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Microsoft's regular updates and additions to its range of Surface devices provides plenty of incentive for its OEM partners to refresh their own hybrid laptop/tablet products. The latest version of the Asus Transformer Pro (T304UA) provides a good alternative to the Surface Pro range for business users who need a versatile and affordable device that can function as both a laptop and a tablet.
Design and features
The 12.6-inch Transformer Pro T304UA makes a good first impression, with the tablet and bundled keyboard already magnetically connected and lifting easily out of the box with a combined weight of just 1.18kg. There's a stylus included too, whereas Microsoft's Surface Pro only provides a keyboard and stylus as optional extras.
The primary tablet section measures just 8.8mm thick, and is housed in a sturdy aluminium casing that provides good protection when you're travelling. The tablet weighs 800g on its own, which is a little heavier than some of its rivals -- including the slightly larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro -- and you can't really hold it in one hand for very long.
There's an adjustable kickstand built into the back panel so it's easy to stand the tablet up on its own when you need to. The kickstand supports 155 degrees of travel, to a maximum of (near-horizontal) 170 degrees.
The keyboard's top panel is also made out of aluminium, which provides extra protection when the screen is folded down over the keyboard. It also gives the keyboard a firmer, more responsive feel than the slimline keyboards used by some of the Transformer Pro's rivals, and is well suited to typing at speed in Word or Excel when you're on the road. The magnetic connectors grip the keyboard firmly and make it a simple matter to quickly line it up and attach it to the tablet when you need to get down to work. There's even a little fabric sleeve on the keyboard to hold the stylus in place.
Display quality is good, with the 12.6-inch screen offering 2,160-by-1,440 resolution (206ppi) and a bright, colourful image with good all-round viewing angles.
Asus includes one USB-C port along with a full-size HDMI port and a USB 3.0 port, so you don't have to carry extra cables or adapters around when you're travelling. There's also a MicroSD slot for quickly adding some extra storage. Our only minor complaint is that the compact stereo speakers aren't particularly loud, so the 3.5mm audio jack may come into play for headphones or a set of external speakers.
Pricing and options
There are two versions of the Transformer Pro T304UA currently available in the UK, starting at £999.17 (ex. VAT, or £1,199 inc. VAT) for a model with Windows 10 Pro running on a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U processor, along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD (244GB available to the user).
The second option steps up to a Core i7-7500U running at 2.7GHz, with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for £1165.83 (ex. VAT, or £1,399 inc. VAT, or $1,150 in the US). And, as mentioned, those prices include the bundled keyboard and stylus.
Asus has already updated some of its other laptops, such as the ZenBook Deluxe, with Intel's latest 8th-generation processors, but hasn't yet announced a similar update for the Transformer Pro range. Unfortunately, Asus's website tends to be less than specific about certain features, so it's definitely worth confirming the price and specification of any model before buying -- especially since there are no user-upgrade options, even for RAM and SSD.
The dual-core Core i5 processor used in our review unit isn't top-of-the-range but, thanks to its 3.1GHz TurboBoost option, it manages to provide respectable mid-range performance with scores of 3,734 and 7,450 for single- and multi-core performance in the Geekbench 4.2 test suite. That will be perfectly adequate for running Microsoft Office and other productivity apps, and the Transformer Pro T304UA certainly felt responsive during our tests. We were also pleased to see that it adjusted smoothly when switching between tablet and keyboard modes.
The Transformer's integrated HD Graphics 620 GPU is quite modest, but still managed a score of 36.5fps when running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, so it should certainly be able to handle presentations and some simple photo- or video-editing -- and possibly even some off-duty gaming action too. The only real disappointment here is that the solid-state drive is somewhat sluggish: read speed was relatively modest, reported at 555MB/s by the ATTO Disk Benchmark, but that proved to be the highlight, as write speed came in at just 260MB/s -- a performance level that could be challenged by a good hard drive.
We also noticed, with some concern, that Asus studiously avoids any mention of battery life on its website. Thankfully, the Transformer Pro's attractive display allowed us to lower the screen brightness to just 40 percent while still delivering good image quality for viewing streaming video from the BBC iPlayer. With this setting, the Transformer Pro lasted for 6 hours 45 minutes when running iPlayer via wi-fi. Less intensive use should allow you to push that close to a full eight-hour working day, so the Transformer Pro can still earn its keep on the road.
Battery life and the performance of the solid-state drive both leave room for improvement, but the Transformer Pro T304UA is still an attractive option for business travellers. Its lightweight, sturdy design is certainly well suited to life on the road, and while it's not a high-end performer it can still handle Microsoft Office and other productivity apps perfectly well. The attractive display is a particular strength, and well suited to web browsing and streaming video, while the inclusion of both keyboard and stylus at no extra cost means that the Transformer Pro provides good value for money if you're on a tight budget.