At first glance the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 is a decent low-cost tablet. The specification, build and performance aren’t noticeably better than the multitude of rival Android devices aiming at the same market. However, the value is undeniably ahead of the competition. Asus’s New Zealand NZ$500 asking price buys a ten inch tablet and a decent, hard shell docking keyboard.
The Transformer Pad TF103 is an Android tablet and it’s not made by Samsung. If you’ve watched the tablet market you’ll know exactly what that means: price is everything.
Anyone considering the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 will look at the price tag first. It’s a business decision: how much tablet you get for the money and will it deliver?
Transformer Pad TF103 — a lot of tablet for $500
That’s a lot of mobile productivity for $500. You could spend the same money and buy a low-end laptop, but the Transformer Pad TF103 weighs considerably less at 550g and takes up less room.
Apple’s iPad Air is certainly a better all-round tablet. The design and build are better. It comes with better software and there’s a thriving app market covering all the bases. And yet you’d need to find an extra $250 to buy the tablet, plus at least another $100 to add a decent keyboard.
If you’re looking at the Transformer Pad TF103 because you’re wedded to Android, Samsung’s dazzling Galaxy Tab S is the main competition. Samsung’s display is streets ahead of the one packed into the Asus TF103 and while there’s a lot of bloatware, Samsung offers a better software experience. Yet, as with the iPad Air, you’d need to find at least another $350.
What don’t you get?
What this adds up to in practice, is asking what you don’t get when you spend less on your tablet and whether the missing features, functionality and so on make saving $350 a sensible move. Or if you simply don't have the extra money, what will you miss?
Even without the keyboard, the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 is thicker and heavier than the iPad or Galaxy Tab S. Add the keyboard and there’s noticeably more to carry. The build quality is on a par with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, but a fair distance behind the iPad Air. Samsung’s flagship tablet borders on being flimsy, that’s not the case here, Asus has built something far more solid.
The 10.1-inch, 1,280-by-800-pixel LCD display is all you need for most apps. It’s not a patch on Samsung’s Tab S screen and a long way behind Apple’s 2048-by-1536 Retina screen. Assuming you’re happy with Asus’ plain vanilla Android approach, this is the make or break compromise.
There’s an Intel Atom chip inside the Asus Transformer Pad TF103. Forget the geeky details, in practice it means most applications should run faster on the TF103 than on a Galaxy Tab S. My experience bore this out, the TF103 is fast by Android tablet standards.
It’s not all good though. Crashes are extremely rare on the iPad and, despite Android sometimes being flaky, not especially common on the Galaxy Tab S. I found the TF103 falls over more often than either of those two tablets, but it’s not that often and certainly not a deal breaker.
Like every other tablet maker, Asus packs its own software in the device. There’s a custom Android overlay, which, frankly, I prefer to Samsung’s TouchWiz. If anything Asus has given the icons, menus and built-in apps more of an iOS 7 look and feel than you’d usually find on Android. The built-in apps are surprisingly good and will almost certainly be enough to get you started.
Anyone well-heeled enough to find the extra for an iPad or a Galaxy should walk away at this point. So should anyone who thinks they’ll work with images or spend a lot of time with visually demanding entertainment software.
On the other hand, if you’re running a small business and you simply want to put affordable tools in your worker’s hands, Asus could be a better choice. It’s great for the basics and the included keyboard effectively turns it into a $500 laptop replacement. It’s not exciting or dazzling, but you’ll get the productivity you need for a ridiculously low price.