Asus Transformer Book T100 review: Long live the new Netbook

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The Good The Asus Transformer Book T100 runs full Windows 8.1, comes with a keyboard, has great battery life, and is a steal if you can find it for $350.

The Bad The cramped keyboard feels like an old Netbook's used to; not as fast as zippier, larger, more expensive Windows products; display not that vibrant.

The Bottom Line The Asus Transformer Book T100 revives the Netbook value proposition (and Netbook usability issues) in a budget-price 10-inch laptop that doubles as a tablet. You won’t love it, but for sheer bang for the buck, it’s hard to beat.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 9

A long time ago in Techland, Netbooks were a big deal: they were cheap, portable, and effective, if unexciting. Then came tablets, which could do a lot of the same things, but in a more organic, touch-controlled way.

Windows 8 has attempted to redefine small-form-factor computing. but the humble Netbook has been left behind in favor of tablets that flip and dock into hybrid computers. The Asus Transformer Book T100 has arrived to be your possible savior: it is the closest thing we have to a New Netbook, with a similarly small 10-inch screen and cramped-but-cozy keyboard, but it also happens to have a detachable top half that becomes a Windows 8 tablet. And, it's under $400: $379, or even less at some places.

Full Windows 8 PCs running newer Intel Atom processors and costing around $400 have been here for the last year, but here's why the T100 is special: it has a newer Bay Trail Atom processor that's faster and offers far better battery life, and the overall shape and design is a lot like the Asus Transformer Android keyboarded tablets, which we've always been fond of. A Transformer that runs full Windows? What can possibly be bad about that?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Keep in mind there are other values in the Windows 8 landscape, too, largely thanks to Bay Trail: the new Dell Venue 8 Pro actually costs $100 less, and has a great feel, but, it's only an 8-inch tablet. Also, it only has 32GB of SSD storage, and doesn't come with a keyboard. The Transformer Book T100 has more storage and that keyboard (but a 32GB SSD model is also on sale at many retail channels, so make sure you notice that before pulling the trigger on what you think is a better value).

Asus Transformer Book T100 Dell Venue 8 Pro Acer Iconia W3
Price $379 $299 $429
Display size/resolution 10.1-inch, 1,366 x 768 touch screen 8.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 touch screen 8.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 touch screen
PC CPU 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3740 1.3GHz Intel Atom3740D 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760
PC memory 2,948MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz 2,948MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz
Graphics 32GB Intel HD Graphics 32GB Intel HD Graphics Intel GMA 1003MB shared
Storage 64GB SSD hard drive 32GB SSD hard drive 64GB SSD hard drive
Optical drive None None None
Networking 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8 (32-bit) Windows 8 (32-bit) Windows 8 (32-bit)
Sarah Tew/CNET

Windows 8: Has it found the perfect device?
The T100 feels like a laptop first and tablet second, but that's not so bad at all: I typed a good chunk of this review on my train rides home and tucked in on my lap, and it worked quite well. If you've ever worked on a Netbook, you know how it feels.

And that's the bad part, I guess: this feels like a Netbook. Cramped keyboard, but a solidly performing one: its size and key travel reminded me of many recent iPad Bluetooth keyboard accessories. The touch pad below's nothing special, but it's roughly the size of the one on the Surface Type Cover, is clickable, and does the job.

To detach the top half, you click a button right above the keyboard and pull it off the mechanical latch. Afterwards, snap it back in, much like the HP Envy x2 and others. It's a seamless swap.

The keyboard bottom half has its own USB 3.0 port --- a benefit of upgrading to a Bay Trail processor -- but the rest of the ports (and the headphone jack) are on the tablet top half.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not going to sugar-coat this. The keyboard, while functional, is cramped and plastic-feeling. The touch pad is small. The chassis feels like a ticket to Glossy PlasticLand. The tablet's 1,366x768-pixel touch display is effective, but not particularly bright. It all resembles, very much, that good old Netbook Asus used to make not too long ago.

The keyboard is also on a permanent riser, because the tablet top half docks in a way that makes the whole bottom elevate when opened. I'm used to flatter keyboards, so it threw me off.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I typed back and forth among the Transformer Book T100, an iPad Air plugged into a Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case, and an HP Chromebook 11. The Chromebook had the best keyboard, followed by the iPad with Belkin case. The Transformer Book brings up the rear. But once you get used to the keys, it gets better.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As a tablet, the T100 is fine, but it's thicker and bigger than your average iPad or Android tablet, or even a Surface 2. It's not too heavy to hold, but it doesn't feel designed to be an excellent standalone tablet: it feels more like the floating back lid of a laptop that's still searching for its base. It's good, and I could definitely see myself using it casually on a sofa, but I wouldn't feel compelled to take the tablet on its own for a day without that keyboard. One thing that threw me off a bit was the Windows "home" button: instead of touching the Windows icon just below the display (which does nothing), you have to click the lower left button on the side of the tablet.

With the keyboard and tablet together, the Transformer Book weighs 2.4 pounds, an acceptable if slightly chunky number for a 10.1-inch Netbook. The tablet alone weighs 1.2 pounds. It feels good in one hand, but I'd rather use two. The thicker build quality and lower-resolution screen suggest that I wouldn't use it quite as much as a standalone tablet in most cases. The Dell Venue 8 Pro feels a lot better and has a better display, but it's also smaller and more Kindle-like, and seems less ideal for getting work done (it doesn't come with a keyboard, either).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do I like the Surface 2 more? Yes in terms of design, but not software. The proposition of this little T100 as a budget Netbook plus tablet seems extremely appealing. In fact, a tablet-meets-Netbook like this, which also charges via Micro-USB with an included cable, could be a Chromebook killer for a lot of people.

And no, there's no rear-facing camera, so don't even think of using this to take photos, unless you want to do a selfie. The 1.3-megapixel Webcam looks good for Skyping.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A quad-core next-gen Bay Trail Atom Z3740 lurks inside the Transformer Book T100, along with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of SSD storage in our review configuration. This is one of the first systems we've seen with this new class of Atom processors: previous Windows 8 systems with Atoms were actually pretty decent machines, if you accepted their limitations: for everyday tasks, they fared quite well, and had good battery life.

Here's the good news: the Transformer Book T100 outperformed last-gen Atom Windows 8 machines, and even did significantly better in some tests than the much more expensive (and heavier) AMD-powered Toshiba Satellite Click. That system cost over $500; the Transformer Book T100 costs under $400, and is a fraction of the size. More powerful and expensive systems like the Sony Vaio Tap 11 still outperform it by a significant margin, though.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The tablet's ports and connections are minimal but functional: Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, a microSD card slot, and a full USB 3.0 port on the keyboard base. The tablet has 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.

What should you expect? Again, for everyday basic work, this will get the job done. Honestly, the limitations of a small and lower-res screen and cramped keyboard and touch pad will set the tone for how much "serious hard-core work" you want to get done on this, anyway. It's versatile, and you could do more with it than you probably expect. As a Chromebook-level device, it's a world beater. Just remember you're still getting a budget, downsized machine. Think Netbook.

Asus offers both Microsoft Office Student Edition and a year's worth of unlimited Asus cloud storage with the Transformer Book T100, both nice perks. Microsoft Office comes preinstalled, but you have to redeem the code that should be in the box.

Battery life is great, lasting 591 minutes (9 hours, 51 minutes). That's equivalent to top-end tablets, roughly. But other laptops have done better. Other tablets, too. It's better than previous Atom tablets fared.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Transformer Book T100

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Transformer Book T100

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Transformer Book T100

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus Transformer Book T100

Conclusion: Has Windows 8 found its new poster-child?
Who is Windows 8 for, exactly? It's not ideal for desktops or laptops without touch screens, and standalone tablets without keyboards can be hard to get work done on. You want both, like the Surface Pro. You're either picking a hybrid that's a tablet first and a laptop second, or a laptop first and a tablet second.

The T100 is more laptop than tablet, but has the option to be flexible. It's not a great laptop. But it's a capable one, and highly affordable, too. If you can find one of these around $350, you're getting a tablet and a Netbook in one, with plenty of battery life to spare and full Windows 8.

The Netbook is back, and it doubles as a tablet. Budget-minded Windows 8 shoppers should be happy about that.

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations
Asus Transformer Book T100
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3740; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 64GB SanDisk SSD

Toshiba Click W35Dt-A
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1GHz AMD A4 1200 APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 8180 Graphics; 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

Acer Iconia W3
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 1003MB (shared) Intel GMA, 64GB SSD

Sony Vaio Tap 11
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-4210Y; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1739MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4200; 128GB Toshiba SSD

Dell Venue 8 Pro
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Atom 3740D; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB Samsung SSD