Newmind Group just got our new batch of Asus Transformers, and I decided that in lieu of a conventional review, I’d move all of my work to the device for 48 hours, and see how the TF103C fared as a stand-in for my primary computer.
Just as a frame of reference, my workload generally stays within basic areas—email, web browsing, and office productivity—and rarely strays into deeper territory. I’ll also preface by saying the TF103C is the Transformer model optimized and priced with the EDU market in mind.
My first Android-based device was actually a Transformer TF101, and I have to say, in the years since that device was in production, I appreciate some of the new differences. The first thing I noticed was the matte plastic casing, which I actually really like—it’s a little bit bulkier than the TF101 (which had an aluminum casing on the tablet, and a faux-aluminum finish on the dock), but the overall design has improved in that there’s a much better weight distribution between the tablet and the dock, and the plastic texture gives it a more durable feel. This paired with a more stably-designed dock (more secure rubber feet, and improved easel in the back), produces a more comfortable experience using the Transformer as a clamshell device (although there is a bit of wobble when you shift the tablet while it’s locked in).
The keyboard has also improved—the keys have a satisfying depth of compression, but they also possess a certain plastic texture that feels a bit cheap. Also, as a user with large hands, the keyboard is still barely small enough to become irritating at times, but after 48 hours, the only aspect giving me trouble is the narrow space-bar. Having been spoiled with higher-end Chromebooks and Macbooks, it’s a somewhat difficult transition to make. I liked the trackpad, however—it’s well-sized and positioned, and has a satisfactory ‘click.’ For more precise functionality, a basic USB mouse served me fine, too, except that it then occupies the only USB port on the device. That being said, neither will be used much by users who tend towards the touchscreen (once you get used to it, it’s a little hard to transition back).
On that note, the 10.1” screen is one of the better features on the Transformer. The few opportunities I had that called for me to separate the tablet from the dock reminded me why I kept my old TF101 around—a large tablet is second-to-none for media consumption—not to mention the wealth of apps available in the Play Store. Having said that, my day-to-day work rarely called for these uses.
I clocked it at about 17 seconds to boot up, which is good, but leaves a bit to be desired (especially if you’ve been spoiled by Chromebooks). In terms of word processing, Google Docs has always been my favorite free option, but I’m still not crazy about the design for the mobile app. It’s practical on a phone, but when you’re trying to emulate a laptop’s function, it becomes less intuitive and more stripped down than I prefer. Moreover, the collaboration feature, being one of my favorite aspects of Google Apps, runs a little bit clunky on this platform—that isn’t to say it doesn’t work at all, but if you’re the only tablet taking part in a collaboration with other, heavier devices, you’ll be struggling a bit to keep up.
In terms of heavy usage, I was able to open multiple apps without a significant dip in speed or performance, but it still suffers certain pitfalls that come with the Android OS. Difficulties like background Youtube playback, opening multiple docs simultaneously, and navigating mobile-oriented interfaces left me irritated and wanting while I tried to undergo my ordinary productivity tasks.
Considering the surge of popularity of tablets in the educational market, I’d also like to note that the device seems to be a great fit for the classroom. Although older students may still need more horsepower and versatility than an Android tablet can offer (a deficit in office productivity comes to mind), the TF103C appears physically sturdy enough for young hands, while remaining a powerful addition to an elementary curriculum. The design of the new Asus Zen interface is very intuitive and user-friendly, and sports a bevvy of customization options for educators who’d like to personalize them. I was also able to run several resource-heavy educational apps without seeing a dip in performance. If you’re seeking new tablets for your classroom, the TF103C is a strong option.
It’s all about context
When it comes down to it, the main hurdle for the Asus TF103 is that, in spite of the improvements made to the dock, it still occupies the “third device” territory—while it’s simply not going to replace your laptop full-time, many of its strengths can be also be shouldered by your smartphone. Having said that, it’s perfect for short outings, and while it struggles as a tool for complex creative endeavors, it remains a great companion for media and basic content generation. Is it a good value for a dynamic product? Absolutely. But I won’t be stabling my laptop any time soon.
Looking for a different lightweight device in a similar price range? Check out our Chromebooks reviews here. Would you like to share a unique experience using a tablet in the workplace?