ProsIncredibly low price for the functionality
ConsSome design compromises; significant early teething pains due to bad firmware; finicky wireless
The Asus Transformer Book T100 is the first of a new breed of hybrid tablets that combines the low-cost design of netbooks of the late 2000s with the modern performance and efficiency of tablets. Coming in at $399 with 64GB of storage (or $349 for the nearly impossible-to-find 32GB version), it breaks new ground in terms of bang for the buck, and in fact creates a whole new product class vastly under-cutting existing ones in price. But is it perfect? Read on to find out!
Description and Features
What makes this little tablet tick is Intel's amazing new "Bay Trail" Atom processor, which is far more capable than Atoms of years past. Specifically, it's the Atom Z3740, a quad-core chip with a 1.33GHz base clock speed and a 1.86GHz Turboboost. Believe it or not, it's designed to use a maximum of just two watts, which puts it solidly in tablet territory, but its performance is generally on the high-end of what tablets are capable of. This little chip is what allows Asus to sell the T100 at a price below that of most tablets, despite its laptop propensities. Well, that and some serious cost-cutting, as we'll discuss in a moment.
The T100 is about 2.4lb., with half of that weight in the tablet and half in the keyboard. Sadly, it didn't need to be that heavy, at least theoretically, as the keyboard is mostly empty space, save for some extra weight Asus placed in the front edge to balance the system when placed on a flat surface. This is going to be an ongoing problem for all two-piece clamshell tablets for a long time to come, as the guts of the system will always be behind the screen, unlike a traditional laptop, and the T100 pays the price in extra weight. Size-wise, it measures 10.4" x 6.7", and 0.93" thick with the keyboard attached. It's a little thick compared to just about any laptop in this weight class, but its other dimensions are downright tiny for a laptop, and very competitive for a tablet with a 10.1" screen, which is what the T100 has. We appreciated that the T100’s compact design makes it fit into a small purse or briefcase, even with the keyboard attached. In addition, when using the T100 as a tablet, it has a slender design that makes it easy to grasp with one hand. We did find, however, that the weight of the tablet still makes it somewhat tiring to hold without bracing your wrist on something. This is a problem that plagued all iPad models until the new iPad Air was released around the same time at the T100. While the iPad Air is just over 1lb., previous models far exceeded the weight of the T100, pushing 1.5lb., despite a smaller screen. Coming out ahead of all but the latest iPad isn't bad, right?
The T100's IPS screen is another strength, besting the non-IPS screens you'll find on any laptop even remotely in this price range. That means good off-angle viewing and relatively good colors as well. With a resolution of only 1366 x 768, it definitely shows its limitations for up-close viewing typical of tablet usage, but it's quite sharp by laptop standards, given that there isn't much screen real estate to stretch across. Over and over, the T100 lives or dies based on which side of the line it's judged on - tablet or laptop. We think the screen is a very fair compromise for the range of uses that the T100 allows.
A few other interesting design decisions demonstrate that Asus probably didn't know exactly how to position the T100. As can be seen in our photos, the outer shell of the T100 is a very glossy plastic. This would actually look fine on a laptop, but on a tablet that you are handling constantly, it can get smudged very easily. Another interesting design choice is the style of buttons used on the T100, as shown to the right - they seem more appropriate for a phone than anything that's ever been used on a laptop before. The left-most button is the impossible-to-hit Windows button, which brings you to the Home Screen (most Windows tablets use a large button just below the screen, like a phone), the wide button is the volume up/down, and that tiny button to the right is the power button. The fact that you have to hold it down for about 3 seconds before the T100 actually turns on only emphasizes how pitifully under-sized it is. Perhaps Asus thought you wouldn't really use it, as this is a tablet after all. Or is it? By the way, we should note that the T100 also uses the removable storage often found in cell phones, the micro SD card. The tiny port is on the opposite side of the tablet from the buttons, and when a card is installed, it sticks out ever so slightly, appearing much like the T100's buttons. We had no problem using a 64GB micro SDXC card for extra storage, including for applications, and it happens to be a very inexpensive way of doubling the storage of the T100. The only other ports on the tablet are a headphone jack, a micro HDMI output, and a micro-USB port for charging. The keyboard dock adds a single full-size USB 3.0 port to the mix.
One of the T100's best features is actually something it doesn't do: make noise. We love how the T100 has no fan and doesn’t need one since it has that aforementioned ultra-efficient processor. This means the system is much quieter than most laptops (well, it's silent, in fact), and we don’t have to worry about the risk of overheating when watching or listening to entertainment media on the T100. A final feature weighing in the T100's favor is its inclusion of a full copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student. This software on its own is worth at least $100, and given that the T100 comes with a keyboard dock, unlike most of its competitors, you'll be off and running in Office in no time. We can't seriously see anyone using Office without a keyboard, but its inclusion with the keyboard-equipped T100 is a valuable bonus, in our opinion.