The netbook is dead, but the cheap laptop lives on, with Asus attempting to find a middle ground with its Transformer style of tablet hybrid and a sub-$500 price point.
Hybrid laptop tablets have never really been made for people on a budget, but the Asus Transformer TF103C hopes to change this, throwing enough tech into a tablet and keeping a keyboard nearby.
The tablet is going to be the most important part here, and for this machine, Asus has provided a 10.1 inch touchscreen display with all of the technology inside this section.
The screen itself runs a resolution of 1280×800, displaying a pixel clarity of 149 pixels per inch, which isn’t anywhere near Retina-class, but will be enough for most people.
Beyond the screen, look for an Intel chip under the hood, with the Atom Z3745 quad-core processor clocked at 1.33GHz and paired with 1GB of memory, below the 2GB sweet spot Android tends to prefer.
Storage is set to 16GB in our review model, and there’s room to move with a microSD slot on the top left edge of the touchscreen.
Connections are relatively standard on this model, with 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Miracast, GPS, with a microUSB port to charge from and a proprietary dock connector found on the very bottom.
A headphone jack can also be found here, but the rest of the multimedia is catered for with cameras, and there’s a 2 megapixel rear camera with a 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera.
There are only a few buttons of which to speak of here, with the power button up top on the left side, the volume rocker on the left edge, and Android’s on-screen soft buttons for back, home, and multi-tasking sitting at the very bottom of the display in a black bar.
Like most tablet hybrids, all the bits and pieces you’d normally need to think about are in the tablet, but there’s a second piece to this puzzle as well.
That piece is the keyboard dock, which is a staple in the Asus Transformer range, and in this model, you’ll find a keyboard, trackpad mouse, and full-size USB port working with the tablet.
No other ports can be found here, unfortunately, but the keyboard does support several function buttons, including keys for media playback, searching, taking screenshots, and turning wireless on and off.
The battery in the tablet (screen section) is rated for up to 9.5 hours of battery life, and there is no other battery in the keyboard section.
Can an Android hybrid tablet be made for a budget?
That’s the question being asked with the Asus Transformer TF103C, a new lower priced entry model Transformer tablet looking to get in under where the older TF300 and TF201 models sit, offering similar design and functionality but with different technology.
We need to note that the TF103C is totally different from the Windows T100 made by Asus, which has a similar name and design — it even sports a similar processor — but differs by way of running Windows 8 instead of Android.
Move past that, though, and you’ll find the 10 inch Android-powered TF103C ready for use, encasing a decent 64-bit system-on-a-chip processor from Intel, and a nice screen ready for you to use.
Switch it on and the screen comes to life, which you’ll pretty much expect. To its credit, Asus has provided an excellent screen here, with solid viewing angles and excellent colour. The brightness is strong, and we’d be surprised if anyone really struggled with this display, even if its pixel per inch number isn’t as high as it could be.
In the hands, the tablet is comfortable to hold, but very plasticky, thanks to the reliance on plastic, which is used in the body.
We’ll talk performance later, because it’s both good and bad, but we’re very pleased to see Asus using Android 4.4 “KitKat” here, the most recent iteration of the Android operating system.
Even better is the overlay Asus is using, which is clean, relies on a flat design, and is very bright and colourful.
If you’ve played with Android before — especially some of the other devices running KitKat — you’ll see some familiar elements, such as the app menu, albeit with a few extra tabs at the bottom, and a different drop down menu with flat icons and shortcuts to tools you might want access to.