I was really impressed with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. Its metal clad body, quad core processor, and excellent keyboard dock were, and still are, a stunning combination. With my review device running Android 4.0 it was right up there at the leading edge. It was a review sample that I was sad to let go.
Now Asus has launched a new Prime - the third in the series. It has lost the Eee moniker, and is now called the Transformer Pad TF300T. It looks very similar to the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the same blue, the same dock system, the same concentric circles on the back of the pad section.
There are lots of other similarities too, but it costs almost £100 less. Dixons, for example, is currently selling the Eee Pad Transformer Prime at £489.87 and the new Transformer Pad TF300T at £399.99. Compromises have been made, but do they have a negative effect?
One compromise that hit me between the eyes immediately is that the back of the pad section is plastic, rather than the lovely metal it was in the Prime. This doesn't affect usability a lot, and it means it is easier to produce colour variation; there will be red and white versions by July. It does feel, though, a little less ‘top notch' in the hand.
Another compromise that does affect usability is that the screen isn't quite as bright here as on the Prime. It's still a 10.1in 1,280 x 800 pixel panel, but it lacks the Super IPS 600nits brightness capability of the Prime. I remember that being quite readable outdoors, but the Transformer Pad TF300T suffers a little in bright sunlight. Mind you, taking both the TF300T and the iPad outside for testing, together , shows the iPad isn't really any better.
The third obvious downgrade is that the eight-megapixel camera, in the Transformer Pad TF300T, lacks a flash, while in the Prime, there is one. This does mean the camera is bad in low-light conditions, but I'm not that bothered about this. I'm not the kind of user who takes photos much with their tablet, and to be honest, the presence of an eight -megapixel shooter isn't going to draw me towards one tablet more, than the next. There is also a front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera, for video calling.
Now we come to the processor: it's still a quad core, but it's been downgraded ever so slightly. The quad-core, 1.3GHz Cortex A9 NVIDIA Tegra 3 CPU, found in the Prime is here, only in a 1.2GHz variant. I didn't have any problems with the processor speed, so there's no real issue with the slight money saving here. And you can still call in that fifth core, which doesn't thrash the battery. This is accomplished by choosing Balanced or Power Saving mode, instead of Performance mode.
Asus has done a great job as far as memory and storage are concerned. There is 32GB on-board and 8GB of cloud storage, for life. In addition, the tablet section has a microSD card slot and there are both, SD and USB slots, on the keyboard dock. The USB slot can be used for a memory storing stick, or for an external mouse or keyboard.
I didn't feel the need for either mouse or keyboard. I found the touchpad was fine most of the time, and occasionally I tapped the screen too. The problem with that latter approach is that, like the Prime, the Transformer Pad TF300T isn't that well balanced: if you tap too hard at the screen, the whole unit can topple backwards. Holding it down with the non-tapping hand works well.
As well as those memory ports you've got a headset slot, mini HDMI connector, volume rocker and main on/off switch on the tablet. Mains power is provided by a proprietary cable. Its connector on the tablet doubles up as the docking port for the keyboard, with a through-port on the back left of the keyboard section, for charging when the two are united.
I'd rather have charging via USB, but to counteract that battery life was quite good. The pad on its own, is rated as good for 10 hours by Asus, with a second battery in the keyboard section, that Asus adds a further five hours. I regularly got through two days between charges with little problem, but would still want to carry the proprietary charger, if I were away from home for a weekend, and that means more luggage.
The way the batteries work together has been well thought out. When the tablet and dock are connected, the dock drains first, so there's the best chance of juice being in the tablet, when you disconnect it. The keyboard docks very securely to the tablet - when the two are linked the whole unit feels like a solid, dependable miniature laptop. The keys are comfy under the finger, and I had no trouble working with the provided Polaris Office. I have to say, that porting a document saved from there, to my laptop, and finding it opening in Word in Protected View, was irritating. Dedicated keys for media control, Home and Menu functions, volume control, wireless toggling, screen brightness and even taking screen shots - all make it easy to work productively and fast.
In addition to Polaris Office I found myself using SuperNote a fair bit. This lets you make handwritten drawings or take notes that can incorporate images, handwriting, keyboarded text, date stamps and more. It's great for keeping track of ideas, scoping out projects and so on.
The Transformer Pad TF300T might not be quite as capable as the Prime, and its build might not be quite as good. The concept works as well, as it does with the Prime, and I'm perfectly OK with the compromises that have been made, to shave nearly £100 off the price.
The Asus Transformer Pad TF300T is almost as good as the top flight Eee Pad Transformer Prime, but costs a lot less. The keyboard is great, battery life is good, and the compromises that have been made, to cut the cost are acceptable.
Pros: A great combination of tablet and keyboard, that's well thought through
Cons: The screen could be better for outdoor viewing.Score: 9/10
Price: £399.99 inc VAT
CPU: quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex A9 NVIDIA Tegra 3
Operating System: Android 4.0
Screen Resolution: 1,280 x 800 pixels
Screen Size: 10.in
Battery life: 10 hours pad only, 15 hours pad with dock
External storage: microSD on pad, SD, USB on dock
Dimensions: 180.8 x 263 x 9.9 pad, 180.8 x 263 x 10.2mm dock
Weight: 635g pad, 546g dock
Camera(s): eight- megapixel back, 1.2 megapixels front