Asus says its new Transformer Book T300 Chi is good for both work and play, but its lack of connectivity options might turn away business users. On the bright side, the Chi is a striking 2-in-1 laptop with a superslim design, a gorgeous 12.5-inch display, a detachable keyboard dock and a clamshell design that makes it more practical overall than the Surface Pro 3. It's a great value, too, starting at just $699.
On the other hand, its sparse selection of ports makes it a questionable choice as a work laptop. It also has weak battery life, and the lack of a pressure-sensitive display means it's not as good for digital note-taking as hybrids like the Surface Pro 3.
But maybe you're really committed to the idea of detaching your work laptop's screen — for Netflix sessions before bed, perhaps? If so, read on to see how the Transformer Book T300 Chi stacks up to the competition.
There are plenty of potential pitfalls in detachable hybrid notebook designs, and the T300 Chi manages to avoid most of them with ease.
For starters, most hybrids are top-heavy, since all of the components have to be crammed into the display instead of under the keyboard. That means that, in order to stay upright, they usually rely on a kickstand (as the Surface Pro 3 does), or they don't let you tip the display back far enough (like the Dell Venue 11 Pro).
The T300 Chi has neither of these issues. Once you snap the tablet onto the keyboard dock, it tilts back far enough to provide a generous viewing angle, with no kickstand required. That means it's as comfortable to use in your lap as any other laptop computer — something that can't be said for the Surface Pro 3, which uses a kickstand that can be awkward to balance on your knees. There are trade-offs, of course: The Chi's keyboard is a lot thicker and heavier than the Surface's Type Cover, and it has a much bigger footprint than the 11-inch Venue 11 Pro's keyboard dock.
The Chi's aluminum body comes in a modest black, which is perfect for a work machine. In addition, the metallic, diamond-cut edging adds a touch of sophistication.
I also like the simple way the tablet connects to the keyboard. There are no buttons or latch mechanisms here; just push the display down onto two connector pins on the back of the dock and start typing. When you're done, just give it a yank to disconnect the tablet. The connection is strong enough that you can pick the machine up by the display without worrying that the keyboard will fall off.
Weight and dimensions
As a stand-alone tablet, the T300 Chi is seriously sleek, measuring just 0.28 inches. That's noticeably thinner than the 0.36-inch Surface Pro 3 (without keyboard). When combined with its keyboard, the T300 Chi is 0.56 inches thick, which is on a par with the Surface Pro 3 with its keyboard, but significantly thinner than the Dell Latitude 7350 (0.79 inches). Among nondetachable notebooks with similar specs, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is thinner than the T300 Chi (0.48 inches).
At just 1.56 lbs., the tablet is also surprisingly light. That's lighter than the Surface Pro 3, which weighs 1.76 lbs. without a keyboard.
On the other hand, the Chi's keyboard adds quite a bit of heft, for a total weight of 3.13 lbs. That's heavier than the connected Surface Pro 3 (2.4 lbs.) and the ZenBook UX305 (2.65 lbs.), but lighter than the Latitude 7350 (3.73 lbs.). The T300 Chi is still one of the thinnest and lightest notebooks out there, especially in its price range.
Ports and connectivity
The T300 Chi's sparse selection of ports might be forgivable if you're planning to use it as an entertainment hub, but business users will surely be put off by the lack of typical connectivity options.
You get a total of three ports on the T300 Chi: a micro USB 3.0 port, a micro HDMI port and a microSD card slot. That's right — this notebook lacks even a single full-size USB port. Of course, it's still possible to connect accessories like a mouse or a thumb drive with a micro USB adapter, or via Bluetooth, but the omission is a real inconvenience for business users.
Keyboard and touchpad
The T300 Chi's keyboard dock is pretty good, with big, well-spaced keys. Unfortunately, the thin design doesn't allow for much key travel. That's unfortunate, as deeper keys usually make extended typing sessions a bit more comfortable. On the bright side, the keys offer plenty of feedback, with a satisfying springiness that helps make up for their lack of travel.
Keep in mind that the keyboard must be charged separately via a standard micro USB connection. Though I didn't conduct a formal battery test for the dock, I can say that it never ran out of juice during my several days of testing. On the other hand, business users might find themselves in a tough spot if their keyboard dies in the middle of a trans-Atlantic flight. In contrast, the Surface Pro 3's keyboard is powered by the tablet. The T300's keyboard functions even when it's not connected to the tablet.
The touchpad is responsive but a bit small. Expect your fingers to frequently brush up against the top of the pad, especially when you're using two-finger gestures for scrolling. Other than that, mousing around feels relatively smooth and responsive.
The T300 Chi's 12.5-inch display is a bit smaller than the average Ultrabook screen, which is about 13 inches. But the screen on the unit I reviewed feels surprisingly roomy, thanks to its eye-popping quad-HD resolution. The $899 model comes with a 2560 x 1400-pixel panel — even more pixels than the Surface Pro 3. That makes split-screen multitasking more comfortable, which is key for productivity. But honestly, the $699 mode's full-HD screen (which has a lower resolution of 1440 x 1080 pixels) is more than good enough for a screen this size.
Colors are bright and images look vibrant on the T300 Chi, and text looks extremely crisp and readable. The screen is pretty bright too, maxing out at 305 nits of brightness — well above the 247-nit average for the ultraportable category. That's good news if you want to use the device outdoors or in direct sunlight.
I came away impressed by the quality of the images captured by the T300 Chi's front-facing camera. Colors were vibrant, and the overall image was crisp and clear, without much noise or grainy texture. That's a perk for business users who want to use this machine to meet remotely with colleagues or clients. It comes with Skype already installed, so you can get started right away.
The T300 Chi comes with neither a stylus nor a pressure-sensitive display — two features you get with the Surface Pro 3 out of the box. That's a shame, as the ability to detach the display for use as a digital notebook is one of the best reasons to choose a hybrid machine over a traditional laptop.
Asus does offer an active stylus, sold separately for $40. The pen's tip, rather than the screen, measures how hard you're pressing. I didn't get a chance to test out Asus' pen for this review, but I know from experience that pressure-sensitive displays offer a smoother writing experience. Still, it's nice to know that the accessory is available, since I wouldn't recommend using a standard capacitive stylus (which can't detect pressure) for serious note-taking.
However, the T300 Chi is perfectly capable if you prefer to type your notes. It comes with Microsoft's excellent OneNote software installed, which keeps your notes organized, backed up and accessible from any Internet-connected device.
The T300 Chi's other big weakness is its short battery life. The notebook lasted a scant 6 hours and 27 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set at 100 nits of brightness. That result is well below the 7:27 average for the ultraportable category. The device also died more quickly than the Surface Pro 3, which lasted 7 hours and 42 minutes. The Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 lasted 8 hours as a stand-alone tablet, and its keyboard includes an extra battery that boosts its longevity up to an incredible 13:33. Neither the T300 Chi nor the Surface Pro 3 has an extra battery in its keyboard. The nondetachable ZenBook UX305 clocked an impressive 9:38 on the battery test.
The T300 Chi is powered by Intel's1.20-GHz Core M-5Y71 CPU with 8GB of RAM, which offers solid performance without the need for a bulky cooling fan. In the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, it scored an impressive 5,742. That's better than the Surface Pro 3 (5,665) and the Core M-powered Yoga 3 Pro (4,571).
The bottom line is that the T300 Chi provides pretty good performance for everyday business tasks, and it has no trouble handling a typical workload.
Asus shipped the T300 Chi with a relatively clean installation of Windows 8.1. As usual, business-friendly Microsoft apps like Skype and OneNote, as well as a trial version of Office, come preloaded. (You'll have to pay extra for the full version of Office.) There are also a handful of third-party apps installed, like TripAdvisor and Twitter. One of the more useful additions is the Asus WebStorage app, which gives you 16GB of free cloud storage.
Pricing and configurations
The T300 Chi comes in two configurations. The entry-level model costs $699 and comes with a Core M processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of SSD storage and a full-HD (1920 x 1080) display. For $899, you can upgrade the display to quad HD, which is the version I used for this review.
The Surface Pro 3 might seem like it's in the same price range, since it starts at $799. But its keyboard is sold separately for $129, and the entry-level model offers a measly 64GB of storage.
Dell's venue 11 Pro is more affordable, starting at $429, but it has a smaller, 10.8-inch display, and its restrictive keyboard dock offers very limited viewing angles. The Asus Transformer Book T200 is a bargain at $459, but it has a less-powerful processor and a smaller, 11.6-inch display. On the bright side, it offers a ton of ports.
The Transformer Book T300 Chi is a really impressive 2-in-1 device, but it wasn't really made for serious business users. It offers good performance and a versatile 2-in-1 design, but its sparse selection of ports probably won't cut it in an office environment. Plus, traditional notebooks offer better keyboards and docking capabilities.
However, it might still be worth it to buy the T300 Chi if you have only basic computing needs and really, really want a detachable display. After all, its clamshell design makes it a more functional laptop than the Surface Pro 3, and its 12.5-inch display gives you more space to work than the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000. Just make sure to pick up a USB adapter while you're at it.