This article is my review of the Asus Transformer Book T300FA.
The name might not tell you much, but this is Asus’s first 2-in-1 laptop built on the Intel Core M new-generation hardware platform and promises to be powerful enough to handle your everyday tasks, efficient enough to run for several hours on a charge, completely silent (fanless) and last but not least, fairly affordable, with a starting price of around 600 euro here in Europe, or $600 in the US.
But does it actually deliver on these promises? Well, stick with me for the next few minutes and you’ll find out.
Before we start though, you should know that’s not my first encounter with Intel’s Broadwell Y series of Core M processors, I also reviewed the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro a few days ago. And if you’re interested in this new platform, check out my detailed list of all the Core M laptops available right now, or soon to be launched.
On top of that, we have a pre-release version of the T300FA here and not a final retail unit, thus some of the things I’ve noticed during the last 10 days or so might be addressed on the versions you’ll be able to buy in stores in a few weeks (end of November).
Asus Transformer Book T300FA video review
Note: Excuse me for interrupting, I'm gathering my favorite Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on ultraportable laptops over here, if you're interested.
The specs sheet for the Asus Transformer Book T300FA
|Asus Transformer Book T300FA|
|Screen||12.5 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Y Core M-5Y10 CPU|
|Graphics||integrated Intel 5300 HD|
|Memory||4 GB LPDDR3|
|Storage||64 GB eMMC inside the slate and 1 TB HDD (7 mm) in the dock|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Bluetooth|
|Ports||micro-HDMI, microSD card reader (up to 64 GB cards), proprietary docking port, headphone jack|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||Tablet: 311 x 209 x 10 mm (12.2” x 8.2” x 0.39”)|
With dock: 311 x 218 x 24 mm (12.2” x 8.5” x 0.94”)
|Weight||Tablet: 812 g (1.79 lbs)|
With dock (and HDD): 1625 g (3.58 lbs)
|Extras||docking station included, with keyboard, trackpad, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 slots and HDD|
Design and exterior
There are a few things you need to know from the beginning. First, of all, this device is a stand-alone tablet bundled with a matching docking station in order to get laptop functionality, like all the other members of Asus’s Transformer Book series. Or what we call a detachable 2-in-1.
The hardware and the battery are placed in the slate itself, behind the screen, thus you can easily use this Transformer Book as a tablet. Connecting the dock gives a laptop-like form factor, the keyboard, trackpad and extra ports.
Second, this is not a high-end device, so you shouldn’t expect to find premium materials or top-tier features on it. The case is made out of a textured plastic that tends to show smudges easily, with glass covering the front face and a narrow black plastic rim around the display.
This is the Asus Transformer Book T300Fa, one of the first 2-in-1 mini laptops powered by Intel’s Core M hardware
The slate weighs about 800 grams and is fairly compact, judging by the bezel around its 12.5 inch screen. That makes it comfortable to hold and use, both in landscape and in portrait modes. Its lower edge is a bit thicker than the others, and you can grab it quite firmly from here if you plan to read documents or browse on it in this mode, but I feel this T300FA will spend most of its lifetime attached to the dock.
Latching the slate and the dock together is only a matter of seconds and the docking unit bundles a full-size keyboard, a trackpad, two USB slots (one USB SuperSpeed 3.0 – on the left – and one USB 2.0) placed on its sides and a hard-drive enclosure inside. Our test unit came with a HDD preinstalled (Western Digital WD10SPC 5400 rpm 7 mm drive), but you will be able to put one yourself in there if you buy a version without.
Together the two make for a 1.6 kilos, or 3.6 pounds mini-laptop with a blue plastic case and a silver, aluminum like, interior (which is still made out of plastic). Clearly not the lightest device out there, but if you’ll get the version without a HDD inside the dock you’ll be able to shave a few extra grams off. And even so, the T300FA is still fairly portable and shouldn’t be a burden to carry around. If you want something lighter, you’ve got other options.
Looking at the IO, you’ll find those USB ports on the dock, but also a MicroHDMI connector on the slate, as well as a MicroSD card-reader and the standard Power, Windows and Volume buttons. All those are easily accessible both in tablet and in notebook mode, as although some of the ports are placed on the slate’s lower lip, they are not obscured by the dock’s hinge mechanism.
Taking a closer look at the dock’s hinge you’ll notice that Asus padded it with some sort of fabric so it won’t scratch the tablet when having the two connected. A fine touch. I also appreciated its outer rubberized and textured finishing that lets you securely grab the device in everyday use, and combined with the rubber feet on the belly, makes sure the device won’t slip on your desk.
On the other hand, the slate doesn’t fit snugly in this hinge, and that’s mostly because the hinge lacks a back part that could grab the slate like a claw and keep it firmly in place, like it had on the Asus T100TA. The same design was used on the T200TA model and behaved similarly as well. I worry the connection will get even looser in time and have negative effects on the port that links the tablet with the dock. So be careful how you use it and treat it nicely.
The screen is crucial on a tablet. My first impression wasn’t that good, mostly because fonts and fine details looked somewhat fuzzy, overly pixelated on this panel. And it’s not because of the resolution.
Asus T300FA in portrait mode
Yes, Asus went with a 1366 x 768 px 12.5 inch display on the Transformer Book, but I have a similarly sized screen with the same resolution on my Lenovo X220 and it’s a lot sharper. You’ll notice these issues especially if you deal with texts and fonts, like I do most of the time. With pictures and videos, they are far less visible.
I managed to mostly address this matter by going through Window’s ClearType setup, but that only fixed it in those applications and programs that actually support ClearType and not across the field. Hopefully final retail units won’t encounter the same issue, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
This aside though, the IPS panel on the T300FA isn’t bad. The brightness is shy of 270 nits, which is enough for indoor use, the colors are surprisingly accurate and the contrast is solid for a device in this price range. On top of that, I have nothing to complain about the touch interface or the viewing angles. Check out the actual numbers below:
- Panel HardwareID: InfoVision M125NWR2 R1;
- Coverage: 77% sRGB, 55% NTSC, 57% AdobeRGB;
- measured gamma: 2.3;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 267 cd/m2 on power;
- contrast at max brightness: 720:1;
- white point: 6600 K;
- black on max brightness: 0.37 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 2.64 uncalibrated, 1.17 calibrated .
But even so, I’m overall not happy with the display on this unit. I can live with the lower resolution, although I shouldn’t have to on a mid-level device launched at the end of 2014, but I can’t accept the blurry fonts.
Keyboard and trackpad
Anyway, let’s turn our attention on the keyboard. Asus did nothing crazy with the layout, this is a standard chiclet keyboard with full-size square keys, except for the small directional pads. There’s even an LED that let’s you know when Caps Lock is active.
The typing experience is decent and the overall feedback good enough once you get used to it.
Beneath the keyboard sits the trackpad, smaller than on some of the other Transformer Books I’ve seen lately, but accurate and reliable. It’s made of plastic, thus not as smooth as the glass clickpads available on higher end devices, and it’s also loud and clunky when it comes to performing actual physical clicks. But if you’re like me and tend to mostly use taps, swipes and gestures, you’ll have little to complain about here.
As a side note, you should know that the dock, thus the keyboard and the trackpad, occasionally failed to work after resuming the device from sleep. A restart would fix it, or disconnecting and reconnecting the tablet, but still was annoying.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
OK, with all these out of the way, let’s see what this thing can actually do for us. Like I mentioned in the beginning, the Transformer Book T300FA is the first Asus 2-in-1 built on Intel’s BayTrail Y hardware platform and it bundles the Core M-5Y10 processor, the basic model in this line, clocked at 0.8 GHz with Turbo-Boost speeds of up to 2.0 GHz.
This is a 4.5 W processor (and actually works at 4.5W, unlike the Core M-5Y70 on the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro I reviewed) and it’s not supposed to be fast, but efficient. However, when bundled with 4 GB of RAM and the 64 GB eMMC storage (non-upgradeable and not very fast, as you can see from the pictures below), it performs decently well as long as you don’t throw too much at it.
HWInfo – exact configuration
Browsing in Internet Explorer or Firefox, streaming 1080p and even 4K clips from Youtube, watching .mkv 1080p movies and even playing some older games are all possible on this configuration. You can also multitask between these apps, to some extent, without encountering stuttering or performance drops. The CPU runs constantly at frequencies close to 2.0 GHz while performing all these activities, as proven by the pictures below.
As a side note though, performance in Chrome is poor. In fact, Chrome takes a much higher toll on this hardware, pushing the CPU to max-load when streaming video from Youtube or even when casually browsing, and that leads to choppiness. From what I’ve read, Google decided to always stick to the VP9 codec when it comes to handling videos in Chrome, while IE/Firefox rely on the older H.264/265 codecs and that seems to help a lot (see this link for more details on these codecs). But that doesn’t explain what happens when browsing through ordinary pages with no videos. So for now, I could summarize that Chrome is just not optimized for this Intel platform and that takes it toll when it comes to both performance and battery life. Until that’s getting fixed, stay away and go with IE or Firefox.
Now, back to those games. I tried a few titles, including Dirt 3, on 1366 x 768 px with Very Low details and I averaged around 30-35 fps on the T300FA, which made it playable. Need For Speed Most Wanted on the other hand, which is a more demanding title, barely averaged 12 to 15 fps with similar settings. Thus as expected, the platform is not meant for gaming, but it can actually handle older and simpler titles, if you really want to play something from time to time. Even so, gaming on this Asus is a lot better than what I got with the Yoga 3 Pro, whose hardware throttled aggressively, so I can summarize that Core M-5Y70 CPU inside the Lenovo is far more capable than their implementation was able to deliver.
The CPU runs at its designed 4.5W Core Power throughout all the tested activities and both the graphics and the processor run show no signs of throttling in these cases, not even when dealing with games, although GPU frequencies do drop under load.
I also ran some benchmarks on this computer and the results are available below:
- 3DMark 11: P610;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 26246, Cloud Gate – 2765, Sky Diver – 1324, Fire Strike – 346;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 1948;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 12.61 fps, CPU 1.62 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 16.72 fps, CPU 131 pts.
It’s worth noting that subsequent runs of Cinebench did not lead to lower results, like it happened on the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, thus the hardware isn’t as thermal capped on this device. The same thing is visible from the stress-tests:
- Stressing the CPU only with Prime 95 makes it stabilize at about 1.3 GHz and reach average temperatures of about 75 C;
- Stressing the GPU only with Furmark leads to an average clock speed of about 420 Mhz;
- Stressing both leads makes the CPU stabilize at around 700 MHz and the graphics at about 300 Mhz, with CPU temperatures of 75 C as well.
All the pictures and detailed above show you that the laptop can reach higher internal temperatures and as a result, throttles less aggressively, even at max-load for a longer period of time. That however has a negative impact on the outer temperatures, especially since the T300FA sports a fanless design.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Yes, there’s no fan inside the T300FA, which makes it completely quiet (there’s no coil wine either, nothing at all coming from this slate). However, when having the tablet and the dock together, you’ll hear the spinning HDD inside once it becomes active and that can get annoying. My advice: buy the version without a HDD and put your own SSD in there. You’ll need the extra storage space, as the one on the tablet itself will very quickly run out, even on the 64 GB model, but it’s clearly not worth sacrificing the quiet use experience for that.
BTW, accessing the HDD inside the dock is extremely easy, you’ll just need to take care of the two Philips screws that hold in place the designated tray on the belly, slide it up and that’s it (see the video review for more details). My unit came with a HDD preinstalled and the cage is hold in place by four Philips screws. If you buy the model without a HDD, you will still get the cage and the electronics required to put your own drive in place (works with 2.5 inch 7 mm units).
The passive cooling solution does lead to high case temperatures. Both the screen and the tablet’s back easily reach temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in daily use, and actually higher than that when watching 1080p movies or playing some games. That shouldn’t bother you much as long as you keep this Transformer Book in laptop mode, but if you’ll pick up the tablet, well, those temperatures will quickly become a nuisance.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in IE, for 30 minutes
*Load – Prime95 + Furmark for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise, there’s Bluetooth on this tablet and Wi-Fi N. Asus stick to the reference dual-band Intel Maple Peak 7265.NGW wireless module, which lacks support for fast AC speeds, but proved quite capable otherwise. Intel claims it can handle streams of up to 162 Mbps. In my tests, it was able to max my Internet connection when close to the router and the speed and signal strength remained good enough at 30 feet with 2 walls in between, as you can see from the images below. So nothing to complain here.
As a side note, the T300FA lacks the LANAdapter included with the T200’s dock. Not a big deal for me, but something worth noting nonetheless.
The speakers are placed on the slates back, behind the fine grill drilled in the plastic case. They are thus firing away from the user, which doesn’t help their case. In fact, quality wise, these speakers are mostly meh, but compensate with solid volume and no distortions or vibrations, so the average user should find them good-enough.
Last but not least, Asus put a webcam on the T300FA, placed on top of the screen, near the Auto Brightness sensor and the microphone. Not great, not bad, decent enough for Skype calls and occasional hangouts.
Ok, so far we can conclude the TF300FA is a mid-level device with fanless hardware, capable of handling everyday tasks fairly well, as long as you keep things simple. The battery life is the final ingredient in this recipe and it’s not exactly as advertised.
Asus put a 30 Wh battery inside this thing (in the slate, there’s no battery in the dock) and that translates in around 4-5 hours of everyday use with the tablet and the dock latched together, and 5-6 hours if you’ll use the slate on its own, without the dock. See the scenarios below for extra details.
- 3 W (~10 h of use) – idle, HDD inactive, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 4.5 W (~6 h 40 min of use) – idle, HDD active, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 6.2 W (~4 h 50 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive (HDD inactive), Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.5 W (~4 h 40 min of use) – 1080p video on Youtube in Internet Explorer (HDD inactive), Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.5 W (~4 h of use) – 1080p .mkv video on VLC Player (from HDD – active), Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.5 W (~3 h 30 min of use) – medium browsing in Internet Explorer (HDD inactive), Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10 W (~3 h of use) – 1080p video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
- 2.3 W (~13 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 4.5 W (~6 h 40 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5 W (~6 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.6 W (~5 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video on VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~5 h 25 min of use) – medium browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~4 h 15 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
On this screen, lowering the brightness to 40% equals about 120 nits, which is my target for battery tests and bright-enough for indoors use.
When the dock and the slate are connected, whether the HDD is spinning or not does have an impact on battery life. Having an SSD instead of a spinning HDD should lower overall consumption when reading content from this external drive in the dock.
Asus bundled the T300FA with a 20W 1.95V power brick, compact and with a long enough cable. The one included with this test unit charged the device with a maximum of 13 W per hour, thus fully charging the battery from 10 to 100% takes about 3 hours (trickle charges at the end).
Compact power brick with a long cable, too bad the battery life isn’t great though
Price and availability
The Transformer Book T300FA will be available in Europe at the end of this year, starting at 600 euros for the version without any storage drive in the dock. The exact model tested here, with a 1 TB HDD, will sell for roughly 700 euros.
I have no exact details on a US release date for now, but it should be available over there fairly soon, starting at $600.
Keep close, I’ll update this section as soon as this thing actually hits the stores.
The T300FA comes as another 2-in-1 detachable in Asus’s Transformer Book line that includes the 10.1 inch T100TA ($349-$399), the 11.6 inch T200TA ($399-$499) and the 13.3 inch T300LA (~$849 these days).
Price and size wise, it sits between the last two. In fact, it’s scheduled to sell for only $100 more than the T200TA model that includes an Intel BayTrail platform, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB eMMC. It does offer a bigger screen and a faster hardware platform, without being heavier or significantly larger. And it’s still fanless. But while the T200TA could last for 8-10 hours on a charge, this one can only go for 5-6 hours.
So in the end it’s hard to put this T300FA on the map, because it sacrifices battery life for a performance boost that’s not actually that visible in everyday use. Yes, the Core M hardware scores higher in benchmarks, but when it comes to performing daily tasks, it doesn’t feel much faster and it does run quite a lot hotter.
If you need a fanless detachable capable of handling well-enough everyday activities and can live with 4-5 hours of battery life, the Asus T300FA might be the one for you
Thus, to put it simply, if longevity is high on your priorities list and want a computer for basic, casual tasks, then the T300FA is not for you. Pick the T200TA instead (follow this link for my detailed review). But if you love the idea of having a fanless computer, still plan on performing casual activities on it, would appreciate to have a bit more power when really needed and you’re fine with 4-6 hours of battery life, then the T300FA might be the right one for you. Even in this case, get the base version without a HDD in the dock and put an SSD in there for extra storage space.
Still, you’d better keep en eye on all the alternatives, all the other 2-in-1 laptops built on Intel’s Core M hardware, all the other convertibles and all the other good ultrabooks available right now in stores. This Transformer Book T300FA isn’t bad, but it’s one of the first Core-M releases and the average screen and battery life might be enough to relegate it when facing some of its future competitors. Thus, when the time comes and you need to buy something, make sure you make the right decision and consider all your options.
Anyway, that’s about it for now, these are my impressions of the Asus Transformer Book T300FA. Thanks for sticking by and if you have any questions or need help picking your next ultrabook, get in touch in the comments section below, I’ll be glad to help you out.