Detachable 2-in-1 laptops offer great versatility and solid performance on the go, and the Asus Transformer Pro T304UA looks to live up that promise, with a Kaby Lake Core i7 processor, a 256GB SSD and a high-resolution 12.5-inch screen, all for $999. This 2-in-1 also comes with a pen and keyboard for several hundred dollars less than a similarly configured Surface Pro ($1,858).
The Transformer Pro also sports a premium aluminum-magnesium-alloy design and a USB-C port, but the device's performance and battery life could be better. Still, if you are in the market for a cheaper Surface alternative, the Transformer Pro is worth considering.
Design: Like a Surface
The Transformer Pro features a sleek metallic-matte case, which feels nice to grasp, with a glossy silver Asus logo across the center of the stand. It's definitely a Surface clone, but it's one of the better imitators; a colleague even mistook it for a Surface Pro from across the room.
The tablet measures a svelte 11.77 x 8.30 x 0.34 inches and weighs 1.82 pounds. The Surface Pro weighs 1.7 pounds, as does Spectre x2, which measure 0.33 and 0.31 inches thin, respectively. With its keyboard cover, the Transformer Pro is 2.4 pounds and 0.53 inches thin. The Spectre x2 weighs 2.5 pounds and measures 0.54 inches, numbers that are nearly identical to the Surface Pro's 2.4 pounds and 0.54 inches.
There are two slots on either side of the device's back for extending the stand, which generally operated smoothly. However, when I tried out the device at its advertised 155 degrees of recline, the hinge felt like it was about to snap, especially when I was using the included pen. Even at more reasonable angles, applying pressure to the touch screen sometimes shifted the angle of the stand.
Between the Surface Pro, Spectre x2 and the Transformer Pro, the Spectre x2's metallic hinge and gold accents looked the most distinguished and offered the most stability at all angles.
Ports: A good variety
The top edge of the Transformer Pro houses a recessed power button, exhaust vents and a pair of microphones. On the left side, you'll find the microSD card slot, a volume rocker and a 3.5mm headphone jack, though I wish that Asus had opted for a full-sized SD card slot instead.
On the right, there is a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI connector, a USB-C 3.1 port and the DC charging jack. The Surface Pro is notably missing a USB-C port, while the Spectre x2 has one on both sides of the device, though without a USB 3.0 connection.
Display: Colorful, but not the brightest
The Transformer Pro's 12.5-inch display is very colorful, with a sharp 2160 x 1440-pixel resolution, but it could be brighter. Note that this panel has a 4:3 ratio, so you won't get the extra vertical reading space that you would with the Surface Pro and its 3:2 ratio. In theory, a 3:2 ratio, due to its wider screen real estate, is better for reading and composing print-type content, such as magazines, articles and documents.
When I viewed the trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes on this screen, I was pleased by the sharp details on Caesar's hardened scowl and the clarity of the surrounding forest. Both the fiery explosions and the snowy terrain popped, while colors across the entire spectrum appeared deep and vibrant.
The Transformer Pro's screen reproduced 133.7 percent of the color gamut, which is just behind the Surface Pro's 140 percent and well ahead of the Spectre x2's 123 percent. However, the Transformer Pro's Delta E color-accuracy score score of 5.67 (0 is perfect) was significantly worse than the Surface Pro's score of .5.
This panel doesn't exactly shine when it comes to brightness, as it reached only 233.6 nits. This showing falls far behind the x2's 365 nits and the Surface Pro's 396 nits.
The difference when looking at these devices side by side by side is noticeable, with both the Surface Pro and Spectre x2 showing more detail and higher levels of brightness than the Transformer Pro.
Keyboard and Touchpad: Could be sturdier
The slightly recessed keyboard on the Transformer Pro offered 1.5mm of key travel and required 71 grams of actuation. Those levels combined to provide an accurate but hollow typing experience. On the 10FastFingers typing test, I scored 57 words per minute with seven errors, missing my usual average of 65 words.
The key font is slightly italicized, which may divide consumers, but regardless, the typeset was large enough to read easily. There are also three levels of backlighting, which evenly illuminate each key individually.
The keyboard dock sits at a good angle with the screen and generally felt comfortable to type on, but there isn't anything supporting the underside of the deck, so you can feel it flex without applying too much pressure or if you hit the keys at the wrong angle. This is consistent with what I felt while typing on the Surface Pro's Alcantara Type cover, but the Spectre x2's metallic keyboard deck felt sturdier than both of them.
The glass-covered touchpad is centered on the keyboard deck and measures a reasonable 4.1 x 2.3 inches, which is larger than the Surface Pro's trackpad, but not as wide as the one found on the x2. The Transformer Pro's touchpad supported all of the Windows 10's multitouch gestures without any issues and tracked accurately throughout testing. A few times during my usage, however, these gestures just stopped working altogether or some of the function keys stopped responding.
Audio: Pleasantly loud
The Transformer Pro's dual Harman Kardon stereo speakers flank the device and had no trouble filling up a small apartment with sound, even before hitting the maximum volume. When I listened to A Lot Like Birds' heavily layered "Divisi," I found the sound muffled and bass-heavy. I switched gears to Julien Baker's "Blacktop," a softer acoustic album, but found the same lack of clarity.
After testing out some of the preset equalizers in the sound settings, I determined that the Treble and Soft presets worked best across the genres I played. Once I enabled these EQs, I was happy to hear the atmospheric waves of "Divisi" and the roaming vocals of Julien Baker return.
The Transformer Pro had no trouble driving any of my headphones through the 3.5mm headphone jack, so this 2-in-1 should handle most equipment without issue.
In addition to the Realtek audio settings for controlling the EQ, Asus includes software from ICE with dedicated sound profiles for movies, music, games, recording and speech, which all work as advertised.
Performance: Decent but falls behind other 2-in-1s
With a 7th-Gen i7 7500U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB M.2 SSD, our review unit showed no lag with 20+ tabs open in Chrome and music playing in the background, and while I was composing multiple documents. Still, this machine's performance benchmarks fall behind those of the competition.
The Transformer Pro earned a Geekbench 3 score of 7,964, which falls behind showings by the Surface Pro (8,879) and HP Spectre x2 (8,633), both of which are powered by Core i7 CPUs. The Surface Pro we tested had 16GB of RAM, while the Spectre had 8GB.
The Transformer Pro performed our OpenOffice test in 3 minutes and 42 seconds, which is close to the HP Spectre's 3 minutes and 33 seconds, but longer than the Surface Pro's time of 3 minutes and 13 seconds.
On our file-copy test, the Transformer Pro's SSD managed to hit only 142 MBps, which is much slower than both the Surface Pro's 339 MBps and the x2's 231.33 MBps.
The Transformer Pro comes with integrated HD 620 graphics, which is powerful enough for casual gaming, but nothing more serious. In our gaming test of DiRt 3, the Asus managed to score a respectable 63.11 frames per second while running at 1080p resolution.
Asus' machine didn't fare too well on other graphics tests. The system notched a score of 55,348 on Ice Storm Unlimited, a showing that pales in comparison to both the Spectre's x2's score of 92,759 and the Surface Pro's 109,678.
I did encounter one Blue Screen of Death during my testing, despite having just a few tabs open in Chrome. I checked the system's event log, and the problem appeared to be a result of a graphics-related bug check. Performance after the involuntary reboot resumed without issue.
Battery Life: Just OK
The Transformer Pro offers decent endurance for a 2-in-1 detachable, but it doesn't outlast the Surface Pro. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Asus ran for 5 hours and 57 minutes.
That's short of the run time of 7 hours and 30 minutes for the Surface Pro, but better than the 5:01 offered by the HP Spectre x2.
There are two cameras on the device, a front-facing 2-megapixel webcam and a rear 8-MP shooter. The slightly off-center webcam is better than average but still tints everything in a yellow tone. Details were relatively sharp, but even in our office lighting, there was a fair bit of artifacting near the edges of objects.
The 8-MP back camera is a nice addition for capturing notes or diagrams, though this slate's 12.5-inch size makes the Transformer Pro unwieldy for regular imaging use. The back camera offered better results than the webcam, with good detail and acceptable colors, but it still blew out some highlights.
Asus Pen: No Surface Pen killer
The included Asus Pen has a smooth metallic-matte finish that matches the Transformer's Pro aesthetic. There are two buttons on the side of the pen, but they don't support any of the shortcuts built into the Windows Pen settings panel. Instead, the bottom button functions as a toggle for the eraser, while the top works as alternate way to right-click.
With 1,024 levels of sensitivity, the Asus Pen tracks and writes well with the included Windows Ink Workspace apps. However, the Surface Pen offers four times the level of sensitivity along with tilt support, which comes in handy for shading. The Spectre x2's pen also sports only 1,024 pressure levels.
There is a metallic clip on the top of the pen, but strangely, there isn't a dedicated magnetic strip for the pen or a keyboard loop on the keyboard that came with our review unit. When the keyboard dock is fully closed, there are latches on either side of the magnetic connection to store the pen, but I discovered these only after looking in the manual. The Surface Pro's magnetic strip and the Spectre's pen loop both offer better storing solutions.
Heat: Runs pretty cool
In our tests, the Transformer Pro stayed cooler than its competition, hitting only 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the underside of the device after streaming video for 15 minutes, which comes in below our comfort threshold of 95-degrees. That's cooler than the Surface Pro's 98 degrees and the Spectre x2's 95 degrees
Software and Warranty: Splendid Utility is best
The Transformer Pro runs a mostly clean version of Windows 10 Home with only a few preinstalled apps such as Candy Crush Saga, Facebook and Netflix. Like most other Windows 10 devices, this machine has advertisements for other games in the Start Menu, but those can easily be removed.
Asus includes a few other utilities, such as ZenLink, a Google Drive-esque program, but Splendid Utility is the only potentially useful tool. This app lets you set up different display profiles, such as one for vivid color or another called EyeCare, which makes the screen less harmful to use in low light.
Asus offers a standard 12-month warranty for parts, assuming you didn't damage or upgrade the machine in any way, with any new parts extending up to three months after that.
Configurations: Good on value
The Transformer Book Pro that we reviewed retails at $969 on Newegg, and this is the only configuration available to purchase from the site or from other mainstream retailers, such as Best Buy and Amazon.
Still, the $969 config we tested is remarkably good, as it undercuts the similarly configured x2's $1,299 price by $300 and the Surface Pro, which has similar specs, by a whopping $859.
Bottom Line: A good, cheap Surface alternative
Most highly portable detachables on the market struggle to distinguish themselves from the pack. The Transformer Pro's best feature is its price. For hundreds less than other premium 2-in-1s, you get a vibrant screen, good build quality and enjoyable audio performance. However this tablet's performance (especially the SSD) and battery life fall a bit short.
The Surface Pro costs a lot more after factoring in the cost of Microsoft's keyboard and the Surface Pen, but it does offer superior performance, longer endurance and a better pen. A similarly specced HP Spectre x2 at $1,229 is faster than the Asus and sports a more elegant and sturdier design, though it lasts an hour less on a charge than the Transformer Pro.
Overall, the Transformer Pro's decent performance, USB-C port and good portability should appeal to students and professionals who want a cheaper alternative to the Surface.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag