ASUS Transformer Pad TF300

Relaunching ASUS tablet line-up, the third-generation Transformer Pad is being seen by some as a stepping stone between the company's premium Transformer Prime and upcoming Transformer Infinity slabs. It is however a disservice to suggest that it's anything other than a quality piece of kit.

ASUS may have dropped the brushed metal casing, replacing it with a tactile textured plastic and swapped Super-IPS screen with a more conventional, if slightly less striking, alternative but that doesn't mean they're cutting corners. The price decrease alone more than makes up for these omissions and the fact that the new casing avoids any of the GPS issues that plagued the previous hardware may make it more appealing to some. The TF300 is also clocked slightly lower, but we're talking by an unnoticeable amount - here we have a Tegra 3 clocked at a more than reasonable 1.2ghz. -

There are improvements over the Prime here too - first up, we have Android 4.0 out of the box. No need to upgrade. The fantastic keyboard dock is also much more responsive - with better feedback making it significantly better to type on. ASUS have shipped with a reasonably untouched version of Android and the Transformer Pad TF300 is all the better for it. By far the best version of Android to date, it's instantly inviting to both experienced and new users and ASUS implementation exposes the power without an unnecessarily complicated skin sitting on top.

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The 1280x800 screen is nice and sharp - it may not be retina-display levels of clarity, but it easily betters the iPad 2 display. It's a little dimmer than we'd have liked, even at full brightness and maybe a little on the glossy side; a combination that makes outdoor use a little challenging. Indoors however it's fine so we have few complaints.

The Tegra 3 accelerates the tablet to the front of the pack. Lagging a little behind it's older, fast big brother, there is little else that comes close. The TF300 beats all of the most recent Android mobile handsets in benchmarks and Android runs oh-so-smoothly as a result. Only one Android tablet beats the AnTuTu benchmark we ran and it's no surprise which; what is surprising is how slight the margin is. We had no trouble playing back HD video stored on the device and the built in HDMI output means that it's a brilliant device for media playback on larger screens. Likewise, the hardware makes light work of every app and game we chucked at it and there are a number of Tegra exclusive games to really push the four cores to their limits.

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We did notice choppy playback with HD MKVs played over a wireless network which could be a limitation of the wireless hardware, but SD content was fine.

Audio was a little disappointing - we have stereo speakers but they're positioned together so any stereo effect is lost. We also don't have the mini sub that graces the Transformer Prime so sound lacks depth. Plugged into external speakers though and things are obviously very different and we achieved very warm results when coupled with a mid-range amp.

The tablet isn't too heavy - just a little over 600g without the dock and under double that with the dock and associated battery attached. It's nice to hold with the new textured casing making it unlikely that it'll slip through your fingers. One thing we did notice is that there were some balance issues with the tablet docked - and it wouldn't take much for it to topple over. We also found that when docked and closed, opening the combined unit was a little tricky with little in the way of grip to help separate the screen from the keyboard.

The built in 8MP rear camera is decent enough and is capable of capturing 1080p 30fps video - it's choppy, as is customary with most digital video recorders of this ilk. Still images are good, if a little grainy, but on the whole they're more than adequate given photography isn't going to be a core function of any tablet. The front-facing 1.2MP camera is decent enough for video chat but little else.

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Stability is a slight bugbear - while testing we did have a few apps hang or even crash on us. As updates are released these issues will hopefully resolve themselves as more and more developers move over to fully supporting ICS. The limited number of tablet specific (or enhanced) applications available on Android is disappointing. Over time both of these negatives are things that will improve, but the tablet app ecosystem on Android just isn't close to keeping pace with the iPad. We'd argue till we're blue in the face that Android is the best mobile phone OS, but when it comes to tablets iOS offers far more in terms of breadth and quality that it's difficult to advise against picking up an iPad if productivity is your main aim.

In all, the Transformer Pad TF300 is one of few leading Android tabs. It's fast, well built and likely to be well supported. It may not have the retina display of the New iPad, nor the Super-IPS screen of its big brother, but for a mid-priced, reasonably high specification piece of hardware it has very little to compete against and ASUS usual trump card of the bundled dock not only adds to the usability but also delivers real value.

The ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 is exclusive to PC World, Currys and Dixons during May and retails at £399.99.

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