The dream of the modern 2-in-1 is to replace both a tablet and a laptop with a competent, multifunction device that not only eliminates the hassle of managing multiple devices, but also saves you money. With the Transformer Book T300 Chi (starting at $699; $899 as tested), Asus thinks it has a machine that can do just that. You get an Intel Core M CPU; a bright, 12.5-inch, quad-HD touch screen; and a sleek body with a full-size detachable keyboard. Unfortunately, even with a solid selection of components and a gorgeous all-metal design, a few shortcomings prevent the Transformer Book T300 Chi from being a killer 2-in-1.
The T300 Chi features a great-looking, all-metal treatment, similar to Asus' line of ZenBook ultraportable laptops. The T300 features a gorgeous, sapphire-blue paint job on its aluminum lid, accented by a silver Asus logo in the center. On the inside of the lid, another Asus logo hides in the top left, and a 2-megapixel webcam rests above the center of the display.
On the bottom of the device is the Chi's detachable Bluetooth keyboard, which connects to the display using magnets, and is aided by two metal tabs for increased stability. The keyboard continues the aluminum design with a metal deck and underside.
All of these design elements make it difficult to see where the tablet ends and the laptop begins. The keyboard's magnetic grip is pretty strong, too. You can even pick up the system by its display without worrying about the detachable keyboard falling off.
At 12.5 x 7.5 x 0.3 inches and 1.6 pounds, the tablet portion of the T300 Chi is smaller and lighter than the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 13 (12.8 x 9.7 x 0.31-0.9 inches and 2.27 pounds), and wider, thinner and lighter than the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (11.4 x 7.8 x 0.36 inches and 1.76 pounds).
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When attached to its respective keyboard, the Surface Pro 3 with its flexible Type Cover weighs the least, at 2.4 pounds, versus 3.2 pounds for both the T300 Chi and the Yoga Tablet 2 13.
Keyboard and Touchpad
One of the best things about the T300 Chi is its detachable Bluetooth keyboard. Its keys have a nice feel, with an actuation weight of 67 grams and 1.3 millimeters of travel distance. This let me hit 84 words per minute with just one error on my second run on 10fastfingers.com, which is higher than my typical average of 75 to 80 wpm.
At just 3.4 x 1.8 inches, the one-piece touchpad feels a little on the small side, but its supersmooth surface responded quickly to the touch. Gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom were similarly quick. I just wish there was a tiny bit more room to work with. Another minor complaint is that after I left the system alone for a bit, there was a short delay before the keyboard woke up and started working again.
Our top-end $899 review model features a 12.5-inch 2560 x 1440-pixel quad-HD display. (A $699 model with a 1080p touch screen is also available.) The saturated colors of the display made the Windows Start menu pop with vivid, colorful live tiles. However, when I watched the trailer for Spectre, the reddish tint of the panel made it look like Daniel Craig had gout.
The T300 Chi's display produced 366 nits of brightness. That's brighter than the Yoga Tablet 2 13 (324 nits), the Surface Pro 3 (298 nits), the UX 305 (281 nits) and even the HP Spectre x360 (339 nits).
The T300 Chi's color range is also good, with the T300 Chi recreating 115 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's higher than the Surface Pro 3 (97 percent), Spectre x360 (103.2 percent), UX 305 (93.9 percent) and Yoga Tablet 2 13 (72.8 percent).
Asus also includes its Splendid display software, which offers presets for Normal, Eye Care and Vivid, as well as a manual mode for customizing the color temperature. Don't even bother with Vivid mode, which can make colorful scenes look cartoonish.
When I played Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to test the T300's touch screen, I really liked how responsive it was to my taps. The T300's display also supports stylus input from Asus' Active Stylus Pen, available separately for $40.
The T300 Chi features stereo SonicMaster speakers located on the left and right edges of the device. Even at its best, the T300 sounds muddy, with messy, tinny highs; garbled mids; and almost no bass. When I listened to Empire of the Sun's "DNA," it sounded like I was listening to the music from the other end of a walkie-talkie.
Asus' included Audio Wizard software has five preset listening modes for music, movies, recording, gaming and speech. I found Movie mode offered the best balance, but it didn't do much to compensate for the weak bass.
Due to the T300 Chi's design, heat radiates out from behind the display instead of from under the keyboard. On the Laptop Mag Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming HD video from Hulu), the left side of the tablet's back reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit -- much higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold. I also noticed that after finishing a game of Hearthstone, I walked away from the T300 for just a few minutes, only to come back to the tablet's aluminum back measuring 111 degrees. While that's not necessarily a problem if you're using the T300 in laptop mode, it could make it uncomfortable to hold as a tablet.
Ports and Webcam
The T300 Chi features just a single micro USB 3.0 port, one micro HDMI port, a combo mic/headphone jack, and a micro SDXC card reader with support for cards up to 128GB.
Most ultraportables feature two or three full-size USB ports -- even the Surface Pro 3 has one. This is one area where the T300 Chi is lacking as a true laptop replacement.
Above the display, the T300 Chi has a 2MP webcam. In a self-portrait taken in our office, I liked the sharp details in my hair and shirt, but the heavy grain and rainbow speckling throughout the photo detract from the overall quality.
Featuring a 1.2-GHz Intel Core M 5Y71 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, the T300 Chi is more than capable of handing your day-to-day computing needs. Even while I was installing a game, the Transformer Book smoothly streamed 1080p videos from YouTube.
When we tested overall system performance using Geekbench 3, the T300 Chi scored 5,759. That's slightly higher than the Surface Pro 3 (5,665 with Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM), as well as the Core M-powered HP Spectre x360 (5,614) and the Asus UX305 (4,623). It's almost double the score of the Atom-powered Yoga Tablet 2 13 (2,654).
The T300 Chi also performed well on our OpenOffice test, in which we match 20,000 names and addresses. The T300 Chi finished the task in 4 minutes and 43 seconds, which is the same as the Surface Pro 3, and faster than the HP Spectre x360 (5:04), the Asus UX 305 (6:50) and the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 13 (21:00).
Unfortunately, when it came to transfer speeds, the T300 Chi fell back to average. When we copied 4.97GB of mixed media files, the Asus completed the task in 2 minutes and 2 seconds, for a transfer rate of 41.7 MBps. That's just barely ahead of the Yoga Tablet 2 13 (39.5 MBps) but far behind its SSD-equipped competition in the Surface Pro 3 (145.4 MBps), the HP Spectre x360 (141.4 MBps) and the Asus UX305 (154.2 MBps).
Featuring integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300, the T300 can handle casual gaming but struggles when playing more intense titles. When I played Hearthstone, I liked the smooth animations when attacking my foes at the Chi's native resolution (2560 x 1440p) and medium settings; I just wish it could have carried over to demanding games like Dota 2 or Dark Souls.
When we ran the 3DMark Fire Strike graphics benchmark, the T300 Chi scored 535. That's better than the Surface Pro 3 (459) but behind the Asus UX305 (603) and the HP Spectre x360 (710).
The T300 Chi's biggest disappointment is its battery life. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of screen brightness), the Transformer Book lasted just 5 hours and 31 minutes. That's almost 3 hours less than the tablet average of 8:23 and 2 hours less than the ultraportable laptop average of 7:31.
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The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (7:42), Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 13 (10:36), HP Spectre x360 (9:28) and even Asus' own UX305 (9:38) all lasted significantly longer. Keep in mind that the cheaper 1080p version of the T300 Chi may last longer on a charge, as lower screen resolutions demand less power.
The T300 Chi comes in just two flavors: our $899 review unit, which has an Intel Core M 5Y71 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD; and a less expensive $699 model featuring an Intel Core M 5Y10 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 1920 x 1080p display.
Software and Warranty
The T300 Chi comes with a 64-bit version of Windows 8.1, which features the typical preinstalled software, such as Skype, OneNote and a trial for Microsoft Office. Asus also includes a few tools, such as Asus PhotoDirector, and free storage on Asus WebStorage. Aside from that, the T300 Chi is wonderfully free of bloatware.
The T300 Chi also comes with a standard one-year warranty. If you're looking for added coverage, you'll have to rely on the retailer for that.
The T300 Chi is an attractive and power-packed 2-in-1 that doesn't quite manage to bridge the gap between tablets and laptops. I love the gorgeous all-aluminum design and responsive detachable keyboard, but its relatively short battery life and heat management give me pause.
At $899, the Transformer Book T300 Chi costs just $100 less than the HP Spectre X360, which offers better overall performance, an equally beautiful design and an extra 4 hours of battery life. If you want to stick with Asus, the $699 configuration of the T300 Chi looks like a better deal, as its less-demanding 1080p screen likely uses less power.
Looking for a more traditional PC? Asus' $699 UX305 laptop features similar performance and more than 9 hours of endurance for $200 less. I like its ambition, but the T300 Chi didn't quite live up to my expectations.