2-in-1 laptops have come a long way over the last few years from their bulky and clunky methods used to transform predecessors. Lenovo has perfected it’s back flipping notebook with the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, sporting watchband hinges that practically blend in with the rest of the laptop’s chassis. Likewise, Microsoft finally hammered out nearly all of the kinks out of its laptop-tablet concept with the Surface Pro 3.
Now, Asus attempts to one up everyone with the Transformer Book T300 Chi, one of the thinnest 2-in-1 machines ever created. Like the Surface Pro 3, this machine’s guts are stashed behind the screen, which lifts away from a Bluetooth keyboard base to be a standalone tablet. But by going with a fanless Intel Core M setup, Asus has brought us a convertible laptop that’s even thinner than some tablets.
Don’t mistake this machine’s svelte profile for lightweight performance, though. This machine can run with the best of them, but it might be best suited for media lovers.
Right off the bat, the one crucial thing the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi gets right is that it looks and feels like a traditional laptop. Most hybrids are heavy and lopsided, putting most of the components behind the display. The T300 Chi, on the other hand, feels well balanced despite the tablet portion being just a few fractions of a millimeter thicker and ounces heavier than its keyboard base.
Beyond aesthetics, using the T300 Chi feels as natural as any laptop. You can easily place it on your lap and type away a document without worrying about it teetering backwards from the extra weight of the screen. Plus, it folds into a thin 0.65-inch (16 mm) package with the thickness of the tablet and keyboard combined.
To get the Transformer Book T300 Chi to such a thin profile, Asus used rare earth magnets to keep the laptops two distinct parts together. By doing so, Asus was able to avoid the bulky locking mechanisms that have plagued other machines, such as the Toshiba Satellite Click 2.
Although the Transformer Book’s tablet and keyboard sections aren’t locked together with a hard connection, the magnets feel more than secure. I can easily lift the laptop by the keyboard, turn it upside down and shake it without worry about the screen slipping off and crashing onto the ground – in case you ever happen to do that.
That’s not to say they’re inseparable, either. With a quick tug, you can pull the screen away from the keyboard base. Slipping the display back on is fairly simple, but I often have to look behind the hinge to make sure I’m lined up correctly and to check whether the top portion of the machine is fully seated.
The whole laptop itself is pretty snazzy, too. It’s made entirely out of aluminum anodized with a sparkling deep blue finish. The machine also has chamfered, "diamond cut" edges galore on the outside edge of the keyboard deck, the inside track around the trackpad and around the perimeter of the screen lid. They’re a nice touch, especially for resting my wrists on a softer front edge of the palm rest.
Living in a micro world
Of course, going with such a thin form factor also introduces compromises, and Asus’s latest Transformer Book suffers from a case of having only micro size ports. Around the perimeter of the screen, you’ll find a micro USB 3.0 port, micro HDMI and a microSD card slot on the bottom edge – even the Bluetooth keyboard features a mini USB charging port.
If you’re planning on plugging in anything into this laptop from USB drives to a monitor, be prepared to bring along an adapter or some extra cables. Luckily, Asus includes a mini USB 2.0 to the full-size port adapter, so users won’t be left up the creek without a paddle. However, if you want to fully utilize the T300′s USB 3.0 port, you’ll need to purchase a $29 (about £19, AU$37) micro USB 3.0 dongle from Asus or look for a third party solution.
Whereas both Asus’s previous Transformer Book Duet and TX300 felt unwieldy as tablets, the T300 Chi is perfectly lightweight at just 1.58 pounds (720 g). It’s noticeably lighter compared to the 1.76-pound (798 g) Surface Pro 3. However, attaching the Bluetooth-connected keyboard brings up the total weight of this unit to a less impressive 3.14 pounds (1,430 g), which puts it well behind the 2.62-pound (1,188 g) Surface Pro 3 with its keyboard cover.
Similarly, Asus’ transforming tablet by itself is a bit thinner, measuring 0.28-inches versus Microsoft’s 0.36-inch thick unit. Add in the keyboard, and T300 Chi’s dimensions bump up to 12.5 x 7.5 x 0.65 inches (317 x 191 x 16 mm), making it just a bit bigger the Surface Pro 3, which measures in at 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches (292 x 201 x 9 mm).
Comparatively, the Yoga 3 Pro tips the scales at 2.62 pounds (1,188 g) and measures 13 x 9 x 0.5 inches (330 x 228 x 12 mm). This places the Lenovo as being a just slightly lighter machine than the Transformer Book, if a bit bulkier than it and Microsoft’s tablet-laptop.
Here is the Transformer Book T300 Chi configuration given to TechRadar for review:
- CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core M 5Y71 processor (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 2.9GHz with turbo boost)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300
- RAM: 8GB DDR3L (1600MHz)
- Screen: 12.5-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 (WQHD) capacitive multi-touch IPS display
- Storage: 128GB SSD
- Ports: micro USB 3.0, mini HDMI, microSD card reader, headphone/mic combo jack
- Connectivity: Intel Dual Band Wireless-N 7265 + Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- Camera: 2MP 720p webcam
- Weight: 3.14 pounds (1430g)
- Size: 12.5 x 7.5 x 0.65 inches (W x D x H) (317 x 191 x 16 mm)
For $899 (about £601, AU$1,156), the Transformer Book T300 Chi comes rather well equipped with the exception of the paltry 128GB of SSD storage. Sadly there’s no way of increasing the onboard storage (either with Asus or doing it yourself), but one solution is to buy a microSD card and have it slotted in at all times. If the WQHD model is too rich for your blood, Asus also plans to release a lower-end 1080p model for $699 (about £458, AU$905) equipped with a slower Intel Core M 5Y10 and 4GB of RAM instead.
Alternatively, for $999 (£769, AU$979) you could get the Surface Pro 3 outfitted with a headier 1.9GHz Intel Core i5 chip, 128GB SSD, but only 4GB of RAM. Keep in mind that the all-important Type Cover is sold separately as a $129 (£109, AU$149) accessory. If you’re looking to stick to a budget under 1,000 smackers, the Surface Pro 3 is also available with a Core i3 CPU and 64GB of storage for $799 (£579, AU$1,209).
Meanwhile, the Lenovo comes at a higher $1,299 (£999, AU$2,099) premium, sporting the same Intel Core M-5Y71 processor. While you’ll be paying more for the same amount of computing power, the Yoga Pro 3 comes with a few advantages, including 256GB of SSD storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a higher resolution 3,200 x 1,800 display.
The Asus T300 Chi handily kept up with every task I threw at it, whether it was editing some images in Lightroom or streaming a 4K video on YouTube. What’s more, thanks to being designed as a tablet and laptop in tandem, I was able to quickly go from watching a Netflix movie to typing up a quick document, and then pulling the screen off its base for a quick round of Hearthstone (which happens to run beautifully on medium settings, in case you were curious).
Here’s how the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi fared in our benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 4,583; Sky Diver: 1,965; Fire Strike: 516
- Cinebench CPU: 245 points; Graphics: 24.65 fps
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,273 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 37 minutes
Intel’s Core M chipset is really starting to come into its own after a troubling start with the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. Just looking at the Transformer Book’s higher 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark score – 1,965 points to the Yoga’s 1,406 – you can see it’s a much better suited at running games on medium to low settings than the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. The T300 Chi even pulls ahead of the Lenovo with a better PCMark 8 score – 2,273 points to the Yoga’s 2,165 – despite running the same processor.
Unsurprisingly, Asus’s latest hybrid machine also trounces Surface Pro 3, which is powered by a Core i5 processor from fall 2013, in almost every test stressing both the CPU and graphics chip. While Microsoft’s hybrid baby comes packing a faster Core i5 processor, its GPU is older and less capable compared to the Intel HD 5300 graphics inside the Asus. The Surface Pro 3 is by no means a dinosaur yet, but to see Asus pack even more performance into a smaller package makes it clear that the bar has been raised.
Look mom, no screen
One of the biggest defining features about the T300 Chi is that it comes with a real keyboard that can split away from the main unit. The detachable keyboard opens up a whole new avenue of use cases, because it can be used even when not attached, thanks to the Bluetooth connection and it having its own battery.
For example, I stood the tablet up vertically against my bag while at a café to work on a long word document. I only wished the tablet came with a stand of some sort to make propping up the tablet more practical and stable.
The keyboard itself is excellent, with tactile and clicky keys and a solid base that shows minimal flex despite being so thin. The trackpad, on the other hand, feels annoyingly sticky but it’s still serviceable enough. Plus, there’s always the option of tapping around with the touchscreen.
Asus promises the keyboard on its own will have 84 hours of use or a week on standby time. Sadly, though, the tablet end of this device can’t siphon power from Bluetooth accessory, because the battery life could use a pick-me-up.
A bit less than advertised
Asus advertised the T300 Chi with an eight-hour battery life. In my own testing, however, I found it to about half or even less than the projected numbers. The PCMark 8 home battery test, which runs a string of simulated tasks from video calls to web browsing, yielded a battery life of 3 hours and 37 minutes.
In my own test, the T300 Chi’s runtime extended to 4 hours and 42 minutes with a mix of web browsing, streaming Netflix for an hour, playing some Hearthstone, playing Google Music over the speakers set to 20% and keeping the display to 50% brightness. With just simple web browsing and word processing, I could see battery life extending to just shy of six hours. This is a machine that can definitely hoof it on its own, but you should remember to pack the charger nonetheless.
Compared to the Surface Pro 3′s maximum battery life of four hours, the Transformer Book is in the lead again. The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro manages to squeeze out a bit more juice lasting for just over seven hours in our tests
The WQHD, or 2,560 x 1,440, resolution display on the T300 Chi is magnificent. Everything you look at on this display is stunningly sharp and clear with great contrast to boot. If you’re a fan of long vistas or looking at any type of color photography and video, this screen will make it sparkle into life.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed with the side firing speakers. They’re, as expected on such a thin and light machine, underpowered and tinny sounding. One nice thing about them is they can get very loud, filing a room with the booming explosions from the latest RoboCop movie. (Though not quite doing them justice.)
For production means, I would say this panel a bit too color rich, as reds can look completely overblown and meld into themselves. There’s always the option of diving head first into Asus’s Splendid utility to fully manage your display options, but you’ll never be able to fix the screen’s other issue: glare.
The T300 Chi’s display panel very reflective, which could prove problematic if you take this machine out to coffee shops. Still, the glossy finish is something I’ve grown accustomed to with touchscreen devices, such as the Dell XPS 11.
The T300 Chi comes heavily loaded with bloatware. All the usual suspects are here, including MacAfee LiveSafe, Line, Music Maker Jam, Wild Tangent Games and Zinio. That said, there are a few applications you’ll actually want to keep around.
Asus Splendid Utility: A little software tool for quickly optimizing your viewing experience with different levels for color saturation. It includes a few pre-built modes including Normal, Eye Care and Vivid. Manual mode is also available for complete customization including color gamut, skin tones, sharpness, contrast, and color temperature.
AudioWizard – ASUS software designed to enhance every audio experience. AudioWizard offers five intuitive presets: Music, Movie, Recording, Gaming, and Speech Mode.
Asus has refined its old and heavy Transformer Book series into something far more elegant and light with the T300 Chi. The use of a magnetic latch and hinge is a unique choice in the 2-in-1 laptops world, allowing Asus to create a Windows 8.1 slate that’s even thinner than some tablets.
At the same time, to get to such a thin form factor, Asus has made more than a few compromises with non-standard ports and truncated battery life. Despite these shortcomings, the Transformer Book T300 Chi is a great little all-in-one that’s perfect for media lovers.
The Transformer Book T300 Chi is one of the first laptops to finally get the hybrid form factor right. Thanks to the use of a magnet latching system and Intel’s fanless Core M processor, Asus has been able to produce a lighter tablet-laptop hybrid that’s thin to boot.
The detachable Bluetooth keyboard also opens up a few alternative ways to use the device. Over the last few weeks, I propped up the screen while I used the keyboard as a remote for Netflix and stood the screen on its side, using it as a makeshift vertical screen. The best thing about all this is it’s entirely seamless, letting you easily switch between tablet and laptop modes with ease.
There are a few things Asus didn’t get right in this go around with the T300 Chi, namely the micro-sized ports. It has helped Asus shave down it’s latest Transformer Book into a much more svelte profile, but you’ll need to carry around a set of cables and adapters to plug in something as simple as a USB drive.
At the same time, battery life is limited to an average five hours, maxing out at six at best. If you were looking for a device that’ll last for a globetrotting plane trip, you would be better served with a tablet or a Chromebook for work.
Unlike the Surface Pro 3 and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi feels much more like a machine destined for multimedia consumption, which it excels at. It’s comes with a colorful, 16:9 display to kick back with and watch some movies streaming from Netflix.
At the same time, this is a pretty good device to read comics and books through the Kindle app, even if the app has not been optimized for high-resolution screens. It was also a pleasure having a beyond-HD touchscreen to play Hearthstone with.
For work, though, it falters behind the Yoga Pro 3 with a shorter battery life and a keyboard that’s great, but not as good as Lenovo’s mastered AccuType keys. Likewise, the Surface Pro 3 offers a 4:3 resolution screen that’s much better suited for productivity and color accurate for photography work. If what you seek is a premium machine that’ll stream anything from movies to games, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi has your number.