Dec 8, 2013
I’ve been talking about the promise of upcoming Bay Trail -based tablets for some time. Well, I finally got my hands on one and have been using it for about a week: it’s the Asus Transformer Book T100.
The results are game changing. This is a near-full-powered Windows tablet/laptop with the size, weight, and battery life of an iPad. I finally feel like I can get the true tablet experience without compromising significantly on Windows performance. And that’s important when using the MYN productivity system, since many people want tablet options for going mobile with desktop Outlook and other productivity applications.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is not a desktop replacement. The small keyboard will prevent high-speed typing. The small screen, limited RAM, limited file storage, and modest processor speed all will slow down high-end graphics work, video work, or other intensive work. In other words, you’ll also want to have a larger and better laptop for mobile work like that. But for “normal” work, this computer could be all you’ll need; granted it’s small, but many of you will use it all day as a laptop without complaining.
The Atom Advantage
Some background before talking about its features. This computer has an Atom chip, and those chips in general are important because they can run all Windows desktop software; they are not limited to just Office software like the Windows RT based Surface RT and Surface 2. All through 2013 I often used an Atom-based tablet (the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2) and I was pretty happy with it using a wide range of tablet and desktop software. But I did find it a bit sluggish sometimes, especially when using desktop Outlook. It was usable in a pinch to do some Outlook mail and task functions, but the slow speed got a bit frustrating after 20 minutes of Outlook use. I’d switch to my laptop at that point.
The Bay Trail Atom Advantage
The new Bay Trail Atom chip in this Asus T100 (and more tablets soon) solves that. It runs much faster than the older Atom chips—as fast as some current laptops—and still allows the true tablet experience of small size and weight, and all-day battery life. The small screen and keyboard are still a bit limiting—Outlook needs some tweaking to use comfortably on such a small screen (I’ll write up what those tweaks are in a separate blog). But once adjusted, Outlook is quite usable for long periods of time, with no apparent speed limits.
You’ll notice a lot of other speed improvements over the older Atom tablets as well. For example, web pages load noticeably faster. And even Windows Speech Recognition works fine (with a bit of training); I dictated this blog using the built-in speech recognition software (with a headset).
Great Pricing for a Windows Tablet
Intel has been predicting that very low-cost tablets would come out soon as a result of Bay Trail. This Asus tablet, which by the way is the first 10-inch tablet to use Bay Trail, has an excellent price point for a Windows tablet: the 64 GB version is $399 (discounted to as low as $299 at times) and that price includes a matching keyboard dock. I discussed the implications of that pricing here. I suspect even lower-priced 10-inch Bay Trail tablets will come out in the months ahead.
Asus T100 Hands-On Thoughts
Because this is the only 10-inch Bay Trail available now, you might be thinking about getting one. So here are some observations about this particular tablet, after using it for a week.
- The included removable clamshell keyboard “dock” works well. The docking hinge is sturdy and well designed, and I find I am liking the clamshell experience much more than the other ways tablets typically attach keyboards. I talked about the advantages of a clamshell design on a tablet here, but to summarize: you don’t need a stand or prop to keep the tablet up; you can put it on your lap and type with it; you can set the tilt at nearly any angle; and when closed it protects the screen—no cover is needed. There are disadvantages though (read on).
- The overall build is pretty good for a low-priced tablet or laptop. The keyboard feels a bit inexpensive, but it has very little flex, and I can type quite well on it. The tablet itself feels very high quality.
- The weight of the tablet itself is excellent. It’s only 1.2 pounds and so easily held with one hand while reading a Kindle book for example. That low weight is a big deal and a major factor making this a true tablet.
- The weight of the keyboard is too heavy, though, at 1.2 pounds. I understand Asus added weight to the keyboard so that the unit would not tip over when using it like a laptop. However, it causes the total weight to be a bit high (2.4 pounds) compared with a Surface 2 with keyboard (2.0 pounds). You could say this is the primary disadvantage of a clamshell design. But the keyboard weight is OK with me; my main concern is how heavy the tablet itself is, and as I said this tablet passes the one-handed-use test with flying colors.
- The tablet is not as thin as my newer iPad or my Lenovo. It’s about the thickness of a second-generation iPad. The keyboard is not thin either. So when you fold the tablet and keyboard up together, the pair is 0.80 inches thick—we’ve all seen thinner laptops. To be fair though, if you add a protective case to an iPad, you’ll usually get the same or greater bulk.
- Some reviewers say the track pad is too small. I found the track pad size was fine compared to other small keyboards–it’s almost identical in size to the Surface track pad. However, I don’t like the track pad buttons because they are stiff and noisy. But they are usable—and I tend to use taps for clicks anyway. Two-finger scroll on the tack pad sort of works, but you need to push a bit hard and it sputters out at times. Other standard track pad gestures are built in too.
- No active digitizer pen is possible with this tablet. (I’d expect a much higher price point for that to be possible).
- I did not test the rated 11-hr battery life, but other reviewers did (listed below), and apparently that’s an accurate number. Some got up to 12 hours. This is another key measure for a true tablet.
- The screen is excellent. It’s crisp, highly readable, and plenty bright for indoor use. It’s OK outdoors but not great brightness-wise in the sun. Some people wonder if the 1368 by 768 screen resolution should be higher, given the trend these days. However, I’m not a fan of using high resolutions on small Windows tablets because it makes the controls on desktop software way too small—I wouldn’t want them any smaller than they are on this tablet. The use of an IPS screen means it has good viewing angles, but I found it darkens slightly at angles (compared to my Lenovo tablet, which has no change with angle).
- Speakers are surprisingly loud.
- Be sure to buy this unit from a store that has a generous return policy, because multiple reviewers have found it has a high defect rate, particularly in the keyboard. Sure enough, mine came with a broken Delete key. The replacement unit was fine.
- Reviewers have reported that a number of issues (crashing, freezing, etc.) will come up if you skip any of the following out-of-the-box prep steps: After getting the unit, charge it for 8 hours before using it on battery alone. Before installing software or using it extensively do a Windows update and then run Asus Live Update (which today will lead to some driver updates and a BIOS update). I did all those and had no subsequent problems.
- After you get one, if you have any questions, there is a good users’ forum here.
- As of today’s writing (Dec 8) the 64GB version of this computer is sold out in most places. I found Walmart has them in some stores—do an online inventory locator first.
In my first article on this tablet, I listed a few other reviews you may want to read, some with even more detail. Here they are again:
- For a quick overview, see this CNET article: http://reviews.cnet.com/tablets/asus-transformer-book-t100/4505-3126_7-35827544.html
- Medium length, more detailed review: http://www.trustedreviews.com/asus-transformer-book-t100_Tablet_review
- And here is a very in-depth technical review: http://techreport.com/review/25537/asus-transformer-book-t100-convertible-notebook-reviewed
All in all, I am pretty happy with this tablet, especially at this price. It really showcases the power and value of Bay Trail for providing a mobile productivity solution. Its light weight and long battery life provide the critical true-tablet credentials I’ve come to expect, but in a full Windows tablet—and at an excellent price point.
That said, this is the very first 10-inch Bay Trail tablet on the market, so I wouldn’t be surprised if thinner, lighter, and even better 10-inch Bay Trail tablets follow right behind it. I eagerly await the first Bay Trail with a Wacom digitizer pen for example—that’s why I am eager to see what Lenovo does when it releases its Bay Trail update to the ThinkPad Tablet 2 (something only rumored at this point). How about Sony? To date all their tablets are high quality, but they are Intel Core-based ones (Surface Pro competitors) and so they are heavy and with relatively short battery life. How about Acer? Samsung? It will be exciting to watch the way various vendors roll out these truly usable PC-tablet combinations—all made possible with these new Bay Trail chips