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Apple MacBook Air (13-inch)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2013, 15-inch screen)stars
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Asus Transformer Book T100
Design and features
You wouldn't pick the Asus K52F as a sub-AU$1000 laptop — it's stylish, with patterned copper and gloss black looks, and has an excellent build quality that hints it's significantly more expensive than it really is. Even the screen follows this trend, offering the best visuals we've seen on a laptop this cheap, offering excellent contrast and brightness.
The keyboard is excellent too, featuring the island-style design that Apple made so popular. Asus' keyboard manages to squeeze in a horizontally squished numpad as well, complete with dedicated Home/End and Pg Up/Pg Dn keys. Bucking recent trends, Asus' F keys have stayed as F keys — with things like volume control and brightness remaining as secondary functions needing the Fn button to be pressed in order to activate.
The touch pad is textured like the surface of the laptop, but is highly responsive and also multi-touch, supporting two-finger swiping to scroll, and two- or three-finger tapping for middle and right clicking. We only wish more vendors would support this.
Beneath the touch pad are the status lights; however, you'd barely be able to tell, as the lights themselves display a subtle, low intensity green. This is great for minimising distraction, but what isn't great are the labels, which get hidden in the texturing of the laptop and are difficult to see in all but the most optimal lighting conditions. The only other light is a soft white light next to the silver power button at the top right.
While we're usually down on laptop speakers and their ridiculous Dolby logos, Asus' SRS solution does actually make a difference due to an included control panel that lets you alter the tonality. It's not a silver bullet; almost any pair of headphones will provide better quality than the built-in speakers, but it's appreciated that Asus is trying to do something about the problem.
Specs and connections
Powered on a Core i3-350M, the K52F is a dual-core processor with hyperthreading, presenting as four threads. It's supported by 2GB RAM, a DVD+-RW and a 15.6-inch, 1366x768 screen. While there are cheaper SKUs that offer a 320GB hard drive and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, ours came with a 500GB drive running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
The K52F offers three USB ports, VGA and HDMI out, an MMC/SD/MS card reader and 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks. Networking is supported by gigabit Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n, although Asus has chosen to leave out Bluetooth support, presumably to keep costs down.
Running on Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, Asus' desktop is one of the busiest we've seen, with a mix of home-grown tools and a swag of crapware to go with it. It has clearly decided that "with the most software wins", regardless of quality.
Trend Micro is the antivirus trial of choice, with Office 2007 and the horrifically bad "GamePark" trials to go with it. Not all is software of the expiring kind though — Windows Live Essentials is bundled in, as is CyberLink's Blu-ray Disc Suite and PowerDVD 9. Curiously, Asus has also bundled Google Chrome, perhaps in place of the Google toolbar in Internet Explorer — instead it's hijacked by the Windows Live toolbar, courtesy of the Live Essentials installation.