Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi review
Asus produces a slim, alluring Windows hybrid that takes on the Surface Pro 3 at its own game
Intel made bold claims for its Core M processors, not least that they would herald the arrival of gorgeous Windows hybrids and tablets for sensible money. While the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro cruelly taunted our bank balance, Asus’ Transformer Book T300 Chi delivers on Intel’s promises: this Core M-powered hybrid packs a Quad HD display and stylus support into a 12.5in hybrid for £800 inc VAT.
Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi: design
In fact, the T300 exudes the kind of luxurious, high-end charm that we’d expect from a device a good deal more expensive than its £800 price tag. The 12.5in tablet and keyboard dock make for a handsome couple: they’re both hewn from solid chunks of aerospace-grade aluminium, finished in a deep metallic blue, and the brushed metal is framed by bevelled edges skirting neatly around the edges. The matching metal-clad stylus looks the part, too.
Meanwhile, the presence of Intel’s low-power Core M processor has allowed Asus to pare the size and weight right down. The tablet is 1.2mm thinner than the Surface Pro 3, at 7.9mm, and it comes in 80g lighter at 720g.
In fact, the only physical disappointment is that the T300 is a rather weighty affair once you factor in the keyboard dock. The pair tips the scales at 1.43kg and measure a rather less-than-svelte 18.6mm thick – several members of the PC Pro team remarked at how heavy the Asus felt given its size.
Still, there are plenty of plus points. The weight in the base counterbalances the tablet to stop it toppling backwards, a common complaint with tablet-based hybrids. And while the screen doesn’t tilt back as far as a traditional laptop, it folds back far enough to prove usable – and most importantly, stable – on a lap. Factor in a comfy, spacious keyboard that is genuinely pleasant to type upon, and a touchpad that works reasonably well, and you have a hybrid that is genuinely usable as a laptop.
Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi: keyboard and ergonomics
Asus has made some significant tweaks to the Transformer Book formula for the T300. First among these is the keyboard, which is now held in place by a strip of super-strong magnets, and connected via Bluetooth rather than a physical connection.
The keyboard needs to be charged separately to the tablet via its micro-USB connection, but thankfully this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence: after a full charge, the keyboard lasted well over a week during our testing. Another plus point is that the Bluetooth connection allows the keyboard to function even when it’s not directly connected – hook up the tablet to a monitor or TV, or just prop it up nearby, and you can control it remotely from several metres away.
We were initially more than a little concerned about the lack of any physical latch to hold the tablet and keyboard together, but our concerns were misplaced: no matter how violently we shook the tablet, the magnets held firm. And as a happy side effect, the magnets also serve to clamp the metal stylus firmly to the hinge area – we don’t think Asus’ engineers intended this, but it works well nonetheless.
Connectivity is an area where Asus has had to compromise. There’s a microSD slot and a headset jack, as well as 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4, but the tablet’s slender edges leave no room for full-sized ports. Instead, Asus has resorted to micro-HDMI plus a single micro-USB 3 port, and supplies an adapter in the box to expand the latter to two full-sized USB 3 ports. It’s clunky, and the micro-USB 3 connection doesn’t deliver much in the way of power: our USB 3 thumbdrive operated normally, but we had to dig out a USB 2 OTG cable to get a portable USB 3 hard disk to function.
Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi: performance and battery life
The presence of a 1.2GHz Intel Core M-5Y71 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD means that the Asus should feel pretty spritely. Indeed, while the Core M-5Y71 sips a mere handful of watts, it’s capable of boosting up to 2.9GHz for short periods, quick enough to help applications spring into life before the processor drops back down to its nominal clock speed.
The other benefit is that the Core M is capable of delivering those speed bursts without the need for a fan. The metal rear of the T300 becomes warm under normal usage, but not to a worrying degree. It was only once we started hammering the Asus flat out with our benchmarks that it became uncomfortably hot to the touch.
We found performance to be rather sluggish on occasion, however, and particularly during heavier multitasking. We’d point the finger at the low-power 128GB SanDisk i100 SSD, which sacrifices small-file read and write performance in order to minimise power draw. In the AS SSD benchmark, the i100 SSD achieved read and write transfer speeds of only 11MB/sec, a dramatically lower result than the best SSDs.
Another likely culprit is the limited cooling afforded by the Asus’ slender chassis – a limitation that prevents the Core M from reaching its highest Turbo Boost frequencies under heavy, continuous loads. To prove the point, a result of 75 in our new image-editing benchmark shows just how well the Asus dispatches short, intense workloads – our Core i5-4670K reference PC scores 100 in the same test – but pushing the Asus harder with our video-editing and multitasking benchmarks saw the scores nosedive to 31 and 4 respectively. An overall score of 25 is roughly twice that of a quad-core Bay Trail Atom, though.
Battery life isn’t as good as we hoped, however – and especially not given the presence of a power-efficient Core M CPU. With the screen calibrated to a brightness of 120cd/m2, the Asus lasted for 5hrs 37mins in our looping 720p video test; some way short of Asus’ claim of eight hours. In our light usage battery test, with Wi-Fi off and the screen brightness dimmed right down to 75cd/m2, the Asus achieved a more creditable 8hrs 4mins. That's still a long way short of the Surface Pro 3's result of 10hrs 33mins in the same test, though.
Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi: display quality
The T300’s display is astonishingly good. A 2,560 x, 1,440 resolution stretches across the 12.5in panel, and it delivers a sterling performance. Brightness tops out at a creditable 372cd/m2, contrast hits an exemplary 1,243:1 and the panel dredges up an impressive 98% of the sRGB colour gamut.
Colour accuracy is one area where the Asus drops behind the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, with an average Delta E of 2.66 to the Surface Pro 3’s 1.77. However, this is due to the Asus’ ability to produce a wider range of colours – while accuracy is nigh-on perfect across most of the spectrum, the wider gamut of the Asus’ display causes reds and purples to look too intense and oversaturated; not a huge flaw by any means.
Backlighting could be improved a touch, though. Like the Surface Pro 3, the Asus' edge-lit LED backlight tends to create a noticeable rim of brightness around the display's edges. It's something we could put up with, but perfectionists should take note.
We found the touchscreen to be superbly responsive in our time with the T300, reacting deftly to every prod and gesture, and the pressure-sensitive inking with the bundled stylus works beautifully, too. Perhaps our only issue with the screen is the 16:9 display ratio: in portrait orientation, this makes for a rather narrow, cramped page; a problem that Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 avoids by dint of its 3:2 display ratio.
Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi: verdict
The Transformer Book T300 Chi is a competent hybrid. The display is great, the design attractive and, crucially, this is a hybrid that manages to perform well in both tablet and laptop roles.
There’s room for improvement – the battery life, miniaturised ports and slow SSD all take their toll – but, for the money, those are flaws we could live with. If you’ve been looking for a more affordable, more flexible alternative to the Surface Pro 3, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi is well worth considering.