Hands on with Asus’ $349 Bay Trail-based Transformer

If you start with the specs sheet, it’s easy to nitpick the Asus Transformer Book T100 convertible announced last week at IDF. The display uses an IPS panel, which is good, but its 1366×768 resolution seems a bit weak. The 10" display defines the size of the rest of the system, which means the keyboard and touchpad are cramped, smaller than one might like. And the system has only 2GB of memory, which isn’t much for a laptop these days.

But those objections kind of melt in the face of one really important fact: the thing is priced at $349, and that’s with the keyboard-and-touchpad dock as part of the package.

We’re talking less than the price of an iPad for a 2-in-1 convertible that functions as a tiny laptop and as a 10" tablet, with Intel’s latest quad-core SoC driving the show. Since it’s an Intel chip, the system is essentially a full-fledged PC with true x86 compatibility.

Evidently, Asus wanted to position this system between its own bargain-priced Nexus 7 tablet and the 10" iPad, which is why it kept the T100’s size and specs in check. After thinking it over, I’ve gotta admit that move makes quite a bit of sense. What’s more, because we aren’t aware of any major design wins for Bay Trail among the major tablet players—that is, nothing from Apple, Samsung, Amazon, or Google’s Nexus program—the Transformer Book T100 may be one of the most important systems based on Intel’s new SoC during the upcoming holiday season. Fortunately, I got some hands-on time with the T100 during its launch event and came away with a few distinct impressions.

Although we were able to share architectural info and some of the first benchmarks from Intel’s Bay Trail SoC with you last week, I was too busy hurriedly testing the Intel reference tablet to get a good sense of its usability. Also, such systems aren’t usually representative of the polished state of real products. Somehow, a few minutes spent playing with the T100 felt like a much truer gauge of the Bay Trail user experience—and it was very good indeed.

Win8.1’s touch-enabled Modern UI apps felt nearly ideal on the T100. App switches happened instantly, UI elements tracked effortlessly and scrolled silkily beneath my fingers, and web pages snapped open smartly. In fact, the T100 with Windows 8.1 felt smoother than the Haswell-based systems with Windows 8 that were on display across the room. The difference there may be due largely to software, but the T100 is also no slouch. The user experience was a far cry from the sadly compromised feeling of using a netbook. Seemed faster than a 4th-gen iPad, too.

Of course, a big part of the T100’s value proposition is that you can dock it and run pretty much any Windows program you’d like with a keyboard and touchpad—or pop off the screen and use it like a regular 10" tablet. I have to say that the tablet setup feels like the T100’s native mode. The keyboard and touchpad are indeed cramped due to their small size, and unlike past Transformers, the T100’s dock doesn’t contain an auxiliary battery to extend run times. In fact, I heard Asus had to add a little extra weight to the dock just to keep an open system properly balanced.

That said, the whole package weighs just 2.4 lbs. and felt incredibly light in my hands. The tablet portion is enclosed in relatively cheap-feeling plastic and weighs in at 1.2 lbs, lighter than an iPad. My impression was that the thing must be mostly hollow. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’d love to see higher pixel densities on the T100’s display, but the IPS panel looked bright and colorful under some really harsh lighting. Windows’ ClearType function does help some with smoothing the edges of fonts and such.

You’ll notice that the T100 lacks a Windows "home" button below the screen. In fact, it doesn’t have any Windows-related branding at all. Instead, there’s a lock button on the top left edge of the device in portrait orientation, a decidedly Android-esque button placement. Although the T100 is shipping first with Windows 8.1, we know Intel is working feverishly to enable Android on Bay Trail-based systems. My guess is that, eventually, the T100 hardware could ship virtually unmodified with Android as its primary OS.

You’ve got to think dual-booting Windows and Android is a possibility, too. I’ve gotta admit, right now, if I owned one of these, I’d probably prefer to use Android in tablet mode and Windows when docked.

However folks choose to use it, the T100’s combination of an eye-opening price and extensive versatility makes it worthy of note. I’ve already found myself pointing it out to a friend to consider as an alternative to an Android tablet. We’re hoping to get our hands on a T100 for review as soon as possible. If our initial impressions are confirmed in further use, the T100 may be the netbook’s sweet revenge.

Comments closed
    • Deanjo
    • 6 years ago

    Offer a windows free version and I might buy one.

    • deathBOB
    • 6 years ago

    “Of course, a big part of the T100’s value proposition is that you can dock it and run pretty much any Windows program you’d like with a keyboard and touchpad”

    Is it worth losing the iOS and Android ecosystems? I don’t think so for myself and most people.

      • bfar
      • 6 years ago

      Full x86 compatibility buries that issue really.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 6 years ago

    ” I’d probably prefer to use Android in tablet mode”
    With the current status of tablet enabled apps on the Play Store I can’t agree with this statement.

    Acer Iconia B1 owner.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    Not really exciting to me. I see the value in it for sure but I want fully realized devices. As such any tablet with a low density display is not well realized. I personally think they should have done a 7″ tablet setup if a good display was too much too handle.

    The real problem here may be microsoft and their poor licensing agreements. Microsoft is double dipping hard core on this and its not cool for their customers and partners. Charging for an OS license while simultaneously pushing a first party store is not awesome at all. They are loosing market share and its no ones fault than their own.

      • icebergwtq
      • 6 years ago

      If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. But mark my words, this will be the best selling Win8 slate over the holiday season, far exceeding anything the MS Surface line will be able to manage.

      The only problem I see is people who think that something isn’t perfect *for them* is somehow a “problem.”

      Sorry, but I get tired of this sort of nit-picking.

    • raddude9
    • 6 years ago

    Any chance of a few quick benchmarks?

    I’m wondering how the Atom Z3740 in this tablet holds up against the Atom Z3770 that TR reviewed, particularly how much difference does losing half the memory channels and 600Mhz in clockspeed make?

      • maroon1
      • 6 years ago

      Atom Z3740 supports dual channel memory
      [url<]http://cdn3.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Intel-Atom-Z3000-Series-Lineup-SKU-635x378.jpg[/url<]

        • raddude9
        • 6 years ago

        My mistake, it does have the dual channel memory, unlike the Z3740D, way to go with the confusing model numbers!

    • ET3D
    • 6 years ago

    Sounds neat. I’m waiting to see how the Dell Venue tablet turns out.

    • NovusBogus
    • 6 years ago

    Netbooks and Atom are both awesome, it will be good to see a revitalization of the currently all-but-dead affordable subcompact x86 market.

    • FireGryphon
    • 6 years ago

    Does it look like there’ll be a 13″ version with a fuller size keyboard?

    Also, what are the practical limitations of running a 32-bit OS on this thing, especially if other computers with which the T100 will work in concert runs 64-bit OSes?

    • brucethemoose
    • 6 years ago

    My wallet is ready.

    I swear, if this ends up being vaporware like the N45, N46, U38N, and BU400… Just take my money already Asus!

    • derFunkenstein
    • 6 years ago

    I must be blind – how much storage? Probably 32GB, I’m sure, as it’s a budget system but 64GB with full Win8 would be helpful.

    Edit: nevermind, it’s in another article:
    [url<]https://techreport.com/news/25355/asus-transformer-book-t100-convertible-has-quad-core-bay-trail-soc-starts-at-349[/url<] My bad.

      • nico1982
      • 6 years ago

      According to the preview, it is 32GB with a 64GB option, iirc.

      Edit: beaten by yourself 😛

    • odizzido
    • 6 years ago

    This….looks like it might be okay. I’d need to check out some battery life tests and everything but this is looking like something I would consider buying.

    • NeelyCam
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]In fact, I heard Asus had to add a little extra weight to the dock just to keep an open system properly balanced.[/quote<] They should have a second version that replaces that "extra" weight with an actual extra battery. They could even up the system price to $399, and it would still be a great deal. Seeing these Bay Trail reviews, I'm starting to wonder if I really need a Haswell-grade ultrabook after all... I mean, I'm used to using a slow-as-molasses CULV laptop from five years ago (with the same screen resolution as this one). Bay Trail would be a major upgrade, and I'm not sure I'd mind the small keyboard either (doesn't look much smaller than what I have now).

      • MadManOriginal
      • 6 years ago

      I’d like to see an upscale version with:

      1) resolution+ (even if it’s ‘just’ 1600×900)
      2) battery+

      $50 more for each option would make it a great deal. Or, just wait for next year’s update which will probably have at least the resolution+.

        • trackerben
        • 6 years ago

        Yes and yes, with lighted keyboard.

          • NeelyCam
          • 6 years ago

          Good point. I’d really like a backlit keyboard

    • ALiLPinkMonster
    • 6 years ago

    Looks like it’s time to upgrade from my ageing and half-bricked TF101, and also fill my need for a full-fledged PC. So glad something decent with Win8 finally came out in this price range.

    • Stargazer
    • 6 years ago

    If this had a 16:10 (or 4:3) aspect ratio I’d be all over it.

    For me, 16:9 just feels strange in portrait orientation.

      • NeelyCam
      • 6 years ago

      When does this 16:10 trolling end…?

        • Hirokuzu
        • 6 years ago

        I used to think that was kinda crazy too, until I tried the Lenovo x220T in portrait mode. It’s not wide enough to read a document in portrait (and pixel density makes it look bad as well), and there’s a lot of wasted space at the bottom. Even in landscape mode, it wasn’t wide enough to put two windows side to side comfortably. 16:10 however is actually quite decent in portrait mode in comparison.

        In fact (strangely), I’d love a tablet with a 3:2 aspect ratio (decent compromise for both Letter and A4 paper). That’s the aspect ratio of iPhone 4s and earlier o.O

          • BoilerGamer
          • 6 years ago

          3:2 or 4:3 means either enormous black bars when viewing 16:9 Videos. 16:10 is barely manageable, this coming from a Nexus 7 owner.

            • Meadows
            • 6 years ago

            We shouldn’t let movies decide what size our screens are.

          • DreadCthulhu
          • 6 years ago

          Take a look at the Nook HD+; it has a 3:2 screen, with 1920×1280 pixels. I have one, and for its price, it is a great tablet. You do get some larger black bars when watching videos, but it is so much nicer for reading books, comics, and browsing the web.

        • WillBach
        • 6 years ago

        When there’s a non-iPad tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio?

          • DreadCthulhu
          • 6 years ago

          Newegg is listing 34 Android tablets with 1024×768 screens, and 8 with 2048×1538 screens – granted most of those are from odd-ball Chinese OEMs, but they do exist.

    • MFergus
    • 6 years ago

    “Heck, since Android is free, the system might push into sub-$300 territory.”

    Android isn’t free for the majority of Android OEM’s due to patents.

      • Damage
      • 6 years ago

      Ugh, how sad. Ok, noted.

        • jdaven
        • 6 years ago

        Why sad? How can Google continue to offer and support Android without a revenue stream? I for one prefer some kind of licensing fees rather than the ad-supported model. Who wants ads all over their beautiful touch screen?

          • Sahrin
          • 6 years ago

          The patent fees aren’t paid to google.

            • bjm
            • 6 years ago

            I honestly had to re-read his post, hoping to detect sarcasm.

            • NeelyCam
            • 6 years ago

            Unfortunately it’s not there.

      • ibnarabi
      • 6 years ago

      IIRC, MS gets paid aprox. ~$8 per android device…

      found it;
      “Microsoft is estimated to collect somewhere near $8 per device, however, meaning its royalty fees could total $3.4 billion in 2013.”
      [url<]http://news.yahoo.com/microsoft-could-generate-8-8-billion-annually-android-173026034.html[/url<]

        • MadManOriginal
        • 6 years ago

        Aha! That explains the Nokia purchase…they wanted to make more off each WP device than they do off Android devices.

          • raddude9
          • 6 years ago

          A better explanation for the Nokia purchase is this:

          [url<]http://ie.ign.com/articles/2013/09/16/nokia-reportedly-tested-android-powered-lumia-smartphones[/url<] Nokia could apparently opt out of it's microsoft partnership in 2014 and they had Android running on some of their Lumia models already. If Nokia jumped ship I think the Windows Phone sales would have completely collapsed.

            • StashTheVampede
            • 6 years ago

            Nokia was bought for its patent portfolio and its hardware making abilities, not because Android was incoming on phones in 2015. Nokia’s stock has been weakened for years and the price was cheaper than sourcing anyone else to build phones for MS. Even with the purchase of the phone division, Nokia still makes a lot of money off the networking tech.

            LH/HTC are in poor positions: they are at the mercy of virtually everyone else for components and OS.

    • bjm
    • 6 years ago

    This just might be my first tablet purchase.

      • icebergwtq
      • 6 years ago

      It will be my fourth: iPad, Surface RT, Lenovo Lynx, and now this. I’m hoping it will be my last for a couple of years. All of the others had some major problem for me: weight, battery life, form factor, inability to run Microsoft applications, power or speed and, of course, price. This seems to have addressed all of my concerns for the first time.

      I’ll be a buyer on release day. Unless something better comes down the pike before then, of course.

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