The Transformer Book T100 might sound like it’s in training to be the next Terminator, but its goals are far more modest. This superb 10in tab-and-keyboard combo simply wants to make you more productive by running Microsoft Office everywhere, all day.
But that’s not all it can do - thanks fo full-fat Windows 8.1 this is a real all-rounder, capable of going beyond Windows Store apps to run pretty much any Windows-compatible program you can find.
At US$440 including the keyboard dock, that makes it seriously tempting.
On paper it’s a slam dunk, but in reality is this the Surface-slaying, laptop-and-tablet-replacing dream device that it seems? Actually, yes, it pretty much is.
I Need a Hero (Hybrid)
If anyone can build the ultimate tablet-laptop hybrid, it’s got to be Asus. And the T100 is just about as close as it gets.
A sturdy duo that’s not too top-heavy on laps, the Transformer Book follows Asus’ tried-and-tested formula pretty closely. Unlike rivals, which balance tablets on docks or provide flimsy keyboard covers, the T100’s build is tidy, solid and quick to dock or undock.
The T100 slots right into its dock accessory with a satisfying click, and now that Asus has replaced the old slider (which could get stuck) with a big button, swapping between modes is fuss-free. When docked the T100’s screen doesn’t tilt back quite as much as we’d like, but it’s still a better set-up than the Surface 2’s awkward two-angled kickstand.
This is hands-down the best typing experience on a tablet this size. Although the keyboard is inevitably more cramped than a regular laptop (to match the 10.1in screen’s size), the keys themselves have good depth and fast typers will fly. The plastic keyboard dock (there’s a soft touch panel on the bottom) means it’s easy to rest your hands when typing, too - unlike the sometimes slippier Transformer Infinity.
The trackpad is responsive but as with almost every other Transformer tab it’s a touch erratic, occasionally moving either too quickly or with a small delay. Thanks to the full-sized USB 3.0 port, adding a mouse is an option when a flat surface is available. It’s located on the left edge making for a slightly messy set-up that could annoy right-handed mouse-wielders but having the option is a bit of a luxury all the same.
We have only a couple of niggling isses with the T100's design. The use of plastic doesn’t mean it’s light - it’s pushing the scales at 550g for the tab and a smidge over 1kg for the pair. Compared to the lighter, more premium iPad Air, say, you’ll feel the weight of the duo in your bag. Still, it’s lighter than a laptop and the keyboard dock can be left at home some days.
It’s also the ugly duckling of the Asus line-up - the glossy plastic finish of the tablet itself doesn’t look or feel as lovely as the aluminium Android Asus offerings such as 2013’s gorgeous Transformer Pad. But this isn’t a statement tablet like an iPad, and it doesn’t need to be - it’s a tablet that gets things done.
The big draw here, as we mentioned, is full Microsoft Office - you can access Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook (new to 8.1) from the Start screen then work on them in desktop mode. There are no compromises in functionality and when you're connected to Wi-Fi, a swipe from the right hand side brings up the quick access Share menu to email or save docs to the Cloud. It’s an on-the-go work set-up we could get used to.
As with other Windows 8.1 machines, the Asus can also run two programs or apps side by side, which is seriously handy for glancing at email instructions as you work in Office and a coup over iPads and most Android tabs. View and edit full websites, not mobile sites, create work in the full versions of Adobe software and browse and upload images to any site - iPads and Android tablets just aren’t there yet.
Asus hasn’t slathered too many pre-installed apps on top of Windows 8.1 apart from the likes of Live Update and the fairly useless Reading Mode. You’ll want to check out Asus’ WebStorage though - it doesn’t do anything that Dropbox or Microsoft’s own SkyDrive don’t do, but it does come with a mega 1TB of free cloud storage for one year. It’s a great bonus freebie with what’s already a bargain.
So it talks the Win 8 talk but how capable is the T100 as an ad-hoc laptop replacement?
Whether it’s flitting between webpages or running the full version of PhotoShop CS6, everything works beautifully thanks to a new and improved 1.33GHz Intel Atom ‘Baytrail’ processor. With dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, browsing and downloads are nice and nippy with an impressive SunSpider 1.0.2 benchmark score of 410.3ms to match (the iPad Air only just pips it).
When we tested 2013’s batch of Atom devices (such as the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2), there was room for improvement on performance, but getting giddy over running Creative Suite on a tablet distracted us. Now everything is faster and slicker - the keys and trackpad aren’t ideal for using these sorts of creative programs for long stretches but you quickly get used to the set-up.
Beasts such as the Surface Pro 2 and Razer Edge Pro - both quite a bit more expensive than this T100 - are able to play Steam games at decent settings, but apart from a few easygoing indie games we wouldn’t suggest trying to tax the Transformer Book too much. Serious gamers should look elsewhere but the Windows Store does have titles such as Halo: Spartan Assault for everyone else to pass the time until they get back to their Xbox or PS4 for that proper gaming fix.
Speaking of downloads - the 64GB version of the T100 isn’t coming to the UK, although it is possible get hold of one online. Windows 8.1 itself takes a fair bit of room but there’s still 28GB left for you to play with on the cheaper 32GB model - more than enough for a couple of Adobe programs, a library of HD movies plus games and photos. Media hoarders, there’s also a microSD card slot to expand the storage by up to 64GB if needed.
A great screen for the money (and resolution)
Everything from movies to the web looks great on the T100’s 10.1in 1366x768 screen. Colours pop, hues are accurate and whites look white - though if we’re being picky we’d have liked them a little purer. Viewing angles are great but the brightness could have done with a few more notches on the slider.
When building a catch-all laptop replacement it’s best to keep things futureproof, and although the T100’s screen is brilliant for the price, we know Asus can do better. You can get Full HD on a Windows tab, albeit, an RT one or pay more for the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. Given the T100’s price, performance and battery life, though, the 720p resolution is a very reasonable compromise.
This is a battery
Asus Transformer tablets tend to rock insane weekend-long battery lives as a duo - not so here. The T100’s keyboard dock doesn’t actually offer any extra juice so you’ll only use it for typing and the USB port.
Chances are you won’t need the top-up anyway. This is a real all-day tab, regularly lasting over ten hours of slate-based work and play, sometimes into the second day of use and barely sipping percentage points on standby - partly down to Intel’s Baytrail tweaks.
Just one niggle, it is one to leave on the bedside tech cabinet overnight: the Transformer Book takes ages to revive from a dead battery (between half an hour to an hour, worryingly) and charging to full via microUSB isn’t too snappy either.
As long as hardcore gaming on the go isn’t on the agenda, the Transformer Book T100 is the most affordable way to get a slice of Windows 8.1 and Office while keeping the portability of a 10in tablet.
If you’re more bothered by price and portability than the detachable screen, a Chromebook might be worth a look. And sure, 8in 8.1 tabs such as the Toshiba Encore are even cheaper, but we’ve yet to test one that matches the Asus’ all-round performance, typing set-up and battery life.
This is a machine that gets things done but doesn’t overly scrimp on play ’n ’procrastination points either, and that makes it a cracking all-rounder and an absolute bargain. Needless to say, it finds itself comfortably nestling into our Top 10 list of the best tablets in the world right now.