Asus’ latest convertible Android tablet has a nice look and feel, but it’s let down in the battery life stakes.
Asus has delivered a large number of products dubbed “Transformers”, with slightly differing innards each time. The basic design idea, however, remains the same. Take a tablet – either Android or Windows, and Asus has made variations on both – and drop a keyboard onto it with a clasp. The keyboard also gives you a few port options and a bit more battery life, but when unclipped what you’ve still got is a basic tablet. The display clocks in at 1280×800 pixels with a 16:10 aspect ratio. Standalone you’re looking at a 545 gram tablet, or 985 grams with the keyboard installed.
It’s a very similar design to the Asus Transformer Book T100, with the obvious difference being that you get Windows 8.1 on the T100, whereas the Transformer Pad TF103 is an Android device. Android 4.4 “Kit Kat” to be precise, running on an Intel Atom 1.3Ghz processor.
As with other Atom-based Android devices there’s the feasibility of running into apps that won’t run smoothly on x86-based hardware, as distinct from the ARM cores that make up most Android devices, although I can’t honestly say during my review period that I’ve found any. For those who like benchmark scores, the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 clocked in a score of 640 in single core and 1973 in multi-core modes with Geekbench 3. That’s not top range performance, but then this is a mid-price device.
The base hardware on the Transformer Pad TF103 is robust. There’s the usual issues around smaller keyboards to get to grips with, and it’s a little disappointing that the keyboard only adds as single USB 2.0 port in terms of expansion, but as a small document creation device the TF103 is quite reasonable.
The reason for going with an Intel Atom processor is largely one of battery life maximization, and here the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 gave less than stellar results. Asus rates the Transformer Pad TF103 as capable of up to 9.5 hours of battery life. In a straight looped video battery test the Transformer Pad TF103 ran for five hours and forty minutes before running out of power. Any way you shape it that’s a disappointing result.
Asus’ approach to Android customization is a relatively lightweight one, with its “ZenUI” skin only really tweaking around the edges of Android rather than comprehensively rewriting it. Again that’s a matter of personal taste, because for every tablet that does something great with unique software, another will clutter up good hardware with terrible apps you can’t remove.
I’d strongly argue in favour of a lightweight approach, because you can always add the apps you want or need, whereas removing clutterware can be a real headache.
Whether or not the Asus Transformer really works for you more or less comes down to what you’re after from a tablet. Android’s improving incrementally as a tablet OS, although I’d still argue strongly that it’s a market that Apple’s still driving.
At the same time, you could opt for a unit such as Asus’ own Transformer Book T100, although that is a more pricey prospect at around $AU599 at the time of writing. By comparison, the Transformer Pad TF103 retails for $429. Annoyingly, both suffer from a level of Australia tax, because the $429 Transformer Pad TF103 sells for only US$299 in the States. That’s excluding sales tax, but it’s still a painful markup to bear.
Of the two, I’d tend towards the T100 anyway, simply because it makes a little more sense in straight productivity terms, and there are better Android tablet alternatives if all you want is Android.