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|
|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...
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