There are plenty of productivity suites available on Android. Between Google’s Drive storage and its other apps like Sheets and Google Docs, it’s easier than ever to edit documents while on the move. The main problem is that using an onscreen keyboard for anything other than short chunks of text can be frustrating. The Asus Transformer Pad TF103C looks to tackle this problem by providing a keyboard dock that allows you to transition between tablet and laptop modes seamlessly.
Once the tablet is locked in to the keyboard, the connection feels strong and you can safely hold the entire combination from the tablet screen without fearing the keyboard will detach. It’s not possible to angle the tablet very far backwards, however, and the hinge wasn’t as sturdy as we would have liked. It’s fine when you’re using the dock’s integrated touchpad to control the on-screen mouse cursor, but if you plan on prodding away at the touchscreen you’ll find the screen tilts under the force of your finger. As the keyboard dock itself is relatively light, the weight distribution is unbalanced so the entire system also has a tendency to move around your desk as you interact with the screen.
The tablet and keyboard weigh 550g each. This makes the Transformer Pad a reasonably heavy tablet, but when docked it becomes a reasonably light laptop. The entire docked system is a very thick 19.8mm while the tablet alone is a chunky 9.9mm. There’s a button built into the hinge for undocking, and once pressed you simply need to lift the tablet away from the base.
The tablet feels well made, and comes in either matt white or black, with an attractive silver trim around the outside edge of the chassis. When docked the power button is easy to find on the top, with the volume rocker on the left and the tablet’s microSD slot underneath. This lets you expand the 16GB of built-in storage up to a further 64GB. The keyboard dock adds an additional USB port but nothing else; there’s no built-in secondary battery to boost battery life, for example, but we wouldn’t expect one at this price.
The keyboard is reasonably pleasant to use. It’s certainly a vast improvement over trying to type long documents using an on-screen keyboard, but it still feels slightly cramped. The chiclet keys are a good size but they’ve had to be squeezed into the surface area of a 10.1in laptop. The right shift key is also strangely placed, which took a lot of getting used to, and the cursor directional keys are a reduced size. The keys have a surprising amount of travel but feel spongy. There are also useful Android shortcuts such as screen capture, volume and screen brightness.
The integrated touchpad was a real surprise. Although it doesn’t have a particularly big surface area, it’s very comfortable to use and had just the right amount of resistance to swipes and gestures. The touchpad buttons are also responsive with a positive click. You’ll find the right-click behaviour frustrating if you’ve come from Android, though, as it acts as a back button.
We were disappointed with the Transformer Pad’s display. It was only able to produce 50% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is incredibly poor. Reds appeared closer to orange in our subjective tests and blues were oversaturated. Similarly, the screen’s 796:1 contrast ratio is also below average.
Gaming performance was also very good. In our Ice Storm Extreme test we saw a score of 9,340, and in Ice Storm Unlimited, which is locked to a 720p resolution for easy comparison between chipsets, the tablet recorded 14,444. Both scores were a fraction better than in the MeMO Pad 8 and also superior to the Tesco Hudl2 – this tablet punches well above its price for 3D power. As with the Asus MeMO Pad 8, and many other Intel-based tablets, we did encounter problems loading some games, but this is hopefully something that will be rectified with future app updates.
The Transformer Pad runs Android 4.4 KitKat, skinned with Asus’ ZenUI. It’s not a major departure from stock Android but it does come with a few useful customisations such as shortcuts to various functions on the lockscreen. The app drawer also lets you filter your apps by downloaded or frequently used, which makes it easier to navigate if you install a lot of apps. There’s also Dual Apps mode, which lets you place two apps side by side for easier multitasking. However, this has its limitations, as it only works with specific apps. You can at least use some useful combinations such as a browser next to an open email.
The tablet managed 8h 5m in our video playback test. It’s a shame there isn’t a secondary battery integrated into the keyboard, as we would have liked to have seen a longer battery life, although this would have added more weight and cost.
The Asus Transformer Pad TF103C with its keyboard dock is competitively priced with excellent performance, but its display is a let-down. If productivity is your real priority, a Windows 8.1 tablet might be a better choice, such as the Schenker Element, which has a keyboard integrated into its case. While if a laptop running Android appeals then check out the HP Slatebook.