Asus’s Transformer Book Chi T300 is an impressively slim hybrid laptop, but the lack of even a single full-size USB port makes it a questionable replacement for your current business notebook. The Chi T300, the largest of three new convertible devices in Asus’ Chi lineup, is a 12.5 inch Windows 8.1 tablet with a thin, fanless design, a slick aluminum build and a magnetic, snap-on keyboard. We went hands-on with it this week.
Asus is billing the T300 as a MacBook Air killer, and it’s certainly true that the device is thinner and lighter than Apple’s Ultrabook, and with a higher resolution display to boot. But there’s more to a great business notebook than specs.
My first impression is that the Chi T300, while solid, lacks the premium feel of the MacBook Air. The chassis is made of metal, however, and the overall design of the tablet feels sturdy and solid. The keyboard dock is plastic, and attaches to the display via a series of magnets. The components link together with a satisfying click, and the connection is strong enough that I was able to grab the top of the display and lift the device off the table with the keyboard attached.The Transformer Book Chi T300 snaps firmly to the keyboard with the help of magnets.
The keyboard dock features a hinge so you can adjust the screen to any viewing angle. When you’re done typing, you can close the docked T300 like a standard clamshell notebook. The hinged design is certainly a lot more practical than the Surface Pro 3’s kickstand based-design, especially if you plan to use it on your lap. I noticed that the T300’s hinge felt a bit flimsy and loose compared to the MacBook Air’s sturdy hinge, however.
I was impressed with the feel of the keyboard dock. The keys are large and well-spaced and provided snappy key action when I typed. Typing on the T300 felt accurate and comfortable.
The biggest issue I have with the device is the lack of a full-size USB port on either the tablet or the keyboard dock. Instead, the T300 offers a micro USB 3.0 port and a micro USB 2.0 port. If you have the right adapter, you can connect USB peripherals such as a mouse or external hard drive, but your cords will be dangling from the sides of the display since the micro USB ports are located on the tablet portion of the T300, not the dock. Bluetooth-enabled mice and other accessories will have no trouble pairing with the device, though. Still, the omission of standard USB connectivity feels like a poor tradeoff for a thin profile, especially for a device that’s otherwise well-equipped for productivity.
The Transformer Chi T300 is very thin and light indeed. Measuring just 0.65 inches thick, it is a hair thinner than the MacBook Air, which measures 0.68 inches at its thickest point. It’s able to achieve that thin profile thanks to a fanless design. The device is also pretty light, weighing just 1.56 lbs. as a standalone tablet and 3.13 lbs. with the dock attached; that’s a bit heavier than the Air’s 2.96 lbs.
One advantage Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, another detachable hybrid laptop, has over both the Chi T300 and MacBook Air as a business machine is the inclusion of a stylus and pressure-sensitive display. I find those feature extremely useful for taking notes and drawing diagrams right on your screen. You can’t do that on the T300.
In many ways, the Asus Transformer Book Chi T300 combines the best elements of modern Windows 8.1 tablets and laptops into a single hybrid device. It won’t weigh you down on your daily commute, and it comes with one of the better tablet keyboard docks we’ve seen, right out of the box. But the lack of connectivity options really holds it back as a notebook for work. And since it lacks a stylus, its tablet form is better suited for entertainment than productivity.
The Transformer Book Chi T300 will be available in February starting at $699.