- Runs Android 4.4 KitKat with the latest apps
- Good touch screen
- Excellent audio quality for a small device
- Good performance for a $299 tablet
- Android is terrible for laptops (no real multitasking)
- Meager 1280x800 screen resolution
- Cramped keyboard
- Bad performance for a $299 laptop
$299 buys you the ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C with a nice screen, good audio a decent keyboard dock but it's a better Android tablet than a notebook.
We live in very interesting times for laptops. Tablet sales are strong — in some markets stronger than laptop sales — but even though people love tablets, the overwhelming feedback from both consumer and commercial customers is that the traditional “clamshell” notebook with a keyboard and touchpad is a necessity. This desire for both tablets and notebooks has given rise to hybrid or 2-in-1 laptops that can function as both a notebook PC and a tablet.
One of the latest varieties of these hybrid designs are 2-in-1 devices that run Google’s Android operating system. The Asus Transformer Pad TF103C is one such device; designed to function as both an Android tablet and an Android-powered notebook.
If you’re familiar with the popular Asus Transformer Book T100 from late last year, you already know what the TF103C looks like. This is a fairly simple design for a 2-in-1 laptop with a screen that’s thicker than the keyboard because the screen is actually a detachable tablet.
Make no mistake, this is built like a budget tablet in the same way as the T100. There was no attempt to make the tablet half of this device thin like an iPad Air or even provide some extra protection (or style) by using brushed aluminum for the exterior. The TF103C is made from matte black plastics (or white, if you purchase the white version) with a rubberized soft-touch paint to make it feel a little more like a premium product.
While we’re on the topic of the rubberized paint, which Asus claims is the “anti-fingerprint coating,” we frequently noticed smudges from our skin oils on the back of the tablet and keyboard. Before you ask, we aren’t particularly oily people. So, while these plastics might be less prone to “fingerprints” than a glossy plastic tablet or notebook, the soft-touch finish is still very prone to smudges even after minimal handling.
The tablet portion of the TF103C connects to the clamshell keyboard dock via a port located in the middle of the central hinge connector at the back edge of the keyboard. Two tabs extending from each side of the central hinge help secure the tablet and provide that extra bit of stability in “laptop mode” so that all the weight resting on the docking port.
The tablet feels very secure once it’s locked in place and the hinge has just enough tension to hold the screen firmly in place while still allowing you to moveit forward or back for the best viewing angle in laptop mode.
Ports and Features
The left side of the tablet includes a volume rocker, a microUSB 2.0 port, and a microSD card slot. The microSD card slot will come in handy because there’s only 16 GB of storage. The right side of the tablet only features a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack. The back side of the tablet is where you’ll find a 2-megapixel, rear-facing camera near the top edge. On the front, the TF103C has a 0.3-megapixel front camera built into the bezel and located slightly off center to the left on the upper black bezel of the 10.1-inch screen. There’s also a full-sized USB port on the left side of the keyboard dock.
Screen and Speakers
The 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 touchscreen on the TF103C isn’t as detailed as the 1080p-and-higher panels we’ve seen on the latest premium tablets from Asus. That said, the screen is an IPS panel that delivers vivid colors with wide viewing angles so that it looks good in just about every direction. This is much better than a typical $299 laptop that have cheaper TN panels with shallow viewing angles.
In other words, when you watch a Netflix movie full screen on the TF103C, you don’t have to worry about how the screen is tilted relative to your eyes. When you watch the same movie on a laptop with a cheap TN screen, the colors start to wash out if the screen is tilted past about a 40-degree angle.
The brightness comes it at about 350 nits, with some corners measuring closer to 330 and others measuring closer to 360. That means you should be able to view the screen just fine outdoors in all but the harshest sunlight. Again, this is better than most budget laptop screens that are measured at less than 300 nits.
The only real complaint we have is that we want to see a 1080p screen resolution given the fact there are so many Android devices in the same price range with 1080p or better.
The small stereo speakers built into the tablet portion of the TF103C did surprising well in terms of providing sound that is relatively free of distortion yet loud enough to fill a small room. The audio range isn’t as impressive as what you’ll hear from larger laptops with larger stereo speakers and a dedicated subwoofer built into the bottom of the notebook, but the TF103C does pretty good for two little speakers tucked behind the screen.
If you think the keyboard and touchpad on the TF103C look familiar that’s because it’s essentially the same keyboard dock used on the Transformer Book T100 from 2013. The only difference between the this keyboard and the T100 is a slight shuffling of the function keys and Android-specific keys for the Home screen and Search instead of the Windows and Alt keys. As with the T100, the TF103C includes the keyboard dock at no additional cost because this device is being sold as a hybrid laptop and not as a tablet with an optional dock.
The keys themselves offer a reasonable amount of tactile feedback thanks to some degree of vertical travel but they feel cramped if you have large hands. Children or women with slender fingers won’t have a problem with this keyboard, but most adult men will probably press the wrong keys from time to time and bump the touchpad because it’s located quite close to the bottom of the keyboard.
On that note, I constantly brushed my right palm against the touchpad and moved the cursor causing some pretty spectacular typing errors that resemble what I imagine a cat would randomly type if it ran across my keyboard.
The touchpad itself is pretty small and that will again be a problem for people with larger hands and fingers. The touchpad is a “clickpad” style design where the entire surface of the touchpad functions as a mouse button.