ASUS Transformer Book T100

When I heard about the ASUS Transformer Book T100, I instantly knew I had to have it. (http://www.asus.com/News/2bLO0JtVTahzIwt2)

Why?

  • It’s a large tablet that transforms into a small notebook.
  • It’s a Windows 8.1 machine with touch.
  • It gets 11 hours of use on a single charge.
  • When docked, it folds into a single unit.
  • It comes with Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote) at no extra charge.
  • The 64 GB version sells for $399.
  • It uses a micro USB charger… no hauling around a separate power brick
  • It runs the full Windows 8.1 operating system, NOT Windows RT
  • It’s a 10 inch tablet

How sweet does it get?

Why do I need this device?

I currently carry around a Kindle Fire HD 8.9. It’s got a VPN client and an RDP client, so I can get into my machines remotely. It’s got a OneNote client, so I can read/review/update notes. I’ve have a series of BlueTooth keyboards so I can touch type on a keyboard with actual (as opposed to virtual) keys. It’s got most of my technical books for reference, some books for pleasure and even a movie or two for long flights.

But I just can’t find a case that will incorporate the keyboard and tablet into a single unit. Oh, there are things like this (which I bought) http://www.amazon.com/Belkin-Bluetooth-Keyboard-Kindle-models/dp/B009YZ92OM but like all “origami” cases, you need a stable, flat surface for them to work (the Microsoft Surface products have similar issues). This means no working on a bus or train… or the couch.

It also means that when I sit in meetings with Microsoft (I’m a Virtual Technology Solutions Professional and a Virtual Technical Architect), it’s… how shall we say it? “Awkward”.

I need a Windows device… but I’m not going to get a Windows RT device. And I don’t like the ergonomics of the Surface.

Let’s talk about ASUS the device.  I’m going to stay away from a critique of Windows 8.1 in general; but will touch on using Windows 8.1 on this device.

Keyboard and Touchpad

My first concern with devices this small is the keyboard.  After using this for a couple of days, while the keyboard is small, it’s completely usable.  I generally do not like touchpads, but the touchpad built into the device is reasonably usable.  I could always add a wireless mouse… but that’s just one more thing to carry (and provide batteries for, and lose).  For the form-factor, I find the keyboard and touchpad acceptable.

Touchscreen / Tablet

When used with the keyboard doc, the only time I use the touchscreen is when I’m in the Start Screen or am using a Metro (non-desktop) application.  Frankly, I’m starting to “get” Windows 8.x.  It’s optimized for touch.  I use Windows 8.1 on a desktop computer and it’s … well… interesting.  But on a touch-enabled device, it’s pretty good.

The touchscreen is very glossy, which means two things that I really don’t like:

  • With a dark background, it turns into a mirror.  Lots of reflections
  • You can see every smudge and fingerprint.

But, the accuracy of the touchscreen is actually very good.  I can use my fingertip to interact with Desktop applications (with mixed success) which were designed with a highly precise mouse in mind, instead of my big, dumb fingers.

This is where the magic of Modern/Metro/Windows 8 apps come in.  They are designed for touch.

The tablet locks securely into the keyboard/dock, but pops out with a touch of a button.  The tablet portion is light (1.2 lbs), has a “Windows” key on the back (the Windows logo on the front does nothing) and a rocker that adjusts the volume.  I do wish it could be used to adjust the screen brightness… but can’t have everything.

Startup/Shutdown

My current desktop takes 30-45 seconds to boot.  It’s running Windows 7 x64 on an Intel i7 quad core processor.  The boot drive is an OCX Vertex4 SSD and 32 GB of RAM.

The ASUS tablet/notebook takes less than 10 seconds to boot.  Running Windows 8.1 on an Atom Bay Trail quad core processor.  The boot drive is the internal eMMC drive with 2 GB of RAM.

It’s literally like night and day.

Shutdown is even easier.  Just close it or tap the power button.  I left it in this state overnight and lost only 3% of my battery.

Now the boot time for my workstation really doesn’t matter much… I just leave it on.  But for a portable device like the ASUS, I want to reach into my bag, grab the device and have it be ready for me.  I’m pretty close to that goal.

Software

Like I said earlier, this is running Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student Edition.  It has all the basics (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote), but does not include Outlook.  Buying Outlook 2013 separately is expensive ($100).  The bundled Mail and Calendar applications work, but don’t yield the integrated experience of Outlook.  One thing that the bundled apps have above Outlook is the ability to easily “snap” then side-by-side.  But no tasks, notes or journaling.

OneNote is becoming one of the great joys of my life.  With SkyDrive integration and clients for Android, I can access and update my notebooks from my phone, Kindle Fire HD, my desktop or the ASUS device.

There are actually two versions of OneNote installed, which I’m going to call OneNote/Modern and OneNote/Windows.

OneNote/Modern is a touch-oriented Metro/Modern/Windows 8 app.  Great for reviewing notes and doing light editing with either touch or keyboard.

OneNote/Windows is the full OneNote 2013 product that comes with Office 2013.  This is the high fidelity product, not very usable with touch, but with a mouse and keyboard, it’s the Gold Standard.

What I’ve done over the past few days is start a notebook from my desktop.   When I go into a meeting, I can review my notes on the ASUS device and make any updates as necessary.  Everything gets synced to SkyDrive as soon as there is a network connection.  As my phone works as a Wifi hotspot, this happens on demand.

What else comes with the device?  I’m used to all the crapware that Dell, HP and Lenovo load onto their machines.  This was surprisingly lean.  There is ASUS cloud storage and the usual assortment of drives and utilities, but nothing obtrusive or overly annoying.

With my other tablet (a Kindle Fire HD), there are a number of things that I’ve grown used to.  The OneNote app is on there, but I had to load up an Android Office suite (I prefer Kingsoft) and a few other doo-dads.

Reading

Comixology – I’m a nerd.  I read comic books.  Get over it.  I have the entire “The Walking Dead” series and just downloaded The Watchmen.  I loved the movie.  Now I want to read the comic.

But I’ll also read other comics that are available as CBZ or CBR files.  On Android (including the Kindle Fire HD), I would use ACV.  For Windows 8.1, I’m playing with Komic Reader.  Let’s see how it goes.

Kindle App – Still a nerd.  I carry around 25-30 technical books on my Kindle Fire.  I also have 20-30 books I purchased from Amazon, then there are another 40-50 books that I got from who-knows-where (Guttenberg Project, O’Reilly, etc).  Some are in PDF format, others in MOBI, still others are PDF format.  The Kindle doesn’t care.  It just launches the Kindle app and moves on.

On Windows 8.1, there is a “Reader” app that will display PDF files.  No “library” or way of organizing the documents other than the file system.

The Kindle App will display any books I purchased from Amazon… and no way to “side load” others.  So that leaves me with getting other apps.  I’m looking at “Book Reader” and “Liberty Book Reader”.  I’m not looking forward to having separate apps based on the file type.  I can convert everything to a specific format using Calibre… but who has the time?

Speaking of Calibre, it works acceptably well on this device, but as a Desktop app, it’s not optimized for touch.  I want to be able to use the tablet portion of the device to just read and get lost in the book.  Perhaps someone will write a Metro/Modern/Windows 8 app that will have a “Library” and open the major e-book formats (EPUB, MOBI, PDF, AZW, etc).

I have to say that for reading, this is a great device.  Reading “The Watchmen” on this device is crisp and clear.  So it catching up on “The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire”, prior to the release of the movie in November.

Watching movies:

I do a fair amount of flying.  And no, I really don’t want to pay for in-flight Wifi (if I can get it).  I actually still buy DVDs and BluRay disks (call me old school), but I’ll rip them to storage because I’m tired of buying a new copy every time I scratch a disk.

I’ll use tools like Handbrake or DVDFab to transcode them down in terms of resolution and compression.  I can take a DVD (4-8 GB) and transcode it down to less than 1 GB with minimal loss of fidelity.  Works great on my laptop and my Kindle Fire (I can’t bring myself to watch a movie on a phone, I don’t care how big the screen is).

But Windows 8.1 doesn’t ship with anything that will render movies.  No AVI, MOV, MPG, MKV, MP4 support.  While Windows 8.1 gives you the ability to mount an ISO file as a CD/DVD/BluRay “drive” (kinda like Daemon Tools does), there’s nothing on their to play the movie.

You can upgrade to Windows 8.1 Pro for an additional $100…. but nah.

Instead, I’m going to have to play with VLC, GOM Media Player, MPC-HC Media Player Classic Home Cinema, KM Player or Pot Player.  But none of them are touch-centric.  So back to the mouse/touchpad.

The Bad News

This is a Windows device.  No, I’m not bashing Windows.  This device will only run Windows.  It will be almost impossible to run anything else.

Why?

You can’t boot from the USB port.  At all.  Or at least that I could find.

So I called up ASUS tech support.

The good news:

They answer the phone with minimal prompts (press 1 if you are human, press 2 if you cannot fog a mirror, press 3 if you are undead)

They speak English

The bad news:

The product is so new that their own people really don’t know the product.  I asked how to get into the BIOS.  They told me to hit F2 while the machine was booting.  That works on every ASUS motherboard made.  It doesn’t work on this device.

I found how to get into the BIOS (more accurately, the UEFI), but no matter what I did there, I couldn’t boot from USB.

I was going to try out a “LiveCD” of Android on the device, just to see.  But if I really wanted Android on this device, I should have bought a device that came with Android pre-loaded.  ASUS (and Amazon, Google, Samsung) make them and sells them cheaply.

I just miss the days when I could buy a piece of hardware and install anything (DR-DOS, BeOS, OS/2 Warp) I damn well wanted on it.  I’m either old school… or just old.

Closing notes

This thing does everything you’d expect Windows to do.  I was able to create a PPTP VPN connection to my home servers.  I was able to RDP into my virtual machines.  This is great for demos… I can get all the geeky goodness of a high-end workstation processor with a ton of RAM and storage from a limited device like the ASUS.

I was able to access my filesystems using sftp (I prefer FileZilla and WinSCP, but neither are touch oriented).  That’s anywhere, anytime (as long as I can connect to the internet).

Next Steps

Given that I can use this with OneNote in either tablet or notebook mode, this is going to get some business use.  I tend to do presentations (all hail PowerPoint) and I’m not excited about carrying around a projector (even one of the tiny pico-projectors).

I’m going to pick up a $35 Chromecast dongle and see how it works with this device.  If it works reliably, this is going to have a permanent home in my travel bag.

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  1. #1 by Kimberley on January 21, 2014 - 7:17 pm

    Thanks for the great review! I am getting one of these devices today and, from the sound of it, I’ve made a good decision. I am wondering how the Chromecast dongle worked out for you?

    • #2 by Marc Jellinek on February 10, 2014 - 9:56 am

      I still haven’t tried out the Chromecast. I moved from NJ to TX and started a new job… if I have a free minute, I nap. For a minute.

      It’s still on my list of stuff to try out.

      One thing that does work brilliantly is the mini-HDMI port on the ASUS. I hooked it up to an external monitor and my TV… nice full 1080p 1920×1080 output.

  2. #3 by Sandra on February 10, 2014 - 2:03 am

    thanks, thinking of getting one. If I may ask, which stylus do you use with it? I am mainly interested in it because I want to use it to take notes. thanks

    • #4 by Marc Jellinek on February 10, 2014 - 9:57 am

      I haven’t used this with a stylus as an electronic notepad. It would be great to try out for sketching, but I prefer sketching on paper, snapping a picture with my phone, then incorporating the picture into my notes. Both OneNote and EverNote allow for this.

      If you find a stylus that works well with the device, let me know!

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