Thursday, April 30, 2015

Asus Transformer Pad (TF103CE) GPFE Tablet Review


I have been using the new Asus TF103CE Google Play for Education (GPFE) tablet for a week now. This is one of the new tablets that was announced for the GPFE program about a month ago and is the refresh to the Asus TF103C tablet.  How does it compare to the other GPFE tablets?


Specs:

-  Intel Atom Z3745 Quad-Core, 1.33 GHz, up to 1.86 GHz, 64bit
-  10.1" IPS display with a 1280x800 resolution
-  2GB RAM
-  16GB of Storage
-  1x Micro USB, 1x Micro HDMI, 1x Micro SD supporting up to 64GB of storage.
-  0.3 MP Front Camera, 2 MP Rear Camera
-  Stereo speakers
-  Wireless 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
-  19Whr Battery for 9.5 hours of use
-  Includes Keyboard dock with 1x USB 2.0
-  Height: .39" (.78" with dock) x Width: 10.14" x Depth: 7.02"
-  Weight: 1.21lbs (2.42 lbs with dock)
-  Runs Android 5.0 (Lollipop)


Overall Build Quality:

The design and specs of the Asus TF103CE is pretty much a mirror image of it's predecessor, except it now has an extra gig of RAM and runs Android 5.0.  The backs of both the tablet and keyboard dock are encased in a smooth black matte plastic that gives a good look to the tablet.  There is a plastic gunmetal gray trim with a brushed metal texture that goes around the sides of the tablet.  That same textured plastic also covers the top of the keyboard dock.  Even though the entire casing is plastic, it still feels pretty solid.




On the back of the tablet are speakers on the left and right sides of it.  Where it would have been nice to have front facing speakers, they are still loud and give off a good sound for a tablet in this price range.


Processor/Speed:

The Asus TF103CE uses the same quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Bay Trail processor as it's predecessor, but now has 2GB of RAM in it instead of 1GB.  This processor works really well in the tablet with the extra RAM.  It may not give the best performance for higher end gaming, but that is not what this tablet is intended for.  You should have no performance issues using it in the classroom.  In my usage of the tablet, I did not notice any slowness with it for email, web browsing, watching videos and using other various apps.  In running the Antutu benchmark on the tablet, it scored a 37474, which is not bad for a tablet in this price range.  In comparison to some other tablets, the Nexus 7 (2013) scored a 28294 and the Nexus 9 scored a 55409 when I ran the benchmark on them.




Screen:

The Asus TF103CE still uses a 10.1" IPS panel with a 1280x800 resolution.  Where a higher resolution screen is always preferred, the screen is not horrible to look at and is definitely acceptable for school use.  Due to the resolution, smaller text can look slightly fuzzy when holding the tablet closer to you. If the tablet is kept a few feet back, like when using it with the keyboard dock, it is not as noticeable.  Since it is an IPS screen, it has very good viewing angles and can get very bright when adjusting it to full brightness.  In most cases, you will probably only need to have the brightness at around 25% or less when using it indoors. 


Keyboard/Trackpad:

With the Asus TF103CE, the keyboard dock is included and there is no option to purchase just the tablet like you could with the TF103C.  
Having the keyboard dock included with this tablet does makes it easily compatible for state testing and is useful for a number of productivity apps.

The keyboard dock is reminiscent to a netbook and has a USB 2.0 port on the left side of it.  It is the same design Asus has used for pretty much every Transformer Pad over the last three years.  For being a tablet keyboard though, it is one of the better ones I have used.  There are a number of unique keys on the keyboard that are catered to the Android experience.  For example, there are keys to quickly take screenshots or navigate through the Android OS without having to touch any on-screen buttons.




These keys are nice to have, but I would have rather seen a keyboard layout similar to the Nexus 9 keyboard cover instead.  If Asus would have done that on the keyboard dock, the more important keys could have possibly been closer to a full size keyboard experience.  




There is also a trackpad on the keyboard dock to help navigate without the need of touching the screen.  Some people may like this, but I found myself still preferring to use the screen instead.  Moving a finger on the trackpad was not bad, but double finger swipes were not always the most responsive when scrolling through websites.  In addition, pressing down on the trackpad to click on items was very loud.  I think Asus could have done without the trackpad and used that space to expand the size of the keyboard layout.


Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Asus TF103C is a small block with the typical 3ft USB to Micro USB cable.  I would have liked it to come with a longer cable, but at least they are inexpensive to purchase if needed.






Battery Life:

The Asus TF103CE has a 19WHr battery that is supposed to give it 9.5 hours of use.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Asus TF103CE to get 5 hours and 44 minutes on a full charge with the screen at full brightness.  In that test, 80% of the battery use during that time was from the screen and 8% from the YouTube app.  You will likely be able to keep the brightness of this tablet at around 25% or less, which will greatly improve the battery life.  From my usage of the tablet, I think you should get around 8.25 to 8.5 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.

Camera:

The Asus TF103CE has a 0.3MP front camera and a 2MP rear camera that does not have a flash with it.  The cameras are nothing spectacular, but that is pretty typical with tablets in this price range.  As long as there is decent lighting, they will work well enough for students and staff to use with Hangouts and take basic photos or videos with for assignments.  The rear camera also works well with apps such as Aurasma, Plickers and QR Droid.  Below is a picture taken from the rear camera.




Android Interface:

The Asus TF103CE comes with Android 5.0 right out of the box.  The great news is that it is actually stock Android with no trace of the Asus ZenUI that is on the consumer based version of the tablet.  That should hopefully allow for faster Android updates to arrive on it down the road.






Conclusion:

Even though the Asus TF103CE is only a minor update to it's predecessor, it is still a solid addition to the GPFE line of tablets.  If you are needing a 10" GPFE tablet for student or staff use, then this is definitely one to consider for purchasing.  The price point is very reasonable for a 10" Android tablet that includes a keyboard dock and is compatible with state testing.  However, it does put it above the cost of most Chromebooks that schools will also be looking at this summer.  If the bigger screen size and keyboard are not necessary for your deployment, then you may want to consider the Nexus 7 or the new Asus MeMO Pad 7 instead.  Those GPFE tablets are about $130-$180 cheaper then the Asus TF103CE.


The Asus TF103CE starts at $329 with discounted pricing available on bulk purchases.  Like with Chromebooks, there is also a one-time $30 management fee for GPFE tablets.