Asus has long been a pioneer in the affordable portable computing space. The company practically invented the netbook market with the launch of the first Eee PC laptop in 2007. And while netbooks have pretty much disappeared from the mobile computing landscape, the legacy of inexpensive, portable computers lives on in the Asus Transformer Book T100.
The Transformer Book T100 is a 10 inch Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard station which lets you use the system like a laptop. In fact, when the keyboard is docked, you’d be hard pressed to tell the Transformer Book T100 apart from a classic netbook.
But the Asus Transformer Book T100 has a faster processor than any netbook to date, offers long battery life, has a relatively high-resolution display (compared with older netbooks, anyway), and still sells for $399 or less.
Oh yeah — you can also use the computer as a touchscreen tablet by separating the display from the keyboard.
Asus loaned me a Transformer Book T100 to test, and over the past few weeks I’ve been using it for work and play, reading eBooks and comics, watching videos, surfing the web, and creating and editing blog posts.
In short, it does almost everything I could ask of a notebook or a tablet. It’s not the best notebook you can get for the price, nor is it the best tablet around. But it’s a remarkably capable device that offers some of the best features of each for a surprisingly affordable price.
Some people may be turned off by the small keyboard and touchpad or other limitations. But if you keep your expectations reasonable the Transformer Book T100 is a pretty excellent value for folks that want a laptop and a tablet, but who don’t want to have to buy one of each.
Asus can’t take all the credit for the versatility of the Transformer Book T100. The system wouldn’t be what it is without the low-power, moderate performance Intel Bay Trail processor and Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 software which walks the line between desktop and tablet operating system in interesting ways.
Like other Windows tablets with 10 inch or smaller screens, the Transformer Book T100 also comes with Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student preloaded.
And if you’re not happy with the included software, there’s work underway to get Ubuntu, Fedora, and other operating systems to run on the tablet.
Intel has been offering Atom processors since 2008, offering low-cost, low-power alternatives to the company’s higher-end chips. While that’s made it possible for PC makers to offer inexpensive notebooks and tablets, they’ve tended to be too slow for serious computing. The new Bay Trail chips are twice as fast as last-generation Atom processors, and feature a significant boost in in graphics prowess.
The result is a chip that offers performance you’d expect from a recent Celeron chip, not an Atom processor. At the same time, Bay Trail chips have power consumption that’s low enough to offer all-day battery life in a fanless device like the Asus Transformer Book T100.
While Asus isn’t the only company to offer a Windows tablet with a Bay Trail processor, the Transformer Book T100 is one of the most affordable and most versatile 10 inch models to launch in late 2013.
It has a 10 inch touchscreen IPS display with wide viewing angles, 2GB of RAM, and an Intel Atom Z3740 quad-core Bay Trail processor. The tablet has a 31Whr battery and a 1.2MP front-facing camera for making video calls or snapping photos, but no rear camera.
Around the sides of the tablet you’ll find a micro USB port, micro HDMI port, micro SD card slot, headset jack, power, volume and Start buttons, and under the hood the tablet has 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.o.
Asus offers models with 32GB or 64GB of storage. On the 64GB model, which I reviewed, around 30GB is free space that you can use for apps, media, and other files. About 8GB of the inaccessible space is taken up by a recovery partition that lets you restore the computer to its factory condition.
Interestingly the 32GB model also has a recovery drive — but it appears to be a separate 8GB drive, which means that model actually ships with 40GB of storage on two separate drives. Users should have around 15GB of free space on that model.
While the guts of the computer are in the tablet section, it’s the keyboard station that really makes the Transformer Book T100 feel like a laptop. There’s a full QWERTY keyboard which is around 90 percent the size of a full-sized keyboard, a rather small touchpad, and a full-sized USB 3.0 port which you can use to connect a mouse, flash drive, or other peripherals.
Folks with big hands might find the keyboard cramped — but after typing on it for an hour or two, I tend to feel like the full-sized keyboard on my 13 inch laptop is too big. The tiny touchpad is harder to get used to — I typically use the touchscreen or a mouse instead of relying on the little touch area below the keyboard.
All Transformer Book T100 tablets ship with a keyboard dock.
Asus also offers a line of Transformer Pad tablets running Google Android. For those models, the keyboard is optional, and typically adds $100 to $150 to the price of the tablet. Oddly, this means that the Transformer Book T100 with an Intel processor, Microsoft Windows, and Microsoft Office is actually cheaper than some of the Asus tablets with keyboards.
There are a few advantages to picking up an Android Transformer Pad rather than a Windows Transformer Book: there are still more high quality third-party tablet apps for Android than for Windows, and Asus packs an extra battery in the keyboard docks for the Android tablets, allowing you to double your battery life when you use the tablet and keyboard together. And the Windows model only has a battery in the tablet.
The Windows tablet wins hands-down though, if you want to run Microsoft Office, iTunes, Photoshop, Steam, or any other number of desktop apps which are not available for Android.
The tablet ships with Windows 8.1 software with support for touch-friendly, full-screen “Metro” or “Modern” style apps as well as classic desktop software. While some folks complain that this makes the operating system feel schizophrenic, the truth is you can pretty much use it as a desktop-only system if you’d like, or in a tablet-only mode if that’s more your style.
I spent most of my time using the Transformer Book T100 as a laptop, surfing the web with a dozen Google Chrome browser tabs open while listening to music and editing images and documents. But from time to time I picked up the tablet to surf the web on the couch, read an eBook, watch a video, or play a casual game, and the device was able to handle both scenarios with ease.
Things only get complicated when you want to blur the lines. For instance Internet Explorer and other web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox offer both desktop and Metro user interfaces.
The Metro styles tend to be easier to navigate in tablet mode since they offer better support for scrolling, zooming, and tapping icons and menu items with your fingers — but you basically have to restart a web browser to switch from desktop to Metro modes, which can be a bit of a hassle if you want to just detach the tablet from the keyboard and keep working.
There are also some features that only work when you’re using Metro-style apps. For instance you can stream music from the TuneIn Radio app for Windows 8 even while the screen is turned off. But if you try streaming music from the TuneIn website (or Pandora or other sites) using a desktop web browser like Chrome or Firefox, the music stops as soon as you tap the power button to turn off the screen.
So at times Windows 8.1 still feels like two operating systems rather than one. But those two operating systems are running side-by-side, allowing you to stream music from a full-screen, Metro-style app while editing documents in Microsoft Office at the same time.
The good news is that pretty much any app that runs on Windows 7 can run on Windows 8.1. If you want to treat the Transformer Book T100 like a small, cheap laptop with long battery life, you can. Since it comes with Office 2013 Home & Student, that means that right out of the box you can use it to create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.
Some CPU or GPU-intensive apps might not run as well on this device as on a more powerful Windows machine. But older games like World of Warcraft should run without a problem.
You’ll have to get used to the idea of using the Windows Start Screen as a full-screen alternative to the classic Start Menu — or install a third party app launcher. But otherwise, Windows 8.1 feels a lot like older versions of Windows if you ignore the Start Screen altogether. You can even boot straight into the desktop to bypass the Start Screen, pin shortcuts for your most frequently used apps to the taskbar, and create desktop shortcuts for others.
If you’re primarily looking for a touchscreen tablet, things are a little trickier. The Transformer Book T100 feels pretty responsive, has a nice display, and gets decent battery life. But at this point there just aren’t as many high-quality tablet apps available for Windows as there are for other platforms.
There are no official Pandora or YouTube apps, for example. Snapchat and Instagram are missing. And popular games including Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans are absent – although the ability to run desktop-style Windows games might help make up for that.
But I was able to find many of the apps I was looking for, including Netflix, Amazon Kindle, and Comixology. While an Android or iOS tablet might be a better choice in late 2013 for folks looking for devices that will only be used in tablet mode. But the Transformer Pad T100 offers a passable tablet experience while also acting as a full-fledged Windows notebook.
While the Asus Transformer Book T100 is reasonably thin and light for a tablet or a notebook, it’s not exactly a premium device. Don’t expect a backlit keyboard, a paper-thin profile, or even a full compliment of ports.
But the Transformer Book T100 doesn’t exactly feel like a dirt cheap device either. The display is bright, viewing angles are good, and the speakers are louder than you’d expect from a device this small.
Like most tablets these days, if you look at the Asus Transformer Book T100 from the front you see a shiny piece of glass with black bezels around the side.
There’s a Windows logo below the screen, but it’s just a logo, not a button. In order to bring up the Windows Start Screen, you’ll have to press a physical button on the left side of the tablet next to the volume buttons (or press the Windows key on the keyboard or swipe from the right side of the screen to bring up the Charms bar).
The power button is along the top edge. This is the button you press to put the tablet to sleep, or to turn off the screen if you’re running a Metro-style app that can continue running in the background while the display is off.
The system will also go to sleep if you close the lid (when the keyboard dock is connected and the tablet acts like a screen and lid).
On the back of the tablet there’s an Asus logo emblazoned across the glossy plastic surface, and stereo speakers built into the sides of the tablet.
They’re louder than you’d expect speakers on a 10 inch tablet to be, although you’ll want a pair of headphones or external speakers if you want a full range of frequencies — like most laptops and tablets, the T100 has speakers don’t offer a lot of bass.
Still, the speakers are good enough for watching videos or listening to music if nothing else is around and loud enough to share your media with a friend.
You’ll find most of the other ports on the sides of the tablet, including the microUSB, microSD, and micro HDMI ports. There’s only one full-sized USB port, and that’s on the keyboard base station.
You can use the micro USB port to charge the tablet, but if you want to plug in USB peripherals you’ll either need an adapter or the keyboard base.
As for charging the tablet, you’re best off using the included power adapter and USB cable. While I was occasionally able to convince the tablet to charge using a phone charger or other USB power source, the fastest and most reliable way to top off the battery is using the included adapter… and fast is a relative term. While it’s nice that the power adapter is small enough to fit in your pocket, it can take a long time to fully charge the Transformer Book T100.
If the Transformer Book T100 were just a tablet that would compete with Apple and Android tablets, I’d say it has a good array of ports and expansion options. But it’s not just a tablet — this computer is also a laptop, and as such it would have been nice if Asus had crammed a few more ports in the keyboard base.
There’s no Ethernet jack, for instance, and a full-sized SD card slot would have been nice for folks that want to quickly transfer photos from a camera. I also wouldn’t have said no to an extra USB port.
Asus has introduced a model of the Transformer Book T100 in Germany with an extra 500GB hard drive in the keyboard dock, but that model isn’t currently available in the US — and it doesn’t look like you can simply open up the keyboard for the US model and slide in your own hard drive. There don’t seem to be any connectors for extra storage.
It’s easy to think of the Asus Transformer Book T100 as a tablet with a detachable keyboard. But it’s just as easy to think of it as a notebook with a detachable tablet section.
The truth is that it’s both. It’s a true 2-in-1 device that can function in either mode.
As a laptop it has some shortcomings — the screen doesn’t tilt back very far when it’s attached to the keyboard dock. The keyboard station doesn’t feel quite as stable as it could, sometimes causing the computer to shake a bit while I’m typing. The keyboard is a bit cramped and has a bit of flex in the center, and the touchpad is almost too small to be useful.
But you can always reach up and touch the touchscreen instead of using the touchpad, or plug in an external mouse.
And while the Transformer Book T100 may have some shortcomings as a laptop, it fills a niche that PC makers have largely abandoned: you can use it as a relatively inexpensive 10 inch notebook.
It’s reasonably thin and light too, measuring about 0.9 inches thick and weighing 2.4 pounds. That makes this little laptop a bit thicker than an ultrabook, but lighter (and much cheaper) than most laptops that bear that name.
The tablet section alone weighs about 1.2 pounds and measures 0.4 inches thick. Like most 10 inch tablets, it can be a tad heavy to hold in your hands for hours at a time if you were planning on marathon reading, gaming, or video watching sessions.
But if you occasionally rest the base of the tablet on your lap or on a table or the arm of a chair, it’s easy to forget that it weighs nearly twice as much as some 7 inch tablets.
While I typically prefer small tablets to large ones, the advantage of that 10 inch screen is that it allows you to use the Transformer Book T100 as an almost full-sized laptop. A smaller screen looks funny with a keyboard designed for a 10 inch or larger laptop, and then there’s the issue of pixel density.
A note on the display (and screen resolution)
The Transformer Book T100 has a 10 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display. For years that’s been the standard screen resolution for laptops with screens ranging from 11.6 inches to 15.6 inches. Laptop makers are finally starting to ship notebooks with higher-resolution displays that offer crisper text and images, and often let you fit more content on the screen without scrolling.
But 1366 x 768 pixels on a 10 inch screen may actually be a little too sharp for some users, at least if they stick with the default Windows settings. The screen has roughly 155 pixels per inch, which is close to what you’d get with a 14 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel screen.
That’s not a problem if you’re running Metro-style, tablet-friendly apps. They’re designed to be resolution independent, and the more pixels you have, the better they’ll look. So in tablet mode, the Asus Transformer Book T100 display is decent, but not spectacular — there are a growing number of 10 inch tablets with 1080p or higher resolution displays.
On the other hand, desktop apps can look a bit too sharp at 155 pixels per inch unless they’ve been optimized for high-resolution displays. Text, graphics, menus, and other items can be a bit smaller than you’re used to, and that can make reading difficult for folks with less-than perfect eyesight.
It can also be a problem if you’re trying to interact with desktop apps using the touchscreen. A tiny X marks the spot to close most apps, browser tabs, or other items — and it’s a little too easy to accidentally hit that X and close an app when you were trying to minimize it.
That’s because traditional windows apps were designed for the finer input of a mouse or touchpad, not your big fat finger.
Microsoft does offer tools that let you adjust the size of text and graphics in Windows, but the results can be inconsistent, varying from app to app.
All told, the 1366 x 768 pixel screen is a mixed blessing. For tablet-only apps, a higher-resolution screen would have been nice. For desktop apps I don’t want to say I’d have preferred a lower-resolution display, but I will say that 1366 x 768 pixels works better on devices with 11.6 inch screens.
I suspect Asus chose the screen for this tablet because it was cheaper than a full HD display, not to make my life easier. But after using the tablet as a notebook for the past few weeks, I’m glad the screen wasn’t sharper.
Intel’s new Bay Trail technology runs the risk of giving Atom a good name.
When Intel launched its first Atom chips in 2008, the processors were cheap, low-power chips designed for netbooks with long battery life and low prices. Not much changed for about 5 years. Intel cranked out new model after new model, reduced power consumption, and even started making Atom chips appropriate for smartphones and tablets — but they weren’t much faster than the chips that came out in 2008.
The Intel Atom Z3740 Bay Trail processor is one of a new generation of Atom processors that are actually good enough for most basic computing tasks. It’s a 1.33 GHz quad-core processor that uses an average of 2 watts of power. The chip also features Intel HD graphic with a clock speed of 311 MHz, but both the CPU and GPU can achieve higher burst speeds.
Intel says its Bay Trail processors are about twice as fast as last year’s Clover Trail chips, and I believe it. I ran a series of benchmarks which show that the new processors are far faster than any Atom chips that came before — but more importantly, the computer didn’t feel sluggish at all during day to day use.
Not only could I spend hours researching and writing articles for Liliputing from coffee shops, but one day I decided to plug in a keyboard, mouse, speakers, and a 1080p display and pretend I was using a desktop PC. I could barely tell the difference between this setup and my usual work machine, a desktop with an older Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM.
Sure, the Transformer Book wasn’t as fast at completing heavy-duty tasks like editing video files as a machine with an Intel Core i5 processor. But it held its own for common tasks including web browsing, document editing, and media streaming.
In terms of raw horsepower, I’d say the notebook feels like it has a 2011 or 2012-era Intel Celeron processor. That should be good enough for most computing activities including casual gaming, HD video playback, and more. But if you’re looking for a serious workhorse or gaming machine, you might be better off with a model with a Haswell chip and maybe a dedicated graphics chip.
I tried transcoding audio and video files and creating a large ZIP file using the same test I’ve been running on computers for the last few years, and here are a few systems the Transformer Book T100 bested:
- Asus 1015E 10 inch notebook with Intel Celeron 847
- HP Envy X2 2-in-1 tablet/notebook hybrid with Atom Z2760 Clover Trail
- Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite laptop with custom AMD quad-core CPU (similar to an AMD Temash chip)
That last one is pretty impressive since the ATIV Book 9 Lite sells for around $800, or about twice the price of the Transformer Book T100.
The Virtualdub utility I’ve been using for that benchmark is starting ton show its age though, so I decided to try the video transcode test using a more up-to-date utility. Handbrake was able to make short work of the same video file.
This time the Transformer Book trounced the ATIV Book 9 Lite again, but I also threw in my Samsung Series 9 ultrabook with an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor for the sake of comparison. The ultrabook with a 2011-era chip is faster than the Bay Trail-powered tablet, but the difference isn’t as great as you might expect.
AMD’s quad-core chip makes up for its wimpy CPU a bit with graphics performance. The ATIV Book 9 Lite has Radeon HD 8250 graphics and comes out ahead of both the Intel Core i5 and Intel Atom Bay Trail chip in the 3DMark11 benchmark — but none of these devices are really appropriate for serious gaming – although it can handle less demanding games including World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, and Torchlight.
The folks at MobileGeeks tested a few games on the Transformer Book T100.
Most of these tests treat the Transformer Book T100 as if it were a Windows laptop… which it kind of is. But it’s also a tablet, which means you might also want to know how it fares against an iPad or Android tablet.
That’s a bit trickier to say, because not only do most of those tablets have different ARM-based chips instead of Intel processors, but they’re also running operating systems designed from the ground up for touch input and instant-on, always-connected capabilities.
Windows 8.1 is starting to grow on me as a tablet operating system. Accessing menus by swiping from the edges of the tablet makes a lot of sense, and it’s nice to be able to run tablet-style apps side-by-side, even if that’s not something I actually do very often.
The biggest challenge is that many apps I’m using to running on Android devices aren’t available for Windows. Theoretically you could install an Android app player like Bluestacks in order to run some Android apps and games — but that’s kind of a clunky solution which offers mixed results.
On the other hand, the Windows apps I have spent time with are responsive and often fun to use.
I’ve spent hours reading eBooks in the Amazon kindle app, for instance, and the only thing I really wish it had was support for Kindle Personal Documents so I could read some of the items I’ve uploaded from sources other than the Kindle Store (these items are accessible on my Kindle Touch and on Android and iOS devices).
I’ve also spent a bit of time playing a few games from the Windows Store including Reaper and Pinball FX2. If you don’t spend time your time comparing the list of available apps to those available for other platforms, you can probably find a good number of tablet apps worth using on a Windows 8.1 device.
And if you can’t find a tablet app, you can probably just use a desktop or web app — disappointed that there’s no YouTube app? No problem, just fire up the YouTube website.
You can also use the desktop version of Hulu without a Hulu Plus subscription, something that helps set Windows tablets apart from the iPad or Android tablets.
There is one more performance note I should mention – from time to time I had a hard time convincing the system to resume from sleep. Most of the time tapping the power button brought the display to life. Occasionally after I’d left the tablet alone for a while, tapping the power button did nothing unless I pressed it and held it until the system rebooted.
I don’t know if this issue was unique to the demo unit Asus sent me or if it’s a more widespread problem — and it’s not something that happened frequently. But it did happen two or three times in the course of 3 weeks.
One of the most impressive things about this tablet’s performance it the long battery life. Don’t get me wrong — Asus promises 11 hours of run time, and I’ve never gotten that much battery life while using the computer in notebook mode.
But I regularly get about 8 hours of battery life, which is pretty impressive for a 10 inch laptop with a 31Whr battery. That’s enough to spend pretty much a full workday on the road without packing a charger. It’s not the kind of battery life I’m used to seeing from $400 laptops.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you could eke out a bit more run time when using the Transformer Book T100 in tablet mode for light activities such as reading eBooks and light web surfing. I just never managed to spend that much time using the machine without a keyboard.
Sure, you could probably get longer battery life with an iPad or with a high quality Android tablet. But I’m still pretty impressed with the ability to use a $400 hybrid notebook all day.
There’s a lot to like about the Asus Transformer Book T100. It’s small and cheap, gets long battery life, and offers decent performance whether you use it as a notebook or a tablet.
It won’t be the best computer for everyone: The keyboard and touchpad are small, the screen resolution might be a bit too sharp when running apps that aren’t optimized for high-resolution screens, but it’s not as sharp as the screens on the latest iPads. And if you’re primarily looking for a tablet, you’ll probably find more high quality apps if you go with an iPad or Android tablet.
But the Asus Transformer Book T100 can do things an iPad can’t. It supports Adobe Flash, full desktop apps including iTunes, Diablo 3, GIMP or Photoshop, and Microsoft Office 2013. It even comes with a fully-licensed copy of Office 2013 preloaded.
I like to think of this machine as a portable notebook that you can also use as a tablet from time to time or when touch input makes more sense than using the keyboard.
Judged by that standard, the Transformer Book T100 may be a best-in-class device — largely because there are so few other devices in its class.
That could change in the coming months as we start to see more companies bring 10 inch tablets with keyboard docks to market. But Asus has long been a pioneer in this space, and the company knows how to make decent tablets and mini-laptops for reasonable prices.
The Transformer Book T100 will be a tough device to beat.