Up until now, if you wanted a Windows tablet, you had two imperfect choices: You could buy an expensive, Intel Core Series-powered slate that offered solid performance but weak battery life, or a cheaper (but still overpriced) Atom-powered tablet with long battery life but slow speeds. Enter the ASUS Transformer Book T100, the first tablet with Intel's new low-power, quad-core Atom "Bay Trail" platform. Starting at just $349 ($399 as reviewed), the 10.1-inch T100 combines an attractive IPS screen, a responsive keyboard dock, a free copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student on top of Windows 8.1. That's quite a bargain, but is the Transformer Book T100 the best Windows tablet for your money?
At 10.4 x 6.7 x 0.41 inches and 1.2 lbs., the Transformer Book T100 is one of the lightest 10-inch tablets around, weighing significantly less than the 10.8 x 7.0 x 0.4 inch, 1.6-lb. Dell Latitude 10 and the 10.8 x 6.8 x 0.4 inch, 1.5-lb. Surface 2. It's even quite a bit lighter than the 1.44-lb. iPad, despite the iPad's smaller 9.7-inch screen. However, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (10.1 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches, 1.2 lbs.) is the same weight, but a tad thinner.
When you attach the keyboard dock, the T100's weight doubles to 2.4 lbs. and its thickness jumps to 0.93 inches. By comparison, the 11.6-inch HP Envy x2 weighs 3.1 lbs., but is just 0.6 inches thick with its keyboard dock attached.
MORE: Best Tablets 2013
The Transformer Book T100 has a design that's functional, but not particularly attractive. The back is made from cheap, glossy plastic in a drab shade of dark gray while the front has a thick black bezel. Where most Windows tablets have a capacitive Start button built into the bezel, the T100 has a Windows logo that doesn't do anything when pressed. Instead, ASUS has made the odd decision to put the Start functionality into a tiny button that sits on the left side next to the volume rocker.
The keyboard dock, which comes with the tablet, has a more stylish matte plastic surface and a soft-touch bottom. The screen snaps securely into a latch on the dock and only comes out after you push a hardware button to release it. With the keyboard attached, you can treat the T100 as 10-inch clamshell laptop, opening and closing it at will. The dock itself has no battery or charging port, but its fairly significant heft (1.2 lbs.) allowed us to balance the Transformer Book on our lap without feeling like it was going to tip over.
Keyboard and Touchpad
When he unveiled the Transformer Book T100, ASUS CEO Jonney Shih said its keyboard was modeled after a ThinkPad's, but it doesn't live up to the Lenovo standard. The keys offer excellent tactile feedback and a ton of vertical travel, but they're so small and packed together so tightly that we found ourselves making many adjacent key errors. This is a netbook layout.
The first time we took the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we registered an awful error rate of 7 percent, but after being a lot more deliberate in our strokes, we managed a 1 percent error rate with a 74 word-per-minute speed, about 11 words per minute below our typical score. However, we found typing on the T100 much more pleasant than using the Microsoft Surface's Touch or Type covers, because of the good feedback and the solid weight of the dock.
The 3 x 1.65-inch buttonless touchpad provided frustratingly inconsistent navigation. Though we were usually able to move the pointer quickly and accurately to our intended destination, it sometimes stopped moving midstroke, requiring us to lift up our finger and try again . We also found ourselves running off the edge of the narrow pad occasionally, while clicking left or right required as much force as pushing the hard plastic dome in the board game Trouble. The pad is just as loud, too, when clicked .
Fortunately, the pad supports a variety of multitouch gestures if you enable them in ASUS' Smart Gesture software. In addition to performing a smooth touch-to-zoom and two-finger rotate, we were able to minimize all windows by using a three-finger swiping down. You can also show open apps as on-screen thumbnails by three-finger swiping up, and move back and forward between apps or photos in a gallery by three-finger swiping left or right.
Display and Audio
The Transformer Book T100's 10.1-inch, 1366 x 768 IPS display provided accurate colors and wide viewing angles. When we watched a 1080p trailer for "The Avengers," the red in Iron Man's armor, the orange in an explosion and the blue in Captain America's suit looked realistic, if not overly rich. Colors stayed true even at 90 degrees to the left or right, making group viewing a possibility. However, the display's relatively low resolution resulted in some dithering, particularly on objects with some kind of glow like the Avengers logo.
Despite its wide viewing angles and strong color output, the Transformer Book T100 registered just 204 lux on our light meter, well below the 313 lux tablet category average, the 389 lux ThinkPad Tablet 2 and even a little less than the Acer Iconia W3-810's 222 lux screen. However, in everyday use, the screen seemed more than bright enough for whatever we viewed on it . We were even able to read articles in the Bing News app while standing in direct sunlight, though the fingerprints on the screen appeared more prominent than the text below.
The 5-point capacitive touch display was highly sensitive to our gestures, allowing us to pinch-zoom, swipe with ease and draw with all the fingers on one hand in Windows Paint.
The T100's speakers delivered audio that was loud enough to fill a large room. Whether we were playing Patrice Rushen's bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots" or the Scorpions' guitar-centric "No One Like You," sound was fairly accurate, though a bit hollow and tinny.
Ports and Webcam
The Transformer Book T100 has a fair share of ports for a system this small and inexpensive. The slate itself has a microUSB port for charging and data transfer, micro HDMI, a microSD card reader and a headphone/mic jack, while the keyboard dock adds a full-size USB 3.0 port.
The 1.2-MP webcam captured bright, sharp images even in low light. In our dark living room, the camera shot a bright image of our face with fine details such as the hair follicles in our beard clearly visible.
With its 1.3-GHz quad-core Atom Z3740 processor, which features Intel's new Bay Trail platform and 2GB of RAM, the Transformer Book T100 is powerful enough to handle just about any productivity task. On PCMark 7, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the T100 scored a solid mark of 2,338, which is short of the 2,777 tablet category average, but about 80 percent better than earlier competitors such as the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (1,428), Dell Latitude 10 (1,440) and Acer Iconia W3-810 (1,415), all of which were powered by Intel's last-generation Atom Clovertrail chip.
The Transformer Book T100's 64GB of eMMc memory booted into Windows 8.1 in a modest 17 seconds, about on par with the 16.5-second category average. The tablet took 3 minutes and 21 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 25.3 MBps, slightly below the tablet category average of 27.7 MB ps, but better than the Acer Iconia W3-810 (21.9 MBps), Dell Latitude 10 (22 MBps) and Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet (20.7 MBps).
The Transformer Book T100 took 20 minutes and 48 seconds to the complete LAPTOP's OpenOffice Spreadsheet macro test, which matches up 20,000 names wLenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2t's 50 percent faster than the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (30:33), the Acer Iconia W3 (30:37) and the Dell Latitude 10 (29:48). However, it's a little slower than the 17-minute and 51-second tablet category average, because the average includes Core series-powered tablets like the Surface Pro.
The T100's Intel HD graphics chip was good enough to play a 4K video clip without slowing down. When we fired up the third-person action game "SoulCraft," action was smooth and detailed. On the 3DMark Ice Storm test, a synthetic graphics benchmark, the Transformer Book T100 scored a strong 15,879, slightly above the 15,725 category average.
However, when we played "World of Warcraft" at default settings, the tablet managed an unplayable 19 frames per second, well below the 28 fps category average. With the effects turned up, the number dropped to a slideshowlike 7 fps, half the 15 fps category average. We couldn't even attempt to play "World of Warcraft" on older Atom-based tablets like the Iconia W3-810 or Lenovo ThinkPad tablet, but the bottom line is that you should stick to Windows Store and online games.
You may not even need the power cord when you take this hybrid on a day trip. The ASUS Transformer Book T100 lasted an impressive 12 hours and 28 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness. That time is an hour and a half longer than ASUS' own 11-hour claim and more than four hours better than the 8-hour tablet category average. Even the long-lasting Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (9:40) and Acer Iconia W3-810 (8:54) could not keep up. Only the 1.8-lb. Dell Latitude 10 with extended battery (17:40) clearly beat the T100 while the fourth-generation iPad (12:22) was about on par with it.
While it's convenient that the T100 uses a standard microUSB port for charging, the tablet takes a really long time to refuel. In anecdotal use, it appeared to take well over 4 hours to fully charge. We'll update this review with an official time.
Software and OS
The ASUS Transformer Book T100 is one of the first tablets to come preloaded with Windows 8.1. Those familiar with Windows 8 will appreciate several new features in the updated OS, including the ability to split the screen evenly between two windows at once and a new universal search that queries both the Web and your hard drive at the same time.
ASUS also includes a copy of Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note. This office suite all by itself costs $139.99, so including it for free makes the ASUS Transformer Book T100 an even better bargain.
For users who aren't satisfied with the 32 or 64GB of internal storage of which 32.2GB is available on the 64GB edition, the T100 comes with a year of unlimited storage space on the ASUS WebStorage service . ASUS also bundles ASUS Reader, an app that makes text in certain apps such as Bing News easier to read. Apart from the Reader, the WebStorage app, an instruction manual and touchpad control software, the company keeps its tablet blissfully free of crapware, including only the Kindle app.
The Transformer Book T100 comes in just two configurations, a 32GB model that costs $349 and a 64GB edition that goes for $399. Users who want more storage should consider purchasing a microSD card as 32GB cards sell for around $25 online.
The ASUS Transformer Book T100 is one of the better bargains in tech today. For a starting price $150 less than Microsoft's Surface 2 -- which doesn't come with a keyboard and runs the stripped down Windows RT OS -- you get full Windows 8.1, a keyboard dock, more than 12 hours of battery life and Microsoft Office. That's not to say this hybrid is perfect. The netbooklike keyboard is on the cramped side, and ASUS chose the wrong place to put the power button.
If you want a more premium design and screen on a Windows slate today, you'll need to go for a much more expensive Intel Core-powered tablet, such as the $899 Surface Pro 2. You can also wait for the Dell Venue 11 Pro, which starts at $499, but has a full HD screen. However, if you want a 10-inch Windows 8.1 tablet that's good enough for most everyday tasks and lasts all day on a charge, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is an extremely compelling choice.