Going to a level above the 'phablet', ASUS have now come up with a product that could be considered to be both a notebook and a tablet. The product currently in for review is what ASUS claim to be the World's first notebook with a detachable screen - the ASUS Transformer Book TX300. It offers a 13.3" Full HD display with a hefty specification including an i7 processor, dual storage in the shape of a 128GB SSD and a 500GB HDD and 4GB RAM. As with the 'phablet', whether this device will satisfy both tablet fans or the notebook users remains to be seen. With a hefty price tag of around £1500 it certainly has a lot to prove, let's find out if it delivers.
Design and Connections
ASUS claim this is the World's thinnest Windows 8 tablet and with a thickness of 10.5mm it initially appears that way, although ASUS have clearly forgotten about their own VivoTab Windows 8 tablet which beats this with a thickness of just 9.7mm. Incorrect claims aside they have clearly tried to keep the tablet as thin as they possibly can whilst still incorporating all the goodies inside. With a weight of 978g it is a hefty device to hold and is by far the heaviest tablet we have reviewed to date, but of course it is also the largest with the 13.3" screen and a body that measures 340 x 213mm. Unless you have arms like Popeye, one handed operation may become far too uncomfortable, but supported by both hands the weight shouldn't be too much of an issue. Moving on to the keyboard, this comes in at 945g with a thickness of just 12.9mm and measuring 340 x 219mm. That sounds heavy but the keyboard does have it's own battery together with a separate hard drive.
Overall the Transformer Book has a very impressive design and striking looks, especially from the back panel of the screen. The build quality is also impressive with a strong connection between the screen and keyboard and a firm hinge design. They have also got the balance almost spot on even with the large screen size and on a solid surface you don't get the feeling that it will tip over at any moment, although on a soft surface it does lift up slightly. The connections are also very secure and another impressive addition is the use of a magnetic power connection. A feature that Apple laptop users will be very familiar with, it removes the risk of tripping over the power cable and dragging £1500 of electronics crashing down onto the floor as the connection will just pop out safely. Of course you'll still trip over the cable but at least your pricey piece of kit will stay where it is!
Being so thin and with the detachable screen you may expect to sacrifice a few connections, but ASUS have squeezed quite a lot into a small area on both the screen and keyboard. Starting with the detachable touch panel we get a MicroSD card slot to the bottom, headphone and Micro HDMI port on the left hand side along with the volume control and the power button to the top. Now onto the keyboard dock, on the left side we have the magnetic power connector and a SD and SDHC memory card reader and on the right side we have an R45 LAN port, 2 x USB 3.0 ports and a Mini Display port. So as you can see quite an impressive array of connectivity options available for such a thin device.
The specification is impressive, but when you are looking at spending £1,500 you would expect it to be. We have a 13.3" IPS panel (1920 x 1080) Full HD display, Intel Dual-Core i7 3517U Ivybridge processor (not the latest Haswell sadly) running at 1.9Ghz-3Ghz and 4GB DDR3 1600 MHz SDRAM. Storage is impressive with both the touch panel and the keyboard dock having their own drives. In the touch panel we get a Sandisk U100 128GB SSD and in the dock we have a Hitachi 5400RPM 500GB HDD. No dedicated graphics here, these are provided by the i7 chip with the Intel HD4000 onboard graphics.
The Sandisk U100 128GB SSD drive in the detachable touch panel offers quoted speeds of up to 450MB/s Read and 350 MB/s write. The formatted space being 117GB which leaves you about 83GB of usable space and given that due to the limited graphics power you probably won't be filling it with high end games that take up a ton of space, it should mean storage won't be an issue. Using ATTO disk benchmark we saw the SSD give very impressive results with the read speed of 482MB/s and 320MB/s for the write, well above the quoted speeds. The 500GB HDD is divided into two 222GB partitions, with strangely different speeds seen in our ATTO test of 108MB/s for the D partition and a slightly lower 86MB/s for the E partition.
Using Bootracer 4.0 the boot to desktop time result was 23 seconds. An impressive result in line with our expectations given the good benchmarked speed tests of the SSD. Using a stopwatch and manually timing it we get even better results. From a cold boot, the time from pressing the power button to getting to the Metro splash screen is just 12.7 seconds, this increases to a still impressive time of 15.8 seconds when the touch panel is detached. As you would expect when put in standby mode the power on time is almost instant. Other specifications of note are a front facing HD web camera (a 5MP rear camera is an optional extra), 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth 4.0.
The screen here is a 13.3" Full HD 1920 x 1080 IPS panel display. This gives a pixel density of approximately 165 PPI (pixels per inch). Not in the same league as the 13" retina display on Apple's MacBook pro of 227 PPI but gives an almost identical PPI to the HD screens on Sony's Vaio 13" Ultrabook and other similarly sized HD ultrabooks. As a tablet screen this is obviously not on par with the smaller screen sized retina display of the Apple iPad but above the likes of the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 display. As to the screen itself the glass is edge to edge which does make it prone to finger prints, although these are easily wiped off. The display is clear, has strong and vibrant colours and excellent viewing angles thanks to the IPS panel. Text is easy to read although the brightness of the screen itself is rather low. Even on maximum brightness it just seems a tad too dark for our liking. Using Passmark's Monitor Test program the screen performed well in all the tests and we found no backlight bleeding or any stuck pixels. Due to the size of the screen for general web browsing, portrait modes seems to fit best.
As with our previous review of the Gigabyte Ultrabook it is good to see another manufacturer not filling their system with endless bloatware. Apart from the standard Windows 8 installation, the only additional pre-installed software here is a 30 day trial version of McAfee Internet Security and a couple of ASUS programs such as ASUS Live Update for keeping the system and drivers up to date and programs to alter the display colour temperature and the onboard sound settings. Lastly we have the Wild Tangent gaming app which gives you access to games such as Bejewelled 3, which are free to play, if you can put up with the adverts of course.
Similar to our findings with the recent ASUS Vivotab Windows 8 tablet reviewed here we do find Windows 8 as a touch screen OS extremely irritating which is confusing as touch screen use is exactly what it was apparently designed for. It is lacking in so many areas compared to the likes of Android and iOS and even for very basic of tasks it's just not intuitive at all. For example, you are on a web page and need to enter text, you click on the text box and normally on iOS or Android the keyboard would appear. On Windows 8 you get no such luck, you have to manually bring up the keyboard, enter the text, then manually close when you are finished. There are also tasks that are so easy to perform with a keyboard attached that when you try it by touch alone you are left wanting to throw it out of the window. Hopefully the upcoming Windows 8.1 update will remove a lot of our gripes. We also found the touchpad to be disappointing. It is far too intermittent in its response and can be quite frustrating at times.
Despite claims to the contrary from both the printed and e-manual that came with the device there are actually only two speakers, not four. We initially thought we had a faulty device but after downloading the very latest manual from ASUS it confirmed our suspicions. Where in the previous manual it stated the two grilles on the back were both speakers, in the most recent manual revision one of these has now been changed to just an air vent and the speaker in the keyboard dock has been removed altogether. The only speakers that appear to be present are a pair of stereo speakers located to the right hand side of the screen when in landscape mode. This is fine when using the screen in portrait mode, but does give a rather odd effect when in landscape mode with all the sound coming from one end. Quite why ASUS have changed this is anyone's guess with conflicting information remaining even on their own website. Not particularly impressive for £1500!
Our normal routine is to benchmark under mains power as this usually yields the best results but with the Transformer Book we found it to be the complete opposite. All of the tests were performed under battery power with any power saving settings disabled. Whilst changing no settings at all, purely plugging in the mains power cable we saw a drastic reduction in performance. In our Cinebench (Open GL), 3D Mark 11 and Unigine benchmarks we saw drops over 50% and in our Cinebench (CPU), PC Mark 7 and Passmark Performance benchmarks we saw drops of around 10%. Under mains power the system graphics performance is crippled with also a slight drop off on the CPU power. Also, if you are using it under battery power, which going by these results is highly recommended, make sure you disable the Scenario Power Saving feature (found by pressing the blue key on the top right of the keyboard) as with this enabled you will also see a big drop in performance.
Temperatures and Noise
The HWMonitor screenshot above shows the maximum temperatures the various system components reached during our testing session. The CPU temperatures at idle are about 38°C whilst under test conditions reached a maximum of 80°C. These temperatures are in line with other laptops we have reviewed and the system coped with whatever we threw at it with no crashes or freezing. The overall system noise is very quiet indeed with only a very slight fan noise coming from the screen. The noise is not an issue here at all, although if you are used to a normal tablet that is completely silent, the Transformer Book in tablet mode might take a bit of getting used to.
- Fully detachable screen
- Good build quality
- Fast 128GB SSD
- Dual storage with 500GB HDD
- Poor touch pad
- Only two speakers
- Speakers not in the best position for landscape use
Asus Transformer Book TX300 Review
The Transformer Book TX300 is essentially two products in one, so starting with the tablet you get a device with a large 13.3" Full HD (1920 x 1080) well performing screen, albeit not in the same class as Apple's Retina displays. There's also better than average on board audio and good connectivity options including a Micro SD port and a Mini HDMI connection. From the perspective of a Laptop/Ultrabook, you get a very thin and lightweight device with all the connectivity you could need, plenty of storage and a reasonable battery life. Combine both and with the specification that includes an Intel Dual-Core i7 3517U (actually the previous generation Ivybridge) processor, 4GB RAM and a fast 128GB SSD and 500GB HDD it should all add up to a very attractive package.
The well known phrase that starts "a jack of all trades" does tend to apply here as even though you essentially are getting both a laptop and tablet in one device it doesn't offer the best of both compared to individual alternatives. There are more cost effective options if you can manage two devices. For example the Acer 13" Ultrabook has a similar specification from a laptop point of view and comes in at just £600. Then that leaves you with a hefty chunk of cash leftover compared to the Transformer Book to get whatever tablet takes your fancy. But ASUS are clearly aiming this at consumers that like to have multi-use devices or are just early adopters. The positives are obvious, with a smart and great looking high-end design and of course a two-in-one device with a good set of specifications.
However there are also a number of negatives, firstly the touchpad isn't the most responsive and can be frustrating to use on a regular basis. Then you have the issue with the onboard speakers which, as described in detail in the main review, are perhaps the result of a very late design change. It would seem that ASUS have altered the Transformer Book from having 4 speakers to just 2 and they also appear to have changed their positions on the screen. Even the manual that comes with the Transformer Book still shows the intended layout prior to the changes. Another issue is having to use Windows 8 as purely a touch screen operating system. Windows 8 is great for a touch screen Ultrabook but once you take away the physical keyboard, it becomes a very frustrating system to use on a tablet. Even the most basic of tasks that you will be so used to on an iPad or an Android based device become long winded and a chore with Windows 8.
With the Transformer Book TX300, ASUS have certainly made a decent effort with what is currently the only 13.3" Laptop/Ultrabook with a detachable touchscreen display on the market. Unfortunately they've also lumbered it with a very hefty price tag and even taking into account that you are getting two devices in one, £1,500 is just far too expensive. With a bit of shopping around that £1,500 can be lowered to around £1,050-£1,200 from various e-tailers, but even at those lower prices it steel feels just too expensive for what you're getting, which makes it difficult to recommend.
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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