Don't expect a revolution on the outside. Aside from the smooth matte finish on the non-removable back and some cosmetic tweaks to the speaker grilles, the TF103C will seem awfully familiar if you've used a Transformer-series tablet like the T100. Not that I'm grousing much about it. That still makes for a comfortable grip, and the tablet alone is light for its size at 1.2 pounds -- not as svelte as the 1.07-pound Galaxy Tab 4 10.1, but on par with LG's similarly sized G Pad. About the only step backward is the overly smudge-prone casing on the black model. You'll want to track down the white variant if you insist on keeping the case looking pristine.
Of course, that also means the same drawbacks have returned. The tablet's 16:10 aspect ratio is fine for landscape viewing -- arguably where you'll spend most of your time -- but not so hot for reading books in portrait mode. Moreover, the combination of dock and tablet is relatively thick (0.78 inch) and heavy (2.43 pounds) considering the energy-efficient technology you're getting. I'm not expecting something wafer-thin, but it would be nice if the TF103C were easier to tote around than far more powerful devices like the 11-inch MacBook Air or Surface Pro 3, you know?
A closer inspection reveals a few of the more conspicuous reasons why this Transformer Pad is so cheap. You'll once more find a microSD storage slot, a micro-USB port and the volume rocker within easy reach on the left side. However, ASUS has yanked the micro-HDMI video output seen on other tablets -- you'll have to make do with streaming technology like Miracast if you want to put movies on your TV. You will find a 2-megapixel rear camera where there was no such cam at all on the T100, but the front camera is a basic 0.3-megapixel unit that rules out any HD video chats. There's also a single USB 2.0 port on the dock instead of the T100's USB 3.0, although that isn't a big deal when Android doesn't make much use of the faster connection standard.
You won't find a lot of future-proofing inside, either. The starter Transformer ships with ordinary 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless, and my test unit carries a modest 16GB of built-in storage. There's an 8GB version, too, but you're not likely to find it in the US. That's just as well, since you'd run out of space very quickly with that model; even my device had just 10.3GB free before I started piling on the apps. You will find built-in GPS and GLONASS positioning, though, so you won't need to splurge on a cellular-ready tablet just to navigate through an unfamiliar city.
As always, the keyboard dock is why you're looking at a Transformer tablet in the first place. That's especially true for the TF103C, which has very little keyboard-equipped competition in its price range. Thankfully, ASUS hasn't skimped on the quality just to get that $299 sticker. This is the T100's dock rejiggered for Android, and that's mostly a good thing. Although the keys are too small for me to type at a breakneck pace, the keyboard as a whole is supremely helpful for drafting long emails and controlling basic settings like brightness. The touchpad, meanwhile, is a slight refinement over the T100; it has the same tiny surface and hidden buttons, but none of the jumpiness. Android admittedly doesn't make nearly as much use of mouse input as Windows does, but the pad is convenient for quickly selecting text or other moments when you don't want to lift your hands.
Having said that, all the quirks from recent ASUS docks remain intact. The buttons are a bit noisy, and some of them (especially the arrows and function key) are too tiny to find by feel alone. It also took some time to get used to the inherently top-heavy nature of the docked combo. Mind you, that's partly due to what's missing in the dock this time around -- a secondary battery. While you won't find one in the higher-end TF303CL or many other dockable tablets, the absence is disappointing given that earlier Transformers often made use of a spare cell.
Display and sound
If the dock is why the TF103C's price is so alluring, the screen is a big reason why the tablet costs so little in the first place. A 10.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 display is no great shakes in an era when 1080p or higher is quite common, even on small hardware like the G Pad 8.3 or Nexus 7. The low pixel density (149 ppi, to be exact) isn't terrible, but it was noticeable whenever I was reading or playing a visually intensive game. At least the overall picture quality holds up. The IPS-based LCD produces rich colors, shines brightly at 400 nits and only loses a moderate amount of that brightness when viewed from sharp angles. If all you're looking for is a reasonably true-to-life image, you'll be happy with what this Transformer has to offer.
Audio is another story. The two rear-firing speakers are barely loud enough for a quiet environment, even if you cup your hands around the speakers to direct the sound forward. Bass is equally weak -- playing dance music will leave you without the satisfying punch you get on the G Pad 8.3 or recent iPads. While the output is clear, I just couldn't get engrossed in movie dialogue or music without plugging in some headphones. Should you want a mobile media center, you're better off giving up the TF103C's screen real estate to get something with a fuller sound and a sharper picture.
If you've tried the Padfone X or other ASUS devices circa 2014, you'll have a good sense of what to expect from the Transformer Pad's ZenUI interface -- minus the phone part, of course. The company has given Android 4.4.2 KitKat just enough of a makeover to make it distinctive, with trendy "flat" (read: textureless) icons and bright colors. It's otherwise a very hands-off approach, though. While you'll see useful upgrades like quick access to settings and more polished media galleries, aspects like multitasking have largely gone untouched. I won't deny missing out on some advanced features that require more customization, like Samsung's multi-window support. Nonetheless, there's a certain refreshing simplicity to ZenUI. It's easy to find your way around, and it's blissfully free of unnecessary effects and transitions that might slow you down.