Another great tablet/laptop hybrid from Asus, and now at a better price than ever.
The Prime, released last year, was a big hit and this model is similar but more keenly priced. The Asus design of a tablet that thinks it’s a laptop is realised here in a stylish form and at a great price. It’s not perfect but it’s a persuasive alternative to most other Android tablets – or any netbook.
Review The Asus Transformer Prime changed the tablet game. Up until then it was mostly about the iPad with its slender profile and super-responsive touchscreen. But the problem with tablets comes when you’re typing on glass. It’s not great.
The great Asus solution was to bundle a keyboard that clunked onto the display, turning the tablet into a thin touchscreen laptop with a highly comfortable keyboard offering enjoyably springy keys. And there was another great advantage: the keyboard section included a battery that could hugely increase life between charges, which was already good. It was 10 hours on its own, half as much again with the keyboard attached.
The Transformer Prime wasn’t cheap, though. So now Asus has released the Transformer Pad 300 which keeps the same concept of tablet plus dockable keyboard but at a lower price – around £100 less than the Prime.
To make the cheaper price possible, the super-slim profile of the Prime has been sacrificed, though this new model is still thin. The metal back is now plastic, which some will definitely miss, but this is still a classy product with a pleasantly tactile, textured finish.
Beyond that, many of the specifications are largely unchanged – including, crucially, the 10 or 15 hours battery life. And the fast quad-core processor which made the Prime such a smooth operator has been only slightly modified to match a lower budget. Here you’ll find a 1.2GHz clock speed instead of the 1.3GHz speed of last year’s model. In practice, you’ll notice very little difference in performance.
The keyboard is compact but definitely usable. It’s possible to get external keyboards for the iPad, of course, and some – especially the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover – are outstanding. But there are benefits to be had in a dedicated keyboard. Close the lid when you’ve docked the keyboard on the Pad 300 and the screen automatically switches off. On attachable keyboards for other tablets you mostly have to remember to switch off to save the battery. And other keyboards don’t have batteries in them, ready to power the tablet if need be.
The downside to this keyboard is its weight. It’s light, which is good, of course, except that it destabilises the balance of the whole. The weight of the display is easily enough to tip it backwards when you least want it to. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s certainly a disappointment and the kind of design flaw which would never have got past Steve Jobs.
The eight-megapixel camera of the Prime is matched here. Well, almost. There’s no flash on the latest tablet. The front facing camera remains at a more-than-decent 1.2MP. As ever, the ergonomics of using a tablet as a camera or camcorder – and this tablet shoots footage at full 1080P resolution – leave a lot to be desired.
The display is also the same as on the Prime, a respectable 1280 x 800 resolution. While it’s not a Apple Retina display challenger, it looks good: bright, colourful, detailed and attractive, especially with the standard Asus tree-in-landscape wallpaper. It is not as bright as last year’s Prime, though frankly it is more than acceptable in all but bright sunlight. And while the Prime shipped with an earlier version of Google software, this comes packed with Ice Cream Sandwich right out of the box.
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This is a handsome Android tablet with speedy processor and attractive screen. Its eight-megapixel camera is more than good enough for the casual stills and video a tablet needs to shoot. And it has that genius Asus extra: a dockable keyboard with built-in touchpad. It may not be quite as glam as the Transformer Prime but it has a much keener price and a lot going for it.
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