Asus Transformer Book Trio combines Windows 8, Android, laptop, tablet, and desktop in one (hands-on)

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/ Updated: September 12, 2013 10:04 AM PDT

BERLIN -- Trio! I want a Trio and I want one now, as anyone who was a child in Britain in the 1980s is no doubt thinking every time they see the dual-booting Asus Transformer Book Trio.

The Trio was first glimpsed at computer show Computex earlier in the year, but the outer paper wrapper and shiny silver paper has been officially taken off at technology extravaganza IFA in Berlin this week to reveal the sweet, sweet chocolate of a laptop, the soft, soft toffee of an Android tablet, and the crunchy, crunchy biscuit of a desktop -- all in one tasty package.

The Trio consists of a laptop that comes in half, the 11.6-inch screen detaching to become a tablet. Most hybrid laptops stop there, but the Trio also plugs into a monitor to become a desktop computer.

Not only does the Trio combine the versatility of a keyboard for comfortable typing with the portability of a tablet for quick access, it also combines the power of Windows 8 with the simplicity of Android.

Hardware
Where many hybrid laptops consist of a tablet that attaches to what is effectively a dumb keyboard, the Trio has brains in both parts. So when the 11.6-inch, 1080p screen is detached and you wander off to use it as a tablet, the keyboard can be plugged into a monitor via Mini DisplayPort or Micro-HDMI, and someone else can use it as a desktop computer.

It's powered by a fourth-generation Intel Core processor -- up to i7 -- in the keyboard, with a separate dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor in the screen. The keyboard/PC station packs 4GB of DDR3 RAM with up to a 1TB hard drive, and the tablet/screen boasts 2GB of LP DDR2 RAM with a choice of 16, 32, or 64GB of storage.

The keyboardy bit offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, and the tablety bit does 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0. There's a separate battery in each half of the Trio, so not only can each part work on its own -- for up to 13 hours as Android and 5 hours as Windows 8 -- but when you bring them together one can provide a life-giving transfusion of power to the other.

Also in the tablet is a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus that shoots 1080p video, and a Webcam facing forward that shoots 720p high-definition video chat.

All this power doesn't come light. The keyboard dock measures 13.4mm thick and weighs 1kg, while the tablet is 9.7mm thick and weighs 700g. Overall it's a hefty package, but then the whole point is that you don't have to carry the whole thing around.

As a tablet, its pretty thin and light. James Martin/CNET

Software
The Trio offers the choice of Windows 8 or Android 4.2 Jelly Bean when docked. The screen only runs Android when it's detached, but when they're together or when the keyboard is plugged into a monitor, it runs Windows 8. To switch between them, press a little button next to the F12 function key on the top row of the keyboard. Switching can be instant, but can take a moment or two to go from one to the other. Even with a briefly blank screen, it's still pretty clever.

Why do you want both types of operating system available? As with the screen and keyboard, it's all about power versus portability. Windows 8 allows you to install almost any software you can think of when you have something intensive to do, while Android offers a simplified touch-screen experience that's easier on the battery, with apps designed to be simple to use when you're out and about.

The keyboard dock is nothing special on the outside, but hides its useful Windows 8 capabilities on the inside. James Martin/CNET

Another advantage is that if you've invested in plots of Android apps from the Google Play store for your Android phone, you can use them on your Trio, too.

Both types of software are designed to use with a touch screen, so you can use either by tapping, swiping and using several fingers at once on the screen, even when it's docked as a laptop.

Hands on
In person, the Asus Transformer Book Trio is just as impressive as it is on paper. When connected to the dock, it seamlessly switches from Android to Windows 8 with the touch of a button, and responds quickly to swipes and gestures.

As a tablet, it's awkwardly long, but shockingly light. The slate is comfortable to hold -- using both hands, of course -- but my outstretched arms made me feel like I was holding a map open instead of a portable electronic device.

The Transformer Book Trio features typical Asus goodies, like its calibration and audio-enhancing software. At full volume the tablet was pretty loud and the audio sounded fuller than most devices.

You can connect the keyboard dock to a monitor using Micro-HDMI or Mini DisplayPort. James Martin/CNET

Performance wise, the Transformer Book Trio was fast as an Android tablet, Android laptop, Windows 8 laptop, and Windows 8 desktop (as an extended monitor). By far its most impressive ability is to seamlessly become three different devices with the choice of two different operating systems.

The Asus Transformer Book Trio is expected to go on sale in October and, according to an Asus representative, it will be "competitively priced." My guess is that the Trio will go on sale for somewhere between $700 and $800.

What do you think the pricing for the Asus Transformer Book Trio will start at? Leave a comment with your best guess and check back to CNET for updates.

Editors' note: This story was first published on September 4, 2013, and was updated with additional information.

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Asus Transformer Book Trio

Part Number: TX201LA-DH51T

Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications

  • Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11n
    Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • Type Microsoft Windows 8
    Android 4.2 Jelly Bean