Asus’ Transformer Book T300 Chi convertible reviewed

I’ve been waiting almost a year to review Asus’ Transformer Book T300 Chi—ever since company Chairman Johnny Shih teased the slender convertible before last year’s Computex show. Can you blame me? The Chi promises a full-fat Windows experience powered by a Broadwell processor and a high-PPI 12.5″ IPS display. The tablet component is thinner than an iPad Air, and it ships with a keyboard that attaches with magnets, turning the device into notebook-like clamshell.

The Chi isn’t all Asus’ doing. One day after the system’s initial reveal, Intel introduced the Core M processor behind it. Otherwise known as Broadwell-Y, this ultra-low-power variant of the CPU giant’s latest microarchitecture was designed specifically for fanless 2-in-1 devices like the Transformer. It occupies a middle ground between the lower-power Atom chips found in entry-level machines and the higher-wattage Broadwell-U silicon reserved for ultrabooks.

In a lot of ways, the Core M is reminiscent of the Consumer Ultra-Low-Voltage Pentium in my old ultraportable notebook. That CULV CPU split the difference between the Atom and Core processors of its era to enable a nascent class of affordable ultraportables. This time around, a similar formula is being used to enable the budding category of slim convertibles.

That brings me to the other reason I’ve been dying to get my hands on the T300 Chi. I’m in the market for a convertible to replace my aging CULV workhorse, and the new Transformer is one of the leading candidates. This review is much more than just a test drive, then. It’s a personal audition with my own money at stake.

A lot of the Transformer’s appeal stems from its affordable pricing. The entry-level T300 Chi starts at $699, which gets you a Core M-5Y10 processor, 1080p display, and 4GB of RAM. Asus sent us a more upscale version, the T300CHI-FH011H, endowed with a faster Core M-5Y71 chip, a higher-resolution 2560×1440 screen, and double the memory. This “limited-run” model is available exclusively through Asus’ online store for $899.

Both processor options have dual cores and quad threads. They’re fabbed on the latest 14-nm process, just like the rest of the Broadwell family, but they operate within a much tighter 4.5W thermal envelope. Scott’s in-depth look at the Core M covers everything you need to know about the chip, so I won’t rehash all the gory details here.

The 5Y10 is clocked at 800MHz base and 2GHz Turbo, while the top-of-the-line 5Y71 starts at 1.2GHz and scales up to 2.9GHz. There are differences in the integrated graphics frequencies, as well. The onboard HD 5300 GPU ranges from 100-850MHz in the 5Y10 and from 300-900MHz in the flagship. This “GT2” variant of Broadwell’s GPU is the same as in ultrabook-class parts.

Both Core M chips sport dual-channel memory controllers, but the Chi’s base configuration hangs its 4GB of RAM off only one channel, effectively halving the bandwidth available to the processor. That’s bad news for graphics performance, which tends to be very sensitive to memory bandwidth. Fortunately, the higher-end unit we tested spreads double the memory across dual channels. The full system specs are listed below.

  Transformer Book T300 Chi
Model T300CHI-FH011H
Processor Intel Core M 5Y71
Display 12.5″ IPS 2560×1440
System RAM 8GB LPDDR3-1600
Storage 128GB internal SanDisk iSSD

Micro SDXC slot

Camera HD webcam (front)
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Bluetooth 4.0

I/O ports Micro USB 3.0

Micro HDMI

3.5-mm headset

Battery 32 WHr
Dimensions 12.5″ x 7.5″ x 0.65″/318 x 192 x 16.5 mm

12.5″ x 7.5″ x 0.3″/318 x 192 x 7.6 mm (tablet)

Weight 3.2 lbs/1.5 kg

1.6 lbs/0.73 kg (tablet)

Operating system Windows 8.1 x64

On the storage front, each T300 incarnation comes with a 128GB SanDisk iSSD. This single-chip SATA drive has an SLC cache to accelerate write performance, and it should be quicker than the eMMC alternatives found in some cheaper tablets. 15GB is monopolized by a recovery partition, while Windows and the handful of pre-installed applications chews through another 10GB. Users can bolster the onboard flash via the Micro SDXC slot tucked into the tablet’s edge.

I’ve now broken one of the new rules of tech journalism by discussing a bunch of nerdy specs before talking about the look and feel of the device. But that was intentional, because understanding the potency of the hardware is crucial to fully appreciating the lithe chassis wrapped around it.

At only 0.3″ (7.6 mm) thick, the Transformer’s tablet component cuts a slimmer profile than plenty of slates based on much less capable hardware. The accompanying keyboard dock bumps the thickness up to 0.65″ (16.5 mm), which is still slender enough for ultrabook classification.

Skinny frame aside, the T300 is no featherweight. At 1.6 lbs (0.73 kg), the tablet is twice the weight of the iPad Air. That’s a big difference if you’re cradling the tablet in one hand, especially for prolonged periods. Adding the keyboard doubles the heft, but the resulting clamshell doesn’t feel too heavy when perched on my lap or tucked under my arm.

There’s also the not-so-small matter of the Chi’s oversized footprint. The 12.5″ screen obviously requires a jumbo frame, but fat left and right bezels make the T300 an extra-wide load. To put things in perspective, look at how the system compares to Asus’ Transformer Book T100 convertible, whose smaller 10.1″ screen has the same aspect ratio as the Chi’s larger display.

The additional width doesn’t hamper the Chi’s portability, but it does make the system feel larger than the screen size suggests. The Chi is only marginally narrower than Asus’ ZenBook UX305, which has similarly slim proportions but a 13.3″ display. Perhaps wider bezels are necessary to accommodate the ports perforating the tablet’s exterior.

The right edge hosts Micro HDMI and USB ports along with an analog audio jack. The Micro SD slot is just around the corner, while the power jack lives on the other side. There’s a separate Micro USB port in the keyboard, as well. More on that in a moment.

Asus puts the power switch on the top edge and the volume and Windows buttons on the left. That arrangement works well for landscape orientations, but it’s a bit of a reach in portrait mode due to the large screen. All the buttons provide good tactile feedback with a discernable click.

Tiny breathing holes line the tablet’s left and right edges, but they’re not backed by a blower. The T300 Chi is completely fanless, ensuring silent operation regardless of the load. The holes are actually for the integrated speakers, whose output is reasonably loud but short on bass. Bring headphones if you want better sound quality—and maybe a USB DAC if you’re especially picky. Audio piped through the analog jack sounds fine, just no better than that.

The last couple images provide a nice view of the T300’s sleek body. The tablet’s unibody aluminum shell feels sturdy, with little flex and seemingly solid build quality. Diamond-cut edges add a touch of flare to the otherwise understated design. They also fuel a clever illusion. The highlighted edges slope subtly toward the front, making the Chi appear thinner at that end. In reality, the tablet is the same thickness throughout.

As much as I like the Chi’s matte charcoal finish, it has a tendency to accumulate smudges with everyday handling. Those blemishes aren’t as bad as what we’ve encountered on systems with glossy skin, and you can buff them out with the cleaning cloth included in the box. The surface also seems reasonably resistant to scratches.

Even when sullied by the splotchy remnants of my fingertips, the exterior looks attractive without seeking attention. It’s pleasantly smooth and slightly soft to the touch, conveying a premium feel that belies the $699 starting price.

Unlike with some Windows tablets, that asking price includes a keyboard. In some ways, this sidekick is a whole ‘nother animal compared to the keyboard docks attached to previous Transformers. The next page explains why.

 

A different kind of keyboard dock

There are two kinds of 2-in-1 devices: contortionists that twist their bodies to assume tablet-like shapes and detachables that ditch their keyboards to live as truly stand-alone slates. The Transformer Book T300 Chi belongs to the latter category.

Asus pretty much invented the detachable convertible concept with the original Transformer, and we’ve seen numerous variations on the theme since. Most of those designs have relied on latched docking mechanisms that link the two pieces electrically. This tight coupling has allowed Transformer docks to draw power from their tablet masters, to supply auxiliary power to them, and to provide additional ports and storage. You don’t get any of that on the T300, though. The keyboard is a separate entity that connects via Bluetooth and acts solely as an input device.

The dock still attaches physically, sliding onto little struts familiar from previous Transformers. Instead of a mechanical latch, neodymium magnets hold the tablet in place. The magnetic force is strong enough to prevent accidental separation yet weak enough to allow the two components to be pulled apart with ease. With a little practice, it’s even possible to detach the tablet with one hand.

The retention mechanism feels very futuristic, but it’s not entirely solid. There’s enough play to tilt the screen forward a few degrees while it’s seated in the dock. This movement occurs entirely within the cradle, without moving the hinge or disturbing the magnetic connection. Transformers with traditional latches exhibit similar wobble, too, so the magnets aren’t to blame.

According to my protractor, the hinge leans back 118° at full tilt. That’s not an especially wide angle compared to most notebooks, but detachable convertibles typically can’t limbo as low without tipping over. The weight associated with the batteries and other components packed into the tablet make convertibles comparatively back-heavy.

The T300’s dock weighs as much as the tablet, helping the fully opened combo feel perfectly stable on flat surfaces. The balancing act becomes more precarious on an inclined surface, though. When the Transformer is perched on the downward slope of my lap while I’m sitting upright in my office chair, the front edge lifts slowly until the system topples onto its back. Resting my hands on the palm rests is enough to prevent tipping, as is slouching to flatten out my thighs.

With the Transformer on my lap, there’s little reason for my hands to be anywhere but the keyboard. The chiclet array is well executed, with big key caps, ample space between them, and no layout quirks beyond the usual assortment of half-height directional and function keys. They all-important alpha key area is nearly as wide as our full-sized reference, just with slightly shorter keys. That subtle difference doesn’t slow my typing one bit.

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 277 mm 98 mm 27,146 mm² 171 mm 51 mm 8,721 mm²
Versus full size 97% 89% 86% 99% 89% 89%

Asus claims the keys offer 1.5 mm of travel, which seems about right based on my eyeball impressions. Each keystroke is satisfying, with a clearly defined actuation threshold and a solid bottom-out feel. Typing on the T300 is really quite an enjoyable experience.

Although flex is minimal even under heavy-handed typing, the frame does have some give. Holding the T300 by one of the front corners of the dock, as one might do when lifting the open clamshell off a table, causes the dock to warp visibly. Sometimes, the dock remains slightly bent, producing an unstable typing platform not unlike a table with one slightly shorter leg. The problem is easily remedied by gently bending the dock in the opposite direction, but I wish the frame were stiff enough to avoid the issue entirely. For what it’s worth, the tablet doesn’t warp when held in a similar position.

The touchpad’s 3.4″ x 1.8″ proportions are especially elongated, which seems fitting given the rest of the rest of the system. There’s still enough room for navigation, though. The recessed surface is bordered by chamfered edges, and tracking is silky smooth.

Users can tap or press to click, but as with most clicky touchpads, the hinged switch mechanism requires noticeably more force at the top of the tracking area than it does at the bottom. This Asus-branded touchpad supports the usual assortment of edge, two-, and three-finger gestures. The touchpad drivers also include a toggle switch for Mobile Control, an Android app that lets users control the T300 remotely via Bluetooth.

Bluetooth isn’t just for remote control; it’s also how the dock communicates with the tablet, and that’s a bit of a problem. While opening the clamshell instantly wakes the tablet, the keyboard remains asleep. You have to hit a key to wake it separately and then wait a moment while the wireless connection is established. The keyboard can’t be used to wake a sleeping system that’s been left open for an extended period, either. This behavior differs from true notebooks and even from previous Transformers, making the dock feel like a more distant accessory.

To be fair, the new dock does enable a few poses that were impossible on older Transformers. The tablet can be flipped in the dock so that it faces outward, letting the system assume stand, tilt, and flat forms. The dock can also be used when it’s completely separated from the tablet.

If you haven’t figured it out already, the keyboard has its own internal power source. This integrated battery charges via Micro USB, and it should deliver plenty of run time. A couple weeks of regular use only drained the battery to 28% according to Asus’ monitoring software. That handy little app lives in the taskbar notification area and includes an optional low-power alarm.

The T300 Chi ships with a Micro USB cable to facilitate charging the dock from the tablet. There’s also a Type-A adapter for the tablet’s Micro USB 3.0 port. The adapter smooths compatibility with standard PC peripherals, but it only taps into the USB 2.0 portion of the backward-compatible Micro 3.0 port, limiting bandwidth to Gen2 speeds. Asus should have included a proper USB 3.0 adapter, if only to provide a path for high-speed external storage.

While we’re on the subject of extras, the tablet comes with a 19V wall wart that’s only slightly larger than typical Micro USB chargers. The narrow body and two-pronged plug makes it easy to squeeze the charger into crowded power bars and wall outlets.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the T300’s display…

 

IPS goodness with high PPI

The entry-level T300 Chi has a respectable 1080p display, but our optioned-up unit kicks the resolution up to 2560×1440. This grid squeezes nearly twice the pixels into the same 12.5″ panel, resulting in a much higher 235 PPI. Impressively, that pixel density beats the 226 PPI boasted by the new MacBook’s Retina-branded display.

To my eyes, individual pixels are indistinguishable on the T300 Chi at normal viewing distances. Images are filled with sharp details, and text is spelled out with crisp characters. Jagged edges are faintly visible if I push my face right up to the screen, but focusing on them is difficult at such close proximity.

The 16:9 aspect ratio is great for movies and spreadsheets, but I’d prefer 16:10 or 3:2 proportions with a little more vertical area. At least the screen’s other attributes negate some of the pitfalls associated with its wide aspect ratio. The decent-sized panel doesn’t feel too cramped in any dimension, and the high PPI serves up lots of horizontal and vertical pixels regardless of the orientation.

A bonding process sandwiches the display layers together, with no air gaps between them. This approach helps to make the assembly thinner, of course, and it’s also supposed to reduce reflectivity. The key word there is reduce—not eliminate. When I’m using the system, my silhouette is still visible to me in the screen’s glossy coating, especially with darker backgrounds in brighter environments. To be fair, the reflections do seem a little more subdued than with previous Transformers.

Thanks to its IPS panel, the T300 Chi offers wide viewing angles in every direction. Here’s how the display looks angled forward, back, and to the side. Click the buttons below the image to switch between the dead-on and angled views.


Although the colors don’t shift, the whole picture dims slightly when viewed from an angle. That’s not uncommon for IPS displays, but it’s more problematic here because of the dock’s limited tilt range. When using the Chi in a correct ergonomic position at my standing and seated desks, I can’t get a perfectly direct view of the screen even when it’s leaning all the way back. Bumping up the brightness generally balances out the dimming effect. I can also slouch or use the system with outstretched arms to get a better angle on the screen—just don’t tell my wife, the occupational therapist.

Straight on, the display produces vivid colors that look great to my eyes. It exudes a natural richness that’s free of obvious over-saturation or bias. The plot below maps the display’s coverage of the sRGB color gamut alongside some other tablets. Click the buttons to switch between the results.


According to our colorimeter, the T300 Chi comes reasonably close to nailing the sRGB gamut. The range of available hues represented by the white triangle drifts a little too deep into green territory and not quite far enough into red, but it largely covers to the reference region defined by the dark triangle. Among the other results, only the eye-popping OLED awesomeness of the Venue 8 7000 produces a wider range of colors.

All our measurements were taken with the Chi running its default color profile, but there are other options. The pre-installed Asus Splendid utility software offers vivid mode, which saturates the colors, and eye-care mode, which has a sepia tone conducive to late-night reading. A manual slider also lets users control the color temperature in extremely granular increments—not that the default needs tweaking.The color temperature sticks close to the 6500K ideal across the full range of white levels:


Click the buttons below the plot, and you’ll see that the T300 Chi comes closer to the so-called daylight illuminant than any of the other systems.

Our final color tests measure delta-E, and the T300 Chi has the lowest average of the bunch. None of the individual colors is especially out of whack, either, at least compared to the other competitors we’ve lined up.

Next, we’ll look at white and black levels at minimum, maximum, and typical brightness settings.

Blacks on the T300 Chi fall just short of the abyss-like darkness produced by the Venue’s OLED. But the Chi is brighter than the Dell at full luminance, which helps when battling reflections in bright outdoor environments. Too bad that’s usually a losing proposition, as with all too many modern notebooks and tablets. More than enough candelas are on tap for indoor use, though.

A built-in ambient light sensor lets the Transformer adjust its display brightness automatically. The results are generally dimmer than I’d prefer, and subtle lighting changes sometimes trigger wild swings. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to disable the sensor and tweak the brightness manually.

Somewhat surprisingly, the display’s brightest region isn’t in the center of the screen. The upper-middle quadrant posts the highest luminance according to our colorimeter.

324 cd/m²

(100%)

339 cd/m²

(104%)

311 cd/m²

(96%)

313 cd/m²

(96%)

325 cd/m²

(100%)

306 cd/m²

(94%)

316 cd/m²

(97%)

291 cd/m²

(90%)

312 cd/m²

(96%)

 

Luminance and perceived brightness are measured on different scales, so the screen is more uniform than the graphic suggests.

In our final display test, we’ll look for signs of light bleed by examining an image of a black screen in total darkness.

I see a few bright spots in the bottom right corner and up the right edge, plus faint glowing in some of the other corners—nothing egregious.

 

Performance

Our comparative performance results span myriad systems with different form factors and thermal envelopes. The closest competitor is Asus’ ZenBook UX305, an ultra-slim notebook whose Core M-5Y10 processor matches the chip in the entry-level T300 Chi. Don’t expect the ZenBook to emulate the performance of its convertible counterpart, though. The UX305’s dual-channel memory gives it a notable advantage.

Although not a mobile system in the strictest sense, the Broadwell NUC mini-PC is basically an ultrabook in a box, which is close enough. That machine’s Core i5-5250U processor lets similar Broadwell silicon breathe inside a more permissive 15W thermal envelope. The Core i5’s Turbo peak is slightly lower than the M-5Y71’s, but its base frequency is much higher. The NUC is also chilled by a tiny blower, so it can evacuate heat much quicker than the passively-cooled Chi.

While the NUC illustrates the gap between the Core M and the next rung up Intel’s x86 ladder, the old Transformer Book T100 dips down into Atom territory. The T100’s Bay Trail SoC squeezes a quartet of low-power Silvermont cores into a 2W power envelope. Similar Bay Trail silicon lives inside Asus’ Memo Pad ME176C, and another Atom variant combines the same CPU cores with PowerVR graphics in Dell’s Venue 8 7000. Those devices provide a sense of how the Chi compares to smaller Android slates, as will the Tegra K1-powered Shield Tablet and Snapdragon-fueled Nexus 7.

Two phablets round out the pack. The iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 hail from a very different class of devices, so their results are include only for reference. We’re mostly interested in how the T300 Chi compares to the other Windows machines.

Geekbench

Geekbench runs natively on Windows, Android, and iOS. It offers us a look at both single- and multi-threaded performance, and you can switch between the two by clicking the buttons below.

In this first batch of tests, the Transformer T300 Chi largely sits between the Broadwell NUC and the ZenBook UX305. The Atom-powered Transformer is much slower overall, especially in the single-threaded tests. Its Silvermont CPU cores are clearly no match for Broadwell.

Although the Chi’s position isn’t unexpected given the processors involved, the AES encryption results stand out. The T300 posts a slower single-threaded score than the ZenBook and Broadwell NUC, but it’s faster than both in the multi-threaded test. Digging into the numbers reveals single-threaded scores of 4501, 2277, and 1322 across three runs. Seems like thermal constraints may be to blame.

The smaller mobile systems struggle to keep up with the Core-based machines in the single-threaded tests. However, the Galaxy Note 4’s eight-core Exynos SoC performs very well in the multi-threaded tests. The Shield Tablet and iPhone 6 Plus are competitive with ray tracing test, as well. Both score higher than the T300 Chi with multiple threads, and the iPhone comes very close with a single one.

Browser benchmarks

For additional context, we snuck a few desktop processors into the following browser benchmarks.

The T300 Chi is only a hair behind the Broadwell NUC in the SunSpider and Kraken tests, and it actually nudges slightly ahead in Google’s Octane benchmark. The ZenBook can’t keep up, though. It’s notably slower in all three browser benchmarks, though it still trounces the Transformer T100.

WebXprt

WebXprt also runs in a web browser, and the outcomes are mostly familiar. The Transformer T300 Chi is one step ahead of the ZenBook but consistently behind the NUC. That said, the ZenBook does sneak ahead of the Chi in the face detection and photo effects tests. The Chi doesn’t exhibit any slowdowns or variance there, suggesting thermals aren’t to blame for its slightly slower execution times.

Once again, the Core Ms look far more powerful than the Atoms. Even the slower chip in the ZenBook has a substantial edge over the fastest Atom in the field.

 

Memory bandwidth

The following tests are Windows-only, forcing the mobile devices to the sidelines. A few of the tests also use 64-bit executables, so they don’t run on the old T100’s 32-bit operating system.

Led by the T300 Chi, the Broadwell systems roughly double the memory bandwidth available to the T100. They’re all dual-channel configs; the Atom is just in a different class.

Productivity

No surprises here: the T300 Chi beats its ZenBook sibling but loses ground to the Broadwell NUC. Given what we saw in Geekbench, it’s also no surprise that the Chi slows over time in TrueCrypt.

The T300 Chi’s encryption speeds drop progressively over three test runs—100MB/s per run with the AES algorithm and 10-23MB/s with Twofish. Those aren’t huge drops, but none of the other machines exhibit the same behavior.

Video encoding

Rendering

Slowdowns aren’t a problem in our encoding or rendering tests. There isn’t much drama, either, apart from the T300 Chi thrashing the UX305 in Cinebench’s single-threaded rendering test. The two Core M machines are more closely matched in the other tests, and they’re consistently slower than the Broadwell ultrabook-in-a-box.

Enough with productive tasks. Let’s see how the Chi handles real-time graphics and games…

 

Graphics and gaming

3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test runs on Windows, Android, and iOS, which lets us revisit our broader range of mobile comparisons. It also runs in an off-screen window, so there’s no danger of differences in native display resolution tainting the results.

Despite suffering more slowdowns in consecutive test runs, the T300 Chi edges out the UX305. It also beats the Kepler-infused Shield Tablet, and it’s miles ahead of the Atom-based systems. The Broadwell NUC remains way out in front, though.

Next, we’ll tackle Thief‘s built-in benchmark, which was run at 720p resolution with the “very low” detail preset.

So, yeah, none of the machines produce playable frame rates in Thief. The differences in average FPS are somewhat academic as a result, but the overall standings at least echo 3DMark’s judgement.

To get a better sense of the T300 Chi’s gaming potential, I spent some quality time exploring my Steam library on the thing. The PC’s deep selection of indie and older releases provides plenty of fodder for the Transformer’s low-power internals.

I started with Super Meat Boy, an awesome retro platformer with relatively basic graphics. The game was buttery smooth at the native resolution, never wavering from 60 FPS. So far, so good.

Race the Sun is another indie favorite of mine. Its monochrome 3D world is more demanding, yielding frame rates in the 20-30 FPS range at 2560×1440. The experience wasn’t totally fluid, but things smoothed out when I scaled back the detail, which pushed the frame rate to 35-40 FPS. The T300 also managed a playable 30-35 FPS with maximum details at 1080p resolution.

Stealthy side-scroller Mark of the Ninja is surprisingly demanding. Although the slower pace of the action makes lower frame rates more tolerable, I had to scale back to 1080p and low details to keep the Fraps counter consistently above 20 FPS. The game was playable with those settings, but turning on the eye candy sent frame rates plunging into the teens far too frequently.

Because someone will invariably ask, let me confirm now that Minecraft runs nicely on the T300 Chi. I encountered some choppiness at the native resolution, but scaling back to 1080p smoothed out the wrinkles, with Fraps consistently over 30 FPS with “fancy” graphics. I wasn’t doing anything ambitious—just exploring a freshly created world while trying desperately not to develop what could very easily become a crippling addiction.

Amping up the difficulty, I broke out Transistor, a beautiful indie action RPG with style to spare. The combat-oriented gameplay is more sensitive to slowdowns, and hitching was noticeable all the way down to 1366×768, the lowest match for the Chi’s aspect ratio. Frame rates sat in the 20-30 FPS range at that resolution, which is OK but not still not ideal. I wish there were a lower 720p option.

Why are there so many Counter-Strike players? Because it runs well on everything, including the T300 Chi.

Although the game wasn’t playable at the native resolution, it ran reasonably well at 1080p with low details. Fraps generally hovered in the 30-40 FPS range, with only occasional dips into the 20s during the heat of battle. Backing off to 1366×768 delivered a consistently smooth 50-60 FPS.

Last, but not least, I fired up a few rounds of DiRT Showdown. Fraps reported 20-30 FPS at 720p resolution with the lowest details. There were occasional hiccups, but the arcadey physics made those disruptions less noticeable than I expected. The experience felt a lot smoother than the frame rates suggest.

The T300 Chi obviously isn’t a gaming powerhouse, but its Core M processor handles indie titles much better than Bay Trail Atom chips. It also lets players dip their toes into bigger-budget titles from a few years ago, territory where the Atom gets bogged down at even the lowest resolutions. Just don’t expect the same results from the entry-level Chi, whose single-channel memory performance will undoubtedly hamper the onboard graphics.

 

Video playback

Video playback is mostly a solved problem these days, but the Transformer Book T300 Chi unexpectedly stumbled in some of our streaming tests. The good news is that Firefox and Internet Explorer don’t appear to be affected. The bad news is that Chrome struggles to play the highest-quality YouTube content without obvious stuttering.

This Battlefield Hardline trailer is loaded with 60-FPS footage that scales up to 1080p, and it’s absolutely buttery in Firefox and IE. The trouble is, Chrome only plays the clip smoothly up to 720p resolution. 1080p60 hitches regularly, completely ruining the experience.

Similar stuttering is evident in this Star Citizen trailer. It doesn’t crank the frame rate, but it does offer a higher 4K resolution, and it also has a 1440p option that matches the T300’s display. Unfortunately, playback in Chrome is only fluid up to 1080p. Everything up to and including 4K is totally smooth in the other browsers.

When Chrome is overwhelmed, CPU utilization tends to be in the 80-100% range, and the clock frequency is well short of its 2.9GHz Turbo peak. Looks like thermal constraints, coupled with some sort of software issue, are the culprit here. The other browsers have lower CPU utilization with the very same videos.

Battery life

We tested battery life in a few different scenarios. In each case, the display brightness was set to 180 cd/m² before starting, and display auto-brightness features were disabled. Our workload for the web surfing tests was TR Browserbench, which we ran on the native browser for each device. On the Transformers, we tested with Internet Explorer on the desktop and in Metro mode, with the latter denoted with an asterisk. The video test involved looped playback of a 1080p video recorded on a smartphone.

The T300 Chi manages just over five hours of video playback on a single charge—three hours less than its older, Atom-based sibling. Things aren’t much better in the web surfing test, where the T300 only surpasses six hours in Metro mode. It doesn’t even reach five hours with the desktop version of the browser.

Those run times match my impressions from a few weeks of using the system. The Chi definitely won’t last a full working day away from an electrical socket, and I’ve been charging it a lot.

Surface temperatures

We probed the surface temperature of the T300 Chi’s rear panel using an IR thermometer. Measurements were taken after about a couple hours of web surfing in Chrome with multiple tabs.

36°C

96°F

 
30°C

86°F

 
33°C

91°F

 
37°C

99°F

 
31°C

87°F

Would anyone like to guess where the Chi’s Core M processor resides? The higher temperatures on the left side are a dead giveaway.

Since the heat is confined to the tablet, it’s not really a problem in notebook mode. However, the warmer skin is noticeable when holding the tablet in a landscape configuration. It’s also apparent in my preferred couch surfing position, with the tablet propped up on my stomach in a portrait orientation. Since the volume and Windows button are on the right, the natural portrait configuration puts the hot end of the device right in my gut.

Subjective performance impressions

After several weeks using the Transformer Book T300 Chi for work and play, I’ve gotten a good sense of how it performs in the real world. Everything is very snappy overall, with quick load times and smooth UI transitions. The Core M handles web browsing, document work, and other typical tasks with aplomb. Compared to lower-power Atom hardware, it feels faster in individual tasks and more responsive in multitasking scenarios.

Speaking of multitasking, the system is surprisingly usable even when overloaded. Right now, I’ve got an x264 video encode pinning the CPU at 100% utilization while I’m writing and flipping between a few browser tabs. The background load barely hinders what’s happening in the foreground, even with Photoshop added to the mix. The hardware clearly isn’t designed for heavy lifting, but it’s definitely potent enough for general productivity.

Photo editing is simply a joy on the high-PPI display. So is flipping through images. Unlike on some tablets, the integrated photo gallery has no problem keeping up with a mountain of 18-megapixel images from my DSLR camera. Zoomed-out shots sharpen instantly even when I’m swiping through them at high speed, and it only takes about a second for zooming to expose the next level of detail.

Most of the apps I use on a daily basis adapt well to the screen’s high pixel density. Windows 8.1’s array of scaling options certainly helps, but don’t expect interfaces to map perfectly all of the time. I’ve encountered several slightly blurry installers and dialog boxes over the past few weeks. These rough edges have been confined to the desktop—everything looks great in Metro land—and they’ve been minor annoyances at best. For me, the extra pixels are easily worth the occasional hiccups.

The final attribute worth noting relates to the internal storage, which feels a tad sluggish when installing software. SSD write speeds tend to decline with the total capacity, so the smallish 128GB drive already has a bit of a handicap. Keep in mind that the SSD is also contained within a single BGA package that’s a fraction of the size of the mSATA and M.2 drives typically found ultrabooks.

 

Conclusions

In a lot of ways, the T300 Chi is the Transformer I’ve always wanted. It has a decent-sized screen with a high pixel density, and it’s powered by a Core M processor that splits the difference between Atom and ultrabook chips. And, true to its name, it can transform into tablet and notebook modes.

Well, mostly, anyway.

As much as I love the feel of the keyboard and its magnetic latch, the Bluetooth connection feels oddly detached, like the dock is an optional add-on rather than an integral component. Every time I wait for the keyboard to wake up, I’m reminded that the machine is more tablet than notebook. The fact that the Chi can strike additional convertible poses doesn’t make up for its imperfect form in one of the essential ones.

Managing a separate battery in the dock is also annoying, but at least the keyboard lasts longer than the 5-6 hours you’ll get out of the tablet. That’s barely enough for a cross-continental flight, let alone hopping an ocean. I can’t help but wish the Chi had emulated old-school Transformers by putting a proper auxiliary battery in the dock. Throw in a couple more USB ports, add a full-sized SD slot, and you’ve got a convertible that can credibly challenge ultrabooks.

Despite its flaws, the T300 Chi is still an incredible machine. The screen is fantastic—and well-suited to both productivity and entertainment. I also really like the jumbo slate for web surfing, comic reading, and photo browsing. The T300 may be heavier than smaller tablets, but having a ginormous screen that looks this good is pretty freaking awesome. Besides, the larger frame is easy enough to prop up when I’m lounging on the couch or in bed.

Then there’s the processor. While I’m not quite ready to shell out for a Chi of my own, my next ultraportable will almost certainly have a Core M inside. The chip’s Broadwell guts deliver a responsive experience with both lighter loads and heavier multitasking, and the integrated GPU is surprisingly competent in indie and older games. My only worry is that the entry-level Chi’s single-channel memory config will neuter its performance.

In any case, getting this kind of horsepower in such a thin, passively cooled tablet is pretty astounding. Asus pulled it off with style, too—and without skimping on connectivity. The Chi really is a good-looking, well-rounded machine. There’s even an optional stylus based on pressure-sensitive Synaptics tech. Talk about a jack of all trades.

Even though the T300 Chi doesn’t master all its modes, its ability to do a little bit of everything should appeal to those seeking a single device to cover multiple bases.

Comments closed
    • FuturePastNow
    • 4 years ago

    I don’t care about tablets or the transformer aspect, but ermagherd do I want a screen like that in a thin and light notebook.

      • Welch
      • 4 years ago

      Enter… the Asus UX305……. Seriously, the thing is super light, 11.8mm thick (IIRC) 8gb dual channel memory with a Core M in it and a 256gb SSD, 3x USB 3.0, Web Cam/Mic, Micro HDMI, 1920×1080 IPS Display, and a dongle for wired network if you need that sort of thing…. Oh and 10 hours of battery life.

      And…. ***Drum roll please***…. cost $699

      So I think Asus intended the UX305 to be the laptop version for people who want a laptop, and those who insist on the touch screen and convertible ability can get the Transformer. Otherwise very comparable products.

        • NeelyCam
        • 4 years ago

        [quote<]And.... ***Drum roll please***.... cost $699[/quote<] Correction: [b<]UX305 is $599[/b<] at Microsoft Store (with the $100 PCGRAD15 coupon)

          • Welch
          • 4 years ago

          Yeah if you can get that for sure… but where I am at the shipping would cost an arm and a leg if they would ship at all… Prime ftw.

    • odizzido
    • 4 years ago

    I hate all these tablets with keyboard docks. I tried using one and if I picked it up like I do with my current laptop it just fell over. Why can’t I just get an updated 10 inch regular laptop?

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 4 years ago

    I’ll say it, in a day and age when phones can do what they do intel is loosing ground hardcore.

    There are 2 things hurting them, their antiquated integrated GPU capacity, its just shameful, can barely run DOTA 2. Then there is the rather Annoyingly horrible price and name scheme. Intel processors and their names/brands are so confusing… you always have to google each part name/number to find out what it is, what GPU you get with it, etc. Given the insane level of variability in performance its annoying how much they obfuscate their products with marketing BS.

    Intel engineers amazing products, but they market them like con artists rather than a more customer oriented enterprise.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 4 years ago

      I’d like to know which phone can run Dota 2.

        • sweatshopking
        • 4 years ago

        I’d love an x86 windows 10 phone. continuum through miracast and HON MY ASS OFF.

    • DrDominodog51
    • 4 years ago

    The sad part is my Sandy Bridge mobile i5 would be slower than this (at bursts) if the Core M had proper cooling.

    • Mad_Dane
    • 4 years ago

    Close but no cigar 🙁

    Battery life kills it unfortunately, also I need 4G build into it for it to make sense for me, chasing wi-fi networks on the go is not for me.

      • cycomiko
      • 4 years ago

      Battery life sucks, but the 4G thing is removed by hotspotting off my phone.

      but then i live in a country where I don’t get charged extra for that benefit.

        • Mad_Dane
        • 4 years ago

        Don’t get charged extra, just really silly to use battery on 2 devices.

          • slowriot
          • 4 years ago

          Don’t? Charge your phone off the laptop while tethering.

          • funko
          • 4 years ago

          pretty much extend my phone battery life by a factor of 4 to 5 using a $12 external battery i throw in my day bag. not silly at all for me.

    • tipoo
    • 4 years ago

    The price and specs seem quite similar to the UX305. The decision gets a bit hard between the two, depending on if you value this transforming stuff. I’m not sure which I’d want.

      • JJAP
      • 4 years ago

      The $699 version (and not the $899 version few of us can have) should be compared to the UX305. The question is: What’s more useful? The extra 4GB of ram, battery life, and extra 128GB of SSD? Or the transforming stuff?

      And, uh, touch senstive stylus is a major feature for many people. I don’t suppose you’re saying this has a pressure sensitive digitizer in the screen? That would be huge.

    • tootercomputer
    • 4 years ago

    My wife is in the market for something like this. This was an excellent comparative review of the transformer and similar machines. Thanks you.

    • crsh1976
    • 4 years ago

    Why isn’t this getting compared to similar products, like the retina Macbook and the Yoga 3?

    • sweatshopking
    • 4 years ago

    no editors choice though?

    • Zizy
    • 4 years ago

    Ouch, horrible battery life. Hopefully FHD version is better.

    • NTMBK
    • 4 years ago

    Not sure how I feel about this. Compared to my Haswell Venue 11, it’s much slimmer and sexier- and going fanless is a big improvement. But a 13″ 16:9 tablet just feels super dumb. Even at 10.1″, my tablet feels crazy long and unwieldy when I use it in portrait. I would much rather get some extra “vertical” pixels (more rows on the short axis), instead of scaling the whole thing up.

    I think Microsoft really got it right with their 3:2 Surface tablets. I just hope the other manufacturers can get their hands on those panels, pronto.

    • Misel
    • 4 years ago

    Any news on the seemingly abandoned Transporter Book V?

      • NTMBK
      • 4 years ago

      I think they realised it was a terrible idea

    • DavidC1
    • 4 years ago

    Asus has took good advantage of what they got on their hands.* Perhaps a 1080p version would have had much better battery life, as indicated by Anandtech’s Dell XPS 13 2015 review, which shows 30-50% battery life advantage for the 1080p version. Strange that ALL T300 Chi review use 25×16 display.

    25×16 display that’s going to have compatibility issues and 2/3rd the battery life is not worth it. Display manufacturers like Samsung decided they can’t make money on 1080p panels anymore so they are forcing the 25×16 panels down our throats.

    *Fanless operation does not justify Intel charging same as their much more performance Core ix U chips. “Premium Atom”, without the Atom pricing.

      • morphish
      • 4 years ago

      I have the FHD version for just this reason. I don’t need that many pixels. I’ll take the longer battery life (and 25% slower gaming performance – since I won’t be gaming on it) in exchange.

    • Wonders
    • 4 years ago

    This is a wicked awesome review. The fine line between comprehensive detail and stat fatigue was gracefully navigated. Perhaps this was partly a by-product of having the reviewer’s own money at stake in the final verdict. Nevertheless, it’s plain to see that an avalanche of judicious authoring and editing decisions went into producing this article. Reading this has gotten me excited about the future of this site. For what it’s worth: I got a similar feeling from the iPhone 6 article. To be clear, I intend to avoid buying either product, but I will keep reading these kind of articles and clicking strangely titillating yoga video ads for as long as… well, indefinitely.

    • rootheday3
    • 4 years ago

    Regarding cpu load for video playback in Chrome:
    At least for Youtube, Google seems to prefer sending VP9 video streams to Chrome browsers on PCs, even if there is no hardware acceleration available. To see this, simply go to Youtube, select a video, right click and pull up “stats for nerds”. If you see mime type: video/web-m; codecs=vp9, then I bet the CPU is getting hit pretty hard.

    In contrast, on IE, Youtube will send H.264 (video/mp4; codec=avc…) for which hardware acceleration is widely available.

    Intel released graphics drivers for Broadwell back in January which should enable partial hardware acceleration (CPU for the variable length decode, EUs for the parallel math of the Inverse Transform step) – referenced in this [url=https://techreport.com/news/27677/new-intel-igp-drivers-add-h-265-vp9-hardware-decode-support<]article[/url<] on TR. I wonder if either Chrome still doesn't get any acceleration or whether the partial acceleration just isn't enough at such low TDP? It seems strange to me that Google would push VP9 even when it offers a perceptibly worse user experience for video on many (most?) PCs? Do they want to push users to IE or Chrome? I am pretty sure they don't send VP9 to mobile devices (iOS, Android) for devices that don't have native VP9 support... Do they assume that all PCs are monster CPUs with big TDP? or they don't care about Windows users on laptops, tablets, etc? Even if laptops have enough horsepower to do CPU based decode for these codecs, it is going to burn battery, make the device hotter and less responsive for other CPU tasks...

      • End User
      • 4 years ago

      [quote<]Regarding cpu load for video playback in Chrome: At least for Youtube, Google seems to prefer sending VP9 video streams to Chrome browsers on PCs, even if there is no hardware acceleration available. To see this, simply go to Youtube, select a video, right click and pull up "stats for nerds". If you see mime type: video/web-m; codecs=vp9, then I bet the CPU is getting hit pretty hard. In contrast, on IE, Youtube will send H.264 (video/mp4; codec=avc...) for which hardware acceleration is widely available.[/quote<] Bingo. Same thing happens under OS X.

        • liquidsquid
        • 4 years ago

        I did not know this, thanks for the heads-up!

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