Asus Transformer Book TX300 £900
8th Oct 2013 | 16:00
A well-built machine with bags of power and a unique twist
Few manufacturers have bought into the hybrid model as heavily as Asus, and the Taiwanese company has been blurring the lines between laptop and since the original Asus Transformer back in 2010.
While the original Asus Transformer was an Android tablet with a detachable keyboard dock, the range has expanded with the arrival of Windows 8 to include the Asus Transformer Book.
We first saw the range back at IFA 2012, and it's taken this long to see full products hitting the shelves. The Transformer Book TX300 is a 'hero product' for Asus, which means it's unlikely to be widely sold, but is a showcase of the best design and performance.
The TX300 is encased in brushed aluminium, giving it a quality sleek finish, enabling it to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the MacBook Air in the looks department.
However, it has a hidden trick up its sleeve. The screen unclips from the keyboard base to turn this 13-inch laptop into a 13-inch tablet, for playing games, surfing the web or watching movies.
To the untrained eye, the Asus Transformer Book TX300 is the spitting image of the 13.3" Asus Zenbook UX31A Ultrabook, which is because it's essentially the latter cut in half.
It's a new take on the hybrid form-factor, which has become the Holy Grail for manufacturers of Windows 8 devices.
The TX300's peers are almost too numerous to mention: the Sony VAIO Duo 12, Dell XPS 12, Asus's own Taichi, Microsoft Surface Pro and even Lenovo Yoga 13 all aim to solve the same problem of bridging the laptop and tablet divide, yet, aside from the Yoga, this Transformer Book is one of the few to stay rooted to the traditional laptop form.
It's a smart move from Asus, and one we fully endorse. The problem with most of its competitors is that the keyboard docks are horrifically cramped, suffer poor performance and end up being more expensive than laptop equivalents. It makes the proposition a hard sell to consumers when an iPad can be picked up for £399, and a cramped unusable keyboard purchased for a fraction extra.
With the Transformer Book TX300 you get a powerful laptop, rocking a top-of-the-range processor which doubles as a tablet. The only issue, is that this tablet happens to be 13-inches, weighs 900g and costs over £1,000.
But is it worth your money? Read on to find out.
As we mentioned, the processor at the heart of this hybrid is a top-of-the-range Intel Core processor, however, the issue is that it's from the last generation's line-up.
The chip inside is an Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7 3517U 3rd Generation model. The 4th Generation, nicknamed Clover Trail, which came out earlier this year, boasts better speeds and dramatically improved battery life.
There's 4GB of RAM, which is bog-standard for an Ultrabook, and all you need for a snappy system in Windows 8.
Sticking with the theme of a typical Ultrabook experience, there's no dedicated graphics card, which will disappoint many people who are prepared to pay in excess of £1,500 for a laptop.
All pixel-pushing is left to the Intel HD 4000 chip, which can handle movie playback and games from the Windows Store, but not a lot else.
However, that's where the similarities with its peers end, and the rest of this unusual transforming laptop enjoys a rather storming set of specs.
The first is the screen, a gorgeous-looking full HD 1,920 x 1080 panel.
It's not just the super-sharp resolution that makes the Transformer's screen special, it's the deep colours and super saturation. The exaggerated deep colours make the screen instantly enjoyable, whether it's scrolling through the Windows 8 start screen or watching a movie on YouTube.
The only downside to the high-resolution panel is that every on-screen item is tiny. We genuinely found it tough to read text in places when sitting a comfortable distance from the screen, and it also makes navigating the back-end of Windows 8 with your finger even tougher than normal.
Turning the resolution down did help a little, but the pixelation was so bad that we quickly turned back to 1080p.
Opting for the transformer design enables a host of benefits that other laptops can't enjoy, such as a second battery and two hard drives. The TX300 boasts from two batteries, one in the screen and the second in the base unit. They combine to make a 5000mAh cell that's bigger than most Ultrabooks.
The Asus Transformer Book TX300 dual-wields a 500GB HDD and a 128GB SSD, offering users the best of both worlds.
One of the issues with hybrids is that you're limited to around 128GB of internal storage, and in many cases formatting takes that down to just 70GB of usable space. There's no such issue here and you get 500GB of file storage to fill up with media and documents, with a speedy 128GB to keep applications snappy.
There are a few issues with this package, and connectivity is one of them. There's no HDMI, with DisplayPort preferred instead, which is awkward for those who are used to the industry-standard connection.
There are two USB 3.0 ports on the keyboard itself, but, crucially, none on the screen, which somewhat undermines its usefulness as a standalone device.
This goes back to our point that the TX300 is very much a laptop device, with its tablet transformation better suited to occasional sofa surfing and media.
There is Ethernet provided which is good for serial desk-hoppers, and there's also an SD card slot too, but again, these are on the keyboard dock rather than the screen. That panel does enjoy a micro HDMI slot, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The second significant problem with the Transformer TX300 is weight. Having been spoiled with a host of Windows 8 laptops, Ultrabooks and tablets that weigh around 1KG, such as the excellent Sony VAIO Pro 13, we were shocked to discover the Transformer's combined weight of 2KG. It's by no means unportable and it is pretty slim and light, but it's noticeable compared to the recent crop of sleek new laptops.
Having spoken to Asus about this, the company was quick to point out the extras that are included in the package.
Yes, there's the double battery, the aluminium chassis and the full-sized keyboard, which, incidentally, is fantastic to use. However, do you get anything the Sony VAIO Pro 13 doesn't offer, at double the weight? Only the tablet functionality, which won't appeal to everyone.
But how does it perform? And can this laptop work as a tablet? Read on to find out.
- 3D Mark: Ice Storm: 29,117, Cloud Gate: 2,832, Fire Strike: 421
- Cinebench 11.5: CPU performance: 580, OpenGL graphics performance 15.01fps
- Battery Eater: 92 mins
- Battery life (PCMark 8 Home test): 5 hours 6 minutes
With an Intel Core i7 inside, performance should be good even if it is last year's model. The 3rd Generation chip scored well in our benchmark tests, showing that raw power isn't a problem here.
Credit should go to Asus, as in every department the Asus edged last year's equivalent hitters such as the HP Envy Spectre XT.
However, in real life testing, things weren't so impressive. There was the typical lethargy found in Windows 8 which is annoying at the best of times, and we did experience several hangs.
We were regularly made to wait while apps opened, though this has been a complaint of Windows in general, which we're hoping will be ironed out in the forthcoming Windows 8.1 update.
Booting from cold was speedy, thanks to that SSD drive, and Windows was usable in just a few seconds, however, when Windows loaded we were presented with what appeared to be a semi-loaded Windows desktop.
The system was fully responsive and a touch of the Windows key fired the Start Screen into life, but it's just one example of a buggy experience across Microsoft's latest OS.
Detaching the screen from the keyboard was easy and speedy, with the tablet immediately usable.
Although, reattaching meant the system hung for about five seconds before the trackpad and keyboard were usable again. It's not a problem, but it's not totally seamless.
We became quite fond of the Transformer TX300 as a tablet during our time, and it's certainly refreshing to be able to detach the screen to play games more comfortably, and it feels like a realistic use.
We'd much rather have the added power and spacious design of this laptop device than have a tablet that's easier to hold, yet totally useless when it comes to writing emails or doing actual work.
Let's not forget, however, that any 13-inch tablet is ungainly, especially when it weighs just shy of 950g like the TX300.
Anyone who's used to an iPad or Nexus 7 will be shocked by the TX300's outrageous size, and you might need to work on your arm muscles to tote the Transformer Book with the same flippancy as the aforementioned tablets.
The dual-batteries do pay off to make a decent performance, but we're not sure all-day use is in the TX300's sights. Our benchmark scores revealed around five hours of use, which we'd up to around six with careful management.
The powerful processor and big, bright, full HD screen combine to sap power, and the dual cells prevent a dismal performance.
Graphically, the 3D Mark benchmarks, and the OpenGL test in Cinebench show a laptop that's no slouch in the gaming department.
There's enough grunt here for basic gaming, and we'd even suggest that titles like Sim City could be played if you're willing to take the graphics down a little.
We played HD movies without any trouble, and games from the Windows Store played smoothly.
The Asus Transformer Book TX300 is a well-built machine with bags of power and a unique twist. It's one of our favourite hybrid devices, because usability isn't hobbled by the impossible dream of fulfilling both laptop and tablet uses.
As a laptop, it's one of the most user-friendly devices we've seen. The keyboard is fantastic, the trackpad and its array of gestures is built for Windows 8 and makes using the OS a dream.
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We've not enjoyed this level of comfort on a hybrid before, and the neat removal mechanism that turns laptop into tablet doesn't blot the copybook either. It demonstrates Asus' years of experience in making Transformer devices, and this is a cracker.
It's not a blemishless performance though, and we'd like to see 500g shaved off the total weight to get really excited. And a chunk off the price wouldn't go amiss either.
It's a serious outlay for quite a cumbersome laptop, but last-gen processor aside, you get a lot for your money.
The screen is fantastic, as is the overall build quality found across this aluminium-clad laptop. Quality oozes from every panel, and while it's in no way lightweight, the TX300 is thin enough to slip into a bag, although you'll feel it as you walk around.
The keyboard is a major triumph here and we were able to type comfortably and accurately for long periods, which means the TX300 could easily be your family's main machine. There's certainly enough power for that, and even if it is last generation, the Core i7 chip is not to be sniffed at.
The days of laptops that weigh 2KG are behind us, and the TX300's weight is a disappointing aspect of its performance.
Of course, we've rated some heavier machines higher - the obvious being the Apple MacBook Pro - but without dedicated graphics the Asus Transformer TX300 doesn't quite perform in the Mac's league.
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The niggling glitches and hangs were also a bugbear which we hope can be addressed via the maturation of Windows 8.
It's unfair to blame Asus, and it should be a consideration that Windows 8 is still far from perfect. If you're sold on a Windows machine, we'd still recommend the Asus Transformer Book, but in a toss-up between Mac and PC, these issues make the decision less clear-cut.
The Asus Transformer Book TX300 is a great laptop, with a great trick up its sleeve. While it's unlikely to give the iPad a run for its money as a tablet, it's still a useful device with real-world benefits, and, most importantly, this doesn't hamper what is a fantastic Ultrabook.
If you're looking for a great hybrid but don't want to give up the comfort of a laptop, we may have just found a compromise that works.