A long time ago in Techland, Netbooks were a big deal: they were cheap, portable, and effective, if unexciting. Then came tablets, which could do a lot of the same things, but in a more organic, touch-controlled way.
Windows 8 has attempted to redefine small-form-factor computing. but the humble Netbook has been left behind in favor of tablets that flip and dock into hybrid computers. The Asus Transformer Book T100 has arrived to be your possible savior: it is the closest thing we have to a New Netbook, with a similarly small 10-inch screen and cramped-but-cozy keyboard, but it also happens to have a detachable top half that becomes a Windows 8 tablet. And, it's under $400: $379, or even less at some places.
Full Windows 8 PCs running newer Intel Atom processors and costing around $400 have been here for the last year, but here's why the T100 is special: it has a newer Bay Trail Atom processor that's faster and offers far better battery life, and the overall shape and design is a lot like the Asus Transformer Android keyboarded tablets, which we've always been fond of. A Transformer that runs full Windows? What can possibly be bad about that?
Keep in mind there are other values in the Windows 8 landscape, too, largely thanks to Bay Trail: the new Dell Venue 8 Pro actually costs $100 less, and has a great feel, but, it's only an 8-inch tablet. Also, it only has 32GB of SSD storage, and doesn't come with a keyboard. The Transformer Book T100 has more storage and that keyboard (but a 32GB SSD model is also on sale at many retail channels, so make sure you notice that before pulling the trigger on what you think is a better value).
|Asus Transformer Book T100||Dell Venue 8 Pro||Acer Iconia W3|
|Display size/resolution||10.1-inch, 1,366 x 768 touch screen||8.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 touch screen||8.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 touch screen|
|PC CPU||1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3740||1.3GHz Intel Atom3740D||1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760|
|PC memory||2,948MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz||2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz||2,948MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Graphics||32GB Intel HD Graphics||32GB Intel HD Graphics||Intel GMA 1003MB shared|
|Storage||64GB SSD hard drive||32GB SSD hard drive||64GB SSD hard drive|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (32-bit)||Windows 8 (32-bit)||Windows 8 (32-bit)|
Windows 8: Has it found the perfect device?
The T100 feels like a laptop first and tablet second, but that's not so bad at all: I typed a good chunk of this review on my train rides home and tucked in on my lap, and it worked quite well. If you've ever worked on a Netbook, you know how it feels.
And that's the bad part, I guess: this feels like a Netbook. Cramped keyboard, but a solidly performing one: its size and key travel reminded me of many recent iPad Bluetooth keyboard accessories. The touch pad below's nothing special, but it's roughly the size of the one on the Surface Type Cover, is clickable, and does the job.
To detach the top half, you click a button right above the keyboard and pull it off the mechanical latch. Afterwards, snap it back in, much like the HP Envy x2 and others. It's a seamless swap.
The keyboard bottom half has its own USB 3.0 port --- a benefit of upgrading to a Bay Trail processor -- but the rest of the ports (and the headphone jack) are on the tablet top half.
I'm not going to sugar-coat this. The keyboard, while functional, is cramped and plastic-feeling. The touch pad is small. The chassis feels like a ticket to Glossy PlasticLand. The tablet's 1,366x768-pixel touch display is effective, but not particularly bright. It all resembles, very much, that good old Netbook Asus used to make not too long ago.
The keyboard is also on a permanent riser, because the tablet top half docks in a way that makes the whole bottom elevate when opened. I'm used to flatter keyboards, so it threw me off.
I typed back and forth among the Transformer Book T100, an iPad Air plugged into a Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case, and an HP Chromebook 11. The Chromebook had the best keyboard, followed by the iPad with Belkin case. The Transformer Book brings up the rear. But once you get used to the keys, it gets better.
As a tablet, the T100 is fine, but it's thicker and bigger than your average iPad or Android tablet, or even a Surface 2. It's not too heavy to hold, but it doesn't feel designed to be an excellent standalone tablet: it feels more like the floating back lid of a laptop that's still searching for its base. It's good, and I could definitely see myself using it casually on a sofa, but I wouldn't feel compelled to take the tablet on its own for a day without that keyboard. One thing that threw me off a bit was the Windows "home" button: instead of touching the Windows icon just below the display (which does nothing), you have to click the lower left button on the side of the tablet.
With the keyboard and tablet together, the Transformer Book weighs 2.4 pounds, an acceptable if slightly chunky number for a 10.1-inch Netbook. The tablet alone weighs 1.2 pounds. It feels good in one hand, but I'd rather use two. The thicker build quality and lower-resolution screen suggest that I wouldn't use it quite as much as a standalone tablet in most cases. The Dell Venue 8 Pro feels a lot better and has a better display, but it's also smaller and more Kindle-like, and seems less ideal for getting work done (it doesn't come with a keyboard, either).
Do I like the Surface 2 more? Yes in terms of design, but not software. The proposition of this little T100 as a budget Netbook plus tablet seems extremely appealing. In fact, a tablet-meets-Netbook like this, which also charges via Micro-USB with an included cable, could be a Chromebook killer for a lot of people.
And no, there's no rear-facing camera, so don't even think of using this to take photos, unless you want to do a selfie. The 1.3-megapixel Webcam looks good for Skyping.
A quad-core next-gen Bay Trail Atom Z3740 lurks inside the Transformer Book T100, along with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of SSD storage in our review configuration. This is one of the first systems we've seen with this new class of Atom processors: previous Windows 8 systems with Atoms were actually pretty decent machines, if you accepted their limitations: for everyday tasks, they fared quite well, and had good battery life.
Here's the good news: the Transformer Book T100 outperformed last-gen Atom Windows 8 machines, and even did significantly better in some tests than the much more expensive (and heavier) AMD-powered Toshiba Satellite Click. That system cost over $500; the Transformer Book T100 costs under $400, and is a fraction of the size. More powerful and expensive systems like the Sony Vaio Tap 11 still outperform it by a significant margin, though.