The Asus Transformer Book is an inexpensive but surprisingly capable Windows tablet/notebook hybrid. For $349 and up you get a 10 inch tablet with Windows 8.1 software, Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student, an estimated 11 hours of battery life, and a keyboard dock that lets you use the system like a notebook.
But is the Transformer Book T100 any good? I’ll have a full review after I’ve had more time to test the system, but after spending a few hours with this little guy, there’s a lot to like about it… and a few things that suggest it won’t be the right solution for everyone.
Update: Check out our full review of the Asus Transformer Book T100 for more details.
Asus loaned me a 64GB model of the Transformer Book T100 to review. This model sells for $399, but if you’re looking to save a few bucks the $349 model half the flash storage space, but the rest of the specs are identical.
Windows takes up a bit of space though — so if you plan to store a lot of music, movies, games, or other files on the tablet, you might want to spring for the 64GB version. After installing a few apps, my demo unit had just 29.1GB of free space.
Whichever model you get, the tablet features an Intel Atom Z3740 quad-core Bay Trail processor, a 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel IPS multi-touch display, 2GB of RAM, a 1.2MP front-facing camera, a micro USB port, micro HDMI port, micro SD card slot, headset jack, a few buttons, and 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The keyboard base has a full-sized USB 3.0 port and not much else, unless you count the keys and touchpad. There’s a 31 Whr battery in the tablet which Asus says should last for up to 9.5 hours of HD video playback or 11 hours of casual use. Unlike the Asus Transformer Pad line of Android tablets, there’s no extra battery in the keyboard section.
The tablet weighs about 1.2 pounds, offers pretty good viewing angles, decent colors and brightness, and feels like something you could hold in your hands while reading a book, surfing the web, or playing games for a while.
I plan to do some couch surfing and eBook reading with the tablet, but so far I’ve spent most of my time using the Transformer Book T100 like a notebook, with the tablet connected to the keyboard dock. It clicks firmly into place, and you can lift the whole contraption and turn it over without any fear that the tablet will come loose.
The keyboard base is nice and sturdy, and with the tablet locked into place it feels a lot like a laptop. There should be no problem using the Transformer Book T100 while it’s sitting on your lap. Even with the keyboard dock, the computer only measures about 0.9 inches thick and weighs about 2.4 pounds, making it thinner and lighter than many old-school netbooks.
While 10 inches is a pretty good size for a tablet, there’s a trade-off: there’s not really enough room for a full-sized keyboard. The Asus Transformer Book T100 has all the keys you’d expect, but they’re a little smaller than you might expect. I can certainly touch type on this keyboard, but it takes a little getting used to. Folks with larger hands might find the keyboard more difficult to use.
There’s a bit of flex if you push down near the center of the keyboard, and you’ll want to avoid pressing too hard on the left or right sides — when you connect the tablet to the keyboard and open it up like a lid, the bottom of the tablet acts like a stand. The base of the tablet rests on your desk or table and elevates the back of the keyboard. This gives it a comfortable slant, but since part of the keyboard is actually in the air, pushing too hard can make the whole thing wobble a bit.
It’s actually pretty hard to do that when you’re typing normally, but since I accidentally wobbled the T100 a few times, I figured I’d point out the slight hazard.
Below the keyboard is a touchpad that’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand it supports multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling and clicking, which is nice. On the other hand it’s tiny and a little less responsive than I’d like. It’s a little too easy to accidentally swipe my finger right off the edge of the touchpad because it’s so small.
Fortunately there are plenty of other ways to interact with this machine. You can plug in an external mouse or just reach up and touch the tablet. I find I don’t usually tap at touchscreen notebooks while they’re sitting on a desk, but it’s actually pretty natural to reach up and touch something when you’re using a machine like this on your lap or when it’s propped up on something like the standing desk in my office, or perhaps a bar.
The Transformer Book T100 is one of the first tablets to ship with Windows 8.1 and an Intel Atom Bay Trail processor. Intel’s Atom chips have typically earned a reputation as low-power, low-performance processors — and that’s largely true.
But while the new Bay Trail processor doesn’t offer the same kind of performance you’d get from an Intel Haswell chip, Intel says the latest Atom chips are up to twice as fast as the previous generation “Clover Trail” processors. Graphics performance has also received a significant boost with the move from PowerVR graphics to Intel HD graphics.
In terms of real-world performance, that means that today’s Bay Trail chips are a lot like last year’s Celeron mobile processors… but with better battery life.
In fact, the Transformer Book T100 outperformed the Asus 1015E laptop with a Celeron 847 chip in my video encoding and folder zip tests, and even outclassed the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite in most tests — although the ATIV 9 Lite has the edge in graphics power.
But the ATIV 9 Lite has a quad-core AMD processor with Radeon HD graphics and sells for about twice as much as the Transformer Book T100.
The Samsung laptop does comes out ahead in the 3DMark11 and Street Fighter benchmarks — although not by as wide a margin as you might expect.
The Bay Trail processor in the Transformer Book T100 outclasses notebooks with a 2012-era Intel Celeron processor and Intel Atom Clover Trail processors in the Street Fighter test.
It’s worth noting that none of the laptops or tablets in these charts are exactly designed for high-end gaming, and these scores are generally pretty low. But they mean you should be able to play some older PC games or modern titles that aren’t too demanding on the GPU.
Update: An earlier version of this article showed a lower 3DMark11 score for the Samsung ATIV 9 Lite. After updating to the latest version of 3DMark11 and running the test again, the Samsung laptop did achieve a higher score than the Transformer Book T100 — but the Asus tablet with Intel’s low-power chip still offers much better performance than any earlier device with an Atom processor.
My Samsung Series 9 ultrabook with a 2nd-generation Intel Core i5 still finishes most tasks faster or scores higher in benchmarks than the Transformer Book T100, but that laptop cost $800 when I bought it in 2012 and gets only about 5-6 hours of battery life.
I’ll need to use the T100 for a few more days before I can make any definitive statements about battery life, but I’ve been sitting at a coffee shop for the past hour and half working on this article (and a few other things), and based on the battery drain, it seems reasonable to expect around 9 hours of battery life or more.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the tablet charges pretty slowly though. You can charge it with a standard microUSB cable, which is nice, since it means you don’t need to carry a proprietary charger with you — you can use the same charger for your phone and tablet. But odds are that a proprietary charger would fill the battery more quickly.
If this were a review, I’d be coming to a conclusion right about now. But I want to hold off on doing that until I’ve tested the Transformer Book T100 more extensively.
What I will say is that it’s a heck of a machine for $349 and up. It’s faster than you’d expect a hybrid tablet in this price range to be, it’s capable of running virtually any Windows app (although bleeding edge games are probably out of reach), and it should get great battery life.
On the other hand, the keyboard and touchpad leave a bit to be desired, and some folks may find that classic Windows software is actually tough to use on a 10 inch 1366 x 768 pixel display, because the screen is actually kind of too sharp. Sure, Windows apps that use the Modern UI are designed to look good at all sorts of resolutions, which is why some 10 inch Windows tablets now have 2560 x 1600 pixel screens. But websites, spreadsheets, text documents, and other classic Windows apps can be a bit squint-worthy on a relatively high-res, small screen.
In other words, this tablet won’t necessary be the best solution for everyone looking for a portable notebook. You might be better off with a model sporting a larger screen and keyboard. But for folks that are looking for a small, light machine with decent performance, the Transformer Book T100 looks pretty promising. And if you’re just in the market for a Windows tablet that happens to have a keyboard for when you need one, the Transformer Book T100 is one of the only models in its price range to ship standard with a keyboard.
Other PC makers are also bringing 10 inch tablets to market, but the Transformer Book T100 is one of the most affordable, but it doesn’t really skimp on specs to keep the price low.
And if this is what we can expect from Windows tablets with Bay Trail processors, I think Atom may no longer be a dirty word.