Asus tends to experiment with computer concepts more than most companies, and in its latest idea, has merged Android and Windows for a unique combined computer. Does it work, or is it merely a computer with an identity crisis?
Two computers in one that somehow equal three: that’s the concept in the Asus Transformer Book Trio, a tablet laptop hybrid that takes the Asus tried and tested formula of merging a tablet with a keyboard dock, but somehow throws a real computer in for good measure this time.
Because there are two computers merged into one, there are two sets of specs to cover, so let’s look at the tablet first.
In the tablet screen section, you’ll find an 11.6 inch Full HD 1920×1080 display working with one of Intel’s Atom processors, the Z2580 clocked at 2GHz. Inside the tablet, there’s 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage, though that last one can be expanded with a microSD on the bottom of the tablet.
Google’s Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean” runs natively here, and while all of the main buttons are handled via the software with on-screen buttons, the few physical buttons are on the back, catering for power and volume. A few ports can also be found, with a 3.5mm headset jack, as well as a microUSB at the bottom.
Then there’s the keyboard dock section, and that features another computer inside, with an Intel Core i5 processor from the “Haswell” set of processors (fourth-generation) set to 1.6GHz, and working alongside 4GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive.
Connection options for this section include 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0 and external accessories for Ethernet if you need it.
The keyboard dock also includes two USB 3.0 ports, a single microHDMI port, one mini DisplayPort, and the typical 3.5mm headset port.
Cameras are also included, sitting on the tablet section, with a 720p HD camera up front above the screen and a 5 megapixel Full HD capable camera on the back of the tablet.
Windows 8 runs on this section, and this computer relies on the Android tablet to act as the screen when the two are docked. There’s even a special button on the keyboard making it possible to jump between either operating system when the computers are connected.
Both the tablet and dock are encased in aluminium, and together have a weight of 1.7kg, with the tablet weight 700 grams (roughly) and the docking system with PC inside coming out at 1 kilogram (roughly).
A proprietary power plug is provided in the box to charge the keyboard dock.
A laptop with three computers in one? Sure. Why not.
Let’s take convergence to a new level, as Asus explores whether Android and Windows can co-exist on the one machine, and not just from the emulation point of view.
That last one is something any computer can do, provided you have Android’s developer kit or BlueStacks, an emulated version of Android.
But Android running alongside Windows? That’s something few companies attempt, and Asus is one of them.
For the Trio, that’s more or less what the company has done, providing two computers in one machine. You’ve probably seen the Asus Transformer concept before, which connects a tablet with a laptop keyboard, mouse, and extended battery, and that’s kind of the concept with the Trio, except for one change: now the laptop keyboard section has more than just a battery, keyboard, and mouse; now it has an actual Windows computer inside.
To understand how that works, you need to break the Asus Trio into two parts: there’s the tablet with the screen, and the computer in the keyboard section.
In the tablet section, you’re looking at an Android tablet under an 11.6 inch screen running Full HD’s 1920×1080, a slightly bigger tablet than normal, but still something close to the 10.1 inch models we’re used to seeing.
The specs in here include an Intel Atom processor running 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, with all the fix-ins your probably used to seeing, including 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, a 720p webcam up front, and a 5 megapixel camera at the back. Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean” runs natively here, with some minor cosmetic changes made by Asus.
And this tablet can be used as a tablet completely separate from your Windows computer, which is connects to, for when the tablet section connects using the docking mechanism on the keyboard, the Android 11.6 inch tablet also acts as the screen for your Windows computer.
Inside the Trio’s Windows section, there’s a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 clocked at 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. That’s one of the conventional moving part hard drives, not one of those battery saving solid-state drives you might have come to expect.
With the tablet screen plugged in, you’ll get Windows 8 on an 11.6 inch Full HD touchscreen, allowing you to do all the things in Windows 8 you would normally do, plus there’s a mouse on the keyboard section for those who prefer a mouse to the touchscreen.
And hey, if you decide to detach the tablet screen section, the Transformer Trio’s desktop section can be plugged into a monitor using a microHDMI port and used in the same way as you would a desktop to a monitor.
That’s technically the three possibilities used in the name of the “Trio,” but one could say a fourth possibility is to switch over to Android when the tablet is docked and take advantage of the keyboard, mouse, and the ports on the dock.
All these ways of using your laptop make for an interesting concept, but the real questions are does it work, and is it something you would use in your life?
The build is the first thing you’ll notice, and aside for the strong aluminium body Asus is using in this machine, the weight is impossible not to notice. It’s just so thick and weighty, which likely comes from the problem of having two computers built into one.
This isn’t just a tablet with a light dock, like you get in the Asus Transformer bodies. No, it’s a very heavy dock, and the 1.7 kilogram weight when these parts come together is very noticeable.
You do get a solid build for your troubles, with the exception of the keyboard dock mechanism, which wobbles and doesn’t always fit together, at least not as firmly as you’ll feel it should.
Getting to using the Trio and, well, it’s an odd concept.
If you’ve used Windows 8 or Android before, you’ll be able to get used to either, and there’s even a handy button on the keyboard to let you jump between both operating systems, meaning files should be shareable between both.
Indeed, there’s even some customised file manager software on Android that makes it possible to share files, but it’s not an altogether seamless experience, and the app feels like it needs some extra options, especially if you’re trying to configure the link between the Transformer’s Windows partition and that of the Android one.
It’s interesting, but we’re not sure the concept is totally necessary by anyone.
Windows 8 running Intel can be more useful thanks to the regular desktop apps being installable, so we had very little reason to connect to Android and use that as it was in this computer, thereby making that Android and Windows button very unpopular for use in our review period.
Perhaps we haven’t found the right usage scenario, and it’s totally possible you might, but it’s not just this odd combination of strange bedfellows that causes the Trio to falter.
No, there are a few other things holding it back.
Aside for that weight which is just so heavy for an 11 inch computer, there’s also the keyboard, which has too much travel and is easy to make a mistake. At least we’ve moved on the Zen’s sharp edges by the wrist pad, but the keyboard still needs to be improved, and while it’s usable, it is by no means a great keyboard.
The battery life is also a touch problematic, with only around four hours of life possible from the Trio’s desktop section, while the tablet seems to make it possible for a few more, though we didn’t spend as much time testing this part individually.
Some of the bugs also don’t help the Trio, such as when the Windows/Android changeover key decide not to function, and you press and press only to have the system ignore you. This isn’t helped by the weak keyboard dock mechanism for the tablet, which often requires a good solid click — even when you think you’ve been there — for the system to get back on track.
Even the buttons on the back of the tablet are a little awkward, with these mostly working for the tablet section under Android, and not the Windows section. It’s just a little too cluttered, and some of these details, plus the odd bug here and there, can make the Trio appear confusing.
The screen is about the only redeeming part of the experience, with the 11.6 inch Full Hd screen looking crisp, bright (though it could be brighter), and with very good viewing angles.
While an intriguing concept, the Trio feels like a computer suffering an identity crisis, and it’s just a little confusing why you’d want both Android and Windows in a laptop together, because you don’t really need both in the same body.
If you use Windows 8 apps on a tablet, chances are you’re less likely to rely on an Android tablet, and vice versa. Android tablets are also relatively inexpensive, and while the $1599 price isn’t terrible for the Transformer, it’s not a fantastic price for an 11 inch computer that just so happens to bundle two products into the one form-factor.
We’d much rather buy one Android tablet or one Windows computer that does each part much better than the two converged into one. That could change later on as Asus perfects the concept, but right now, that’s our general feeling, and the Trio is really only worth investigating if you desperately want both platforms in one computer.