Asus are often credited with starting the netbook craze with their eePC range of cheap and affordable laptops but netbooks were never popular with most of the crowd thanks to their low cost specifications. The rise of the affordable tablet brought a slow end to the appeal of netbooks as the market began to veer towards touchscreen based iOS and Android tablets. Asus itself stopped production of their own line and introduced their Android based Transformer tablets that came with keyboard docks and offered better battery life. This time around Asus has decided to target the budget computer user again with an affordable Windows based touchscreen Transformer laptop/tablet.
The box is quite similar to the ones Asus use for their other Transformer range and inside you only get a charger, a short micro USB cable and manuals. Not the greatest list of accessories but at the price you pay it is expected. The micro USB cable is too short and I don’t think it would have cost too much to include a lengthy cable like you get with a laptop. This is not just an issue we see with Asus products but with pretty much every smartphone and tablet brand on the market today.
Build Quality and Design
The keyboard is detachable and the screen becomes a tablet equipped with a capacitive touchscreen. Unlike the Android Transformer series, the T100 is made primarily of plastic to keep costs down. The design however is quite sturdy and both the tablet and keyboard are similar in weight which makes for a reasonably light and well balanced device. Separately each of the two weighs about 550 grams so in total it weighs only 1.1KGs. That makes it a pretty light and ultraportable laptop and it works quite well.
At the back of the tablet is the Asus emblem, two sets of holes for the speakers and the rest is a smudge and fingerprint magnet of glossy plastic. On the left from top to bottom are the volume rocker and Windows buttons which switches between the Windows 8 UI and the desktop or any app that you had been working on. Its purpose is similar to the Windows key found on the keyboard. On the right from top to bottom is the micro SD slot, the micro USB port, mini HDMI port and headphone port. On the top there’s only the power button which also acts as a screen lock button and an LED which glows orange when charging and white when the laptop is fully charged. At the bottom the tablet has two latches which ensures it’s securely latched to the keyboard when docked and a proprietary connector in the middle.
The keyboard has a standard layout that most people who have owned and used netbooks will be familiar with. The right shift key is smaller than the left but not too small that you can’t find it should you require to use it. The touchpad is of reasonable size as well and is surrounded by a matte like plastic which feels quite good to touch. The bottom feels rubbery and has four rubber studs. The only port on the keyboard is a USB 3.0 port on the left and above the keys is a sole button to unlatch the tablet from the keyboard. Unlike the Android based Transformer pads the keyboard does not have a secondary battery perhaps in another move to keep the T100’s cost down. The charger is similar to the ones we have seen on other Transformer tablets but on a positive note the T100 uses a standard micro USB port so it can be charged using micro USB cable. When closed up you can definitely see the contrast between the glossy tablet surface and the matte/rubbery materials used in the keyboard.
The T100 comes with Intel’s new Atom quad core Bay Trail processor running at 1.33GHz with a burst speed of 1.8GHz. The Atom Z3740 processor has 2MB of cache and an Intel HD graphics GPU. It comes with 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM running at 1066MHz. Storage is minimal at 32 or 64GB but the eMMC used is zippy and responsive. In some models the keyboard dock also has a 500GB hard drive built-in but the review unit and models sold in this region appear to omit this extra feature. The tablet has Wifi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 but lacks NFC and wireless charging. The T100 has a single front facing 1.2mpx camera for use with apps such as Skype. The battery installed is a 2 cell which is far lower than what we used to get in older netbooks but with the low power processor you don’t really need a beefier battery. On the software side it runs a full version of the 32bit Windows 8.1 operating system and comes pre-installed with Microsoft Office Home and Student as well a slew of Asus apps such as WebStorage, OneNote and Backtracker as well as a reading mode for e-books. The processor is capable of running a 64bit operating system but since the T100 only has 2GB of RAM, 32bit will do fine.
The tablet has a 10.1 inch IPS touchscreen with 1366 x 768 resolution, this is a far cry from more higher end tablets today but is definitely a huge step up from the old netbook screens that had only 1024 x 600 at this screen size. Viewing angles are good as is expected from an IPS display at 170 degrees but there is a slight loss of colour and brightness at extreme angles. Sunlight legibility is average even at full brightness and the glossy screen does not help the T100 at all when the Sun is directly shining at it. Colours are alright but could be considered a bit inaccurate however all in all it is definitely a better screen that many of the TN displays we see with entry level tablets.
The T100 thanks to the inclusion of a zippier eMMC storage is quite responsive and when navigating the operating system and opening apps there is an almost dismissible amount of lag. When using the touchscreen to scroll through web sites the experience is quite smooth and responsive with just a bit of lag when browsing picture and flash heavy pages. Starting up is very quick as well with a mere 8 seconds from when the Asus logo appears to the Windows login screen. The speakers are tinny, lacking bass and some depth but loud enough to ensure adequate sound in a relatively quiet room. The 64GB storage on the review model cuts away to a mere 30 or so gigabytes after you factor in the recovery partitions and Windows installation and while this may seem little it’s more than enough for a few apps, movies and music. You also get the micro SD slot which supports cards up to 64GB and these are an affordable option should you require more space. Battery wise the T100 was able to reach over 10 hours at its best but you should obviously expect the battery life to shorten if you play more games or movies as they put an extra strain on the processor. The tablet does get a bit warm when playing games but never too much to be too hot to hold. The touchpad is however the Achilles heel of the T100. It’s clunky and sometimes needs a few swipes and clicks to respond. It works fine when in continuous use but once you stop using it and want to again it takes a swipe or two to get it to respond again. It’s quite unfortunate that Asus did not fix this flaw before the T100’s release because it is definitely the least likeable part of this laptop. Gaming on the T100 is surprisingly good for a budget laptop with an Atom processor, playing GTA Vice City I didn’t experience any serious lag and while playing games like Asphalt 7 and 8 I found the T100 was quite capable. It also played high definition movies without issue thanks to its integrated HD graphics processor.
My experience however did not go without a few hitches, when inserting headphones sometimes the system would still play sounds from the speakers rather than the headphones. It would require reinserting the jack several times or even restarting to get it to recognize them and disable the speakers. I also had issues with the USB port on the keyboard dock, all the flash drives I tried were recognized except my USB 3.0 Lexar drive which wouldn’t work. It works fine on everything else but on the T100. Windows 8.1 is a slight improvement over Windows 8 but it’s still a far cry from iOS and Android operating systems in terms of its intuitive touchscreen interface and gestures. The Windows store is also limiting in the variety and quality of apps available as well as the inclusion of free apps. Asphalt 8 for example maybe free on iOS and Android but isn’t on Windows, however you do get to try games with limited access to levels and features before you decide to buy.
I ran Cinebench 11.5, Geekbench 3 and PCMark 8 Home on the T100 and for comparison I ran a desktop PC with an Intel Core i7-2600k processor underclocked to 1600MHz (the lowest I could get it to), disabled Hyperthreading and underclocked the RAM to 1066MHz as well. While this is not a direct comparison, it should show how far Intel’s Atom has gone against what was once Intel’s best Core processor a few years back albeit with some of its power taken away from it. Running 32bit Cinebench on both systems I got 1.22 for the T100 and 2.06 for the i7. On the 32bit Geekbench 3, the T100 scored 2608 against the i7’s 4349. For PCMark 8 Home, the T100 got 1620 while the i7 scored 2821. It might not be as quick as an underpowered 2nd Gen i7 but it comes quite close. Mind you at full power the i7 got 12456 in Geekbench 3 so the Atom is a long way from surpassing Intel’s Core i7. I also used the latest 3DMark RT app and on Ice Storm Unlimited, the T100 scored 10549, just a tad higher than a 2013 Nexus 7 which scored 10538.
Despite its few flaws, the Asus Transformer T100 is a capable tablet and laptop. It won’t win any performance crowns compared to more capable processors in its Core i3, i5 and i7 bigger brothers but it is definitely a more welcome improvement over the netbooks we used to chastise for their sluggish processors and overall experiences. Were it not for the clunky touchpad, the T100 would have been perfect. The T100 is a serious contender for the budget laptop and tablet market and at only AED 1699 for the 64GB version, it could start a new trend of affordable Windows based tablets just like how Asus started the netbook craze a few years back.