Asus Transformer Pad (TF103C-A1) Review

Rating:

Over the past several years, many computer users on a budget have shifted from low-cost laptops and netbooks to tablets and smartphones. But if you actually do more writing than short social media posts and the occasional terse email, you’ll likely find yourself missing the physical keyboard.

Asus’ $349 Transformer Pad TF103C is a good option for those who are familiar with Android and want the portability of a 10-inch tablet, but also miss the keyboards found on the laptops they used to own. The keyboard here is a little cramped, just as they were on the similarly sized netbooks of a few years back. But it’s much better than using a touchscreen keyboard if you need to write more than a few sentences.

When you don’t need the keyboard, it detaches with the press of a button, giving you a reasonably powerful 10-inch tablet that, while it doesn’t have the highest-resolution screen or the thinnest design, performed well in my time testing it over a few weeks.

If your computing tasks are light, and mostly include Web browsing, document creation, media playback, and email, the Transformer Pad TF103C is a fine device. But if you’re often moving files between Windows PCs or Macs, or you need to do anything more complex than very basic photo editing, you’re better off opting for a more expensive Windows or Mac-based machine. The Intel Atom processor in this system is fine for running most apps, but isn’t nearly as powerful as a Core i3 or Core i5, and Android isn’t as slick as a desktop operating system as Windows or OSX.

Asus Transformer pad

Design

Asus transformer pad - laptop

The Transformer Pad’s shell is all plastic, but it feels solid, rather than cheap. The back of the tablet portion is a soft-touch plastic that looks nice enough, but easily picks up finger smudges. And as I noticed when I slid the tablet across a table while taking photos of it for this review, it also scratches easily.

Because the keyboard is only as wide as the tablet’s 10-inch screen, those with large hands will find it cramped. But Asus has made several tablets with keyboards this size, key feel and layout benefits from their experience. Still, if you’re used to typing on a desktop keyboard or a large laptop, the Transformer Pad will take some getting used to. But a physical keyboard is infinitely better than typing on a touchscreen.

The Transformer Pad mostly functions like a traditional (but small) laptop when the screen is connected to the keyboard. And it’s reasonably light at 1.1kg (about half that if you remove the keyboard.) But because the screen/tablet is roughly as heavy as the keyboard, the laptop is a little top-heavy. It’s not as bad as some convertibles I’ve used, but it’s something to be weary of if, say, you’re trying to type in your lap. Lean forward a little too far, and the Transformer Pad can topple over onto the ground by your feet.

The tablet’s 1,200×800-resolution screen isn’t on par with those on pricier tablets. But aside from having fewer pixels than an iPad Air or Microsoft’s Surface, it’s an attractive display with no major viewing angle issues and a reasonable amount of brightness.

The tablet’s speakers aren’t anything to get excited about, but they do a decent job, considering this is a budget-priced device. The same can’t be said for the cameras, though. The 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera can best be described as better than nothing for video chatting, as is the 2-megapixel shooter around back for snapping quick photos. Most budget devices these days have better cameras than those found here. Then again, large tablets make very poor cameras anyway. You’re better off using your smartphone or a point-and-shoot.

The metal hinge that holds the keyboard onto the tablet works very well, making the two halves of the device feel like one solid laptop when clicked together. And a big button at the center of the hinge releases the screen easily when pressed.

The tablet charges over a standard Micro USB port, housed in the upper tablet portion, and a full-sized USB port lives on the left side of the keyboard. Most hard drives, flash drives, and peripherals should work when plugged into the USB port. But remember if you plug in a device that requires Windows or Mac software, it won’t work.

Specs and Performance

With a recent Intel Atom Z3745 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage (expandable via a MicroSD slot), the Transformer Pad is far from the most powerful tablet. But in benchmarks (Geekbench and 3DMark) and anecdotal testing, it performed well. I ran several games and apps without issue, including graphically intensive titles like Anomaly: Defenders.
If you do lots of multitasking, or are looking for a tablet to be your primary computing device, you should probably look for one with 2GB (or more) of RAM. Power users will also want more than this device’s 16GB of storage; many apps can’t be installed on a MicroSD expansion card, and the internal storage can fill up fast, especially if you play lots of games.

For basic tasks like video playback and Web browsing, though, the Transformer Pad is more than adequate. Battery life is also fairly good–not as good as Apple’s iPad, but I looped a 720p movie for close to 11 hours before needing a recharge.

The Transformer Book’s smooth performance is also partially down to the fact that it runs a near-current version of Android (4.4.2). Asus adds its own skin on top, but it isn’t as drastically different as Samsung’s Touch UI. And if you don’t like the look of Asus’ tweaks, you can get rid of them easily by grabbing a different launcher in the Google Play store.

Asus Transformer pad - screen on

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a low-cost, compact device that functions as both a good large-screen tablet and a pretty good compact laptop for basic tasks like email and document creation, the Asus Transformer Pad 1F103C is definitely worth considering. But if you’re more familiar with Windows than Android, or you just have Windows-based software that you’d like to use, theTransformer Book T100 is worth paying extra for. It’s essentially the same device as the Transformer Pad TF103C, but it has four times the storage (64GB), twice the RAM (2GB), and runs Windows 8.1.

And if you want to do serious media editing, content creation, or other tasks beyond basic productivity, you’ll want to opt for something with a more powerful processor and more RAM. If you’re determined to stick with the tablet form factor,Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets are an obvious (though much more expensive) option. And if you’re looking for something with a larger screen that can also function as a tablet and a laptop, Asus’ own Transformer Book Flip has a much roomier keyboard and touchpad and a large 15-inch screen. It’s much larger and heavier than the Transformer Pad TF103, though, so it’s less travel-friendly.

Included in the Box:
Tablet
Keyboard Dock
Charger
Documentation

*Note* we do not currently sell this item anymore so please check out the Asus Transformer Book Flip as a good alternative.

Summary
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Reviewed Item
Asus Transformer Pad (TF103C-A1) Review
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Matt Safford

Matt Safford spends his days testing gadgets and writing about technology. He has written for Popular Science, Smithsonian, Consumer Reports, and Wired.

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