(Pocket-lint) - Asus blew our minds with the original Transformer. A tablet with a keyboard, we muttered, surely that's just a laptop running Android? But no, in fact it was a very clever idea: build a terrific tablet, that's both stylish and powerful, then offer a keyboard dock that acts as a stand, and charges your tablet while you tap out a new Word document.
The original wasn't perfect, the keyboard had some pretty work-hampering bugs, but the newer model seems to have addressed all these problems, and now the TF300 offers more to boot, including a selection of three colours.
We tested the Wi-Fi only version and Asus tells us it doesn't have plans to bring the 3G model to the UK. And, there's no option to just buy the tablet either, this system comes in a pack with both the keyboard and the tablet.
So is the Transformer Pad TF300T something you'd should transform your hard-earned money in to, or is it like a rubbish Michael Bay movie that you should avoid like a case of genital rot.
The cleverest tablet ever?
There can't be much argument, that the Transformer Pad, and those which have gone before it, have pretty much nailed desirability and usability. It's hard to beat Apple at design, and we're not sure Asus has quite managed it either, but the Transformer Pad is certainly the best looking Android tablet we've used.
Separated from the keyboard dock, it's thin, light and sturdy. There's a little creak here and there, but on the whole, this is a tablet that's very well designed and well-built. Plonk it on its keyboard dock, and it becomes a lot more flexible, without really compromising portability. It might not be as light as a tablet-only, but it puts pretty much all laptops to shame.
And the keyboard isn't just for typing either: it's got an additional battery, which helps keep the tablet charged for a lot longer than it could manage on its own. It also protects the screen when you're travelling, and gives the tablet something to stand on. It's not all perfect though, because we found that tablet will topple over very easily, because of its weight, versus the lighter keyboard. Not a big deal, but worth noting.
When docked, the tablet is securely attached to the keyboard. To unlock, you simply slide the silver release switch, and you're sorted. It's all very easy, and takes mere seconds.
Design and keyboard
The tablet itself has a microSD slot and mini-HDMI out. The keyboard dock gives you the addition of a full-sized SD slot, and a proper USB socket. Both the tablet and the keyboard are charged via a proprietary socket, but this is compact and easy to carry around with you.
The USB socket is something we find very helpful, especially if you're planning to do serious work on the device. It means you can access documents and save them for use on your desktop computer, and there's no need to save files to the cloud. And while we're all for online storage, there are some things - such as personal account details - which we wouldn't trust to any third party, and would much rather keep stored locally.
The keyboard and trackpad on the dock are small, but will do the job for short periods of time. It's funny using Android with a keyboard, and in many ways, the reverse problem that exists with Windows being rubbish as a touchscreen interface affects Android when you attach a keyboard and mouse.
For a start, the mouse is just odd on Android. That's not to say it doesn't work well, because it does, but it's almost always easier to just touch the screen instead. The keyboard, on the other hand, feels more normal, and it wasn't long before we had some words written on our TF300. Simple and effective, it might not offer anything you can't get for the iPad, but in our view, it's much slicker and more natural than any third-party solution.
The keyboard also makes gaming more of a possibility, although most Android games won't support it properly. But, we find the idea of serious gaming on a tablet a bit laughable with only touch controls. Certainly, the demos we played on the Asus had us yelping in frustration as we died repeatedly.
Tablet cameras are a mystery to us. They are useful for Skype, so a front-facing one is useful, but the rear-mounted affair is usually incredibly clumsy and hard to use.
And the Asus hasn't really managed to change our opinion on this. The camera is quite good though, with the 8-megapixel shooter offering bright, colourful images that seem to have a decent amount of data in them. Certainly, for snapping something to tweet or lob on Facebook, it's fine. For more than that, you'll get hacked off by the form factor long before the camera lets you down.
There's something about the Asus screen. We saw it on the other Transformers, and the Eee Pad Slider last year, but these displays are bright, colourful and stuffed full of detail. And technically, the Asus's 10.1-inch screen doesn't sound that impressive - the iPad 3, for example, has nearly twice the pixels per inch that the Asus does. But even so, the 1280x800 resolution is perfect for most things, and we love the results.
Take, for example, streaming video. We connected to our DLNA Plex server via Asus's own media streaming app and played a 1080p clip taken from The Dark Knight. We were blown away by the crisp detail and superb colour reproduction. The Asus has nothing to be ashamed of here, and the IPS panel means that the viewing angle is decent too. Handy if you're watching with a friend.
Do note that the IPS+ outdoor mode that you will find on the Transformer Prime isn't present here, although in practice we didn't have any problem at all in seeing it outside.
Tegra3 has plenty of power
We had a mess around with some of the games supplied on our review sample. It's hard not to be impressed by the graphical prowess of the TF300, it certainly has enough get up and go to play some pretty impressive titles. Resolution and frame rates both impressed us, and games are enjoyable to play for this reason. Whether the Transformer is a good gaming platform really depends more on ergonomics though, and that's a discussion for another part of our review.
Certainly, gaming was no problem, nor was decoding 1080p video sent via our wireless home network. We've got laptops that struggle to handle video at this rate, but the Asus just takes it in its stride. Asus provides a trio of power modes to control battery consumption, and so it's worth selecting the "performance" mode, if you're going to be doing anything especially intensive.
And, along with great gaming and video performance, the much less intensive requirements of general Android use are easily catered for here. Moving around home screens is slick, and it's rare that there's any judder
A cloudy day
As with most smart devices these days, the package isn't complete unless you're given some chunk of cloud storage in which to keep various files nice and safe. Asus is no exception, and you get a pretty generous allowance of 8GB with all Asus tablets, which you simply activate through the pre-installed app. It's a pretty quick process, and the apps which manage it are simple to use and graphically quite stylish.
The Asus Webstorage has a decent web interface too. So we uploaded images taken on the Transformer's camera, and then downloaded them to use in this article. It was simple, worked brilliantly and has much of the elegance of Dropbox. Our only real issue in downloading a pack of images was a little slow. We'll give Asus credit though, multiple files can be zipped by their server and sent as one compressed archive. This is a terrific idea, and we can see ourselves using it a lot.
If you need more than 8GB of storage, then upgrades are available. You can get 50GB for about £40 per year, or 500GB for £75 per year. There are some restrictions on the free account, and uploads are a bit limited (500MB max, per single file) but it's a good service for moving files around.
This is a hard one to call. Our tests, which involved a lot of 1080p video running for a long time, suggest that 10 hours battery life is ambitious. But that's not a fair test at all, and we did get quite close to that.
If you turn off Wi-Fi, and keep the screen brightness down, the Asus quoted figure is certainly achievable.
We love the fact that the keyboard dock charges the tablet too; it will get you out of sticky situations from time to time, and it means that while you're typing, or using it as a stand to watch a movie on the train, you're keeping the TF300 topped up with juice. The battery in the keyboard is not as capacious as the one in the tablet though, so don't forget to charge the two together.
As a stand-alone tablet, the TF300 is excellent. It's light enough for extended use, and the screen is glorious, full of detail with vivid colour. There's plenty of power here too, with media and games running with incredible smoothness.
Add the keyboard, and you get a whole new way to use the tablet. We're not going to claim this is a laptop replacement, but when you're on a plane for 10 hours, the Asus can cover it all on battery, and you can watch video, play games and do some work. It is, without doubt, the ideal travel companion.
We don't like the menu bar for changing the power profile and Wi-Fi settings, it's a pain and made us want to scream with rage. But aside to that, Asus has only lightly tweaked Ice Cream Sandwich, and we think its clock and weather widget is the nicest you can get for a tablet.
Overall, the reasons for buying a TF300 are many and varied but we struggled to come up with many reasons you shouldn't buy one. So that's a glowing recommendation from us then.