Today we’re going to review the much awaited Asus Transformer Book TX300. The one I’m playing with is a press-sample, but it should be very close to what’s been on sale in the last weeks in several countries throughout Europe.
On a first look, you might think that the Asus Transformer Book is one of those sleek ultrabooks we’ve been seeing around lately. But it’s actually something else: an Intel Core powered tablet running Windows 8, bundled with a multifunctional docking station. So in other words, it’s a hybrid that you can use both as a tablet and as a laptop.
Asus announced it many many months ago and at that time, it stirred some noise. However, those who we’re planning on buying the Transformer Book in 2012 we’re left hanging, as the TX300 just recently hit some stores in Europe, with worldwide availability expected for mid Spring this year.
But was it actually worth waiting for the Transformer Book? Is it the best of both worlds: tablets and laptops? Or is it better than the other hybrid designs out there? We’ll read this review and you’ll find out.
But before we get to the actual review, the video below will tell you most of the things you should know about the Transformer Book.
|Asus Transformer Book TX 300
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, glossy|
|Processor||Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3517UM CPU, 1.9 GHz|
|Video||integrated Intel 4000 HD|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3|
|Hard-disk||128 GB SSD and 500 GB HDD|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||tablet: microSD card-reader, micro-HDMI, HD webcam
dock: 2 x USB 3.0, mini-DisplayPort, LAN, SD card-reader
|Baterry||38 Wh on tablet, 23 Wh on dock|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Size||tablet: 340 x 213 x 4 ~11 mm (WxDxH)
340 x 219 x 3 ~13 mm
|Weight||about 1.9 kg (0.95 kg tablet, 0.95kg dock)|
|Extras||4 speakers, backlit keyboard|
We’ll start off with the design. The Transformer Book borrows much of its aesthetics from the Asus Zenbook line. The tablet itself is a slab of glass and metal, with aluminum covering it’s rear.
However, this isn’t the slate you’ve been used to lately. First of all, it’s massive, as it offers a 13.3 inch screen and a thick bezel. It measures around 340 x 213 x 11 mm, so it’s nowhere as portable or as easy to use as the iPad or some of the other Windows or Android tablets out there.
And then, it’s also rather thick and heavy, weighing just over 2 pounds (0.95 kilos). But, as you might have guessed by the massive cooling grill on the rear of this device, this tablet is not made for couch-use, it’s a completely different beast, as you’ll find out a little bit later.
For now, let’s get back to the slate. Having a quick look around the sides, you’ll notice a power button and what looks like a pair of microphones on the top edge of the Transformer Book, a volume rocker, a State LED, a microHDMI port and a 3.5 mm jack on the left edge, and a very thin cut on the right edge, which, to be frank, I’m not entirely sure what it’s suppose to do.
And there are some things on the bottom as well: a microSD card reader, the charging port, two latches used to connect the tablet to a docking station, and the proprietary port used for that.
Now on to the docking station. To start with, it’s incredibly solid and the aluminum cast feels both premium, but also reliable. The docking unit integrates a keyboard, a trackpad, a bunch of ports on the sides and some extra goodies inside. About that ports, on the left edge there’s the charging port, identical to the one used on the tablet.
Asus went for this magnetic connector instead of the classic pin, and I can’t say it’s a better or worse approach. It just works. Next to it there’s an SD card-reader and some discrete status LEDs hiding behind punctured aluminum grills. On the other side you’ll find a full-sized Ethernet plug, two USB 3.0 ports (with USB-host support) and a mini-Display Port connector. So basically, you’ve got all the things you’re going to need here.
Inside the docking there’s a hard-drive and an extra battery, that keeps the Transformer Book running longer when the slate and the dock are attached.
Speaking of that, latching the two together is extremely simple and the hinge itself feels sturdy. The connection between them is not as snug as I would expect though, at least on this test unit, so the slate tends to wobble a bit in place (see the video for more details about that). And that’s going to be annoying when reaching for the screen, as the connection is not firm enough so the tablet won’t move at all when touched.
Anyway, let’s move along and talk about the screen. There’s a bright and vivid 13.3 inch IPS panel with 1920 x 1080 px resolution on the Transformer Book. So everything is just right here: the texts are sharp, the colors vibrant and you’ll have no problem whatsoever with the viewing angles either.
Light bleeding around the edges of the panel might be disturbing, or at least it was on my test unit. But I can’t say that’s really a deal-breaker for me, since the light spots are mostly visible on dark-static scenes and sometimes when watching movies that have black bars below and on top of the content.
But there’s more about this display. As you might have got by now, this is a touchscreen and supports up to 10 touch-points. It works as it should and I had no problem performing gestures, taps and all sorts of commands on it or on its frame, including those Windows 8 gestures. However, this screen does not include an active digitizer, and as a result, it will not work with a precision pen. Or in other words, it’s not good for inking, sketching, drawing, note taking and so on.
And then there’s that wobbling connection between the screen and the dock I was talking about earlier. On my test unit, it was just a nuisance, nothing more. But in time, it might have unwanted effects on that fragile port that keeps data flowing between the slate and the dock. Thus, since the actual tablet is heavier than a regular laptop screen, Asus should have definitely developed a stronger hinge here, able to keep-in-place the extra bulk.
The keyboard on this Transformer Book is actually one of the best I’ve seen on an Asus device lately. It’s backlit and the keys offer good travel and feedback (although it’s still a bit shallow, but it’s above average in the ultrabook class), so I can say that this keyboard is superior to the one on the Zenbooks. There’s no layout issue either, except for the small arrow keys.
And as an extra note, you’ll notice a special Blue key on the upper-right side of the keyboard, meant to open a management interface designed for the Asus Transformer Book.
But before we’ll talk about that, let’s focus a bit on the trackpad. This one is spacious and works with all the Windows 8 side gestures. The click buttons are integrated within the tactile area and they are a bit stiff and noisy. In fact the entire surface is clickable. Now, I’m not a big fan of this approach, but it will do. In fact, that’s how I can summarize the trackpad on this machine: it will do, as it works fine most of the time, although the cursor can get unresponsive or jumpy from time to time.
OK, so all these aside, let’s see what you can actually do with this machine.
Like I said in the beginning, the Transformer Book is a Windows 8 powered tablet. This means that you’re getting the Metro touch-friendly interface, with its apps in the Windows Store (I’m not going to get in depth in this review), but also the classic desktop and the ability to run all the software you’re already familiar with from your other PCs.
We’re talking here about serious multitasking, Office, Photoshop, Windows Media Center and so on. Programing or video editing software can be cranked too, as long as you’re working on smaller projects, and even games.
I’ve tried Civ 5 and Starcraft 2 on it and they all ran fine with 13 x 7 resolution and medium details, but remember that this is not primarily a gaming computer, as there’s only that much you can ask from the integrated Intel HD 4000 chip inside it. The clip below will show you some of the games I’ve tried on a Core i7 powered Asus Zenbook Prime a while ago, which is pretty much similar to the hardware we have here.
Bottom point, most of the programs nowadays are going to fly on the machine, given its specs:
Anyway, the processor, the memory and the SSD are all inside the tablet. Thus the slate is a stand-alone computer of its own that can handle pretty much all the things a regular laptop can. When having it attached to the docking station, you get the extra ports and you can access the regular hard-drive, where you can store most of your content.
The SSD inside this particular unit is decently snappy, as you can see from the benchmarks below. It’s an U100 Sandisk model, so it’s not a regular mSATA drive, thus I’m not sure how easy it would be to swap it for another faster one. Unfortunately, I can’t pop-open this Transformer Book and have a look at the internals, so I can’t tell for sure what kind of drive is used here. The HDD is however pretty slow, but I’m pretty sure this is a 7mm 2.5 inch drive and it should be easily replaceable once you remove those Philips screws holding in place the rear-panel of the docking unit.
Last but not least, there’s only 4 GB of memory on the Transformer Book and it would be great to find out if its soldered to the motherboard or if there’s any spare memory module you can use in case of an upgrade (based on what various programs are telling me, I’d reckon there isn’t). Still, since I can’t open the sample, there’s no way to tell you all these things for sure.
Anyway, I’ve ran a couple of synthetic benchmarks on the Asus Transformer Book. Once again, this is the Intel Core i7-3517U version with 4 GB of RAM and the 128 GB Sandisk U100 SSD, running Windows 8. The results are below:
One more thing I should mention. Since this is a Core powered device, it has a fan inside. As a result, you’ll hear it spinning. It is never too noisy, but you’ll hear it nonetheless when working in a quiet room, especially when you’ll push the system a bit harder. The back of the device is going to get warm too, around the cooling grill, but luckily it never gets uncomfortably hot, not even when running Full HD movies or games for several hours.
So all in all, with the Transformer Book you get a very fast hybrid that you can use when needed as a tablet, or as a laptop. With Windows 8, you get some touch-optimized software, but more importantly, the legacy software and the true multitaking you won’t find on most other tablet operating systems these days. And on top of that, the device is fast, boots from cold in just around 10 seconds and resumes from sleep instantaneously. What’s even cooler, it can last in stand-by for weeks, so there’s little point in actually turning it OFF. Ever.
Speaking about the battery life, the tablet itself houses a 38 Wh battery, and under the keyboard there’s a 23 Wh one as well.
Those being said, you can use the tablet as a stand-alone device and you’ll get between two and 4 hours of daily use on a charge, based on what you’re doing on it.
The methodology for the results on this section is simple: I’ve used BatteryBar and I’ve ran each activity for 15 minutes (not the best approach, but that’s what I could do, given the limited time I had with this unit). I’ve then recorded the start and the ending capacity of the battery showed by that app, and based on that, I’ve got the average results shown below, extrapolated per hour (there’s an error margin though, as we know that a battery does not discharge linearly).
Anyway, here’s what you should expect when using the tablet as a stand-alone device:
And then, you can connect the tablet to the dock. In this case, there are two different ways you can use the combo. In the first scenario, you get to access everything there is available on the docking unit: the keyboard and trackpad, ports and the external hard-drive. In this case, you’ll get an average of four hours of life out of this computer.
In the second scenario, called Notebook Mode, you can only use the keyboad and the trackpad on the dock, while all the other features are turned OFF, and in this case the average battery life will jump to 5+ hours. In this case, BatteryBar wasn’t working properly, so I only have two tests, while discharging the battery from 100% to 7%:
If I got things right (and please correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the conclusion I was able to get based on my tests, as neither Windows or any other piece of software actually sees the secondary battery), the battery inside the dock seems to power the hard-drive and the ports when in regular mode, while only the battery inside the tablet takes care of the hardware inside it. In other words, when having the tablet and the docking connected in this mode, you’re actually getting shorter battery expectations than when using the tablet alone. In notebook Mode, the battery inside the dock and the battery inside the tablet join forces, and as a result, you get significantly longer battery life.
Now, you can change between the two modes from the Asus Transformer Book management console, accessible by pressing that Blue button on the keyboard. It’s the Battery UP feature in the right lower corner. Besides that, the interface also offers extra info about the laptop and access to a couple of other Asus tweaks, like the Asus Splendid software that changes the color settings of your screen or the Audio Wizard.
Speaking of audio, you get two speakers on the back of the tablet, and another two on the sides of the docking unit (only usable when the Notebook Mode is OFF). I’d say that the sound quality is good, although short of impressive, as you can hear from the video review on top of this page. There’s also no distortion, but on the other hand, the sound system is not very loud.
As for heat and noise, I’ve told you all about them at the end of the Hardware and Performances section, so look for those details over there.
But there are some extra details I should mention.
First, the webcam, which I’d say it’s decent for video calls and conferences, paired with those microphones and the ambient noise-reduction software. But it tends to produce very grainy and washed-out videos unless there’s a lot of light in the room.
And then, there are the connectivity options. This unit comes with Wireless and Bluetooth, plus a Gigabit Lan port on the docking. The wireless card is a Qualcomm Atheros AR9485WB-EG and it performed well during all of my tests, although signal strength in congestioned areas or when further away from the router is not its strong point. And it doesn’t support WiDi either.
The Asus Transformer Book starts at around $1300 for an Intel Core i5 configuration with the 128 GB SSD and a 320 GB HDD inside the docking unit.
The version tested here, with the more powerful processor and the larger HDD, sells for close to $1500, or 1500 euros in Europe.
Anyway, as we draw closer to the end of our review, I believe some of you might find the Transformer Book as the next step for laptops. You get all the power and the features of a laptop, but you also get to detach the, let’s call it “screen”, and end up with a tablet you can carry around for your presentations or even use for everyday content consumption.
Although, since this is a large and heavy slate, it’s not really the ideal couch-budy, but it works nonetheless.
On the other hand, the Transformer Book is one of the several hybrid designs out there right now. The Asus Taichi, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and ThinkPad Helix or the Sony Vaio Duo 11 are a bunch of other interesting ones you should check out. And while there are plenty of things to like about this Transformer Book, there are still a couple that you might not.
For some of you, the lack of a digitizer might be a deal-breaker, the rather massive and heavy body (for a 13.3 inch machine), or the light bleeding on the screen. For me, it’s the wobbly connection between the tablet and the dock, that kind of spells trouble down the line, although this might well be an issue with my sample and not a general problem. And then, there’s of course the OS and all the annoying incompatibilities between the Metro and the Desktop Windows interface that will for sure annoy those coming from Windows 7. But that’s a different story.
In the end, it’s up to you to take all the things in this review and decide if the Asus Transformer Book TX300 is the right choice for you. Since it costs 1300 euros and up, you should really give it a proper thinking before buying it. But on the other hand, it is in short supplies all around the world, so there’s probably no haste anyway.
And that pretty much wraps up this Asus Transformer Book TX300 review. I do hope you enjoyed and if you have any questions or thinks to say about the article or the tablet/laptop, just leave a comment. I’ll be there to reply.