Asus Transformer Pad TF300T: Hands-on impressions and comparisons

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Following the critical success of its Transformer Prime (TF201), Asus is back with a new entry for its Transformer line of tablets: the Transformer Pad TF300T, a 10.1-inch Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet that launches this week.

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T

Asus's Transformer Pad TF300T replaces the company's original Transformer tablet, the TF101 model released last summer. So basically, what we're looking at is a new lower-end alternative to the Transformer Prime device. The TF300T will cost $379 for a 16GB version or $399 for a 32GB version. The keyboard dock -- which is really the tablet's killer feature -- runs $149.

The Transformer Pad TF300T is expected to be available online this week and in stores next week, though we all know how tough Asus's tablets can be track down. The TF300T will launch as a Wi-Fi-only tablet in the U.S.; Asus tells me 3G/4G models may follow but will be "dependent on carrier qualification and country." 

I've spent the past several days using and testing the new Transformer Pad TF300T. Since the tablet is so similar to Asus's other Transformer models, I've decided to focus largely on practical comparisons between it, the original Transformer (TF101), and the Transformer Prime (TF201). Check out the chart below for a side-by-side look at the devices, and read on for some more detailed specifics.

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T vs. Transformer TF101: A Very Nice Upgrade

Asus Transformer Comparisons

Compared to the Transformer TF101 model it's replacing, the Transformer Pad TF300T is quite a nice upgrade -- and at an even lower cost.

The Transformer Pad TF300T has a 10.1-inch IPS display with 1280 x 800 resolution, just like the Transformer TF101 before it. But under its hood, the new TF300 Pad rocks a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor -- a serious leap forward from the dual-core Tegra 2 chip in its predecessor. This allows the tablet to handle more processing- and graphics-intensive tasks with ease; in my hands-on tests, its performance was as good as any high-end Android tablet on the market and superior to many of the recent devices I've used.

The Transformer Pad TF300T has 1GB of RAM, upgraded to DDR3 from the slower and less power-efficient DDR2 RAM used in the original Transformer. It has a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8MP rear-facing camera with 1080p video recording -- another leap forward from the TF101 model, which had a 5MP rear lens with only 720p video.

Asus's Transformer Pad TF300T is listed at 10 hours of battery life, with an extra five-hour boost if you use the keyboard dock (that's about an hour more than the older model). It supports Bluetooth 3.0. And it's thinner and lighter than the original Transformer, too, coming in at 0.38 inches and 1.39 pounds -- a difference of 0.13 inches and 0.1 pounds -- with an updated, more modern-looking design.

Finally, the TF300T comes with 8GB of lifetime cloud-based storage from Asus. The TF101 offered unlimited storage but only for one year; after that, you had to pay if you wanted to keep the cloud-based space.

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T vs. Transformer Prime TF201: A Small But Noticeable Step Down

The new Transformer Pad TF300T is certainly a step down from its older brother, the Transformer Prime (TF201) -- which costs $499 for a 32GB version and $599 for a 64GB version -- but in many respects, it's not too huge of a step. The TF300T uses the same Tegra 3 chip as the Prime, though clocked slightly lower: at 1.2GHz vs. the Prime's 1.3GHz speed. That said, the difference is minimal; in most usage scenarios, the two tablets feel comparably fluid and fast.

The TF300T has a slightly worse display, but not by much: The Prime's screen is Super IPS compared to the Transformer Pad TF300T's regular IPS screen. Super IPS is capable of producing a brighter image that can result in a better-looking picture, particularly when it's used in bright lighting conditions. To be honest, looking at the two tablets side by side in most circumstances, it's tough to tell the difference; unless you're a display aficionado or someone who routinely uses his tablet outdoors, I doubt you'd be able to identify either one as being significantly better than the other.

The Transformer Pad TF300T has no LED flash on its rear camera, as its older brother does. The tablet is also listed for about half an hour less battery time than the Prime, while its keyboard dock has a power capacity that's three-and-a-half hours lower than the Prime's.

The biggest difference between the TF300T and the Transformer Prime (TF201), if you ask me, is the form: Put simply, the Transformer Pad TF300T has far less of a premium feel. While the Transformer Prime is sleek and sexy, the Transformer Pad TF300T is somewhat more utilitarian -- a bit clunky, even, relatively speaking -- much like the Transformer TF101 model it's replacing.

The Transformer Pad TF300T is 0.8 inches thicker than the Prime, but it's not just about the size: The TF300T has a plastic back, available initially in blue (red and white models will also be available later), while the Prime has a gorgeous and classy-looking metal-spun casing. Holding the two hand in hand, the Prime feels far nicer and, to be blunt, more expensive. The difference is consistent with the keyboard docks, too: The TF300T's dock has a noticeably less high-quality feel than the Prime's, though form aside, its functionality is about the same.

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T vs. Transformer Prime TF201

(The Prime's dock costs $149, by the way -- the same amount as the TF300T's. And in case you were wondering, the TF300T is not compatible with other Transformer models, according to Asus, so you can't use it with another Transformer model's dock.)

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T: GPS and Wi-Fi Performance

We can't talk about Asus's tablets without noting that in some cases, the Transformer Prime's quality feel can come at a cost. Some users have reported issues with the Prime's Wi-Fi performance. The tablet's GPS capabilities have been called into question, too, with the device's metal casing being blamed for both sets of issues. (Asus recently offered a free GPS-enhancing attachment for its Prime users to help with the latter issue; as far as Wi-Fi, the company has rolled out several software updates to improve performance. Personally, I've never had a practical problem with my own Prime unit, though some users have certainly had different experiences.)

The Transformer Pad TF300T uses the same basic setup and materials as the original Transformer TF101 model and, as a result, appears to have no significant connectivity issues. I ran some tests from my office using the GPS Test app, and the TF300T was able to identify and use nine satellites in the area with an accuracy of 36 feet. (My Transformer Prime, incidentally, found nine as well, with the same 36-foot accuracy.) A Motorola Xoom, in the same condition, locked onto eight satellites with 28-foot accuracy; my Galaxy Nexus found eight with 15-foot accuracy; and an HTC One S found 10 satellites with an accuracy of nine feet.

As far as Wi-Fi, all five of those devices had roughly comparable speeds and signal detection (measured using the and Wifi Analyzer apps, respectively) when connected to my own office network. The one area where the devices differed was in their abilities to receive signals from very distant Wi-Fi networks: The Transformer Pad TF300T outperformed the Prime in this regard, consistently detecting four to six surrounding networks with reasonable strengths while the Prime fluctuated between one and three networks.

(This is in line with what I found in my previous Transformer Prime Wi-Fi performance tests: The tablet seems to perform less well than other devices when in areas with distant and weak Wi-Fi signals, but in most normal usage scenarios, it functions just fine.)

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T: Bottom Line

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T Review

In general, I found the Asus Transformer Pad TF300T to be a terrific tablet to use. The TF300T is fast and responsive, thanks in large part to Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor, and boasts a good-looking display along with the same awesome laptop-like transformation potential Asus has perfected in its previous tablets.

If you want the Transformer tablet experience but don't want to shell out 500 bucks for the Prime -- $650, if you count the keyboard dock -- the Transformer Pad TF300T is an excellent alternative to consider. You'll save some cash and get a darn-similar tablet that functions fantastically. The TF300T doesn't have the same sexy body and premium feel as its older brother, but it's a solid device with stellar specs and top-notch performance (and, as mentioned above, the non-metal casing may actually be a plus for some people).

Asus is working its way toward a three-tiered setup with its Transformer line of tablets: The Transformer Pad TF300T will be the lowest and least expensive tier, followed by the Transformer Prime. The company will soon add on the Transformer Pad Infinity -- previously known as the Transformer Prime TF700T -- which takes things up another level from the Prime with a new back panel design, a higher resolution display, and a better front-facing camera. It's expected to launch later this year for $600 to $700.

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Like with most Android device decisions, it ultimately just comes down to what it is that you want -- and, of course, how much you're looking to spend.

For much more about the Asus Transformer experience, including my thoughts on the software -- which is consistent from the Prime to the new TF300T -- see my in-depth Transformer Prime review.     

More Related Reading:

Asus Transformer Prime: Does quad-core really matter?

How to find the Transformer Prime (or any other out-of-stock gadget)

Ice Cream Sandwich on Android tablets: A visual tourJR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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