Convertible tablets, by and large, are more expensive than they should be. There’s a gap in the market for a simple, cheap tablet that includes a keyboard dock. The ASUS Transformer Pad series uses the company’s well-tailored ZenUI Android skin, and is priced to compete with other entry-level Android tablets and Windows convertibles.
What Is It?
[clear][clear] The $429 ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C is a mid-range Android tablet with a 10.1-inch, 1280×800 pixel IPS touchscreen display. It ships with a detachable dock that has a full 82-key keyboard and a small tactile touchpad and full-size USB port — clip the TF103C tablet into the dock and you’ve got most of the expandability and versatility of a full-size laptop, or disconnect it and carry around a relatively compact slate.
My Transformer Pad TF103C review unit was a matte white, but the tablet also comes in a dark grey that looks equally good. The keyboard dock is finished in a not-so-stylish light brushed silver, although its base is a satin metallic silver that looks much nicer. Being a tablet and being relatively cheap, I’m inclined to be forgiving to the TF103C’s rather large bezel, but it’s still quite an obvious part of the slate’s overall size and makes it look like the 10.1-inch screen is smaller than it is.
ASUS’ Transformer Pad TF103C runs Android 4.4 Jelly Bean with a heavily tweaked skin — the ASUS ZenUI, which trades the stark flat shades of stock Android for a smooother blue-and-beige pastel experience. The interface is mostly untouched behind the scenes, but it’s centred around a few key apps and features like What’s Next (a dynamic calendar and appointment tracker) and Do It Later (for stacking up tasks like calling friends or running errands).
What Is It Good At?
[clear][clear] The TF103C has a brand new Intel Atom Z3745 quad-core processor running at up to 1.86GHz, although most of the time it buzzes along at a perfectly adequate 1.33GHz. Although it’s a 64-bit processor, the entire system is hampered by its mediocre bundled 1GB of RAM. Nevertheless, the Transformer Pad feels perfectly responsive and powerful for any tasks that you care to use it for, and even during demanding 3D games or benchmarking apps it doesn’t slow down or chug along noticeably.
Battery life is on the higher side of what I expected to get out of a relatively cheap tablet, hitting ASUS’ stated 9.5-hour claim while playing 720p video from a microSD card on half screen brightness with Wi-Fi enabled. You’ll get a better result if you’re doing anything less intensive, or a shorter lifespan if you’re multitasking or running any especially processing-intensive applications. In any case, I was impressed with the battery of the TF103C during my time with the device.
[clear][clear] The keyboard dock is the standout feature of the Transformer Pad TF103C, and I probably wouldn’t buy the entire tablet bundle if it weren’t included in the package. Just like the Transformer Pad TF701T‘s, the TF103C’s keyboard only has a small amount of flex in the centre of its plastic keyboard tray — no more than a larger proper laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15 — and the chiclet keys have a good range of travel and a noticeable activation point that makes touch-typing easy. I’d happily use the Transformer Pad for a full workday of typing; my only concern is the necessarily relatively small size of the keycaps themselves.
What Is It Not Good At?
[clear][clear] The Transformer Pad TF103C has only 16GB of internal storage, which isn’t a problem for a smartphone but for a tablet, where you’ll presumably be storing documents and presentations and higher-resolution videos, it’s a bit of an impediment. Thankfully there’s a microSD card slot that is easy to access (so you can hot-swap multiple cards if needed), although buying a capacious 32GB of 64GB card drives up the overall price of this convertible significantly.
As with almost every tablet that I’ve ever used, the Transformer Pad TF103C’s front and rear cameras are nothing special for taking photos. They’ll both do an adequate job for videoconferencing especially if you’re in good light, but you won’t be using the TF103C to take any award-winning snaps. Perseonally, I would have liked to see the rear camera sacrificed if it meant a better result from the front-facing unit. In terms of noticeable omissions, the tablet has no NFC and no support for 802.11ac super-fast Wi-Fi.
[clear][clear] The TF103C’s 10.1-inch screen is reasonably bright and colourful, but what stands out is its unfortunately low resolution. Resolution is far less important in a screen than good colour and contrast and brightness (which the TF103C has in spades), but for productivity tasks or for browsing the Web you do notice the lower resolution versus an equivalent Full HD screen in a slightly more expensive tablet like the Surface 2.
Should You Buy It?
The Transformer Pad TF103C is reasonably cheap, but quite powerful. It has good battery life, but doesn’t make any huge sacrifices in performance to get there. As with previous Transformer Pads its keyboard is good and it’s that add-on that transforms (pardon the pun) this otherwise pretty run-of-the-mill tablet into a versatile everyday computing workhorse.
For $429, it’s good value if you need an Android tablet that can also stand in as a word processing or emailing machine when you’re away from home or office. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but in my opinion the compromises it makes to cut down on its price are the right ones.