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ASUS Transformer Pad 300 Review
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Date: Apr 24, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Seth Colaner
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Introduction and Specifications
History has a habit of repeating itself; just as we had to burn through our review of the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime in short order, we're on the fast track again with the new ASUS Transformer Pad 300 (TF300T).  With a tablet this hot off the press and moving to retail channels so quickly, we wanted to get the word out to you as soon as the laws of physics would allow.

It’s a bloody shame, too, because we would have liked to spend more time poring over every feature and setting of this beautiful machine. Alas, our time with this tablet-come-netbook is short thus far but we'll promise to follow-up in the days ahead with more detail. Still, we managed to get in some good quality test time with the ASUS Transformer Pad 300, spending just about every waking hour running it through its paces in on our test track.

ASUS Transformer Pad 300
ASUS Transformer Pad 300
Specifications & Feature
Operating System
Display


CPU
GPU
Memory
Storage
Wireless Data Network
Camera

Audio

Interface:







Sensor
Applications


Battery


Dimensions
Weight
Mobile Dock


MSRP
Android 4.03
10.1" LED Backlight WXGA (1280x800) IPS
10 finger multi-touch support
350nits
NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30L quad-core CPU (1.2GHz)
GeForce 12-core GPU, 3D Stereo
1GB DDR3 RAM
32GB onboard (as configured) + 8GB ASUS Webstorage space
802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, WiFi Direct
1.2MP front camera
8MP rear autofocus camera (1080p), large f/2.2 aperture
Stereo Speakers with ASUS SonicMaster audio
Built-in Mic
Pad:
1 x 2-in-1 Audio Jack (Headphone / Mic-in)
1 x Micro HDMI 1.4a
1 x MicroSD Card Reader
Mobile dock:
1 x USB2.0 port
1 x SD Card Slot
G-Sensor, Light Sensor, Gyroscope, E-compass, GPS
App Backup, App Locker, ASUS Sync, File Manager,
MyCloud, MyLibrary, MyNet, Polaris Office,
SuperNote, ASUS WebStorage, TegraZone
10 hours, 22Wh Li-polymer (pad only)
15 hours, 16.5Wh Li-polymer (dock)
263 x 181 x 9.7 mm (10.35 x 7.11 x 0.38 inches)
630 grams (1.39lbs), pad only
Full 254mm QWERTY keyboard
Android function keys
546g (1.2lbs)
16GB - $379, 32GB - $399, Optional Keyboard Dock - $149 



The 10.1-inch Transformer Pad 300 boasts a beautiful IPS display, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 SoC (1.2GHz). Dave has already written extensively about both ICS and Tegra 3 within the context of one of this tablet’s predecessors, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, so we’d recommend a quick read to brush up on those topics here and here.

The Transformer Pad 300 has three different performance modes--Power Saving, Balanced, and Performance--and each uses the processor differently. In Power Saving mode, cores 1 and 2 are clocked at 1GHz, with cores 3 and 4 at 0.72GHz and 0.6GHz, respectively. Balanced mode keeps all four cores humming along at 1.2GHz, but in Performance mode, core 1 ramps up to 1.3GHz while the other three remain at 1.2GHz.

Our tablet came with 32GB of onboard storage plus 8GB of ASUS Webstorage space, along with an SD card slot for expansion. (There will be a 16GB option, as well.) There’s a 1.2MP webcam on the front and an 8MP camera on the back; although the latter boasts some excellent features, including autofocus, but there’s unfortunately no flash.

The built-in mic performs nicely, capturing relatively clear audio with the Sound Recorder app and understanding commands for voice search reasonably well. ASUS didn’t skimp on audio quality with the Transformer Pad 300 either, with stereo speakers that are surprisingly good, pushing out sound with a dynamic range, clarity, and volume that we wouldn’t have expected from a tablet.

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Transformer Pad 300 Design
The Transformer Pad 300 is distinctly similar to the Transformer Prime (do a quick spec comparison if you don't believe us), and the design and build quality of the two tablets have quite a bit in common, as well.


Our Transformer Pad 300 has a Royal Blue finish (other soon-to-be available options include Torch Red and Iceberg White) with the same circular-patterned brushed aluminum finish on the back as the Prime. ASUS deserves credit for coming up with a back-side design that resists showing fingerprints so well, although of course, the glossy screen almost highlights greasy smudges. For its part, the face of the keyboard dock does a fairly good job of hiding fingerprints too; even after hours of use, the touchpad and keys still look as clean as the moment we pulled the device out of the box. One spot you’ll have to keep after is the shiny silver mouse button on the dock; if you even look at it the wrong way, fingerprints will show.

The Transformer Pad 300 is definitely a slim device at 9.7mm thick, but the Transformer Prime has it beat--the older brother comes in at just 8.3mm.

Like the Transformer Prime, the Transformer Pad 300’s viewing angle is billed as 178 degrees; although we’d argue that 178 degrees is a bit generous for this tablet, in practical use the screen has superb viewing angles. If you can see the screen at all, you’ll get a clear view of what’s happening on it.

If we had to carp at all about the display, we'd note that we didn’t love the brightness. Our Transformer Pad 300’s IPS display is billed as offering 350nits, which isn’t bad, but we found ourselves instinctively reaching for the button to increase the brightness too often. The levels are fine when conducting typical computing tasks such as email, Web browsing, fiddling with the settings, and the like, but while watching video there was definitely something to be desired. The Transformer Prime’s 600nit Super IPS+ display, it seems, has spooiled us.


Although the tablet and dock can be purchased separately, they’re really designed to go together. For example, the Transformer Pad 300 has a two-in-one mic in/headphone jack, micro HDMI 1.4a port, and a microSD card reader on board, while the dock adds a USB 2.0 port and SD card slot. If you really want the whole spate of ports, you can only get them with both devices. The port distribution is, of course, also a design consideration, as putting the bulkier ones on the dock serves to help keep the tablet itself slimmer.

Another interesting design choice is that the stereo speakers are on the tablet, not the dock; if nothing else, one would think that the dock would at least boast a subwoofer to complement the tablet’s speakers. As it is, despite the stereo speakers, the sound emanates from just the top of the tablet (the right side when rotated to landscape orientation), where the speakers are located together in one unit. This doesn’t make any sense for watching video, gaming, or typing, which you’ll primarily be doing in landscape format, and it’s obvious that the sound is directional, coming from the right side of the device when the tablet is docked.

The keyboard dock itself is an excellent device, sturdy as you could possibly want and equipped with reasonably large chiclet keys; large-enough Enter, Backspace, and (left-side) Shift keys; and a slew of handy Android function keys along the top of the unit. The function keys include the familiar Android back key, as well as WiFi and Bluetooth on/off buttons, touchpad on/off button, brightness controls, screenshot key, Web browser launch button, settings button, audio playback controls, volume controls, and a device lock button. Other buttons on the keyboard include the Android home button, dedicated search button, and directional keys.

The keyboard is certainly small by dint of being married to a 10.1-inch device, but for its size, it’s fairly comfortable to use over longer periods of time. For as well-designed as the keyboard dock itself is, the whole unit is a bit top/back-heavy when the tablet is docked. It’s also worth noting that the dock isn’t fully compatible with the Transformer and Transformer Prime.
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UI Tweaks and Camera Performance
ASUS didn’t mess with a good thing by overdressing Android’s stock Ice Cream Sandwich, but the company did bake in a few tweaks of its own.

The home screen is well-organized, with pertinent information such as the time, date, and weather prominently displayed, and there’s just a lone row of frequently-used apps at the bottom, including Browser, YouTube, Camera, Gallery, SuperNote, Music (Google), the Google Play Store, and Gmail.



     

Over in the lower right corner of the home screen, you can bring up ASUS’ Quick Setting panel with single tap. From there you can see your network connection status, battery status of both the dock and tablet, and a quick link to settings. There's also a section where you can set the tablet to Power Saving, Balanced, or Performance mode. (Note that previous Transformers had “Balanced” and “Normal” modes.)

WiFi and Bluetooth, the screen’s auto-rotate, silent mode, and auto sync can all be toggled on and off, and there are brightness controls and notifications of various items such as whether or not the tablet is docked.

     

ASUS kept its home screens nice and uncluttered, leaving the user to add most of his or her preferred widgets. Indeed, there are widgets aplenty, which are accessible from the main apps page. One notable ASUS widget is MyZine, which gives sort of a snapshot of various activities and items such as email alerts, music, weather, and photo slideshows. There’s also an ASUS Task Manager widget that shows apps usage percentage and a bright ASUS Battery widget, as well.

     

ASUS’ file manager is simple and straightforward, with subfolder access that keeps you on track with a left-side file tree, as well as shortcuts to your Picture, Camera, Music, and Download folders.

The Settings area features a nice data usage app, which will of course be more handy if and when ASUS packs in 3G or 4G capabilities. ASUS put in its own Customized Settings section within Settings, which includes controls for a variety of features such as screenshots, performance modes, touchpad and mouse functions, and battery options. There are plenty of other goodies onboard, too, including MyNet, AppBackup, MyLibrary, MyCloud, TegraZone, AppLocker, and Movie Studio.

Thanks to Ice Cream Sandwich, the Transformer Pad 300 also has better overall responsiveness than previous Transformers, some font improvements for more pleasing Web browsing, and WiFi Direct, which enables content streaming between your devices.

The 8MP camera is about what you’d expect at this point in time from a mobile device’s camera: it’s good--very good, actually--but not great. Images are excellent with natural light and slightly less impressive indoors. Indoor shooting is made more difficult by the absence of a flash, which is a feature that was present in the Transformer Prime.


     

However, ASUS isn’t ignoring the camera performance here; it has a backlit CMOS sensor to reduce image noise, f/2.2 aperture (the Transformer Prime’s camera offered f/2.4), and a five-element lens. Further, the camera can shoot video at 30fps in full 1080p HD; it doesn’t get much better than that on a tablet.

The camera interface is nominally different from what we saw on the Transformer Prime--the look of the shutter button has been tweaked and the settings and options are organized a little differently--but it’s largely the same. Probably the most notable difference is in how the zoom control works; the Transformer Pad 300 has a neat half-moon slider on the right side of the screen that fits the thumb’s arc perfectly.

The UI offers a thumbnail of the last image you took at the top of the screen; below that is the focus control and shutter; and below those are buttons for selecting between the camera, camcorder, or panorama feature. There are myriad settings you can play with, including different lighting situations, white balance, dynamic autofocus, and a slew of different scene modes. Further, you can incrementally adjust the exposure settings, choose between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, adjust the ISO (up to 800 maximum, it appears), and more. Also note that there are plenty of editing options in the Gallery app when it’s time to work some magic on your images.

When in camcorder mode, the setting options change a bit. You can shoot in 1080p, 720p, or 480p, adjust the time lapse interval, and opt for a variety of wacky in-camera effects and backgrounds. If you have kids, the camera app alone is something they could become obsessed with for an entire weekend.
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Gaming Screenshot Gallery
ASUS didn’t load up our tablet with GPU-hungry game demos, but we did grab a few titles optimized for the NVIDIA Tegra 3 chip just to see what it could do. As you can see from the screenshots, some of the game graphics are nice, but others are gorgeous--and that’s without talking about performance.


     
Tegra 2 Optimized: Glowball


Soulcraft THD



     
Galaxy on Fire 2 THD

Despite how overused the term is, we have to say it: this tablet offers an immersive gaming experience. There’s no identifiable lag in control response and no hiccups in the action, even when the fur is flying. The GPU’s performance, coupled with the tablet’s excellent sound quality, makes for a distraction-free gaming experience that’s a sight to behold and fun to play. (Having the big 10.1-inch screen doesn’t hurt, either.)

Gaming on a tablet--or for that matter, a phone--can already offer a good experience, but NVIDIA isn’t kidding when it claims that Tegra 3 can give consoles a run for their money.
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Performance: CPU and Web Browsing

Test Methodology: In all of our test vehicles for the following benchmarks, we ran each tablet at its performance optimized settings where available, with the exception of the Transformer Prime, which was tested with Normal and Balanced power profile settings, and the Transformer Pad 300, which was tested at Performance and Balanced power profile settings. Normal mode on the Transformer Pad 300 offers the full performance of its NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor (plus a .1GHz goose on core 1), whereas Balanced mode compromises performance a bit to conserve power, capping the CPU at 1.2GHz max frequency. Beyond that, each tablet was also connected to a wall power source to ensure full performance. Here's a quick spec rundown for each tablet tested.

  • Asus Transformer Pad 300 - NVIDIA Tegra 3 1.2GHz Quad-Core (+ fifth companion core)
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime - NVIDIA Tegra 3 1.3GHz Quad-Core (+ fifth companion core)
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer - NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core
  • Apple iPad 2 - Apple A5 Dual-Core
  • Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet - NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 - NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus - 1.2GHz Samsung Exynos Dual Core

In the following tests, we take a look at how the Transformer Pad 300 compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace. The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks.

CPU Performance Testing
Android CPU Testing


Unfortunately, the Transformer Pad 300 fell behind the Transformer Prime in Linpack, though it bested the rest of the field. The difference between the two Transformers isn’t large, but the Transformer Pad 300 is certainly taking a backseat here. Note that because of difference between Linpack for Android versus Linpack for iOS, we had to omit the iPad 2 from our test results.

Web Browser Performance Testing
Android Browser Testing






The above two tests are browser-based benchmarks designed to determine a target device's performance with respect to Javascript processing and HTML rendering. Righware's Browser Mark specifically looks at browser performance, whereas SunSpider solely looks at Javascript. In general, these are lightly threaded workloads.

In the Rightware test, the Transformer Pad 300 in Balanced mode delivered a disappointing score, near the bottom of the pack. It’s especially disappointing as it’s one of only two Tegra 3-based tablets in our reference bank. In Performance mode, however, the tablet turned in the second-best score in the field, taking a backseat only to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus.

SunSpider shows again the difference in performance between the Transformer Pad 300’s Balanced and Performance modes--and possibly the weakness of its Balanced mode overall. The tablet came in with a worse score in Balanced mode than the Transformer Prime; the difference isn’t large, but technically the newer tablet should offer at least a nominal performance boost. In Performance mode, on the other hand, the Transformer Pad 300 delivered a strong score, which was bested only (though significantly) by the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.
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Performance: Graphics
GLBenchmark is relatively new to our 3D performance benchmark set. The test suite is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark with a number of performance metrics incorporated within. We specifically use the Fill Texture Fetch suite to measure raw texture fill rate of a graphics core and the Egypt Off Screen test to measure 3D performance in frames per second. The Off Screen test renders workloads at 1280x720 for all devices, but off-screen, so Vsynch and screen refresh are not limiting performance.

Graphics Testing
OpenGL Rendering Performance





In the fill test, the iPad 2’s A5 chip continues to decidedly kick the tails of the rst of the field. The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus also edged out the Transformer Pad 300, although the latter did deliver strong scores, beating the Transformer Prime by a small but clear margin. Oddly, the Transformer Pad 300 did marginally better in Balanced mode than Performance mode.

If it’s FPS you’re after, the Transformer Pad 300 is the tablet you want, after the iPad 2. The former delivered 63fps in both modes we tested, a hair better than the Transformer Prime in Normal mode. Note that the quad-core processor handily delivered over the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus’ Exynos chip in this test.

Graphics Testing
3D Graphics Testing

An3DBench XL is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes.




In this Android-only benchmark (sorry, iPad 2), we see a remarkable consistency of scores across the board. In the Emporer’s New Clothes test in particular, five of the scores are within a few tenths of one another. The original Transformer actually delivered the highest score here, though not by much. The Tegra 3 shows what it can do in the Magic Island test; all four Tegra 3 tests produced close scores, while the rest of the field fell behind almost by half. The scores in the Flower Power test were also closely clumped, although the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus beat the competition handily, as it did with the GLBenchmark Fill test.
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Battery Life testing
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Transformer Pad 300's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes. This is a simple baseline test that measures up time with web browsing.

Battery Life Tests
Untethered Up-Time Measurements

For this test, we set the Pad 300's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. We ran the test in Balanced modes, but note that in Power Saver mode, in which you'd still get plenty of performance for simple web browsing, you could expect longer up time. In Performance mode, of course, battery life would disappear more quickly.


Well, we suppose the battery performance could be worse. The Transformer Pad 300 did better than the Prime, but it didn't come close to the original Transformer, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, or the IdeaPad K1. Granted, the Pad 300 is running a more powerful quad-core processor, but it's disappointing to see that it falls so far short of its rated battery life. With the dock supplementing the tablet's battery, the overall battery life is much better--over ten hours. 
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Performance Analysis and Final Thoughts
Performance Analysis: The ASUS Transformer Pad 300 is hot tablet, offering excellent performance across the board; the only issue is that its predecessor, the Transformer Prime, actually performs just as well if not better. Further, the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus also bested the Transformer Pad 300 in some tests.

That said, the Transformer 300 offers just about anything you could want in a tablet and then some. The graphics capabilities are superb, and the Tegra 3 offers more than enough performance for any app available for the device. We were routinely impressed by how fast the tablet performed tasks such as Web browsing, app launching, and various mundane activities, and the display is as responsive and quick as we’ve seen. Gaming is great, with stunning visuals and smooth-as-silk gameplay. The Tegra 3 chip and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich deliver an overall terrific user experience.

The display wasn’t as bright as that of the Transformer Prime, but ASUS made up for it in other areas, most notably in the audio department. Despite some directional sound production, the stereo speakers outperformed what you’ll typically hear even in full-size notebooks.

The keyboard dock accessory for the Transformer Pad 300 complements the tablet very well, offering additional ports, sturdy support, and a well-designed layout that feels as comfortable as a tiny keyboard can and offers plenty of convenient dedicated keys.

Is the Transformer Pad 300 a laptop replacement tablet? No, but it’s darn close. It certainly obviates the need for any netbook, ever. There are still some limitations to content creation, including the slightly undersized keyboard and under-featured mobile versions of online tools such as Google Docs, but if you’re happy with the kind of productivity that apps offer, this is actually a good laptop alternative.

As always, we come down to the price. All too often, this is the part of the review where we have to temper our enthusiasm by noting that the product in question costs way more than most of us are willing to spend. However, this time around, we’re very glad to note that the Transformer Pad 300 is actually a nice deal--it’s $379 for the 16GB version and $399 for the 32GB version, and the dock will run you $150. At worst, though, that’s $550, which isn’t a bad sticker price for a superb tablet/netbook--especially considering that the Transformer Prime started at almost $100 more for the 32GB edition. All things considered, the Transformer Pad 300 is a sweet deal.




   
  • Price
  • Performance
  • Overall Design
  • Graphics
  • Excellent audio
  • No 3G or 4G LTE connectivity
  • Display could be brighter
  • Performance not demonstrably better than Transformer Prime but far better than the original Transformer


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