ASUS Transformer Book T100: The Best Budget Windows 8.1 Tablet for Business? Credit: Asus

It may pack midrange hardware, but at $379, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is still a steal for business users.

ASUS’ budget-priced laptop/tablet hybrid runs full Windows 8.1, boasts decent specs and ships with a detachable keyboard included. By some metrics, that puts it far ahead of Microsoft’s own $449 Surface 2 tablet, which runs the stripped-down Windows RT 8.1 operating system and does not come with a keyboard. Within the sub-$400 price range, the T100 is in a class of its own.

The 10.1-inch tablet is a not a premium device, but small business owners might appreciate its portability, versatility and low price point.

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Keyboard included

In the late 2000s, ASUS helped pioneer the now-defunct netbook market with a range of solid, ultraportable PCs. Thanks to a snap-on keyboard dock that’s included in the box, the Transformer Book T100 feels like an extension of the netbook era. Every T100 user can use a keyboard without paying more. By comparison, Surface 2 users will have to shell out an extra $130 for Microsoft’s Type Cover add-on.

The T100 keyboard dock features chiclet-style keys. Like other tablet keyboards, this add-on is smaller than a full-size keyboard and will likely feel cramped for serious typists and users with bigger hands. The dock also features a single standard USB 3.0 port so business users can plug in an external mouse, a backup hard drive or other productivity-boosting peripherals.

The sturdy hinge found on the T100 sets the device apart from competing hybrids. Other Full Windows 8.1 devices, such as the Surface Pro 2 and Dell Venue 11 Pro, are also compatible with detachable keyboards, but rely on built-in kickstand to hold up display while the device is being used in laptop mode. That can make it difficult to use those devices in your lap or any other uneven surface. It also limits the number of possible viewing angles for the display.

By comparison, the beefy hinge on the T100 lets the machine function like a traditional clamshell notebook. The tablet snaps onto the keyboard dock and can be adjusted to any viewing angle without the need for a kickstand. That helps make the T100 a good pick if you need to do real work when you’re not at a desk. To detach the tablet, just press a small button located on the hinge. When not in use, the keyboard also doubles as a screen protector.

Full Windows 8.1

You won’t find another 10-inch, full Windows 8.1 tablet at the T100’s price point, with or without a keyboard. Tablets including the Surface 2 and Nokia 2520 fall in a similar price range, but run on Windows RT 8.1, a stripped-down version of the operating system that lacks desktop functionality. Users of those devices can use a desktop version of Microsoft Office, but are otherwise limited to mobile apps available via the Microsoft Store. Meanwhile, new $400 Windows tablets such as the HP Omni 10 do run the full version of Windows 8.1, but don’t come with a keyboard.

If you rely on a specific piece of Windows software to keep your business running — and you need quick access to that program when you’re on the go — the Transformer Book T100 is a good pick. Any applications you run on your home or office PC will work on the T100. That doesn’t mean every program will run smoothly; expect processor-intensive applications like Photoshop to chug. The Bay Trail processor in the T100 is a notable improvement for the Transformer line, but premium Intel Core i5 tablets like the Surface Pro 2 are still more than twice as fast.

The full version of Microsoft Office 2013 also comes preinstalled on the T100, a major plus for business users.

The hardware

The T100 is a budget device with midrange hardware. The tablet boasts a glossy plastic shell that looks and feels cheap compared with the magnesium alloy chassis of Microsoft’s Surface tablets. And its 10.1-inch 1366 x 768 pixel display offers enough real estate to work on, but it’s not as sharp as screens on competing devices.

Still, the quad-core Bay Trail Atom Z3740 chip that powers the T100 is more than twice as fast as last-generation dual-core Atom processors found in previous Transformer Books, even if it lags far behind the chips in Microsoft’s flagship tablets. Business users can expect snappy multitasking and speedy Web browsing for the most part. The T100 also has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, with an expandable microSD card slot.

With keyboard attached, ASUS’ tablet weighs just 2.4 lbs. and is about as portable as a standard netbook. Alone, the tablet weighs 1.2 lbs. It’s a bit chunkier than the Surface 2 with the Type cover, but still a highly portable option for commuters. Users who need to work on the go will also appreciate the T100’s long 12+ hour battery life.

Conclusion

The Transformer Book T100 isn’t the perfect machine for every business user, but it is a great value for most. ASUS’ hybrid machine packs most of the features of higher-end Windows 8.1 tablets, at a fraction of the price.

It’s the cheapest full Windows 8.1 tablet on the market, and comes with a keyboard to boot. Its hardware will meet the needs of most business users, even if it lacks the speed and premium display and overall feel of competing devices. And it features a long lasting battery to help you stay productive when you’re away from the office.