 1.29 lbs. for the Transformer Prime, but the revised edges provide more support for ports. I'd like to see even more support for ports, but that would mean even less side taper, which would make the tablet look fatter (Asus Marketing would hate that). For me, function wins over form, and I'd choose the TF300 over the Prime when it comes to those stronger ports, easier to operate controls and stronger wireless.
Asus places two small stereo speakers next to each other under a thin slit on the right side (when held in landscape mode). Volume is just OK, separation is nil as you'd guess, and sound isn't particularly rich and full. They're a little bit louder than the Prime's speaker but are blown away by the large and well-separated speakers on the Acer Iconia Tab A510 with Dolby Mobile audio. Sound through the headphone jack is excellent, and Bluetooth stereo headphones and speakers work well though we noted that audio tracks lag behind video when watching movies (we've seen this on other Android tablets too). The TF300 can output 3D content to a 3D TV over HDMI and it supports 5.1 audio out over HDMI. 5.1 audio worked fine in our tests; in fact it was much more reliable than the finicky Prime.
Performance and Horsepower
The Transformer Pad TF300 runs on the Nvidia Tegra 3 T30L quad core CPU with GeForce graphics. This is a slightly lower clocked CPU that's 100MHz slower than the T30 used in the Transformer Prime and Acer Iconia Tab A510. The graphics chip is supposedly clocked approximately 200MHz slower. Will you feel the difference? No. The 1.2GHz feels equally as responsive and it benchmarks almost as well as the T30-based tablets. While most Android tablets have 1 gig of DDR2 RAM, the TF300 uses a gig of DDR3 RAM. Benchmarks don't show significant improvement in memory operations, but we'll never turn down faster components.
The tablet is available with 16 or 32 gigs of storage and you can expand storage using microSD cards. Cards and USB mass storage devices like flash drives and portable hard drives appear under the Asus file manager but not third party file managers using SD card and USB aliases (the same is true of the Prime). You can use third party file managers to access external storage, but you'll have to navigate to the root level of internal storage, then go into the /mnt folder to find you microSD card and USB flash drives and hard drives. Gallery will automatically pull in photos and videos and Google Play Music sees tracks on external storage.
We've seen a few "wait/force close" dialogs in the Google Play Store when downloading apps, but so far not in the web browser where it drives us crazy on the higher end but buggier Transformer Prime. It seems that I/O has improved with the TF300, and we're guessing it's a hardware improvement since both tablets run nearly identical software.
The tablet plays 1080p video well, and the Tegra 3 has hardware decoding support (including NEON) that puts it leaps ahead of the Tegra 2 for HD video playback.
The TF300 has a 22Wh Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside. That's a little bit less capacity than the Transformer Prime (25Wh) and a lot less than the Iconia Tab A510 (36Wh). The tablet lasted us an average of 7.5 hours of actual use time with brightness set to 60% and WiFi on in a mix of web browsing, streaming YouTube videos, checking email and checking in with various social networks. That's about 30 minutes less than our Prime and a few hours short of the Acer A510. Still, it's a respectable enough number, and a fully charged keyboard dock adds another 3.5 hours to runtimes.
The Transformer Pad TF300 ships with Android OS 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich. Asus doesn't customize the UI in any way, but they do add their selection of useful applications. These are the same apps that are bundled with the Transformer Prime and they include Polaris Office (view, edit and create MS Office compatible docs), Splashtop remote (remotely access your PC or Mac's desktop), an app backup utility, App Locker (prevent the kids from running specified apps), SuperNote (rich notes with text and drawing support), Zinio, Press Reader, dLNA, a basic ePub ebook reader and Asus Cloud Storage.
Cameras, Front and Rear
Like the Transformer Prime, the Transformer Pad TF300 has an 8 megapixel rear camera but it loses the LED flash. Honestly, my Prime rarely takes wildly compelling photos unless lighting is just right: not too sunny and not too dim. The TF300 is the same, but low light shots are truly impossible without the flash (they were marginal on the Prime). The tablet can shoot 1080p video that again looks best with ideal lighting.
The front 1.2 megapixel video chat camera and mic worked fine with Google Talk video chat and Skype, and the slightly off-centered lens didn't cause any problems.
The Asus Transformer Pad TF300 is a solid Android tablet. For just $399 you get a lot for your money: the latest OS, a fast quad core CPU, an IPS display and a reasonable amount of storage. In some ways, it's a better tablet than the more expensive Transformer Prime: WiFi and GPS work very well and the tablet is less delicately designed. But the TF300 looks like a plastic tablet and lacks the sexy metal back, insanely (and not necessarily comfortable) thin design and IPS+ display. If you're in the market for a tablet with the convertible option via keyboard dock, we recommend the Transformer Pad TF300.
Price: $379 for 16 gig and $399 for 32 gig
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