Whilst the ASUS Transformer line began with Android-powered convertibles, the latest Transformer Book T100 sports Microsoft’s Windows 8.1.
The T100 is technically a tablet sold with a detachable keyboard (the CPU/memory/storage are all in the screen half), but could also be viewed as a convertible netbook/tablet. It’s not a new concept – ASUS has been experimenting with convertibles for a couple of years, and literally created the netbook market before that.
We had a brief hands-on with the T100 at its launch event in Sydney, late October. The model is now on sale in Australia (AU$599) and New Zealand (NZ$699).
Office on board
One thing that excited us was the T100’s bundling of Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student. That includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, but not Microsoft Outlook.
Given that Office Home and Student retails for AU$169/NZ$239, its inclusion in a tablet at this price point is a big deal. Yes, the Microsoft Surface 2 includes Office 2013 with Outlook, but that’s a Windows RT device – Office is part of the factory setup from Microsoft, like the built-in software on an iPad or Android tablet.
The T100 is a full-blown Windows 8.1 PC, meaning Office is actually a separate product with retail value of its own. It’s a fine distinction, and one that shouldn’t matter to the user, but it does make it surprising to us that it was included. Surprising in a good way, that is.
Display and build
The 10.1-inch tablet has a 1366x768-pixel IPS display. It appeared bright and clear, but we only saw the T100 at a dimly-lit indoor event. The resolution seems a little on the low side, particularly compared to the similarly-priced Microsoft Surface RT with its full HD 1920x1080-pixel display.
The T100 is not terribly slim, at 10.5mm, but weighs a very reasonable 550 grams. The keyboard weighs and additional 520g, and is 13.1mm thick – meaning the whole thing weighs 1.07kg and is a little less than 24mm thick in tablet mode. It looks and feels much like any low to mid-range netbook, with shiny plastic and rounded edges on the exterior.
Running 32-bit Windows 8.1 (full, not RT), the T100 is based on an Intel ‘Bay Trail’ Atom Z3740 quad-core CPU, with a clock speed of 1.33GHz. It has 2GB of RAM, and is sold in a single version with 64MB of eMMC flash memory.
The sample model we tested showed 49.1GB of actual storage, with 14.4GB consumed by Windows, Microsoft Office and any other installed software. This left 34.6GB of user-accessible storage. It’s unclear whether we were looking at a clean factory install, or whether that 14.4GB included additional software or user files. In any event, remember that with Windows tablets, the operating system utilises a sizeable portion of whatever storage the tablet includes. A 64GB model will not give you 64GB of user storage.
Like many Windows tablets in its price range, the T100 sports an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, but no GPS. That’s a downside compared to similarly-priced Android and iOS devices, where GPS is a common and expected feature.
Wireless connectivity includes 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, on both 2.4 and 5GHz. There’s also Bluetooth 4.0, but no 3G/4G or NFC.
Wired connectivity on the tablet is limited to a single micro-USB port (requiring an adapter to connect up and USB peripheral), micro-HDMI port, and 3.5mm headphone socket.
The keyboard adds a single USB 3.0 port, which is both great and disappointing. Great because previous Intel Atom CPUs did not provide USB 3.0, a feature which the latest ‘Bay Trail’ generation adds. Disappointing because it’s just a single port, when any useful laptop needs a minimum of two and preferably three or more USB ports. Even if all of them weren’t USB 3.0, it’s annoying to have a laptop where you can’t plug in a flash drive without unplugging your wired mouse or Ethernet adapter.
Ethernet is another missing feature – veteran travellers and road-warriors will know that Wi-Fi isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it seems at first glance. Yes, there are USB-to-Ethernet adapters available, and they work fine, but that’s not ideal when you only have one USB port.
The single USB port on the keyboard dock, lack of a full-sized USB port on the tablet itself, and the plasticy, downmarket exterior casing are all off-putting to various degrees, but the inclusion of Microsoft Office is a positive counterpoint.
We look forward to testing the T100 once we can get our hands on a review model. In particular, it will be interesting to see the battery life and performance Intel’s new Atom CPU displays with both real-world use and our standard benchmark suite.
Disclosure: Harley Ogier attended the ASUS Transformer Book T100 launch in Sydney as a guest of Asus.