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The Asus Transformer Pad has been around for a while now, with a number of variants offering a tablet plus a keyboard dock for working in 'notebook' mode. Transformer Pad devices run Android, and we've been waiting for Asus to deliver a Windows 8-based Transformer, which it has now done.
The £350 (inc. VAT; £292 ex. VAT) Asus Transformer Book T100 isn't the company's first venture into the Windows 8 tablet space — the Vivo Tab came first. But whereas the Vivo Tab can be bought either as a solo tablet or a tablet with keyboard dock, the Transformer Book T100 is only available with the keyboard. At first glance the price looks attractive, but does this hybrid device have what it takes to be your only Windows 8 device?
One of the most important points to note about the Transformer Book T100 is that it's very small. With only a 10.1-inch screen to accommodate, the chassis is tiny compared to a regular notebook. In fact, it's much more reminiscent of the short-lived netbook format, which Asus did much to popularise.
With dimensions of 26.3cm wide by 17.1cm deep by 2.36cm thick and weighing just 1.07kg, the Transformer Book T100 is eminently portable — but of course, there are trade-offs.
Take the screen, for example. A 10.1-inch display is perfectly adequate for a tablet, and unless Samsung's new 12.2-inch Galaxy NotePRO and GalaxyTabPRO spark a new trend, looks set to remain the mainstream tablet screen size.
The 1,366-by-768-pixel IPS panel is good but not great: viewing angles good enough, top brightness is arguably a little below the ideal and colours look a tad washed out.
However, because of the small screen size, many users might find working with text something of a challenge. There's also the inevitable aesthetic issue of a wide screen bezel. When we were working in tablet mode this was not an issue, as we expect a relatively wide screen bezel from a tablet — to give you something to grip on without activating the touchscreen. But in notebook mode the bezel looks enormous compared to modern designs, and if this were purely a notebook we'd be bemoaning the acres of unused screen space.
The other important trade-off is the cramped keyboard. Asus has done what it can to deliver a good keyboard experience: keys are well spaced and feel solid under the fingers; the half-height Fn keys have useful second features and the Enter key is relatively large. But there's no escaping that keys are significantly smaller than usual. Even our small hands felt a little squeezed into the available space, and we wouldn't relish the prospect of using this keyboard for several hours a day.
The small buttonless touchpad beneath the screen works well, but if the keyboard and/or the touchpad are not to your liking, you can always use the USB port on the keyboard dock to attach a mouse or a separate keyboard — the touchpad can be disabled with a Fn key. The USB 3.0 port can also, of course, be used to attach other external devices such as a hard drive or USB stick.
If you're thinking that the Transformer Book T100 might be all the Windows 8 device you need, screen and keyboard ergonomics will both be important factors to bear in mind.
Tablet and keyboard are pretty evenly sized. The tablet measures 26.3cm by 17.1cm by 1.05cm while the keyboard dock has the same width and depth, and is 1.31cm thick. The two components weigh 550g and 520g respectively. This means that, like other Transformer models (and other keyboard-dockable tablets we've seen), the Transformer Book T100 is a little top heavy.
This is unavoidable really. The tablet section has to contain enough internal hardware to be able to function solo, and so the keyboard section is always likely to be relatively light unless it's deliberately weighted down. The consequence is that you have to learn to be quite light-fingered when using the touchscreen or the whole device will topple backwards. In cramped working conditions this could result in the Transformer Book T100 landing on the floor.
The back of the tablet, which forms the lid in notebook mode, is finished in grey with Asus branding prominent and two pinhole speaker grilles barely visible. The docking mechanism is firm. Tablet and keyboard are joined simply by pushing the tablet into the docking mechanism, and are easily separated by pressing a large button sitting front and centre between screen and keyboard. This unlocks the connection, allowing you to pull the tablet free.
Earlier, and more expensive, Android-based Transformer models had metal cases, but plastic is used abundantly here. The build feels quite solid for all that — there is some flex in the tablet back, but it's minimal and we've seen worse from some regular notebooks.
Asus has equipped the Transformer Book T100 with the latest Intel Atom Bay Trail chipset, including the 1.33GHz quad-core Atom Z3740 processor. We weren't troubled by slowdowns or glitches during everyday use, but if you're considering this as an everyday Windows 8 machine, it's worth bearing in mind that it's not really up to more demanding workloads. And with just 2GB of (non-expandable) RAM on board, it won't cope well running too many applications at the same time.
Storage is also less than you'd expect to get from a notebook, with a mere 7.3GB free on our 32GB (eMMC, SanDisk SEM32G) review sample. That's less than many smartphones have available, and obviously nowhere near what you'll get with a standard notebook. It clearly won't be enough for a professional user intent on installing a range of apps and storing key data on the device. Asus's spec sheet mentions 64GB of eMMC storage, and the option for a 500GB hard disk to complement either SSD configuration, but these models do not appear to be available in the UK at present.
There are, of course, plenty of cloud storage options, including Asus's own WebStorage, which provides free unlimited storage for a year, and Microsoft's preinstalled OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). As noted above, the USB slot can also be used to add external local storage.
For wireless connectivity there's and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.0), but no mobile broadband option. There's no Ethernet either, and the range of ports and connectors, while fine by tablet standards, is below what you'd expect from even a mediocre notebook. The single USB 3.0 port on the keyboard section is really the only concession over and above what you might expect to find on a tablet.
Apart from the USB port, all connectors and controls are on the tablet section, allowing it to function independently of the keyboard dock. There are Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB slots sitting together on right-hand side, along with an unprotected MicroSD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The left side has a volume rocker and the power switch. It's great to see standard USB used for charging rather than a proprietary connector, incidentally.
Windows 8.1 has been augmented by a copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013, which is arguably all the office suite many users will require. Its presence means that you can start being productive without adding anything at all to the initial purchase price.
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) is a little more hidden in Windows 8.1 than in previous versions, but it can still be run. The results for the Transformer Book T100 are moderate, but still respectable (component scores are out of 7.9):
3D graphics 4.1
Hard disk 6.2
Memory throughput 5.5
As usual with systems using integrated graphics (Intel HD Graphics in this case), the GPU is the weakest subsystem, followed by memory, disk and processor. You should be fine running basic productivity workloads, but don't expect to do anything demanding on this system.
Presumably in an effort to keep costs down, Asus has not fitted a second battery into the keyboard section as it does with its Android-based Transformer Pad hybrids. Even so, battery performance is good — according to Asus, the battery will keep going for 11 hours. We were able to work with the Transformer book T100 during a typical day without the need to recharge, and our anecdotal experience suggests that, for standard notebook workloads (document creation, web browsing, email and a bit of lunchtime streaming from YouTube), a day's life is a reasonable expectation.
When we tested the Transformer Book T100's power consumption under a variety of screen brightness (25%, 50% and 100%) and workload (idle and running Microsoft's Fishbowl HTML5 test) conditions, we got battery life estimates ranging from 12.7 to 3.5 hours, giving a mid-point of 8 hours, which tallies with our anecdotal experience.
The Asus Transformer Book T100 will present many people with the sort of dilemma they may have faced when considering a netbook a few years ago. It functions as a standard Windows computer, running applications and accessing the cloud, and has a decent keyboard and a viable screen. But its performance is moderate, it's short on internal storage, it has few connectors, and some will simply find the screen and/or keyboard too small for comfort.