So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
ASUS Transformer Book T100 hybrid
ASUS' 10.1in Transformer Book T100 is a tablet and a notebook in one convenient hybrid package
- 'Bay Trail' Intel Atom CPU
- MicroSD card slot
- Micro-HDMI port
- Build quality could be better
- Not great for streaming high-quality video
With a latest-generation Intel Atom processor at its helm, the Transformer Book T100 is capable of supplying a swift and mostly enjoyable Windows 8.1 tablet experience. It still struggles with some tasks, such as high-quality Web streaming, which could be a deal-breaker if that's one of your main undertakings.
Price$ 599.00 (AUD)
The latest generation of Intel’s Atom processor (codenamed Bay Trail) has really helped make low-cost Windows 8-based tablets an attractive proposition. They are now zippier in their overall performance, and very much a joy to use. So far we’ve seen only 8in models from the likes of Toshiba and Dell using the new CPU. Can the larger, 10.1in ASUS Transformer Book T100 provide a similarly enjoyable user experience?
As far as low-cost tablet options for Windows are concerned, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 represents the best of both worlds. That is, it comes with a keyboard base that allows the T100 to be used either on its own as a tablet (which weighs 568g), or as a regular laptop when it’s docked to the keyboard (which takes the weight to 1.08kg). You don’t get a true notebook experience, mainly due to the unit being top-heavy when the tablet’s in the dock, and the keyboard being cramped, but it’s good enough to use for short typing sessions when you want to catch up on email, post to Facebook, or write a daily blog post (a brief one).
For the most part, the T100 is useful as a tablet on which to browse the Web, view photos, and watch videos. It has a native resolution of 1366x768, and the screen looks clear and rich a lot of the time. However, it is glossy, and the maximum brightness setting doesn’t always neutralise reflections when you're in an environment with lots of bright light. The other thing to note is that the rear of the tablet is also glossy, so it's not as comfortable to hold as some of the smaller tablets we've seen (size notwithstanding), which have grippier textures.
Build quality is a mixed bag. The tablet as a whole feels fine, but there was something loose inside our test unit; every time we tilted the screen we could hear something moving around in there. Our test unit had done the rounds, though, so it may just be a case of wear and tear.
Around the edges of the tablet, you get useful features such as a microSD card slot and Micro-HDMI, in addition to the standard features of a headset port and Micro-USB (for charging). Speakers are located on the rear left and right edges, and sound can be easily muffled when holding the tablet with both hands (otherwise their sound is adequate for a tablet). The power button is located along the top, while the left side has the volume buttons and the Windows Home button. The Windows Home button felt shallow and very cheap; we avoided pressing it due to the way it felt.
The bottom of the tablet has the interface and mounting points for the keyboard, and once the tablet is plugged in, you can also make use of the full-sized USB 3.0 port. That's the only interface present on the keyboard dock — it doesn't offer any other expansion ports. Its keys are small and the overall feel of the keyboard is cramped, which we expected due to the 10.1in form factor of the tablet. It's reminiscent of the keyboards on netbooks from many years ago.
A re-thinking of the keyboard design would go a long way to making a hybrid product like this a viable option for long-term typing sessions; for example, ASUS could make the keys bigger by sacrificing some seldom used keys, much like the way Lenovo has tweaked the keyboard on on its ThinkPad models, removing some keys and making others prominent. Or, it might be time to replace the touchpad with a pointing stick and dedicate more space to keys.
But this is a low-cost unit (relatively speaking), and high-end design is not what it's about. It's basically a model that's meant to deliver a full Windows 8 experience — both as a tablet and as a notebook — at a price point under $600.
Specs and speed
On the inside, the T100 features an Intel Atom Z3740 CPU, which runs at a standard speed of 1.33GHz, has four cores and built-in graphics processing. It's surrounded by 2GB of RAM and a 32GB solid state drive (though it's available with 64GB). As far as tablets go, it's a solid configuration. This was shown in some of our tests, where the T100 recorded 1min 51sec in the Blender 3D rendering benchmark, and 15589 in 3DMark's Ice Storm test. The Toshiba Encore, which uses the same CPU and memory capacity, recorded slightly faster results (1min 49sec in Blender, and 16045 in Ice Storm), but compared to previous generation Intel Atom devices, the ASUS' results are a bright spot.
During everyday usage, the ASUS T100 felt reasonably swift, especially when interacting with apps in the Modern UI — the screen reacted accurately to our touches and we could switch between apps effortlessly. Even in the Windows desktop, our Web browsers launched quickly, and the tablet was responsive when we navigated folders and managed files. Furthermore, 720p and 1080p video files stored on the tablet played back without any issues.
Streaming video didn't fare so well. In particular, 720p YouTube videos dropped a few frames, and streaming basketball games using the NBA League Pass service made the tablet struggle a bit. The games were still watchable, but there were noticeable dropped frames in the 1600Kbps streams. If your primary purpose for owning a Windows 8-based tablet is to stream sports from online services, then we think you'll be better off with the smaller Toshiba Encore, which was smoother in our streaming tests.
While using the tablet for such a relatively taxing task, the top-right of the tablet got noticeably warm, to the point where it felt a little uncomfortable.
As for storage, the 32GB drive in our test unit had a formatted capacity of 28.2GB. It recorded a read rate of 153.5 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write rate of 50.87MBps in CrystalDiskMark. These are good results for a tablet.
By the end of our testing there was only 4.38GB left of the drive's 28.2GB. We transferred 7GB worth of test files to the tablet, and the Windows folder took up a shade under 10GB on its own. Even without the test files, the storage space isn't great, so we recommend going for the 64GB version, or at least installing a high-capacity microSD card if you want to store lots of music and video files locally. MicroSD cards travel in and out of the spring-loaded slot very easily, and transfer rates from our 16GB SanDisk Extreme microSD card hovered just above 20MBps.
What else can you do with it?
The inclusion of both a Micro-HDMI port, and the keyboard and touchpad dock, both make it possible to use a second screen with the tablet. You can easily duplicate the screen by just plugging it into the tablet (as long as you have a Micro-HDMI adapter), but the dock with the touchpad means you can also use an extended screen. If you only had the tablet, there would be no way to move content over to a second screen unless you also used third-party peripherals such as a Bluetooth mouse.
Because the Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are so close together on the tablet, you might not be able to leave the tablet plugged in to a power source if you have also inserted a bulky adapter in the HDMI port. That said, the battery life of the tablet is very good, so you should be able to get at least a couple of movies out of it before it drains completely.
In our rundown test, in which we maximise brightness, leave the tablet connected to Wi-Fi, and loop a video file, the T100 lasted 9hr 10min. This is two hours better than what the Toshiba Encore recorded in the same rundown test, which is understandable given that the ASUS has a bigger (31 Watt-hour) battery and only a few more pixels to drive (1366x768 on the ASUS, compared to 1280x720 on the Toshiba Encore — we haven't seen the Toshiba Excite yet, so we can only offer a comparison to the smaller unit).
Charging the T100 is a bit of a hassle. Unlike a regular laptop, it doesn't use a conventional power brick with long cords either side. Instead, you get a little adapter that feeds a short USB cable (it's a little over 1m). If you need to use the T100 while it's charging, you need to be sitting at a desk with a powerboard that's within arm's reach. It takes about four hours for the T100's battery to fully charge.
One of the things we liked doing with the T100 was using it as an interface for our Google Play Music library. The tablet comes with dual-band Wi-Fi (using a Broadcom chip), and Bluetooth 4.0. We used the Bluetooth functionality to connect to our stereo system and play music through the Google service simply tapping on the albums and song names on the display.
ASUS offers Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 with this tablet (though it wasn't installed on our test unit), which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, as well as 7GB of SkyDrive storage. This makes the Transformer Book T100 a very good choice if you're a student who needs to run this office suite. You can either use the suite on the unit as is, or you can plug in an external monitor, and a better keyboard and mouse (via a USB hub or Bluetooth) in order to get more of a desktop experience.
Read more: 20 best Windows 8 apps to get your hands on
The ASUS Transformer Book T100 is a compelling product for those who want a low-cost tablet with a full-blown version of Windows 8.1. It's basically a legitimate computer in a slate form factor that you can turn into a notebook if you plug it into its supplied keyboard dock. But the most important aspect of this tablet is that it comes with the latest generation of Intel's Atom CPU, which gives it more grunt and offers a more enjoyable user experience compared to previous generation Intel Atom-based Windows 8 tablets.
It's good for students, kids, and any of you who want a Windows 8 tablet to lounge around with at home, or even to use in the office. There are a couple of issues with its build quality, and streaming high quality video from the Web wasn't great, but those are our only qualms.
Note: the $600 price we have used is for the 64GB version.
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