ASUS Transformer Book Trio hybrid laptop
An Android tablet, Windows 8 laptop, and Windows 8 PC, all in one mixed up product
- Separate Android tablet and Windows 8 PC units
- Full HD screen
- Felt sluggish during general use
- Base has a hard drive rather than SSD
With the Transformer Book Trio, ASUS gives you a device that can be used as an Android tablet, a Windows laptop or desktop PC. It's a product that continues the company's fine traditional of innovation, but we don't think it's ready for the mainstream just yet.
Price$ 1,599.00 (AUD)
As far as confusing products go, the ASUS Transformer Book Trio gets high marks. It's an 11.6in device with multiple identities that tries to cover off tablet, notebook, and even desktop PC or media centre needs. We know that ASUS loves to innovate, and that it’s not afraid to deviate from products that are deemed normal, but is the Transformer Book Trio worth considering over traditional devices and Windows 8 hybrids?
The first thing to note is that the Transformer Book Trio is essentially two joined-together elements: an Android tablet, and a Windows 8 notebook base. That's the gist of it. The tablet runs on its own CPU power (an Intel Atom Z2560), and the base (which ASUS calls a PC Station) runs under its own CPU power (a fourth generation Intel Core i5-4200U). This means that you can use both products separately, yet concurrently; you can use the Android tablet to browse the Web, while at the same time using the base (or PC Station) as a regular Windows computer via an HDMI-equipped monitor or TV.
In a way, it's the ultimate product if you've had trouble deciding whether to get a new Windows 8 laptop or an Android tablet, but it feels like a clunky and complicated device when it's in use. We say this because there are few too many bits of software to configure before you can use the product in the way that ASUS envisioned it (setting it up to share data between the Android and Windows 8 operating systems, for example), and also because it's a device that, at times, ran very slowly for us. We should note that the device we tested was a demo unit, so it may not represent the final product in terms of the way it's configured and the way it runs.
Scenario one: a Windows 8 laptop
The first and most obvious way to use the Transformer Book Trio is as a Windows 8 laptop. In this guise, the Trio conforms to the traditional clamshell form factor, with the tablet docked to the base and acting as a Full HD monitor. Like many hybrid laptops that we've seen recently, this one feels top heavy. If you lean the screen all the way back while resting it in your lap, you might find that it can topple backwards a little too easily. All up, it weighs 1.68kg.
As far as typing and navigation are concerned, the keyboard is a little cramped, thanks mainly to the 11.6in form factor, so it does take some time to get used to typing on it; there is adequate room to rest your palms, though (65mm). It has a clickpad-style touchpad that's a good size (95x54mm), which worked fine for basic pointing, tapping and scrolling. However, it exhibited one problem that we've seen with other touchpads using ASUS Smart Gesture software: three-finger flicks didn't work in Firefox. We also couldn't get any of the Windows 8 swipe-in gestures to work, but it was easier to perform these with the touchscreen instead.
Along the edges of the base you'll find a small selection of ports that make the Trio resemble a conventional laptop. It has two USB 3.0 ports, a headset port, and there are two video ports in the form of Micro-HDMI and mini-VGA. We're disappointed that an SD card slot hasn't been installed, and we wish that the HDMI port was full-sized, which would save us from having to buy an adapter in order to use it.
Network connectivity is by way of a dual-band Realtek (8821AE) 802.11ac Wi-Fi module, but it didn't produce the fast speeds we were hoping for in our tests (it maxed out at about 12 megabytes per second (MBps) on our home network. This could be because the antennas for the Windows system are located in the base rather than the tablet screen (the tablet has its own dual-band Wi-Fi). Bluetooth is also present.
Specifications in the engine room include a fourth generation Intel Core i5-4200U CPU, which has two cores, Hyper-Threading, and a standard frequency of 1.6GHz. The CPU also handles graphics. There's a cooling fan for it that runs almost all the time, and it can get noticeably audible when the CPU has to perform a lot of work. Joining the CPU is 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and a 500GB, 5400rpm hard drive. The hard drive could be heard working away in the background most of the time during our evaluation period, and we suspect it's part of the reason for the sluggishness exhibited by this laptop during general usage.
Our performance tests revealed the Trio to be up to speed as far as pure processing as a laptop is concerned, recording 51sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, which is only 1sec off what the Sony VAIO Pro 13 achieved in the same benchmark with the same CPU and RAM. In our iTunes MP3 encoding test, the Trio recorded 1min 7sec, which is a relatively slow time, but understandable given that the configuration includes a hard drive rather than solid state storage. In CrystalDiskMark, the drive recorded a sequential read rate of 95.64 megabytes per second (MBps) for 1GB of data, and 88.73MBps when writing.
We’re disappointed it couldn’t reach triple figures in that benchmark and think that an SSD would serve the base of the Trio a lot better. However, ASUS has installed the hard drive to allow for plentiful storage space, mainly so you can access files off the hard drive through the Android tablet, and also to transfer files off the Android tablet and onto the Windows 8 system in a (relatively) easy manner.
We love the fact that the screen has a Full HD resolution, which allows for much easier multitasking than notebooks of a similar form factor with a lower resolution.
Scenario two: an Android tablet
When all you want to do is laze around on the couch or in bed browsing the Internet, you can detach the screen from the Trio and use it exclusively as an Android tablet. It runs Android version 4.2.2 and can be used primarily for Web browsing, reading, and for playing compatible games from the Google Play store.
It has a weight of 706g, it’s about 10mm thin (though the edges are thinner), and it’s easy to hold in landscape mode. However, if you’re watching videos or listening to music without headphones, the location of the speakers on the rear left and right edges makes them easy to block while holding the tablet. Furthermore, if you use headphones while watching a movie, you’ll struggle to get comfortable as the headphone port is located on the bottom edge of the tablet. The volume and power buttons are located on the rear-left of the device, and we sometimes pressed them inadvertently.
The screen has a glossy finish that, like most tablets, likes to collect smudge marks and fingerprints, and it will need a regular wipe-down. It has a high brightness that’s useful for countering reflections, and it displays text and images relatively crisply in either landscape or portrait orientation. We found it to be a good unit for light reading, and for browsing news and content aggregation Web sites.
We will note that not all apps that we use on a regular basis are compatible with this tablet. One of our favourites, NBA Game Time, which is used to stream basketball games, could not be installed. Furthermore, we could not stream that content through the Web because it relies on Flash, which is unsupported by this tablet. If you’re after a tablet for streaming specific video content such as that, then find out first if it will work on this tablet. Otherwise, you might end up being disappointed.
Other things to note about this tablet are that it has a microSD card slot on the bottom, which can be used to shore up its storage capacity, and there is a micro USB port that can be used to transfer data off the tablet onto a PC, or to charge it via a PC or wall outlet. There are front and rear facing cameras, which are fine for Skype calls, but they shouldn’t be used for snapshots because their quality is far from great. The tablet lacks a video output port.
As for its performance, it felt a little sluggish at times while loading and switching applications, and we’re putting this down to all the background services that ASUS has installed, which are required in order for the tablet to interact with the Windows 8 base. In the browser-based benchmarks Sunspider and Peacekeeper, the tablet recorded 1007ms (lower is better) and 582 marks (higher is better), respectively, using the Chrome browser. We don’t have comparative results for another Android tablet with this CPU, but Acer's Iconia W3-810, which is a Windows 8-based Intel Atom Z2760 tablet, got 946ms in Sunspider and 784 in Peacekeeper, which are better numbers (though that CPU runs at 1.8GHz).
Scenario three: simultaneous tablet and PC usage
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the Trio is the fact that you can use the tablet independently of the laptop base, while also using the laptop base (the PC Station) as a regular Windows 8 system. You can do this by plugging the base into an HDMI-equipped LCD monitor or a big-screen TV, and you can even attach external input devices via its two USB ports if you don’t want to use the built-in keyboard and touchpad.
Because the base only has a Micro-HDMI connector, you will have to get yourself an adapter or a micro-to-full-size HDMI cable. We bought an adapter from Officeworks for $15 (it has both micro and mini plugs on it that feed to the full-sized plug), but we did so without noting the shape of the adapter, nor the location of the HDMI port in relation to other ports on the base. Because our adapter requires the HDMI cable to be plugged in at a right angle, we were unable to connect the base to its power adapter while it was connected to our TV. We recommend getting a cable or adapter that juts straight out, rather than at an angle.
We used the PC Station as a media centre of sorts, hooking it up to our TV to watch streaming video via NBA LeaguePass. At the same time, we used the tablet to browse the Web and bring up stats for the games that we were watching through LeaguePass. Of course, you can use the PC Station as a regular office PC while someone else is using the tablet. It's not strictly a one-person device, and for this reason it might suit families who have been keen to get a device that's sharable. That said, you do need to have some infrastructure in place to use the Trio's PC Station base when the tablet screen is detached.
Scenario four: an Android laptop
One other thing you can do with the Trio is use it as a laptop while running Android. There is a dedicated keyboard key that you can press, which activates the built-in software switcher and allows you to navigate Android using the keyboard and touchpad. The software always runs in the background on the Windows 8 PC, and on the Android tablet, so you can make the change between devices and operating systems with minimal fuss. This aspect of the Trio works very well.
You can also use the pre-installed software to set up file sharing between the Android tablet and the Windows 8 system. Both devices need to be on the same wireless network for this to happen (you'll essentially be moving files over the wireless network), and it takes a little legwork to set it up. You have to start the ASUS PC Tool via the ASUS Console on the Windows 8 system (telling it that you want to connect to the tablet), then access the same app on the Android tablet to allow the connection to happen.
Once this is done, you should be able to see the Android folders through Windows 8, and shared Windows 8 folders through Android. The tablet's folders are mapped as network locations, which can slow down simple tasks on such as opening File Explorer in Windows 8. In any case, we think it's a very fiddly process just to share data. It was faster for us to just use Dropbox or plug the tablet in via a USB cable without going through any of the pre-installed software.
Unlike the Transformer all-in-one PC that we reviewed in May, which has an 18in Android tablet (based on NVIDIA Tegra processing) and a Windows 8 base, our Transformer Trio didn't include streamer software so that we could control Windows 8 through the detached tablet.
Each device has its own battery and both batteries work independently. The battery in the tablet device can't be used to supplement the battery in the base, and vice versa. We ran our regular battery life test on the Trio, which is a laptop rundown test in which we disable power management (that is, change to high performance), maximise screen brightness, enable Wi-Fi, and stream an Xvid-encoded video. In this test, the Trio lasted 3hr 42min. It's not an exciting result.
We then ran another test on the laptop using a video streaming task (from NBA.TV), the ASUS Power4Gear power saving profile, and medium screen brightness. In this test, the laptop ran for 3hr 32min. This same task was then run with the Windows 8 base plugged in to a Full HD TV using HDMI, with the tablet screen out of the equation. It lasted 4hr 20min.
At the same time as the last test, we used the Android tablet for Web browsing tasks that included mostly reading text and viewing photos while using a medium screen brightness. It lasted 4hr 38min before it warned us that we had to plug it in.
These results aren't great for a product that has been designed for mobility, but how much you get out of the tablet and the laptop will depend on how you use them, and how bright the screen is set. We should point out that on the Windows 8 laptop, the power profile always defaulted back to the Power4Gear power saving profile, which is the one we used for our video streaming tests.
When the battery in the PC Station dock runs out, the system switches to the Android tablet automatically.
ASUS has an interesting product in the Transformer Book Trio, but it's hard to recommend something 'interesting' over something that's useful. Don't get us wrong, you can do a lot of stuff with the the Trio, but it's a product that feels messy in the way it works. For the most part, the only reason we used the Android tablet was because the PC Station ran out of battery power.
We think that if you're after both an Android tablet and a laptop, just go on ahead and get two separate devices. After all, you can still use a regular laptop as a 'PC Station' while you use your Android tablet for other tasks. The only reason you should go for the Transformer Book Trio is if you're a fan of innovation and are enthusiastic about products that are different.
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