Asus returns to the netbook style of computing with the T100, a blend of the Transformer tablet principle the company first released years ago with the power and usefulness of Windows 8.1, and all for under $600.
Another in the entry in the long running Transformer series, the T100 is a new tablet-laptop hybrid from Asus.
The first tablet we’ve seen to sport an Intel Atom quad-core chip, this runs the new Bay Trail chip launched in September, clocked at 1.33GHz and running alongside 2GB RAM, the default amount for most other laptops sporting an Atom chip.
Storage in the Australian Asus T100 is set to 64GB, though a little over 30GB is available to you once you start playing with it after Windows is installed. Fortunately, you can upgrade the storage through a microSD slot that is left uncovered on the right edge.
Intel HD graphics takes care of any video processing and games graphics, though spec-wise, we wouldn’t say this machine has been made for gaming in mind.
Connections on the T100 include 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, as well as a few wired port options, including microHDMI, a combined microphone and headphone 3.5mm jack, and the microUSB port used for charging.
One camera is included, with a 1.2 megapixel camera located above the screen on this hybrid tablet-laptop. No rear camera is available on this machine.
All of this sits under a 10.1 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) touchscreen, supporting a resolution of 1366×768, which is enough to be called high definition (HD), but nothing more.
Two speakers are also included in this tablet, as is a microphone, but you also get a keyboard to dock with the tablet.
This keyboard dock includes a keyboard and slim touchpad mouse with a button underneath, as well as a USB 3.0 port.
The battery in the Transformer Book T100 is not removable and is a two cell battery.
Asus has been building small-scale computers longer than most.
You might remember the Eee computer, which was one of the world’s first netbooks, tiny laptops that packed in either Linux or Windows into computers with 7 or 10 inch screens, often working on low power Intel chips with either small solid-state drives or spacious hard drives, a relatively small amount of memory, and just enough oomph to let you surf the web, write documents, check emails, and do some work.
These computers first came out in 2007, but disappeared in 2011 as tablets started to surface more.
Now, two years from the death of the netbook, Asus has revisited that style and created a new breed of netbook in the form of the T100.
We need to step back for a second, though, as Asus has also been responsible for another style of computer called the “Transformer” hybrid tablet-notebook. First available in the TF101, these computers blended a 10 inch Android tablet with a keyboard dock, allowing the tablet to transform into a netbook when connected to the dock keyboard.
That series went through several evolutions, and recently in the VivoTab, we saw the company’s first attempt at making the Transformer range support Windows 8.
This year, however, the VivoTab has taken a step down, and with the T100, we’re looking at an interesting melding of the two ideas: netbook and Windows 8 Transformer tablet.
So what is it?
It probably won’t surprise you much, but the Asus T100 is a tablet with all of the innards of a light computer inside.
The T100 comes with a keyboard section, but you don’t have to use it with the keyboard, and can disconnect this section, relying instead on the on-screen virtual keyboard for your typing if you choose to.
Pick up the tablet by itself, and you’re greeted with a 10 inch tablet encased entirely in shiny plastic. It needs to be said that the Asus T100 is a fingerprint magnet, the metallic plastic back showing your greasy mitts without any problems.
That said, the 10.1 inch tablet is a comfortable fit and is well weighted, bringing to mind the tablets Asus previously used in the tablet range.
With the help of the new breed of Intel Atom chips inside, Windows 8.1 runs on T100, providing enough horsepower to do basic things, such as surfing the web, writing documents, social networking, and anything else that won’t tax a graphics card too much.
Fortunately, the Windows running here is the proper Windows 8, and not that handicapped Windows RT we recently saw on the Microsoft Surface 2. That means you can run apps from outside the Windows Store, and can install software from Windows Vista and 7, as well as 8, making it useful for anyone who desperately needs to run more than just what a tablet comes with out of the box.
The touchscreen helps you accomplish this quite well, operating quickly as you swipe from the side to bring up the menus, flick up and down for scrolling, and zoom in and out using the push-pull gestures that so many other tablets have helped to provide.
Outside of the touchscreen, the display is up to the typical Asus IPS excellence.
We’ve liked what we’ve seen from Transformer screens in the past, and the T100 doesn’t mess with the formula, providing solid angles under a very reflective screen. Given the price of the unit, the screen is probably one of the more stand out parts.
Also, the inclusion of the keyboard dock helps to really bring this hybrid device together, providing a tactile typing experience, as well as a touchpad mouse in the box. The touchpad also seems to work with some gestures, such as the push-pull zoom, two finger scrolling, and two finger tap-to-right-click, so if you’re not yet accustomed to using the touchscreen, the slim mouse provides another way of handling this computer.
There’s also a feature that confused us to begin with: screen colour temperature switching. Essentially, when you’re in a program that the computer detects to have a lot of text, the colour temperature changes to something warmer and more yellow, making it easier on the eyes.
Asus calls this “reading mode,” reminding us of a similar feature Samsung rolled into its devices. Interestingly, this mode doesn’t switch on all the time when lots of text is detected, but did switch on (for us) when we were in Mail.
You don’t have to keep this on, mind you, and can not only switch it off, but change what apps it switches on for in the pre-installed program “Reading Mode” found on the T100.
Over on the battery side, the T100 is a star, providing around 10 hours of life in our testing.
This was while using the tablet to write the review, surf the web, and check out its features, connecting and disconnecting the keyboard dock every so often.
That’s not bad at all, and given that Asus has finally given up (at least on this computer) on the proprietary charge port and moved to the microUSB standard, makes this computer much easier to find a charge for than say its Transformer brothers.
There are some downsides to a tablet built in the frame of a netbook, and one of those is the keyboard.
We can remember the Asus Eee netbooks as being decent Windows computers for a budget price, but the keyboards weren’t amazing, with a lot of bounce and flex to the keys, and some slightly off spacing if you happen to use the right shift key more often than the left.
That style of keyboard has returned in the T100, and it’s not the most comfortable experience. We typed the review on that keyboard, and while we could tolerate it, we yearned for a proper keyboard all throughout the experience, and were glad to get back to the keys of our Samsung Ultrabook and Apple iMac keyboard shortly thereafter.
Will this matter to most people? Probably not, and the extra flex will only really become obvious if you do a lot of typing, as the bounce of the keys is pretty pronounced.
That said, it’s a decent keyboard, but just not great, and we can’t imagine it’s easy to stuff a full-size keyboard into the body of a 10 inch case.
Plastic also wasn’t a great choice for the build material, as it reflects that yes, this is a bit of a cheap machine.
For the tablet itself, the plastic is shiny, slippery, and shows up fingerprints very easily.
It’s not the brushed metal Asus has been known for on other machines, especially those in the Transformer series, and we think something with more of a matte finish might even have looked a little more professional here. It certainly would have worked with the keyboard dock base better, which along the inside continues that brushed metal look, even though it’s fake, while the bottom is soft, matte, and almost rubberised for an easy grip.
Only one USB port also makes this less of an expandable computer than we’d have liked. At least Asus has made it USB 3.0, which means it should be fast enough for new USB 3.0 hard drives, but only one port seems below the bare minimum of two that we normally expect.
The lack of an SD card slot compounds this further, making it hard for owners to download pictures from their digital cameras if they ever choose to.
It’s not the best laptop in the world, but for $599, the Asus T100 packs in a lot of value, reviving the netbook market with a 10 inch tablet-laptop hybrid that packs in battery life, a quad-core processor, and plenty of room to move.
You make some sacrifices for this laptop, and these include the quality of the chassis, mediocre keyboard, and very few expansion ports, but overall, it’s a decent little laptop that’s perfect for students and anyone not keen to spend more than $600 on a new computer.