- Review Date: 11/7/2013
- Bottom line: For a sub-$400 price, the Asus Transformer Book T100TA is a fully functional Windows 8.1 hybrid tablet, and the natural successor to the netbook ideal from a few years ago. It gives you a bright, usable PC an affordable price. Plus it avoids all of the compatibility issues that plague tablets running mobile operating systems like iOS, Android, or Windows RT.
- Pros: Full Windows 8.1 hybrid tablet. Can run all Windows programs. Light. Great price. 11 hours battery life. Micro-USB recharging. 1TB of cloud storage included (for a year). 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi. Comes with full Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013. Keyboard with trackpad and USB port is included.
- Cons: Only 2GB of system memory. Touchy trackpad. Only 31GB of free space on SSD. Smaller than standard keyboard. Slow recharge times.
The netbook scene used to be filled with sub-$500 low-powered laptops that were good enough for general use, and were small enough to take everywhere. Then along came tablets like the iPad and Galaxy Note 10.1, but of course to they come with a mobile OS, which meant you had to give up full-featured desktop browsers, legacy Windows programs, and browser plug-ins that only work on full PCs. The era of compromise seems to have come to an end with the Asus Transformer Book T100TA ($399), a fully functional Windows 8.1 PC that can act like either a tablet or as a clamshell netbook equally well. It's the first hybrid tablet we've seen that can ignore the limitations of mobile OS-powered tablets, for the same or better price. If you need to replace the netbook you bought before 2011 with something faster, longer lasting, and more modern, then the Asus Transformer Book T100TA is what you want. It earns our Editors' Choice for entry-level hybrid tablet.
Design and Features
The Transformer Book T100TA is the spiritual successor to last year's attempt at a hybrid laptop, the Asus Vivo Tab RT ($599), which came in a similar looking configuration. The Transformer Book T100TA measures about 0.41/0.93 by 10.5 by 6.75 inches (HWD), It's 0.41-inch thick alone as a tablet and 0.93 inches thick with the included keyboard dock. This compares well to the slightly larger Microsoft Surface 2 ($449) and is almost the same size as the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 10 Tablet ($599). Neither the Microsoft Surface 2 nor the Lenovo Miix 10 includes a keyboard in the base price. The Transformer Book T100TA is made of polycarbonate (plastic), which isn't quite as nice as the VaporMG metal construction on the Surface 2, but the Transformer Book T100TA's rounded edges are still comfortable to hold alone or docked to its keyboard base.
The tablet portion of the system is light, only 1.23 pounds, which is lighter than the outgoing Apple iPad (4th Generation, Wi-Fi) ($499), weighing in at 1.44 pounds. Adding the keyboard dock adds a little over a pound, at 2.40 pounds total. Undocking the tablet was as easy as actuating the push-button latch, then pulling the tablet off the base. Reattaching the tablet to the base locks the latch with a satisfying click. The 10.1-inch screen has a 1,366 by 768 resolution, compared to the 1,920 by 1,080 resolution on the Surface 2. Because of the Transformer Book T100TA's price and other features, the lower resolution is forgivable. Unless you have an eagle's eyes you probably won't miss the extra pixels at this screen size. The Transformer Book T100TA has an IPS display, guaranteeing good viewing from all angles and screen orientations, something the 8-inch Acer Iconia W3 (64GB) ($429.99) has trouble with. Compared to the Transformer Book T100TA's display, the Iconia W3's screen looks like it's coated in mud.
The Transformer Book T100TA's stereo speakers are loud enough to fill a small quiet room, and they surprisingly don't clip out all the bass notes. Sound effects on movies like Marvel's The Avengers came in much clearer than expected for a tablet. Streaming video from several online services played smoothly and largely stutter-free. Between the screen and the more than adequate built in speakers, the Transformer Book T100TA looks and sounds like it costs much more than its sub-$400 price tag.
The tablet portion of the Transformer Book T100TA has a micro-USB port that can be used for both charging (with the included AC adapter) and as a regular USB port (with an optional adapter). The Transformer Book T100TA's microUSB charging can even be done from your tablet's USB charger or another PC or a Mac's USB port, which means you never have to look for a proprietary charging brick. Note that if you use a lower powered USB port, it may take the better part of a day to recharge the tablet, so use a 10W/2.1Amp USB adapter for best results (we tested with the included adapter, a low powered USB adapter for a smartphone, and another high powered USB adapter designed for recharging tablets). The tablet also has a micro-HDMI port, microSD card reader, volume control, power button, headset jack, and a physical Windows/Start button on its edge. Dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are the Transformer Book T100TA's built-in wireless protocols. The keyboard dock doesn't have a built-in extended battery pack, but as we'll see below, that capability isn't entirely necessary. The keyboard dock isn't backlit, but the compact keyboard is comfortable to use, and the dock has a full sized USB 3.0 port built in.
The system's multi-touch trackpad was one semi-serious drawback: It had intermittent trouble registering swipes as calls to the Charms menu and sometimes had a delay in tracking initial touches. This shortcoming is negligible if you hook up an external mouse or bypass the trackpad and use the five-point touch screen most of the time. You can use the microSD card reader to supplement the included 64GB SSD, and that's recommended, since the system only has about 31GB free after you activate the included Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013. You can supplement the storage with a 64GB microSD card, or use the included "unlimited" Asus WebStorage (nominally 1TB, free for one year) for storage online.
Asus included the Home and Student version of the Office suite with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but not Outlook. This just about matches the Office RT version included with tablets like the Microsoft Surface 2, further pushing Windows RT toward the edge of irrelevancy. Along with this full version of Office, the Transformer Book T100TA has Amazon's Kindle app, Netflix, Skype, and a few Asus apps pre-installed. On the whole, it's a good mix, and a welcome one.
The Transformer Book T100TA automatically changes the screen color balance toward a more yellow/sepia tone while using the built in Windows 8.1 Mail, Reader, and News apps. This is Asus' Reading Mode setting, to which you can add other apps or can be turned off entirely for a consistent color palette. Reading Mode may make it easier to read text-based communication by toning down the blue/white cast of the screen. The Transformer Book T100TA comes with a standard one-year warranty and a 30-day zero bright dot display guarantee. With the zero bright dot guarantee, you can exchange the Transformer Book T100TA for a new one if you detect a bright, stuck pixel anywhere on your display.
The Transformer Book T100TA comes with an Intel Atom Z3740 processor with Intel HD Graphics, 2GB of system memory, and 64GB SSD. The Atom Z3740 is one of the new 2W CPUs based on the Bay Trail architecture, which finally makes Atom usable for general Windows users. With its built in 31WHr battery, the Transformer Book T100TA managed an excellent 11 hours, 20 minutes on our battery test. This is many hours better than the 7:20 that the Lenovo Miix 10 or the 9:20 that the Editors' Choice winning Dell Latitude 10 ($1,146) managed with their standard batteries. The Transformer Book T100TA can take you through an entire workday and still have power for a long commute home. Contrast this with the budget laptop Editors' Choice Dell Inspiron 15 (I15RV-6190 BLK), which lasts only four hours (4:10).
We bring up the Dell I15RV-6190 BLK because the Transformer Book T100TA can hold its own against this full-sized laptop on the PCMark7 test, scoring a remarkable 2,485 points, while the full sized Dell Inspiron 15 lagged with a score of 2,117. Both systems destroy the 1,400 point scores on all the systems we've tested with the previous generation (Clover Trail) Atom processors, including the Dell Latitude 10, Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 10, and the Acer Iconia W3.
The Transformer Book T100TA had a little trouble with our Photoshop CS6 test, due to the strenuous rendering filters we run in our series, but then again none of the Atom-powered systems with 2GB of memory were able to run the test. In informal testing, the Transformer Book T100TA had no problem with more pedestrian Photoshop operations, including color changes, layering, and using most of the tools and filters. The Transformer Book T100TA also made short work of the Handbrake video encoding test, finishing in less than three minutes (2:41), when the older Atom-powered systems took upwards of seven to 10 minutes to perform the same test. The Pentium-powered Dell Inspiron 15 just edged the Transformer Book T100TA at 2:23. Basically, the Transformer Book T100TA has the wherewithal to do day-to-day tasks and light to moderate multimedia creation.
The Asus Transformer Book T100TA is the first Atom-powered consumer PC that we can wholly endorse after the virtual death of the netbook after 2011. It's running a full version of Windows 8.1, so you won't give up any legacy programs, third-party browsers, or plug-ins that you've grown accustomed to over the years. It works all day in the touch-enabled tablet form factor that people have grown accustomed to since the rise of the tablet in 2010. It also works in the traditional netbook/laptop form factor that we recommend for extended typing and work sessions. The Transformer Book T100TA trounces the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 10, Acer Iconia W3, and even full-sized laptops like the Dell Inspiron 15 (I15RV-6190 BLK) on performance, features, and bang for the buck. If you have a tablet budget, but absolutely need a fully functional PC, then the Asus Transformer Book T100TA is the system you're looking for. We're awarding the Asus Transformer Book T100TA as our Editors' Choice for entry-level hybrid tablet. It is the first hybrid tablet we've seen that can replace both a mobile tablet and a netbook, to become your primary PC on a budget.