Each of the growing number of 2-in-1 Windows hybrids has one big question to answer: Can it replace your laptop while offering the convenience of a tablet? Asus' T300 Chi offers a traditional laptop experience, featuring a 12.5-inch screen, a solid keyboard and a sleek aluminum clamshell design, but when you tug hard on the screen, it transforms into a Core M-powered tablet. Competitors like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 13 start with a tablet design and tack on functionality with keyboard add-ons, but they also offer compelling experiences. So how does this $699 Transformer Book stack up against other Windows 2-in-1s, not to mention its more expensive $899 QHD sibling?
The T300 Chi's gorgeous aluminum body makes it look like it costs well over $700. From top to bottom, the Transformer Book features a matte sapphire-blue anodized finish accented by a shiny Asus logo in the middle of the lid and a thin, silver ribbon along the edge.
Inside, the 12.5-inch tablet attaches to its keyboard dock using magnets strong enough to keep the parts attached no matter how you hold them. It's a much stronger connection than the one between the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and its Type Cover, but without the need for the physical latch seen on more rugged (and bulky) 2-in-1s.
The bottom returns to a smooth sea of blue. If you're looking for fans, be warned that there aren't any. The T300 Chi's use of Intel's Core M processor means there's no need for anything more than passive cooling.
Measuring 12.5 x 7.5 x 0.4-0.6-inches and weighing 3.2 pounds when combined with its keyboard, the T300 Chi weighs the same as the Lenovo Tablet 2 13 with its keyboard, but it's heavier than the Surface Pro 3 with its Type Cover (2.4 pounds).
Alone, the tablet measures just 0.3 inches thick and weighs just 1.6 pounds, which is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 3 (0.36 inches and 1.7 pounds) and the Lenovo Tablet 2 13 (0.31 to 0.9 inches and 2.27 pounds) without their keyboards.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The T300 Chi's detachable Bluetooth keyboard features a power switch on the top left, a micro-USB port on the left side, a spacious keyboard and a small but usable touchpad.
The keyboard has a highly tactile actuation force of 63 grams, with a modest 1.3 millimeters of travel, which allowed me to hit 83 words per minute on my first run-through of the 10fastfingers.com typing test.
The touchpad measures 3.5 x 1.75 inches, which means it isn't as large as the pad on the Yoga Tablet 2 13 (3.75 x 2 inches), but it's a tiny bit bigger than the one on the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover (3.5 x 1.7 inches).
While I'd like a little more room to move around, gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom were quick and responsive. As with the quad-HD version, the touchpad also takes a second to wake up after a period of inactivity.
The full-HD T300 Chi features a 12.5-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel display that isn't quite as bright as the quad-HD model but has more neutral color balance. That means that when I watched the trailer for the upcoming James Bond movie Spectre, I didn't run into the overly saturated yellows I saw on the quad-HD model, and instead could concentrate on the preview without any distractions.
When measured with a light meter, the screen produced 330 nits of brightness. That's a little short of the quad-HD model's 366 nits and the tablet average of 341 nits, but ahead of the Surface Pro 3 (298) and the Lenovo Tablet 2 13 (324).
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Sadly, the full-HD model's color range covered only 70 percent of the sRGB spectrum, which is worse than the quad-HD model (115 percent), the Surface Pro 3 (97 percent) and the Lenovo Tablet 2 13 (78 percent).
The display also supports Asus' $40 Active Stylus Pen.
I like that Asus outfitted the T300 Chi with stereo SonicMaster speakers, but the quality of the audio they produce is less than stellar.
Even after I tried all the preset listening modes in the Audio Wizard software, Empire of the Sun's "DNA" still sounded tinny and shallow, as if it were being played over an intercom system.
On the Laptop Mag Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming HD video from Hulu), the hottest spot on the full-HD T300 Chi (back right of tablet) reached only 91 degrees Fahrenheit. That's well within our 95-degree comfort threshold and in stark contrast to the quad-HD model, which reached 101 degrees on the same test.
Ports and Webcam
Unfortunately, like its quad-HD sibling, the full-HD T300 Chi lacks a full-size USB port. That omission makes it difficult to recommend the Transformer Book as a true laptop replacement. Instead, the tablet has a micro-USB port and a micro-HDMI port on the right side, and a microSD card reader on the back.
In front, the T300 Chi features an HD webcam that takes photos at 1280 x 720p. Pictures often came out a little dark and grainy, and in a selfie taken in our well-lit office, the camera turned the walls from white to beige and failed to capture much of the detail in my hair.
The full-HD T300 Chi has an 800-MHz Intel Core M 5Y10 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive, which means the main difference between this version and the quad-HD model is the full-HD version's slower CPU (800 MHz vs. 1.2 GHz on the quad-HD model) and smaller amount of RAM (4GB vs. 8GB). In everyday use, there was almost no difference between the two models when I browsed the Web with six tabs open in Chrome, but when I streamed a 1080p video from YouTube while installing a game, I noticed a couple of instances of lag and slowness.
When we ran Geekbench 3 to evaluate overall system performance, the full-HD T300 Chi scored 4,319. As expected, that's about 30 percent slower than the quad-HD T300 Chi (5,759). When compared to other tablets, the full-HD T300 Chi finished behind the Intel Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 (5,665) but ahead of the Intel Atom-powered Lenovo Tablet 2 13 (3,564) and the category average of 2,404.
It took the full-HD T300 Chi 7 minutes and 5 seconds to use OpenOffice to match 20,000 names and addresses. That's faster than the lethargic Lenovo Tablet 2 13 (21:00) and the category average of 14:23, but slower than the quad-HD T300 Chi and the Surface Pro 3 (both took 4:43).
The full-HD T300 Chi's 128GB SSD is the same as the one found on the quad-HD model, resulting in nearly identical transfer rates. The full-HD model duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files in 2 minutes, for a rate of 42.2 MBps, versus the quad-HD's rate of 41.7 MBps. The Surface Pro 3 was more than three times as fast (145.4 MBps), while the Lenovo Tablet 2 13 finished slightly behind, at 39.5 MBps.
Although the full-HD T300 Chi features a slightly less powerful CPU than the $899 quad-HD model, it has the same Intel HD 5300 Graphics and a lower-resolution (1920 x 1080p) display. This means overall graphics power ends up being about the same, and when I played Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft at medium settings and native resolution, I couldn't discern a difference in performance between the full-HD and quad-HD models.
Benchmarks from 3DMark's Fire Strike graphics test showed similar results, with the full-HD model scoring 527, versus the quad-HD model's 535. Both versions of the T300 Chi also scored higher than the Surface Pro 3 (459) and the tablet average of 298.
In World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768p and auto settings, the T300 Chi had an average frame rate of 36 frames per second, which is lower than the Surface Pro 3 (41 fps) but much higher than the Tablet 2 13 (6 fps).
The biggest weakness of the quad-HD T300 Chi was its poor battery life. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing at 100 nits of screen brightness), the 2560 x 1440p model lasted just 5 hours and 31 minutes on a charge. The 1920 x 1080p full-HD version ups its runtime by an hour and a half to 6:57, but that's still far short of the 8:21 tablet average. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Lenovo Tablet 2 13 also lasted longer than the full-HD version of the T300 Chi, at 7:27 and 10:36, respectively.
The only alternative to this $699 model is an $899 version featuring a higher-res 2560 x 1440p quad-HD display, a faster Intel Core M-5Y71 CPU, 8GB of RAM and the same 128GB SSD (see our full review here).
Software and Warranty
The T300 Chi comes with a relatively clean installation of Windows 8.1. There are a few preloaded apps, such as Netflix, iHeart Radio and Flipboard, as well as some Asus utilities, such as PhotoDirector, Live Update and Chi keyboard power monitor. The most important app is Asus WebStorage, which gives you access to the free 500GB of cloud storage that comes with the system.
The T300 Chi comes with a standard one-year warranty, but if you want an extended warranty, you'll have to get it from the retailer (Best Buy, Amazon, Microsoft Store, etc.) instead of Asus itself.
The choice between the two T300 models is easy. It's nice that the $899 model has a 2560 x 1440p quad-HD screen, but it costs $200 more than the base model and has just 5.5 hours of battery life. The $699 T300 Chi has a slower CPU, but it's still fast enough for typical use and retains all of the other features that make the new Transformer Books so great: a lovely aluminum chassis, a bright touch screen and a full-size detachable keyboard. The $699 model even runs cooler and lasts 1.5 hours longer on a charge.
The base model of the T300 Chi offers a significant performance advantage and a much better keyboard than you'll find on other 2-in-1s like the Lenovo Tablet 2 13. The Surface Pro 3 is faster, but it's also way more expensive -- $999 for the cheapest Core i5 model and a Type Cover keyboard. A similarly specced non-Pro Surface 3 with a Type Cover costs only a touch more, at $730, but it still lacks the traditional keyboard found on the Asus. While it's not quite a laptop killer -- and it's pricier than the average tablet -- the $699 T300 Chi is a good choice for someone who wants the best of both worlds.