Netbooks earned something of a bad reputation before going the way of the dodo a few years back, but they undoubtedly struck a chord for their affordability and portable leanings.
Taiwan-based company Asus was one of the first to out a netbook with its Linux (and later Windows) powered Eee PC in 2007, so it’s fitting that its Transformer Book T100 embodies the spirit of one.
A convertible 10.1-inch tablet, the T100 is portable, runs the full-fat version of Windows 8.1 that lets you install your old desktop programs alongside apps from Microsoft’s Windows store and transforms into a laptop when you clip on its accompanying keyboard.
As with other Transformer devices, the T100 provides two form factors in one, negating the need for a second device. The question is: can it live up to the task of being a competent laptop while serving up a decent tablet experience? The answer to that is yes and, well, sort of.
The Transformer Book T100 houses Intel’s low-power, moderate-performance Atom platform, Bay Trial, which has featured in a number of 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablets including HP’s Omni 10, the Toshiba Encore and the Dell Venue 8 Pro. It’s up against some stiff competition in the 10-inch arena too, including Lenovo’s ThinkPad 2, Acer’s Iconia W510 and even Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2.
The chip outpaces its processor, Clover Trail, in the performance stakes, lending it more internal clout than last-gen convertibles such as Acer’s Iconia W3 and HP’s impressive but ageing Envy x2. Don’t get too carried away though – you won’t be privy to Intel Core-series performance here.
That said, you won’t be subjected to a heavyweight price tag either. At £349 (around US$571, or AU$640), the T100 falls into the same price category as 8-inch tablets, but the inclusion of the keyboard dock means that it’s better value off the bat if you have tactile typing on the agenda.
Design and features
Don’t let the netbook comparison have you running to the hills: the Transformer Book T100 is a quietly attractive device with a glossy plastic lid that echoes Asus’ premium Zenbook line of ultrabooks. Though not quite as premium, you won’t feel embarrassed pulling it out of a bag whether on a train or sitting down at a business meeting.
The tablet part of the device feels light in the hand. At 1.2 pounds, it’s just shy of the iPad Air’s 1 pound weight. Its curved sides means its manageable to hold in a single hand in tablet mode and is more comfortable than the third or fourth generation iPad to hold.
Adding the dock lends it significantly more heft, however, doubling that weight to 2.4 lbs. It also adds chunk to the device, jumping from 0.41 inches to 0.93 inches. It’s not the thickest convertible out there, but you won’t be slipping it into any envelopes to impress your friends.
The T100 has something of a quirk in its design in the form of the dock’s hinge. With the tablet connected, it juts out at the back and is used to support the tablet when in laptop mode instead of the four rubber mats on the underside of the dock, which are raised above the ground. It doesn’t render the device unbalanced or make it rock – it just comes across as something of an odd design choice.
The tablet’s black bezel is a little on the thick side too, which isn’t a problem whether using the device in tablet or laptop mode, but it looks slightly overkill when used in the latter.
The Asus Transformer Book T100 features a 10.1-inch IPS display with a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution. It’s an appropriate resolution for the screen size and doesn’t leave you with the scaling problems you might encounter on the Surface Pro 2’s 1920 x 1080 pixel-resolution panel when using third-party applications.
A drawback here is that it’s not quite as crisp as a full-HD panel and can best be described as adequate, yet lacking spark. Colour reproduction is solid without appearing oversaturated and brightness is evenly distributed across the panel.
The IPS display is plenty reflective, but glare at it intently enough and you’ll see that it lives up to Asus’ 178-degree viewing angle claims, making it suitable for watching Netflix or other content with a friend.
The power button sits at the top-left hand corner of the tablet alongside two volume rockers. Though the three are a little squishy and don’t offer a great deal of tactile feedback, opting to use a power button to unlock Windows instead of a centered button under the screen works well as it’s easier to reach while holding the device in landscape mode. It also makes it much easier to take screenshots, should you want to.
Ports and connectivity
The T100 is a light and nimble device that aims for versatility, so it’s a shame that there’s no onboard LTE. Onboard WiFi is limited to 5GHz 802.11n too, so there’s no 802.11ac to be found here. That said, it held the connection reliably during our usage test.
As with the HP Chromebook 11, the T100 can charge via a microUSB cable that connects to the tablet part of the device, giving you an extra method of topping up juice on the move. That’s in addition to a proprietary connector, though you won’t find any difference between the two when it comes to charging times. Both are teeth-gnashingly slow, taking around six hours to reach full from depleted.
If charging time is the most important characteristic of a tablet, and you’re prepared to put up with the limitations of Windows RT, Nokia’s Lumia 2520 is the undisputed leader in its category.
There’s also a full-size USB port, which is welcome as it means you won’t have to lug around a micro-USB adapter. Of course, you can use the inbuilt Bluetooth adapter to connect up accessories, but it makes your life much easier if you want to connect an external mouse or keyboard, or plug in a USB stick.
In the dock
As with previous Transformer devices, the T100 comes with its own keyboard dock that clips into the tablet to provide laptop-style functionality. I’m a fan of keyboards that are designed to be used with specific tablets – there’s nothing worse than when a device has to be paired with a mismatched, third-party Bluetooth-powered folio case. It just kills the experience.
The T100’s keyboard will leave document warriors disappointed. Its keys provide adequate travel, but they’re on the small size – around three quarters the size of those on a full-size QWERTY keyboard. It doesn’t help that you have to rest your wrists on the ridge above the trackpad when typing, which makes for an uncomfortable and unnatural hand posture.
Is it better than typing on the tablet’s on-screen keyboard? Undoubtedly, and the experience beat that of using Microsoft’s Surface 2 Touch Keyboard Cover too, but you won’t be wanting to use it for anything more taxing than posting social media updates and light document editing.
It’s a clear compromise to keep the size of the tablet down and leaves me wondering whether Asus would have been better off making the T100 a 10.6-inch tablet like the Surface, which would have allowed it to make the keyboard roomier, if slightly less portable.
The trackpad isn’t up to much either – it’s plenty responsive and can be tuned to your liking through settings in Windows, but its left and right buttons are unusually loud when clicked and emit a cheap-sounding click when pressed.
It’s not the worst trackpad I’ve glided my fingers across (it doesn’t tend to stick like the one on the HP Chromebook 14, for a start), but it’s nothing to get excited over. Plus there’s a workaround on offer if you’re prepared to hook up a USB or bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
On the plus side, Asus has chosen not to include a battery in the keyboard to keep costs and weight down (it already has stellar battery life – more on that shortly) and attaching and removing it from the tablet part of the device is as easy as pressing down the release button in the middle of the upper ridge. I like the idea of a battery-powered keyboard dock, and one with an improved trackpad in the future would be welcomed.
Windows 8.1 and apps
Let’s not beat about the bush: the Modern UI section of Windows 8.1 is still a barren wasteland when it comes to third-party apps. Fortunately the inclusion of Windows 8.1 means that you can install the multitude of existing desktop programs, which softens the blow.
Windows 8.1 comes with a number of improvements, including new ways to snap apps to different parts of the screen and deeper customisation options including the ability to use your desktop wallpaper on the Start Screen. For a complete rundown in Windows 8.1’s features, head over to our in-depth guide.
The most exciting software addition to the T100 is Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition, which is thrown into the mix for free. This alone makes this T100 a much more attractive deal considering its standalone cost, which starts at £99 (around $115, or AUS$129) at the time of writing.
Microsoft’s Office apps are nippy to open and benefit from improved integration with Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage service, meaning you can edit documents offline and have them uploaded automatically when in range of a connection. You don’t have to use SkyDrive – having Windows 8.1 means you can install alternatives such as Dropbox or Google Drive, which offer similar functionality.
The Transformer Book T100 is free of bloatware, with the company’s own WebStorage app being the only first-party offering onboard (there’s also a Kindle app). It comes with 1TB of complimentary cloud storage space for one year, which is a respectable amount when you consider that Microsoft bundles a comparatively measly 200GB of SkyDrive storage space with its Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets. Google offers half of that with its own and its partners’ Chromebooks.
If you’re looking for a Windows tablet that’s capable of taking a snapshot or two, look away now. The T100 has a single 1.2-MegaPixel front-facing camera that’s good enough for holding video conversations over Skype or Google Hangouts, or taking the occasional selfie in a well-lit room, but nothing more.
You can take photos using Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 camera app, which lets you take several snaps at once before choosing the best one by clicking save to send it to Windows’ Photo Gallery or a third-party app.
Of course, with there being no rear-facing camera, you won’t want able to take any pictures with the tablet unless you’re happy with pointing and shooting blind. For a start, you won’t be able to see what you’re taking a picture of. For this task you would be best off plumping for a smartphone with a decent snapper, such as the Nokia Lumia 1020, Sony’s Xperia Z1, or Apple’s iPhone 5S.
Battery life and performance
Cinebench 11 – CPU – 1.09pts, OpenGL – 6.09 fps
3DMark – Ice Storm – 15842
Cloud Gate – 1222
Fire Strike – 0 would not run
Asus has aimed to keep the Transformer Book T100’s price down by opting for fairly pedestrian hardware under the bonnet. Crank it open and you’ll find a 1.33-GHz quad-core Atom Z3740 processor, alongside 64GB of eMMC flash storage (you’ll can only get the 32GB version in the UK).
That’s all backed up by 2GB of DDR3 RAM, which limits the performance of the device (versus 4GB) but was likely a decision made to keep costs as low as possible. The T100 boots to the desktop in around 18 seconds, not that you’ll be doing a great deal of it as Windows 8.1 lets the device wake up within seconds in a similar manner to an iPad.
Once you’re up and running, it becomes clear that the T100 provides enough power to keep things ticking along nicely, though proceedings begin to slow down pretty quickly when running demanding desktop applications such as Photoshop CS5.
However, there’s more than enough power for basic tasks, providing enough grunt to keep anything from five to 10 apps from the Windows Store open at once without causing noticeable slowdown. Playing 1080p video from YouTube while keeping applications open caused little impact on the overall performance of the system, though scrolling up and down became slightly jagged in Internet Explorer 11.
There is a upshot to the T100 only being able to handle average computing tasks – battery life. It managed to keep going for 10 hours and 45 minutes on 3D Mark’s Home Battery test, which runs through a cycle of opening and closing applications and playing HD video files until no battery life remains. It means that you no longer have to plump lots of money for a Haswell-based laptop if battery life is high on the agenda to get hold of the full Windows experience.
Hands on gallery
The Asus Transformer Book T100 is an impressive attempt at marring some of the more appealing aspects of netbooks with the versatility of modern convertibles. It’s not going to be the leader in the laptop or tablet category, but when the two are combined into a single, portable offering, it immediately ups the appeal by a notch or two.
Its build quality is plastic, but not overly so, and its backwards-extending hinge slightly bizarre. The T100 isn’t any worse off for it though – just different. Its 10.1-inch screen size works well in both laptop and tablet mode, and if you’re prepared to have a little faith in Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 Store, the tablet portion of the device could come into its own in the future, making it something of an affordable investment.
However, should you already have a separate laptop, opting for a quality, affordable tablet such as Google’s new Nexus 7 would be a sensible decision if you’re not sold on carrying the two around together.
As a tablet, the T100 is light, plenty responsive and feels great to hold. It’s only let down in this area by a lack of apps in MIcrosoft’s Windows Store, which is growing all the time. It offers excellent battery life, meaning that you can juice it up and take it on the road knowing that it’ll go for most of the day. That it can charge via micro-USB is a bonus too, even if it takes an age.
The addition of a USB 3.0 port on the dock isn’t something to be sniffed at. It lends the T100 greater versatility and saves you having to mess around with micro-USB convertors.
You would be forgiven for not paying too much attention to Asus’ own apps on the device, but the 1TB of storage is a handy amount for a year – particularly for UK users that can only get their hands on a version with 32GB flash memory. It’s even more of a productivity boon when used with Microsoft’s free Office applications, which wouldn’t be much more responsive on considerably more expensive hardware.
It’s a shame, but the T100 has to be ruled out for anyone who considers a below-par typing experience a deal breaker. The keys are cramped and leave you hunched over the device – you will have to adjust your typing style and work at it – which may not be a problem depending on how often you type.
If you’re unsure, track down a T100 to test out its keyboard for peace of mind.
The lack of a rear-facing camera is annoying but far from a deal breaker if you have a separate snapper or decent smartphone. Additionally, the T100 only serves up average performance, which is to be expected at this price point, and you’ll be restricted to installing desktop programs that won’t ask too much of its modest CPU.
Gamers shouldn’t expect to run any games that aren’t from Microsoft’s Windows Store if a smooth experience is a must.
The Asus Transformer Book T100 is almost a bargain considering how much less it will cost compared with Windows 8.1 convertibles such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 – but you have to make the purchase with realistic expectations to avoid disappointment.
The device is certainly waving the flat for Windows 8.1 and opens up the OS to a wider audience by appealing to anyone looking for a laptop, tablet or combination of the two. It works well as both and succeeds in aiming for versatility.
The addition of Microsoft Office Home & Student is a real boost for productivity, and if you can get over the keyboard’s small keys then it’s perfect for both work and play. That said, you’ll need an SD card – preferably 64GB – to open up the possibilities of what you can do with the T100, which would be a worthwhile purchase.