Transformer T300 Chi – a tablet or a laptop, the choice is yours. However, there’s something called the paradox of choice, where more choices can sometimes be less. Is it the case here? This niche has gotten more attention lately, and with everyone heading towards a trend of lightness and slimness, the Transformer T300 Chi does excel. Thanks to the nice folks over at ASUS, I took the T300 Chi for a spin to see how this combination works.
ASUS has designed the T300 Chi to be a beautiful 2-in-1 device delivering ultimate mobility. That’s quite spot on. The all-aluminium build quality of the device is high, and there’s no worry on flimsy connections here. The strong magnets in the hinge keeps the keyboard and display firmly connected even when just holding on to the display only.
In office, I use it primarily as a laptop, but back home, I find myself using it as a tablet more since I primarily use it for content consumption, either web surfing or watching videos and a keyboard just gets in the way. The 2-in-1 convenience is quite nice, and I do see this trend of tablet / laptop converging in future. Especially with greater touch interaction and tablet mode to come in Windows 10.
Yet, As a Laptop, it’s Nothing Spectacular
When docked or laptop mode, the 12.5-inch T300 Chi isn’t as light as one would originally expect. At 1.42 kg, it is about the same weight as my one year old laptop, which has more functionality, more ports, and also, more power. It is the thinnest tablet / laptop combo around, but when it comes to lugging it around, weight is a more important factor. When compared to other laptops in the ultrabook category, it’s just not as good. Even ASUS own Core M ultrabook, such as the UX305, is lighter, at only 1.2 kg.
The T300 Chi bluetooth keyboard itself weighs a significant 700g. No ports, no added battery juice, no backlight, nada. It’s just a keyboard, and a stand, albeit a heavy one. The chiclet keys themselves are a good size and offers a standard laptop typing experience, which is a plus point over the fabric and shallower keys of the Surface Pro 3. I find the touchpad to be a little on the small side, but generally acceptable.
Another limitation is the tilt range, and the overall weight of the screen. The tilt range in laptop mode is limited, due to the magnetic hinge mechanism, and also to ensure the centre of gravity is not shifted too far back. Because everything is packed into the tablet portion, the design is top heavy and on an unstable platform, such as your laps, there’s a tendency for the screen to tilt over.
It’s Better as a Tablet, Baring Certain Constraints
As a tablet, it’s only 721g, which is lighter than the similar 800g Surface Pro 3. Yet, the widescreen 16:9 form factor means it is better primarily for videos. The excellent IPS display with a 72% coverage of the NTSC color spectrum is great too, offering excellent color reproduction and viewing angles.
It’s decent in landscape mode, and generally, the Windows apps are primarily designed for that too. In portrait mode, it’s a little unwieldy. In comparison, the iPad and Surface Pro 3 design choice of 4:3/3:2 ratio means it is more comfortable to hold and carry about. One thing that I sorely missed was the lack of a build-in stand. A 720g tablet is still on the heavy side and a stand to help prop it up would go a long way. You would need to pair with the keyboard to prop up the screen either in the “tent” or “stand” mode. Useful, but in those modes, you wouldn’t be using the keyboard and it just ends up being added deadweight. The “tent” mode also doesn’t work too well, because the power button is located on the top of the device, and often end up being depressed in “tent” mode. Really not the best place to locate the power button.
This version of the T300 Chi sports the 12.5 inch high resolution 2560 x 1440 screen, paired with a 1.2 GHz Core M 5Y71 processor with 8 GB of ram, and a 128 GB SSD. Core M is not the revolutionary chip that Intel claims it to be. It’s a good, low power performer, but just not stellar. ASUS does trump most others when it comes to specs with the 8GB of RAM, which gives it more multitasking capabilities and a little more performance. There are unique advantages – such as the instant-on implementation, and how quiet the machine was!
Otherwise, It loses out in terms of performance to the last generation Haswell chips. Power consumption of the chip might have reduced, but it’s not translated down to the user directly. Instead, manufacturers tend to adopt a smaller battery which leads to improvements in weight and size. It’s thermally more efficient but as most manufacturers adopt a fanless design, this results in the heat dissipating through the chassis. It’s generally cool, but does get uncomfortably warm when running more demanding apps, especially games. All these is more of an issue with the processor, and on that note, it’s pretty standard fare with what you get in the market today if you are looking for an ultrabook. Most of them are using the Core M processors.
Battery life of the T300 Chi averages around 6 hours under normal usage. It’s OK as a laptop, but as a tablet, it does go by rather quickly. It’s notably 20% lower than the Surface Pro 3.
In place of the standard ports you might expect to find on a laptop, the T300 has one Micro USB port, one Micro HDMI port, and a microSD slot. That means connecting any peripherals requires the use of adapters, even when it is something as simple as plugging a thumbdrive. Asus throws in a micro USB to micro USB cable, which you can use to charge your keyboard, or connect to your mobile devices. There’s also a single micro USB to USB port. You might want to pick up a micro USB OTG HUB, which can expand the micro USB to three full size ports. Something like the Acasis H07 Micro USB Hub, they aren’t too expensive.
On paper, the Transformer Book Chi T300 seems like a good deal when compared to the Surface Pro 3. It is exceptionally thin, and if you require the absolute slimness for carrying around, this is it. The Transformer T300 Chi handles what it sets out to do rather adequately, both the tablet and laptop modes, but I don’t think it truly excels in either category. The phrase Jack of all trades, master of none comes to mind. But that’s being a little harsh, as you can still enjoy the benefits from both worlds.
And in this instance, I think ASUS did get it right mostly. The magnetic latch hinge is quite cool and easy to use. Switching between tablet and laptop mode is seamless. Throughout the review period, I did enjoy using the Transformer T300 Chi. Switching between tablet or laptop is a breeze and it allowed me to switch to the better option to match the particular occasion. As such, I find myself moving towards it as the device of choice. I really appreciated the 2-in-1 feature.
Honestly, I think the only other alternative worthy of comparison is the Surface Pro 3. But I do think that perhaps the Surface Pro 3 is a little more refined as a tablet. Features like the kickstand, 3:2 form factor, better battery were missed when testing the Transformer T300 Chi. The shortfalls are not serious though, and the Transformer T300 Chi is a genuinely good consideration for those who demand flexibility. If you can get by with less power, the Transformer T100 Chi is quite value for money in comparison.