Asus is sticking with their new found philosophy of ‘one device – many uses’ and at this CES, they went one step further with the Transformer Book Duet. Today, we’ll be reviewing the device that inspired the Duet – the Transformer Book Trio. Asus announced the 3-in-1 hybrid laptop at Computex 2013 and finally launched it in India towards the tail-end of last year. The Trio reflects Asus’s passion towards ‘transforming’ devices and this is easily one of their most ambitious projects yet. Mind you, staying on the cutting edge of technology will cost you a pretty penny but even so, is the Trio worth its premium? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
The Asus Transformer Book Trio TX201LA follows the classic Asus design and is built mostly from aluminium, which lends it a premium and sophisticated look. The brushed metal finish on the lid is pleasing to the senses and also keeps fingerprints at bay. Besides the ‘ASUS’ logo, there’s also a 5MP camera around the back for when the tablet mode is on and a microphone. The tablet uses Asus’s proprietary docking mechanism, which feels secure enough without any jiggle. The lid weighs around 700g, so it’s quite comfortable when used as a tablet. Besides the power and volume buttons on the side, we also have a microSD card slot, microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack built into the lid.
The base station is also made of aluminium and houses the keyboard and PC components for running Windows 8. The base station weighs about 900g, which is good since the lid doesn’t flop over when docked in. In notebook mode, we’re looking at an overall weight of roughly 1.6Kg, which is more or less what the first-gen netbooks used to weigh. It does tend to feel heavy though but nothing that isn’t manageable.
The keyboard has well-spaced out keys, which aren’t backlit and are fairly comfortable to type on as well. The ports around the base include a microHDMI, miniDisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack and status LEDs. There isn’t a card reader or a LAN jack. However, Asus does bundle along adapters for LAN and VGA-out. The tablet and the base station have their own individual batteries but Windows only recognises one of them. The Transformer Book Trio scores big points on design and aesthetics and Asus has certainly nailed the premium look and feel of the device which is very evident, as soon as you take it out of your bag. The notebook also comes with a carrying pouch and a charger as part of the bundle.
This is where it gets interesting. When you buy the Trio, you’re essentially buying two devices – a Windows 8 PC and an Android tablet. The base of the device houses all the PC components, as is the case with any notebook. There are a couple of Intel CPUs to choose from and the TX201LA that we’re reviewing is powered by an Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, running at 2.4GHz. This is a dual-core CPU with HyperThreading support, giving you a total of four effective threads. There’s also 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard disk and Intel’s HD 4400 GPU handling the graphics. Other connectivity features includes dual-band Wi-Fi ‘ac’ and Bluetooth v4.0. The front-facing camera is also capable of 720p video.
The 11.6-inch IPS display sports a Full HD resolution, which delivers sharp and vivid colours along with good viewing angles. The trouble with such a high resolution on a small display is that Windows 8 is incredibly difficult to use in desktop mode. The icons and text are simply too small to be used comfortably and can be a daunting task. The display does support 10-finger gestures in Windows 8 and the screen has high sensitivity, making touch response highly accurate and fluid.
Coming to the tablet, here we have an Intel Atom Z2560 SoC, based on the older Clovertrail+ platform (latest one being BayTrail). It’s still a very capable chipset which can easily handle 1080p content. Inside, we have a dual-core, HyperThreaded CPU capable at running up to 1.6GHz. There’s also 2GB RAM, 16GB onboard storage, Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v3.0 and a whole bunch of sensors like gyroscope, accelerometer, compass and an ambient light sensor. Asus bundles Android 4.2.2 along with their skin, which isn’t too intrusive as others.
The tablet looks like any other Asus tablet we’ve seen thus far and there are a ton of customisation options in the setting menu. The notification bar has been heavily tweaked to include toggle switches and shortcuts for jumping to frequently used settings. The 16:9 aspect ratio is right at home for notebook use but feels abnormally wide when used as a tablet.
Asus has added a couple of software tweaks as well so users can switch seamlessly from one OS to another. In Windows 8 mode as well, Android is constantly running in the background and you get a little notification in the system tray too. What’s more, the tablet even shows up in Windows Explorer, making it even easier to drag and drop files between the tablet and PC.
The Asus Console gives you a centralised location for tweaking and changing the settings on the PC. Some of the other bundled apps include Asus Live Update, PC Tool, Vibe Fun centre, WebStorage Sync and a couple of mini games.
The PC base station packs in enough grunt to easily manage most menial tasks and then some. Here’s a breakdown of all the tests that we ran.
The Android tablet is equally powerful as well and easily manages to run most apps and games with ease. The UI is smooth and devoid of any lag, despite the skin. The Full HD display is great when using it in tablet mode as it makes video consumption a real treat. In terms of numbers, the tablet portion of the Trio is about as powerful as a Samsung Galaxy S3 and according to Quadrant, is quite a bit faster than Asus’s earlier Transformer Prime tablet.
Coming to the transformation bit, you can switch the display to Android by simply undocking the tablet from the base station or by hitting the dedicated key. Now, our review unit had some technical issues regarding the switching bit since it would sometimes take ages for Windows to reappear on the screen. There were times when it worked fine and we could switch between OSes within seconds but mostly, it would refuse to switch back to Windows. We were informed by Asus that this was an isolated issue with our review unit.
The keyboard is quite comfortable to type on and is a lot better than the Transformer Book T100. The keys have decent travel but the tactile response is a bit on the softer side so typing quickly can be challenging. The trackpad works well with smooth cursor movements but the two accompanying buttons are incredibly stiff and unusable. The audio is handled by ICEpower from Bang and Olufsen, which produces really good sound. The volume level is high and the audio quality is really good as well.
The base station is fitted with a 33Wh battery, which lasted for 2-hours and 10-min on Battery Eater Pro. In real world usage, you should be able to squeeze out around 4-5 hours of usage time. The tablet is fitted with a 19Wh battery, which lasted for about 7-hours on video playback. Overall, the battery life for the PC station is average at best whereas the tablet does fare a bit better.
The Asus Transformer Book Trio TX201LA will cost you Rs 98,099 and while that is a lot of money for a 12-inch notebook, the Trio is actually better value than most other notebooks in this price range. If it’s sheer portability you’re after; then look no further than the Acer Aspire S7-392. However, if you want to venture into the hybrid space, then the Transformer Book Trio is certainly the most versatile of the lot, since you’re essentially getting two devices. Most of the Ultrabooks/hybrid notebooks in this price range offer a Core i5 Haswell CPU whereas Asus gives you a Core i7. You also get the latest Wi-Fi ‘ac’ draft, which again, very few offer. The only thing the Trio doesn’t let you do is use Windows 8 in tablet mode. But then again, why would you want to use Windows 8 Pro in tablet mode?
The Transformer Book Trio is a very compelling proposition if you’re hunting for a workhorse hybrid PC. With ability to use the notebook as a Windows 8 PC and the screen as an Android tablet – at the same time; is something that hasn’t been done before. This alone makes the Trio one of the best hybrids in the market right now. If we have to nit-pick then the battery life of the base station could have been better, the trackpad buttons are unusable and a backlit keyboard would have been a neat addition at this price. If you don’t fancy the detachable design then the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13 is another well spec’ed hybrid at this price.