At the controls
Well-integrated keyboard docks have defined the Transformer family, but they've usually been sold separately. The fact that one is bundled with even the entry level T100 is a pretty big deal, especially since the keyboard is a pleasure to use.
Let's start with the layout, which follows the standard notebook formula. All the expected keys are there, and they're all in the right places. Some of the keys are narrower than others, but there's no double-height nonsense. The T100's compact footprint makes a little cramping unavoidable.
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||250 mm||82 mm||20,500 mm²||155 mm||42 mm||,510 mm²|
|Versus full size||87%||75%||65%||90%||74%||66%|
The total keyboard area is substantially smaller than that of our full-size reference. However, the alpha region is wide enough to accommodate my meaty digits without too much squishing.
To be honest, I'm surprised the shorter alpha keys aren't more uncomfortable. But I've been hammering away on this thing all day without any undue fatigue. I can't type as quickly as I can on my Acer ultraportable, which has larger, square keys, but I'm pecking away at a good clip despite having little time to adapt to the T100. Apart from the forward slash, which keeps tripping me up, typos have been rare.
Typing on the T100 is easy in part because the key action inspires confidence. The tactile feedback is good, with a well-defined actuation point that requires a concerted push. After actuation, there's plenty of travel to blow through before the keys bottom out with a dull ka-chunk.
Even though the panel surrounding the chiclets flexes visibly under heavy typing, the underlying frame feels solid. The mushiness that plagues all too many mobile keyboards isn't apparent in the Transformer Book.
Moving south, the touchpad offers a 3" x 1.65" tracking area that's smaller than I'd like but still more convenient—and more precise—than straight-arming the touchscreen. The touchpad's surface is perfectly smooth, allowing fingertips to glide effortlessly. The underlying button mechanism is inconsistent, though. Like most clicky touchpads, the bottom of the tracking area takes a lot less effort to activate than the top. One can always tap to left click and two-finger tap to right click.
Along with multi-finger taps, the touchpad drivers support a wide range of gestures. All the basic scrolling, zooming, and rotating functions are included. Win8's edge-based touchscreen gestures have also been grafted to the touchpad, but they're disabled by default. I'd leave them that way; the edge gestures are too easy to trigger accidentally on a touchpad this small.
The touchpad has a few three-finger gestures that replicate functions normally activated with keyboard input. Using the keyboard shortcuts feels more natural to me, but I do like the visual attached to the Alt+Tab alternative.
Unlike its key-bound counterpart, this task-switching gesture sorts desktop and Metro apps into different groups. Alt+Tab lumps everything together.
I tend to believe that a touchpad's ability to ignore inadvertent contact is just as important as how well it tracks deliberate input. Perhaps that's because I've spent too much time with Android-based Transformers that have difficulty distinguishing between intentional and unintentional contact. The T100 is smarter, at least most of the time. It effectively ignores touchpad contact when I'm typing in Notepad, Word, and Chrome. The intelligence extends to various OS functions, including search windows and the command prompt, but not to Notepad++, my preferred text editor. Numerous times while writing this review, my thumb has accidentally brushed the touchpad mid-sentence, sending the cursor halfway across the screen.
The touchpad's aggressive power saving has also caused me some frustration. If there's no contact for more than about eight seconds, the touchpad apparently goes to sleep. Any initial input after that point takes about a second to register, adding obvious latency. Keyboard input doesn't appear to keep the touchpad awake, compounding the issue. The keyboard at least responds instantly, regardless of how much time has passed since the last key press.
Power-saving measures are necessary because the dock lacks the integrated battery found in older Transformer sidekicks—the keyboard and touchpad are powered entirely by the tablet. If users have to live with the touchpad snoozing every so often, they should at least be able to tweak the auto-sleep delay. I'd like to see keyboard activity considered by the idle-detection routine, as well.