Looking at Microsoft’s hardware model, you might think that all Windows tablet/laptop hybrids fall into one of two camps: capable-but-pricey, à la the Surface 2 Pro, or the opposite of that, i.e., the ARM-toting, Windows RT–sporting Surface 2. Luckily, not all PC manufacturers see things so black-and-white. Hence we have the Asus Transformer Book T100, which not only offers Intel’s new x86 Bay Trail Atom processor and a full version of Windows 8.1, but is also priced at an affordable $400 for the 64GB model reviewed here ($350 for the 32GB). Shoot, an ARM-based Surface 2 with 64GB of storage costs $550! And that’s with the funky, fuzzy, flat TouchCover keyboard. That makes the T100 a compelling value proposition, to be sure. But we wanted to know how this combination tablet/laptop fares in actual use.
Windows 8.1 and an x86 processor don’t hold the T100 back when it comes to battery life.
Given the price, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the T100’s construction is largely plastic—shiny gray plastic on the back of the tablet, matte plastic on the front and back of the keyboard dock—but all parts feel solid. To form a clamshell, you line up the bottom of the tablet with two guideposts at the back of the keyboard dock and then click the screen in place. The process takes little effort.
In its laptop state, the T100 weighs two pounds, seven ounces (not counting the power brick, which adds a mere 2.5 ounces) and measures a little less than an inch thick. The weight between the tablet and dock is pretty evenly distributed, as opposed to the top-heavy nature of some other hybrids.
Port selection is modest—Micro HDMI, Micro USB, Micro SD, and headphone/mic jack on the right-hand edge of the tablet, and a lone USB 3.0 port on the left side of dock—but all your basic needs are covered. A power button lives on the top of the screen, with a volume rocker and Start button on the screen’s left edge—all are thin and reside on the curved edge of the chassis, which we found to be a bit awkward.
You might look at this compact clamshell and think “netbook,” but the T100’s performance says otherwise. The Bay Trail chip is vastly superior to the underpowered Atoms that were found in the likes of Asus’s Eee PC and others of that era. Whether we were opening consecutive web pages, Working in Google Docs, or watching 1080p YouTube video, the T100 felt capable and responsive. Still, it’s not in the same league as, say, a Haswell-based machine, so we looked to the Surface 2 as a zero-point in our benchmarks. The Surface 2 is based on the Tegra 4—one of the newer, faster ARM processors available today running four Coretex-A15 cores. Running browser-based benchmarks in the same version of Internet Explorer on each machine, we found the two to be pretty on par. That is, except in our test where we open multiple websites, including a 1080p YouTube video, Google Maps in satellite view, and Space Goo’s WebGL Solar System, while running the Kraken benchmark. Here, the T100 ran laps around the Surface 2.
Granted, full-on Windows applications, these are not. When we ran our standard laptop Photoshop test, the T100 was more than three times slower than Lenovo’s ThinkPad Helix, which sports a Core i5 but also cost four times as much. It might be just as well, since using the T100’s keyboard for any serious productivity would be pure madness. The keys are just far too small for extended use, and the small trackpad is similarly lacking.
The 1366x768 screen is a little low-res by current standards, but we found the IPS panel to be satisfying with most any content. This, along with the decent power of the speakers and a phenomenal battery life (after running FutureMark Peacekeeper’s battery test for eight hours, there was still 25 percent battery remaining!) make the T100 a pretty nice tablet.
So in the end, it’s hard not to see the highly versatile Transformer T100 as a good deal. Just don’t have any expectations of it taking the place of a real laptop.