ASUS Transformer Pad 300 hands-on

Right after ASUS wrapped its Mobile World Congress 2012 press conference, the hundreds of journalists present all honed in on the Padfone -- that 4.3-inch handset whose various accessories can turn it into a 10-inch tablet with a full QWERTY keyboard dock. After the crowds thinned, though, we spotted a red tablet sitting by itself in the corner. That would be the Transformer Pad 300, ASUS' new low-end slate.

On paper, at least, it's a slightly emasculated Prime, with a 10-inch IPS (but not Super IPS+) display and 16GB of storage, not 32GB or 64GB. Otherwise, the key specs remain the same: a quad-core Tegra 3 chip, 1GB of RAM, Android 4.0, 1280 x 800 resolution and dual 8MP / 1.2MP cameras. (Some models will also have an LTE radio, but that's something we'll have to revisit in a full review.) In any case, we wondered if the 300 would be identical to the Prime in looks as well (those fancy press shots don't always tell an accurate story). Surprisingly, it isn't! Check out the photos below and see if you can spot the differences, and then follow past the break for some quickie impressions.

Though it does resemble the other tablets in ASUS' lineup, the company has clearly tinkered with the design as it presumably positions this thing as more of a lower-end device. Next to the new 8.5mm-thick Infinity Series (essentially, the TF700T with an LTE radio and optional Snapdragon S4 chip), the 9.9mm 300 feels thick and weighty -- to the extent that any of ASUS' Prime tablets are really chunky. And though it has a spun finish, the texture of the plastic back is rougher than on the Infinity or the original Prime; the ridging just isn't as fine. Inside that slightly bigger frame is a battery that promises 10 hours of runtime -- just like the others. Just don't expect longer battery life in exchange for a less svelte design.

As for the display, we're undecided as to whether you'll notice the step down to IPS from Super IPS+ (that's a 600-nit panel, for those of you not up on your marketing jargon). Indoors, at least, we were still able to view the screen at a wide assortment of angles. Obviously, though, if you buy into the Transformer lineup, you're presumably doing so with the hopes of buying that signature keyboard dock too. Use that and you'll enjoy the tablet head-on without having to place it flat on the table.

In that sense, the 300's viewing angles are promising simply by virtue of its ergonomic design. In any case, though, that won't be a sufficient answer for those of you who plan to use this outside. If we can get one in to review, we'll take that and our original Transformer Prime outdoors and see which display is easier to make out.

So will this pared-down Prime come with a lower price tag? We'll have to wait on country-specific pricing and availability details, but tentatively, we'd say we'd be willing to sacrifice a little thinness if the performance and battery life remain equal and the display remains stunning enough. That's a lot of ifs, of course -- uncertainties we hope to revisit in a full review.

Zach Honig contributed to this report.