Bright touch screen; Excellent audio quality; Keyboard included; Runs latest Android software; Good performance for the price
Cramped keyboard; Stiff touchpad; Poor camera quality
The Android-powered ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C sports a vivid screen, excellent audio and a keyboard dock for $299.
When it comes to buying an Android tablet on the cheap, there are a glut of choices from vendors as diverse as Amazon, Fuhu and Kobo. Very few, however, include a keyboard for the price. The ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C features a clamshell keyboard dock and the latest Android software for a very affordable $299. Although the touchpad could be better, this is quite the versatile hybrid for the price.
With its nondescript, chunky build, the Transformer Pad TF103C certainly looks like a budget tablet. Unlike more expensive slates in the Transformer Pad series, the TF103C lacks a snazzy aluminum exterior, featuring instead a flat charcoal plastic chassis and keyboard dock (the tablet also comes in white). The exterior isn't as smudge-prone as other plastic builds we've seen; we noticed a few fingerprints on the back of the tablet after extensive handling. On the positive side, the soft-touch finish feels great beneath the fingers.
The back of the tablet features a silver ASUS logo in the center and a 2-megapixel, rear-facing camera at the top. Twin speakers are subtly located on each side of the rear panel just above the centerline. The volume rocker, microUSB port and microSD card reader are on the left side of the tablet, and a 3.5-mm headphone jack is on the right. On the front of the TG103C, a glossy black bezel frames the 10.1-inch screen, with a 0.3-megapixel front camera slightly off-center to the left.
At 10.13 x 7.02 x 0.4 inches and 1.25 pounds, the TF103C feels beefy compared with svelte premium slates such as the 1-pound iPad Air and Galaxy Tab S 10.5, but it is on a par with comparable budget tablets like the Lenovo A10 (10.4 x 6.9 x 0.35 inches, 1.2 pounds). With the keyboard attached, the TF103C jumps to 0.78 inches thick and 2.5 pounds.
When we measured the brightness of the screen using our light meter, the tablet averaged 361 nits. This easily outshines the relatively dim Lenovo A10 (280 nits). The category average, by contrast, is nearly as bright as the TF103C (330 nits).
Unfortunately, the display suffers from poor color accuracy. Using our colorimeter, we measured a Delta E rating of 10.5 (a score of 1 or lower is ideal). The Lenovo A10, in comparison, has a Delta E of 1.2. Color output on the TF103C is similarly lackluster, as the screen could only output 59.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut -- well below the category average of 86 percent. The Lenovo A10 is slightly better, with an output of 72.1 percent.
On the Laptop Audio Test, the TF103C registered 73 decibels from 13 inches away, quieter than both the Lenovo A10 (86 dB) and the category average (79 dB). Even with the sound cranked to the max, however, we didn't notice any distortion.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keys on the TF103C's keyboard offer plenty of vertical travel (1.88mm) and tactile feedback, but the layout is uncomfortably cramped. When we rested our left thumb on the spacebar, for example, our palm constantly brushed the touchpad, causing the cursor to jump around the screen.
The 3.2 x 1.75-inch touchpad proved stiff and frustratingly small. It also features an unusual design, in that the entire right side of the touchpad serves as a right-click button. This differs from traditional laptop touchpads, which recognize a right click only when the bottom right corner is depressed. This is a confusing and unnecessary change, as the right-click function isn't even utilized in the Android operating system.
OS and Interface
Like most manufacturers, however, ASUS couldn't help but add its own skin on top of Google's OS. Most of the changes are aesthetic -- icons look squarer and flatter, and menus are more colorful -- but the skin also makes some more substantive modifications. Apps in the app drawer can now be sorted according to All, Downloaded and Frequent.
Another addition is ASUS customized settings, accessible through the Android settings menu. From here, you can select the screen shot file format and tweak the quick-settings list (this appears by clicking on the rightmost icon at the top of the drop-down Android notification drawer).
Third-party apps include Amazon Kindle, eMusic (a music-streaming service similar to Spotify), Facebook, Flipboard and Zinio. There's also Omlet Chat, a privacy-centric messaging app, and Party Link, which lets you connect to nearby devices and share pictures automatically.
Storage and Expansion
The TF103C comes with 16GB of storage, which can be expanded by as much as 64GB with a microSD card.
The TF103C remained relatively cool during our testing. After streaming video on Hulu for 15 minutes at full screen, the back of the tablet averaged 87 degrees Fahrenheit, the touchpad 85 degrees, and the space and the G and H keys 78 degrees. We consider anything above 95 degrees uncomfortable.
Outdoor photos fared little better. In a picture we took of the George Washington Bridge, trucks crossing the bridge appeared blurry and indistinct. We also noticed pixelation in areas of solid color like the sky.
We did not notice an improvement when capturing video. Playback was smooth, but details remained fuzzy and colors were muted.
The ASUS camera app is similar to the stock Android application. On the left are buttons to switch the camera; select an effect such as grayscale, sepia and cartoon; and modify the camera settings (these include the camera resolution, anti-shake enhancement and burst speed). On the right, you'll find the buttons to take a photo, record a video and choose a mode (HDR, panorama and selfie, among others).
On our synthetic benchmarks, the TF103C outperformed the Lenovo A10, which uses a 1.3-GHz MTK 8121 quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 and 1GB of RAM. On Geekbench 3, which measures multicore performance, the TF103C notched a score of 2,376. That beats both the category average (2,088) and the A10 (1,160).
The TF103C loaded "N.O.V.A 3" in a zippy 17 seconds. This matches the tablet average, and is two seconds faster than the Lenovo A10.
On our VidTrim test, in which we transcode a 204-MB 1080p video to 480p, the TF103C took 5 minutes and 22 seconds. This was much faster than the A10 (10:30) and the category average (11:58).
Graphics performance on the TF103C is generally good. The tablet maxed out the 3DMark Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme benchmarks, and achieved a score of 14,569 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test. This showing blows past the category average of 9,874, as well as the A10's anemic 2,844.
The TF103C's lithium-polymer battery doesn't last quite as long as the competition. When we ran the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), the tablet turned in a runtime of 7 hours and 18 minutes. This falls short of the tablet average (8:02) and the Lenovo A10 (8:34).
If an included keyboard isn't your first consideration when buying a budget Android slate, you might want to take a look at the $249 Lenovo A10, which offers longer battery life but weaker performance. But if you want a mini laptop and tablet in one, the TF103C is a good choice.
|CPU||1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z3745 Quad-Core CPU|
|Storage Drive Size||16GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|Display Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Camera Resolution||2 MP|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||0.3|
|Card Reader Size|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||10.13 x 7.02 x 0.4 inches (10.13 x 7.02 x 0.78 inches with dock)|
|Weight||1.25 pounds (2.5 pounds with dock)|