Asus has carved itself a niche in the tablet-computer market, one which hasn't been replicated to date. While other manufacturers struggle to find unique selling points to sway tablet buyers away from the iPad, the Asus Transformer series continues to find fans. The 300T is the latest in the series, but it isn't designed to supersede the Transformer Prime. Instead, the 300T is a lower-priced alternative.
The most obvious difference between the 300T and the Prime is the shift in materials used to house these computers. Asus spared no expense with the Prime and its aluminium chassis, while the 300T has a more cheerful, playful aesthetic, being wrapped in coloured plastic. Our review unit is a deep blue, featuring a fine-ridged texture like a giant fingerprint across the back of the unit. This feels nice to hold, and provides grip for the unit — an important element for any tablet.
Curiously, the 300T is heavier than the aluminium-clad Transformer Prime, with a 635-gram weight for the tablet portion only (the dock adds a further 546 grams). It's thicker, too, at 9.9mm, but not so much that it should make any difference to anyone comparing the 300T with the Prime — or any of its other competitors, for that matter.
The combined weight of the tablet and dock is about 1.2kg.
What will be less obvious to the casual tablet shopper is that Asus has chosen to use a standard IPS LCD display on the 300T, rather than the Super IPS variant that we saw on the Prime. Without the "Super" prefix, this IPS screen may seem like a big step down, but we're not really convinced that it is. Our review unit displays bright, colourful images; crisp, strong whites; and has excellent off-axis viewing angles. Nitpickers will spot the difference with the Prime, but for the price, the 300T beats most other tablet displays (and many notebook screens) hands down.
Docks, plugs and switches
Of course, what makes the Transformer series so interesting is the keyboard dock accessory. In Australia, the 300T SKU is sold with the dock bundled with the tablet, unlike previous models, where there had been options to buy the tablet by itself. Even though a dockless SKU would make for a cheaper tablet still, we feel that this approach is best, as it's the dock that really makes this package worthwhile.
The dock isn't just a keyboard and a stand, the way that many third-party Bluetooth keyboard accessories are. The Transformer dock includes a track-pad mouse with a single selection key, and, more importantly, its own battery. When you connect the tablet, you begin using the dock's battery power first, so that when you undock it and take it on the road, the tablet should still have most of its charge remaining. It doesn't double the battery life of the tablet, but it does expand it significantly — by up to 50 per cent in our tests.
It also expands the connectivity of the tablet alone, adding a full-sized USB host port, an SD card slot to the tablet's 3.5 headphone socket, micro HDMI out and microSD memory expansion. By itself, the tablet is much the same as the other Android tablets we've reviewed so far this year, but with the dock it's much more akin to a lightweight portable computer.
|Acer Iconia A510||Asus Transformer 300T||Motorola Xoom 2||iPad (32GB)|
|Nvidia Tegra 3
|Nvidia Tegra 3
|TI OMAP 4430
|32GB plus microSD card expansion||32GB plus microSD, SD card and USB||32GB plus microSD card expansion||32GB|
*Prices correct at time of writing, but likely to change.
User experience and performance
Like its big brother, the Prime, the 300T runs on the latest Nvidia quad-core Tegra 3 processor, clocked at 1.2GHz. There's also 1GB of RAM under the hood, which, combined with the Tegra chip, has proven to be a successful and powerful combination for the latest generation of Android tablets running Ice Cream Sandwich firmware. It's not different here, and although the 300T is several hundred dollars cheaper than the Prime, you'd be hard pressed to find evidence of that in the way this machine performs.
The user experience remains largely Google's work, with only some minor adjustments by Asus, most of which are custom-made widgets and Live Wallpaper options. Using the 300T is a smooth, seamless experience; there is very little in the way of processing lag or visual stutters when switching screens and swiping pages. With the dock attached, you get a mouse cursor to control the system, though you can still use the touchscreen if you prefer.
Battery life is great, as we alluded to above. Without the dock, the 300T has similar longevity as its nearest competition, clocking in at about 7.5 hours of continuous video playback with the brightness pumped up to its maximum setting. Add the dock and its battery, and the running time leaps up to a very impressive 12 hours. That's enough to entertain you on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, minus two hours for eating and napping.
Android tablets have seriously struggled to keep pace with the momentum of Apple and its iPad. With its Transformer range, Asus has created a compelling reason to reconsider an Android tab, with an ingenious dock accessory and much-needed extra connectivity. The 300T doesn't bring anything new to this concept, but it does make it cheaper. At its current price of AU$599, the Transformer Pad 300T is cheaper than a Wi-Fi-only iPad with a comparable 32GB of storage, and is competitively priced compared to other Android tablets from Acer, Samsung, Motorola and Sony. It's up to you whether you prefer the premium aluminium build of the Transformer Prime, but, all things considered, we'd opt for the 300T.
It's not just the tablet shopper who should consider this device, either; the 300T stacks up well against netbooks and 11-inch notebooks, as well. You'll need to make sure that you can get all of the apps you need to cover your workflow (basic Microsoft Office documents are supported out of the box), but its outstanding battery life and its 1.2kg combined weight should sway you, and its screen is far better than what you'll find on notebooks in this price range. It's definitely worth a look.