Taken in isolation, the Asus Transformer Pad TF103C is a nice entry-level tablet. It's not appreciably better than most of the competition, but it represents a good value, since $299 (16GB) gets you the 10.1-inch tablet the signature transformer keyboard dock. That bonus puts it a notch above similarly equipped tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, which costs $50 more, and makes it a good choice for mobile productivity on a tight budget. If you want the best large-screen Android experience, you'll have to pony up a lot more cash for the $500 Galaxy Tab S 10.5, while the Apple iPad Air still holds onto our Editors' Choice thanks to its better app ecosystem.
Design, Features, and Dock
Asus drops the aluminum design and concentric etchings of Transformer Pads past, instead opting for an unadorned, soft-touch plastic look that closely resembles the PadFone X. At 10.1 by 7 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 1.22 pounds, the TF103C is on the thick side, but feels reasonably well built. There's a micro USB port and microSD card slot on the left side, while the proprietary docking port occupies the bottom edge.
The 10.1-inch, 1,280-by-800-pixel LCD is perfectly sufficient, but on the lower side of the sharpness spectrum with only 149ppi. That's par for the course with low-end, large-screen devices, though, and it matches the Tab 4 and Lenovo A10 in terms of resolution. Viewing angle is wide and maximum brightness is decent, though it's not quite bright enough for use in direct sunlight. There are two rear-facing speaker grills on the left and right side, but they don't sound as good or loud as the A10's.
This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11a/b/g/n networks on 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Also onboard are Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS radios.
Asus used to charge an extra $100 or more for the keyboard dock accessory. Including the keyboard is a nice touch, especially at this price point. It connects securely to the TF103C and mimics a netbook form factor, making it easy to type in your lap. The keys can feel a bit cramped, but it didn't take long to get used to, and the keyboard is worlds better than using any on-screen keyboard. The trackpad is responsive and supports gestures like two-finger scrolling. One downside to note is the omission of an extended battery in the dock, which used to be a staple of Transformer Pad docks.
Performance and Android
Intel is making a big push into mobile devices, especially lower-end Android tablets. The TF103C is powered by a quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3745 processor with 1GB RAM, which is a more recent chip than the Z2560 and Z2580 we've seen on tablets like the Acer Iconia One 7 and Dell Venue 7.
Performance is a bit of a mixed bag, especially if you go by synthetic benchmarks. For example, on the general system benchmark Antutu, the TF103C scored a 34,605, which is on par with the newly released Galaxy Tab S's 34,651. Geekbench numbers are also quite strong considering the budget-minded setup. Graphics benchmark results weren't as positive, with the TF103C unable to run GFXBench's T-Rex or Manhattan tests. It also had trouble running Rightware's Browsermark benchmark without crashing Chrome, but it turned in a strong 713ms in Sunspider, which bests the Galaxy Tab S's 1056ms. We saw this type of problem early on for the first crop of Intel-based Android devices, but that has largely been addressed for models using older chipsets. It's possible the new generation of Intel Atom processors are giving apps some trouble.
Another potential issue is the relatively low amount of system memory—GFXBench reports too little memory to complete its more intensive tests. Real world performance was mostly positive, with speedy app launches, smooth scrolling and animations, and playable frame rates in games like Asphalt 8. I did notice a few too many app crashes for my taste, but it wasn't a crippling issue by any means.
The TF103C runs Android 4.4.2 with Asus's custom skin on top. It's not quite as aggressive as Samsung's TouchWiz, but it does make substantial aesthetic changes and adds a few features on top of the stock experience. Icons, settings menus, and default apps are colorful and flat, which seems to be the prevailing look for all mobile OS's these days. There's an Audio Wizard app for tweaking the sound signature, which only really has an effect if you're wearing nice headphones or using an external speaker. Also onboard is a display color calibration tool, which lets you adjust color temperature and saturation. Asus added a few power saving modes, which limit network connections and background data to varying degrees.
Of the 16GB of total storage, 11.13GB is available out of the box. Asus preloaded a number of apps, including Amazon Kindle, eMusic, and Zinio, none of which can be uninstalled. Some of the first-party Asus apps are pretty nice. I really like What's Next, which syncs with Google Calendar accounts to show your daily agenda, including weather updates and relevant location reminders, and comes with a great widget.
In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi on, the TF103C lasted for 5 hours, 20 minutes. That's a disappointing result, considering thinner and lighter tablets with higher-resolution displays last for longer. The Galaxy Tab S lasted for 10 hours, 57 minutes in the same test, though the equally priced Lenovo A10 only lasted for 5 hours, 35 minutes.
Cameras and Conclusions
Around back is a 2-megapixel camera, complemented by a 0.3-megpaixel front-facing camera. They're useful for apps that require one, and the front-facing sensor at least makes video chats possible, but neither should be relied upon for any critical photography. Images are overly noisy, devoid of detail, and suffer from exposure and white balance issues. Video tops out at 720p and looks similarly subpar.
Compared with last year's Transformer Pad TF701, Asus's latest effort feels completely uninspired—it's targeting a lower-end market, but still feels like a new model for a new model's sake. As with nearly every Android tablet not made by Sony or Samsung, the Asus Transformer Pad TF103C is mostly a value-driven play: $299 gets you the 10.1-inch tablet and a nice keyboard dock. It's a better buy than the Galaxy Tab 4, but mostly from a productivity standpoint thanks to the bundled keyboard. And if productivity is your primary concern, and you can stretch your budget, there are plenty of more capable Windows 8 hybrids, including Asus's own $399 Transformer Book T100TA. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is the best Android tablet to own, but if you're OS-agnostic, the Apple iPad Air still has the best combination of design, performance, and app ecosystem for large-screen tablets.