Asus Trasformer Pad TBFive months ago, the Asus’ Transformer Prime was hotter than Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. Not only was the tablet fast, sleek, and well built; it was the first device that made consumers question the iPad’s dominance. (And did we mention it came with Nvidia’s much hyped Tegra 3 chip?) In a nutshell, the Prime finally gave Android owners a tablet to be proud of.

Now the sequel is in town — the Transformer Pad 300. Asus is nearly six months wiser since launching the Prime, meaning the company has had ample time to fine-tune an already great tablet experience — and address some nagging issues. If ever there was an appropriate situation to apply the “sibling” analogy to a gadget, this would be it. The Pad 300 is strikingly similar to last year’s Prime: looks, feel, performance, everything. And it’s a $100 cheaper. You want this.

The Gist:

Asus’ Transformer line — excuse the pun — is transforming into one of the industry’s best right before our very eyes. The company made a fantastic product in the original Transformer, and then it really made a statement by making the first tablet to market with Nvidia’s Tegra 3 quad-core chip. Now we’ve arrived at the Transformer Pad 300, and it’s just as good as any Android tablet out there.

The idea behind the Pad 300 seems to be this: Take everything that made the Prime great, save a few bucks with build materials, and then pass the savings along to the consumer. The specs, for the most part, are almost identical to the guts of the Prime. And it looks nearly identical, too. While there are differences — including a regular IPS display compared to the Prime’s IPS+ — most folks won’t even notice, or care.

The Pad 300 is a slightly diluted version of the Prime, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Asus Transformer Pad 300Awesome: Hardware, Android 4.0, Tegra 3, Battery

The design of the Pad 300 feels right. While the Transformer Prime was an excellent, premium quality machine, Asus’ latest effort, which is just 9.9mm thin, is more pleasant to hold. The Prime’s tapered curve made the edges a bit sharp; the Pad 300, on the other hand, has gentler, more rounded edges — think of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1. As I mentioned, the materials are different on this iteration as well — a trade off for the more consumer friendly price tag. Rather than brushed aluminum, the Pad 300 comes with a high-quality textured plastic that doesn’t for a second look or feel cheap. It has more of a grip to it, and fingerprints don’t show up as prominently — at least on the blue version we received. (Asus is also offering a red and white versions.) There’s an added heft, too (635g compared to the Prime’s 586g), but it’s unnoticeable.

Also worth noting is the small change Asus made to the Pad 300′s compatible keyboard dock. It’s almost indistinguishable from the Prime’s version, but now it has a small silver strip of metal beneath the trackpad that acts as a clickable button. One of the bigger annoyances with the Prime’s keyboard dock was how the trackpad’s bottom corners handled clicks. You had to press the bottom corner buttons just so, while the middle, in between the corner buttons, didn’t press at all. Thankfully, the Pad 300′s dock fixes this. Of course, you could always use your fingers for on-screen actions, too. Aside from that, the keyboard layout is as it was on the Prime; everything still has a cramped feel, unfortunately, but you can’t fault Asus too much. We were still able to type without problem in short bursts, though we found longer sessions to be a bit more taxing.

Asus Trasformer Pad Keyboard DockMaybe the best news for this release is the fact that the Pad 300 comes with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3) from the get-go. That means users are actually getting a version of Android that is optimized for tablets. Couple Google’s sparkling new OS with Nvidia’s Tegra 3 quad-core chip, and you’ve got one of the breeziest tablet experiences around, with virtually no stutter or lag: swiping between home screens is lighting quick, and the Tegra 3 chip didn’t seem to even break a sweat when launching programs — that includes TegraZone games or simply browsing the Web. Although, I did experience the occasional crash with ShadowGun, along with some browser quirks.

ShadowGun graphics comparison

Transformer Pad 300 (left); Transformer Prime (right)

And speaking of the Tegra 3 chip, it makes the Pad 300 a bit of a media virtuoso. YouTube videos loaded lickity split, and games looked and played excellently. To our eyes, there was no discernable difference in graphics between the Prime and the Pad 300 while playing a game like ShadowGun. As you can see from the comparison above, the game looks fantastic on both devices, which is great news considering the Pad 300 is the cheaper option. In addition, we found the Nvidia’s very efficient Tegra 3 chip contributed to the device’s wonderful battery life. This iteration comes rated at 10 hour (22Wh Li-polymer) without the dock, and 15 hours (16.5Wh Li-polymer) with. During testing, we found the Pad 300 largely lived up to Asus’ claims.

Eh: Almost Vanilla, Camera

You have to hand it to Asus; the company’s influence over the stock ICS is minimal. Everything it has done to Ice Cream Sandwich is subtle, so Pad 300 owners will get a (mostly) vanilla experience. If you’ve never used Google’s shiny new OS, it’s a pretty significant upgrade over Honeycomb (which came pre-loaded on the Transformer Prime). There are, however, some added applications (bloatware), including MyCloud, MyLibrary and MyNet. Additionally, for the more critical folks out there, the device does depress quite a bit when firm pressure is placed on the back. In fact, applying pressure — i.e. as if you were trying to snap it in two (I know, crazy) — has a big affect on the screen; it looks as though ink is trying to seep through. It’s not a permanent affect, however, and chances are most folks won’t even notice.

As for the camera, well, it can go either way. Let’s face it: Most folks likely aren’t buying a tablet for camera quality alone, and while the Pad 300′s 8-megapixel f/2.2 shooter isn’t the worst there is, it isn’t the greatest, either, particularly indoors. Shots looked grainy and seemed to lack detail — like plenty of other mobile cameras, to be fair — though it seemed to do a much better job outdoors. Tablets are more for media consumption, and they aren’t always on our people as often as, say, a smartphone, so we can’t fault the Pad 300′s camera too much.

Transformer Pad camera example plant detail 1

Not Awesome: Screen (though it’s not that bad)

Blame the introduction of the new iPad’s 2048 x 1536 (264ppi) display for this one. All by its lonesome, the Pad 300′s screen looks fine; but put it side-by-side with Apple’s newest slate, and there’s a striking difference in quality. Sure, it’s an unfair comparison — Asus does have an HD version of its Transformer tablet coming after all — but it’s definitely worth taking into consideration. On that note, there’s a difference between the IPS+ screen on the Prime and the IPS screen on the Pad 300 as well. Colors on the Pad 300 weren’t quite as vibrant — though the display was still plenty bright — and videos weren’t quite as crisp compared to the Prime. Text, though, looked just fine when Web browsing and such, even when zoomed in all the way. Additionally, the displays had different temperaturs, if that makes a difference to you; the 300 had a blue-ish hue, while the Prime’s screen looked a bit yellow. It must be said, however, that unless you set the two tablets side-by-side, users likely won’t notice that the Pad 300 has a regular old IPS display, and therefore will think the quality is just fine and dandy.

Asus Trasformer Pad Docked ClosedConclusion:

There’s not a whole lot to dislike here. Sure, it can feel like a re-hash of last year’s Transformer Prime, but Asus didn’t lazily slap this machine together. The Transformer Pad 300 is more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with the best Android tablets out there, and it even comes at a pretty decent price.

The 32GB version retails for $399.99, while the 16GB is $379.99. Honestly, we can’t understand Asus’ decision to price these so close together, especially when an extra $20 nets you twice the storage space. For $149.99 more, you can pick up the Pad 300′s keyboard dock, which both extends battery life and makes typing short emails a breeze. If you’re in the market for a tablet, and don’t want to break the bank (too much), you really can’t go wrong with the Pad 300. It’s design is excellent, it comes pre-loaded with Ice Cream Sandwich and, of course, it has Nvidia’s magical Tegra 3 chip. Keep in mind, though, that the iPad 2 goes for the same $399.99 price tag, although that’ll only net you the 16GB version. Still, it can be difficult to ignore Apple’s market leading slate — if you’re a fan of iOS. On the Android front, however, the Transformer Pad 300 is definitely a winner.

Rating - Mobile - 6.5

 

For more information on how we rate phones and tablets, be sure to check out our official mobile review scoring format guide.

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Asus Transformer Pad 300 Specs:

  • Price: 16GB $379.99; 32GB $399.99; Optional keyboard dock $149.99
  • OS: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • CPU: Nvidia Tegra 3 T30L Quad-Core 1.2GHz
  • GPU: GeForce 12-core, 3D stereo (built in)
  • Ram: 1GB
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi only (U.S.); Wi-Fi/3G/4G LTE (select international markets)
  • Bluetooth: 3.0
  • Display: 10.1-inch WXGA (1280 x 800) LED Backlight 178 degree wide viewing angle IPA panel, 10 finger muli-touch
  • Camera: 8-megapixel rear with large f/2.2 aperture; 1.2-megapixel front
  • Battery: 10 hours; 22Wh Li-polymer; 15 hours with mobile dock; Dock: 16.5Wh Li-polymer
  • Size: 263 x 180.8 x 9.9mm