If the price of the Surface Pro and other similarly equipped tablets has been preventing you from buying a Windows 8 tablet then the recent update to the Intel Atom processor may be your cue to make your move.
A slew of affordable tablets and hybrids equipped with the Bay Trail processor, running a full version of Windows 8, began to be released in late 2013 -- the ASUS Transformer, The Dell Venue 8 Pro and the Toshiba Encore among the pack. The new processor allows these tablets to run most Windows apps smoothly, a task that its predecessor, the Clover Trail processor, couldn't handle.
After educating myself a bit on these new devices I bought the ASUS Transformer Book for $399, which included shipping. I chose this tablet/netbook over competitors due to the keyboard dock, the larger screen and the full-size USB port.
The ASUS Transformer has an attractive price point and loads of other features, including Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition, Bluetooth, Micro HDMI and a MicroUSB. The only thing missing was 3G/4G connectivity, but even the Surface Pro 2 at almost triple the price doesn't offer that. Using my phone I am able to tether any Wi-Fi device at the push of a button so it wasn't the biggest concern.
Specifications for the ASUS Transformer Model Reviewed
- OS: Windows 8.1
- Processor: Intel Atom Quad-Core Bay Trail 1.33 GHz Processor
- Memory: 2GB
- Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics
- Audio: 2 Speakers and a SonicMaster Array Microphone
- Display: 10.1-inches 16:9 IPS HD (1366x768) with Multi-Touch Screen
- Camera: 1.2MP
- Storage: 64GB eMMC
- Ports: USB 3.0 (This is a part of the keyboard dock)
- microSD card reader
- Connectivity: Integrated 802.11 a/b/g/n
- Built-in Bluetooth" V4.0
- Battery: 2Cells 31 Whrs Polymer Battery
- Dimensions: Tablet --263 x 171 x 10.5 mm (WxDxH)
- Dock 263 x 171 x 13.1 mm (WxDxH)
- Weight: Tablet and Dock --2.4 pounds
- Tablet only -- 1.2 pounds
For more details you can view the full ASUS Transformer Specifications here.
Out of the box the Transformer booted up in just over 10 seconds. At first glance, the glossy outer shell seems cheap when compared to the likes of the iPad. The outer cover and the screen are also fingerprint-collectors. However, on the plus side, apps open with pep and the touchscreen is responsive.
The hinge where the tablet/notebook separates seems sturdy and the unit locks together with an audible click and a notification sound from the Windows OS. The hinge sticks out a bit in the back and while it's not what you normally see it, it isn't a problem.
ASUS' history in the netbook category becomes apparent when you look at the keyboard dock. The Transformer has a full QWERTY keyboard that seems solid, although the keys are on the smaller size. After some getting used to it, it is serviceable for banging out quick emails or IMs.
The keyboard itself weighs in at 1.2 pounds bringing the entire device's weight up to 2.4 pounds. It balances nicely on your lap and feels secure when attached. The USB 3.0 port is towards the back of the dock on the left side.
The touchpad, on the other hand, is responsive but the left and right hand buttons make a hollow clicking noise when depressed. It's not the worst experience, however, and if it is really bothersome it is easily resolved using a Bluetooth or USB mouse.
The 10.1-inch IPS display screen sports a resolution of 1366x768. While there are devices with a better screen resolution, there were no noticeable scaling issues and the display has a decent 178-degree viewing angle. It's perfectly suitable for watching Netflix, Crackle or Amazon Prime. The gestures work adequately, but at times when I touch too close to the left hand side of the screen it cycles through the active applications.
If you take photos with your tablet then you'll likely want to look elsewhere. ASUS had to cut corners somewhere and the camera department was one of them. There is only one camera on this device, a front facing 1.2 megapixel Web camera, appropriate for video chatting and the occasional snapshot if you don't mind not being able to see your target.
Battery life for this unit is good. On a recent trip, I was able to watch video for roughly 10 hours, comparable to my iPad. Had ASUS added a battery in the dock, it likely could have surpassed the battery life of its competitors, even the Surface Pro 2, but the additional weight and desire to keep costs as low as possible likely prevented ASUS from doing so.
ASUS got so many things right with this device, but the Windows button placement wasn't one of them. Located on the left side of the unit beneath the volume rocker button, the home button is hard to find and difficult to depress due to the bezel angle. Other tablets such as the Toshiba Encore have an additional soft button located on the face, which I would have preferred.
The power/sleep button is located on the top left-hand side of the unit, pretty much where you'd expect it to be. The volume rocker sits on the left-hand side at the top. Overall, the buttons seem to be another area where ASUS tried to keep costs low, but aside from the feel they are functional.
Personally, I prefer when the microSD Card has a cover or is at the very least is flush with the surface area of the bezel, but that isn't the case with the Transformer. Its microSD slot is located on the right-hand side of the device, but when the card is inserted it sits above the bezel ever so slightly. That said, it hasn't caused any issues thus far.
The speakers, located on the back cover, are surprisingly loud but buzz when maxed out. That said, the volume at 75 percent is plenty loud and the sound it produces is clear and crisp.
A welcomed surprise, the device comes without all the unnecessary bloatware you normally find when purchasing a new laptop these days. ASUS does include its Web storage application where it offers 1 terabyte of storage free for one year.
Final Thoughts on ASUS Transformer T100
If you've longed for full Internet access or Microsoft Office products on your tablet, but the prices have been keeping you away, this hybrid could be the answer you've been looking for. The overall performance is good and applications function smoothly, even with several apps open there is no stutter or delay.
For the budget-conscious techies, the Transformer Book is a viable option. Even with its flaws, the power, the price and the included keyboard make it a great value.
Rich Hein is Managing Editor for CIO.com. He covers IT careers.