Asus Transformer Book T100 review: A netbook in hybrid tablet disguise

Asus Transformer Book T100 review: A netbook in hybrid tablet disguise

Summary: The 10.1-inch Transformer Book T100 is a well made and attractively priced hybrid Windows 8.1 tablet. However, its moderate specification and small size make it difficult to recommend as your primary Windows device.

SHARE:
  • Editors' rating:
    7.9
  • User rating:
    7.8
  • RRP:
    £292.00

Pros

  • Well made
  • High-quality keyboard
  • Good battery life
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Cramped keyboard
  • 10.1-inch screen seems small in notebook mode
  • Few ports, no Ethernet
  • Minimal internal storage

The Asus Transformer Pad has been around for a while now, with a number of variants offering a tablet plus a keyboard dock for working in 'notebook' mode. Transformer Pad devices run Android, and we've been waiting for Asus to deliver a Windows 8-based Transformer, which it has now done.

The £350 (inc. VAT; £292 ex. VAT) Asus Transformer Book T100 isn't the company's first venture into the Windows 8 tablet space — the Vivo Tab came first. But whereas the Vivo Tab can be bought either as a solo tablet or a tablet with keyboard dock, the Transformer Book T100 is only available with the keyboard. At first glance the price looks attractive, but does this hybrid device have what it takes to be your only Windows 8 device?

asus-tbook-t100-main
The keyboard-dockable 10.1-inch Transformer Book T100 runs Windows 8.1 on Intel's Bay Trail Atom-based platform. (Image: Asus)

Design

One of the most important points to note about the Transformer Book T100 is that it's very small. With only a 10.1-inch screen to accommodate, the chassis is tiny compared to a regular notebook. In fact, it's much more reminiscent of the short-lived netbook format, which Asus did much to popularise.

With dimensions of 26.3cm wide by 17.1cm deep by 2.36cm thick and weighing just 1.07kg, the Transformer Book T100 is eminently portable — but of course, there are trade-offs.

Take the screen, for example. A 10.1-inch display is perfectly adequate for a tablet, and unless Samsung's new 12.2-inch Galaxy NotePRO and GalaxyTabPRO spark a new trend, looks set to remain the mainstream tablet screen size.

The 1,366-by-768-pixel IPS panel is good but not great: viewing angles good enough, top brightness is arguably a little below the ideal and colours look a tad washed out.

However, because of the small screen size, many users might find working with text something of a challenge. There's also the inevitable aesthetic issue of a wide screen bezel. When we were working in tablet mode this was not an issue, as we expect a relatively wide screen bezel from a tablet — to give you something to grip on without activating the touchscreen. But in notebook mode the bezel looks enormous compared to modern designs, and if this were purely a notebook we'd be bemoaning the acres of unused screen space.

asus-tbook-t100-keyboard
The Transformer Book T100's keyboard is well made, but cramped. In contrast to the Android-based Transformer Pad range, this keyboard dock does not incorporate a second battery. (Image: Asus)

The other important trade-off is the cramped keyboard. Asus has done what it can to deliver a good keyboard experience: keys are well spaced and feel solid under the fingers; the half-height Fn keys have useful second features and the Enter key is relatively large. But there's no escaping that keys are significantly smaller than usual. Even our small hands felt a little squeezed into the available space, and we wouldn't relish the prospect of using this keyboard for several hours a day.

The small buttonless touchpad beneath the screen works well, but if the keyboard and/or the touchpad are not to your liking, you can always use the USB port on the keyboard dock to attach a mouse or a separate keyboard — the touchpad can be disabled with a Fn key. The USB 3.0 port can also, of course, be used to attach other external devices such as a hard drive or USB stick.

If you're thinking that the Transformer Book T100 might be all the Windows 8 device you need, screen and keyboard ergonomics will both be important factors to bear in mind.

Tablet and keyboard are pretty evenly sized. The tablet measures 26.3cm by 17.1cm by 1.05cm while the keyboard dock has the same width and depth, and is 1.31cm thick. The two components weigh 550g and 520g respectively. This means that, like other Transformer models (and other keyboard-dockable tablets we've seen), the Transformer Book T100 is a little top heavy.

This is unavoidable really. The tablet section has to contain enough internal hardware to be able to function solo, and so the keyboard section is always likely to be relatively light unless it's deliberately weighted down. The consequence is that you have to learn to be quite light-fingered when using the touchscreen or the whole device will topple backwards. In cramped working conditions this could result in the Transformer Book T100 landing on the floor.

The back of the tablet, which forms the lid in notebook mode, is finished in grey with Asus branding prominent and two pinhole speaker grilles barely visible. The docking mechanism is firm. Tablet and keyboard are joined simply by pushing the tablet into the docking mechanism, and are easily separated by pressing a large button sitting front and centre between screen and keyboard. This unlocks the connection, allowing you to pull the tablet free.

Earlier, and more expensive, Android-based Transformer models had metal cases, but plastic is used abundantly here. The build feels quite solid for all that — there is some flex in the tablet back, but it's minimal and we've seen worse from some regular notebooks.

Features

Asus has equipped the Transformer Book T100 with the latest Intel Atom Bay Trail chipset, including the 1.33GHz quad-core Atom Z3740 processor. We weren't troubled by slowdowns or glitches during everyday use, but if you're considering this as an everyday Windows 8 machine, it's worth bearing in mind that it's not really up to more demanding workloads. And with just 2GB of (non-expandable) RAM on board, it won't cope well running too many applications at the same time.

Storage is also less than you'd expect to get from a notebook, with a mere 7.3GB free on our 32GB (eMMC, SanDisk SEM32G) review sample. That's less than many smartphones have available, and obviously nowhere near what you'll get with a standard notebook. It clearly won't be enough for a professional user intent on installing a range of apps and storing key data on the device. Asus's spec sheet mentions 64GB of eMMC storage, and the option for a 500GB hard disk to complement either SSD configuration, but these models do not appear to be available in the UK at present.

There are, of course, plenty of cloud storage options, including Asus's own WebStorage, which provides free unlimited storage for a year, and Microsoft's preinstalled OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). As noted above, the USB slot can also be used to add external local storage.

For wireless connectivity there's and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.0), but no mobile broadband option. There's no Ethernet either, and the range of ports and connectors, while fine by tablet standards, is below what you'd expect from even a mediocre notebook. The single USB 3.0 port on the keyboard section is really the only concession over and above what you might expect to find on a tablet.

Apart from the USB port, all connectors and controls are on the tablet section, allowing it to function independently of the keyboard dock. There are Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB slots sitting together on right-hand side, along with an unprotected MicroSD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The left side has a volume rocker and the power switch. It's great to see standard USB used for charging rather than a proprietary connector, incidentally.

Windows 8.1 has been augmented by a copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013, which is arguably all the office suite many users will require. Its presence means that you can start being productive without adding anything at all to the initial purchase price.

Performance & battery life

The Windows Experience Index (WEI) is a little more hidden in Windows 8.1 than in previous versions, but it can still be run. The results for the Transformer Book T100 are moderate, but still respectable (component scores are out of 7.9):

Processor  6.3
3D graphics  4.1
Hard disk  6.2
Graphics  4.3
Memory throughput  5.5

As usual with systems using integrated graphics (Intel HD Graphics in this case), the GPU is the weakest subsystem, followed by memory, disk and processor. You should be fine running basic productivity workloads, but don't expect to do anything demanding on this system.

This conclusion is borne out by the Sunspider 0.9.1 JavaScript benchmark, which shows the Transformer Book T100 lagging behind Microsoft's ARM-based Surface 2 tablet (shorter bars are better):

asus-tbook-t100-sunspider

Presumably in an effort to keep costs down, Asus has not fitted a second battery into the keyboard section as it does with its Android-based Transformer Pad hybrids. Even so, battery performance is good — according to Asus, the battery will keep going for 11 hours. We were able to work with the Transformer book T100 during a typical day without the need to recharge, and our anecdotal experience suggests that, for standard notebook workloads (document creation, web browsing, email and a bit of lunchtime streaming from YouTube), a day's life is a reasonable expectation.

When we tested the Transformer Book T100's power consumption under a variety of screen brightness (25%, 50% and 100%) and workload (idle and running Microsoft's Fishbowl HTML5 test) conditions, we got battery life estimates ranging from 12.7 to 3.5 hours, giving a mid-point of 8 hours, which tallies with our anecdotal experience.

Conclusion

The Asus Transformer Book T100 will present many people with the sort of dilemma they may have faced when considering a netbook a few years ago. It functions as a standard Windows computer, running applications and accessing the cloud, and has a decent keyboard and a viable screen. But its performance is moderate, it's short on internal storage, it has few connectors, and some will simply find the screen and/or keyboard too small for comfort.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 26.3 x 1.36 x 17.1 cm
Case form factor hybrid tablet/clamshell
Weight 1.07 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows 8.1
Chipset & memory
RAM installed 2048 MB
RAM capacity 2 GB
Video
Video out Micro-HDMI
GPU Intel HD Graphics
GPU type integrated
Display
Display technology IPS multi-touch touchscreen
Display size 10.1 in
Native resolution 1366x768 pixels
Connections
USB Micro-USB 2.0, USB 3.0 (on keyboard)
Docking station port yes (keyboard)
Flash card Micro-SD
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.0
Input
Pointing devices 2-button touchpad
Keyboard add-on keyboard dock
Camera
Main camera front
Main camera resolution 1.2 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors headphone
Speakers stereo
Audio processor SonicMaster
Microphone dual array
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Battery
Battery technology Li-polymer (2-cell)
Estimated battery life (mfr) 11 h
Removable battery No
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.33 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Atom Z3740
Solid-state drive
Capacity 32 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 292

Topics: Tablets, Laptops, Reviews, Windows 8

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

18 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Disagree with your conclusion

    9.0

    You seem to pick some specific aspects from various devices and mark the T100 down based on that.

    First, you don't comment much on the T100's ability to be a tablet. In that regard it excels and every con you list is actually a benefit compared to other tablets $300 or more. Except the low internal storage of the 32gb model, but the 64gb model is only $50 more and still cheaper than an iPad or Galaxy tablet that only has 16gb.

    Also, the performance of the T100 blows away anything netbooks of old could ever dream of doing. People don't bring up the newton when talking about the iPad for very good reason, the same should apply to netbooks and current hybrids.

    Lastly you suggest the performance is only moderate, but you don't mention anything demanding that you tested. This seems to be a trend in reviews where reviewers run a web browser speed test and little more.

    The performance is moderate compared to what? A gaming laptop? A netbook?

    I bet the performance is as good or better than most entry level laptops in the same price range, which I bet are good enough for most users needs as a primary device.


    It is perhaps the best value dollar for dollar of any device on the market right now. Anyway I see it, spending $350 on other devices come up short to what the T100 offers.
    Emacho
    • The best investment I made recently

      9.0

      This Transformer Book T100 is the best of its category. I got the 64GB version for 380 USD before christmas (I see it at 350$ now). As a tablet it's amazing, as a small laptop, it's lacking in ports, mostly on the keyboard dock which could use a couple more USB ports and maybe an ethernet port and a regular memory card reader (micro-SD on the tablet is fine, but we sometimes need to read other cards), I'd have paid a bit more if all those ports were on the keyboard dock, it could then be really used as a laptop and/or desktop replacement with an external monitor.

      Also a more powerful way of charging it would be appreciated, the micro USB connector charges a bit slowly, and if using an external HDD through USB 3.0 port of the keyboard it does not even charge fast enough to compensate the power needed by the HDD.

      Overall, it's been great, I barely use my Nexus 7 tablet anymore.
      lepoete73
      • Buy some adapters

        8.0

        You can connect the T100 via ethernet if you simply get a USB Ethernet adapter. You can also buy a USB multi format card reader too. You can get them for about $10 each.
        laequis
    • About price/performance...

      A few months ago I bought an ASUS Vivobook for $360. It's not a tablet, but it is a light touch screen device with 4GB of RAM, 500GB of storage, and a Core i3 ULV processor. In performance, it kicks the pants off that T100, being capable of running XBox 360 equivalent graphics. Battery life is only about 5 hours, though.

      The T100 probably stands up against entry-level devices with Pentiums and Celerons, but not against i3's.

      All that being said, being an Atom it's capable of running a *real* operating system, not a stripped-down version for mobile devices, so it's probably a good deal for anyone in the market for a tablet toy in that price range.
      Jacob VanWagoner
      • That is a good point

        9.0

        There are some sub $400 laptops with touch and core i3 that certainly edge out the T100 in performance, but they are not convertibles.

        At the same time there are some sub $270 non-convertible touchscreen notebooks, but again no tablet modes from those.


        I guess it could be debated which offers more value. Those looking for the most flexible of offerings and getting 2 in 1 devices, the T100 is better. Someone who doesn't need a tablet, then those other notebooks are pretty incredible for the price. I would say those are best value in a laptop.

        I just picked up two dell 15's with touch and core i3 for work for under $400 each, so I completely see where you are coming from on that point.
        Emacho
  • Not a primary computing device

    9.0

    I purchased the Transformer Book T100 when it first came out. LIke, the first day it came out.

    I bought it not as a primary computing device, but as a companion device and a replacement for my Kindle Fire HD 8.9.

    I tried to make my KFHD into a companion device, loading it not only with books (it's great to carry my entire technical library with me), but also a productivity suite (I prefer Kingsoft Office). Add a Bluetooth keyboard case to the KFHD, DropBox, OneNote, an RDP client and a VPN client and you'd figure I have a pretty capable low-end business device.

    Not really. At the end of the day, business use requires the use of Microsoft Office. It is what it is. Asus deciding to ship Office with the device (minus Outlook) was worth half the cost of the device alone. The ergonomics of a snap-on keyboard means I can use the device on my lap while on a bus, train or plane or outdoors. Can't do that with the Kindle cases I purchased... they all require a flat surface to stay open (as does the Microsoft Surface).

    This thing is great for taking notes in a meeting, then synching the content back to SkyDrive/OneDrive or SharePoint. The only thing I was able to do that with on the KFHD was with OneNote, but not with documents or spreadsheets.

    When I need "power", I can use the standard VPN client in Windows to connect back to a corporate network or my home computers (I also use OpenVPN to connect when the ports supporting PPTP or L2TP aren't open on the receiving end).

    Given the choice between hauling a 5 lb laptop around from meeting to meeting vs. a 2lb device, I'll take the 2lb device every time. Esp. since the laptop only gets about 3 hours on a charge vs 10-11 hours on the Asus device. I can literally carry this thing all day. If I need the charger, it's a small USB device instead of the laptop's 2 lbs power brick.

    You are right, this isn't a primary computing device. But for under US$400, it's a very capable companion device with the benefits of Windows 8.1 and Office 2013.
    Marc Jellinek
  • Money well spent for me

    8.0

    "There's also the inevitable aesthetic issue of a wide screen bezel. When we were working in tablet mode this was not an issue, as we expect a relatively wide screen bezel from a tablet — to give you something to grip on without activating the touchscreen. But in notebook mode the bezel looks enormous compared to modern designs, and if this were purely a notebook we'd be bemoaning the acres of unused screen space."

    But its NOT purely a notebook, its a freaking tablet so everything you said is irrelevant. Instead of viewing this as a tablet that can do more, you elect to say its a notebook that has less specs.

    I agree the keyboard takes some getting use to, and the volume rocker on the backside is hard to use. Screen resolution is not great but when you look at the price its a great value. Especially considering what I paid for it, 64GB ($299.99) from Microsoft and picked up SanDisk 64GB microSD ($35) from Amazon before Christmas. 128GB for $335, not bad. Also picked up a Micro HDMI to HDMI connector for $7, so I can connect it to TV and watch Netflix, Crackle, etc...
    thekman58
  • Mine has become my primary computer

    9.0

    I don't necessarily agree with the writer in certain aspects. If you don't game, this hybrid can easily replace your computer. It comes with free MS office, you can install Windows legacy software, etc.

    I bought a DVD-writer, an external HDD, a USB 3.0 hub to go with it. If Ethernet is that important (maybe you have a non-wireless home network), then you can buy one of those docks. For me I use it as my PC now because it is ultra portable. My other PC is a giant core i7 gaming machine.
    Fulaman1984
  • Have 64GB version

    7.0

    I recently purchased the 64 GB version with a 32GB microSD and have been pretty happy with it.

    That said, my experience is pretty close to the reviewers. 2GB is not a lot of memory to multi-task, though it does fairly well on the active one. I picked it up for a light use tablet that I could occasionally use to monitor servers, read articles, surf - nothing heavy. In that it does great.

    If I had any complaint, it would be it takes a loooong time to charge and doesn't seem to be compatible with other 2a chargers.
    Jeff Lewis
  • Have you seen the t300 yet, closer to what many will need ...

    6.0

    out of a newer device. To be fair, the T100 is old enough that this review is a bit late coming to the game. The T300 is where people who need more should be looking. Comparing the T300 with new Surface devices running Windows 8.1 would be more current. The T100 seems like it will get some of the basics done, but I am not sure that purchasing the T100 now will give you a "current" device for the next 2 years.
    jkohut
    • too big

      8.0

      The T300 is too big with a 13" screen to work as a tablet, and it's too expensive at $900. Personally, it would be perfect to have like an 11" screen. But I'd still rather go with the T100 since 75% of the time I would be using it as a tablet and not a laptop.
      laequis
      • just right?

        A number of sites have reported on a leaked Asus document showing that a T200 will likely be unveiled at MWC 2014 (i.e. imminently).

        Theoretically this would fall right between the two current offerings both in size and other specs.

        If so, the T200 might be just about perfect (although 11.x" might be too large a tablet for some).
        FBachofner
    • So do you own a T100?

      just curious why the 6.0 rating?
      thekman58
  • Keyboard

    4.0

    Windows needs a Swype-like app for it's tablets. Eliminates the need for a keyboard for many like myself.
    onefussyone
    • So what are you rating?

      The device or Windows?
      thekman58
    • It's not Swype...

      But Windows 8.x does have the handwriting input option that works well with finger input. I prefer to type, but it does work.
      kb5ynf
  • Review Fail!

    Why in the Wild World of Sports would anyone use a netbook-tablet hybrid as a primary computer? Seriously?
    I've been using this as my road machine for the last three months instead of my laptop and it's been outstanding! And the keyboard, despite the review, is one of the outstanding features. It's well made, with a good feel/feedback, and I have no trouble using it despite having large hands.
    I have the 64 gig model, with a 64 gig microcard. I carry a portable hard drive with me, and if I need to work off of something on the hard drive, I copy it over to the Asus and copy it back when I'm done. This saves battery life.
    I do dislike only one USB port, but get around that by using a Belkin four port USB hub (cost is less than 6 USD). If I can't get free wi-fi, which is rare, I have a USB air card to plug into the hub.
    I highly recommend using a USB or bluetooth mouse if you're using one of the installed MS Office products.
    I've used this in hotels, airports, airplanes, and at the job site, here in the USA, in Asia, and in Europe, no problems at all, both as a tablet and as a netbook. For those of us trapped in the MS World because that's what the other business professionals use, this tablet with Windows 8.1, the included MS Office, and the peripherals described above is the way to go.
    No, I do not work for Asus or Microsoft or an associated company. I just had to refute a review I strongly disagreed with.
    BoscoeInMotion
  • Replaced my Android Tablet

    8.0

    I just sold my Android tablet because I completely stopped using it now that I have my Transformer Book. This is an awesome companion device and my ideal tablet. I still use my desktop for horsepower (and typing/viewing comfort), I still use my laptop on the road when I need to do a lot of typing, but this really is a fantastic tablet. My ideal tablet is used for reading, playing games, and viewing/editing documents/code on the go. This does all of those tasks with flying colors.
    nolij