Asus has worked hard to move upmarket. Making low-cost no-brand PCs is not a great business. Margins are small. It’s a grind. Today Asus wants to be seen as a maker of affordable, good-quality hardware. And the company wants to be interesting.
The Asus Transformer T300 Chi is a step on that path. It’s a good-looking laptop that doubles as a tablet. The screen connects to the keyboard by a magnetic dock allowing you to quickly pull the device apart.
Hence the Transformer name. You might also call it a hybrid computer.
This isn’t Asus’s first device in this space. Last year I reviewed the Asus Transformer Pad TF103.
The Transformer T300 Chi works well as a laptop. Make that a touch-screen laptop.
Inevitable Macbook comparison
Its list price in New Zealand is NZ$1800, that’s the same price as a 13-inch Apple Macbook Air, the 256GB model. You may find Asus models selling for less in some outlets.
On paper the T300 compares well with the MacBook Air. The Transformer T300 Chi is a fraction lighter and a little thinner. It looks like a proper computer, despite being able to transform to a tablet – some two-in-one devices look odd.
Asus hasn’t compromised on the external looks.
For the money you get a solid keyboard. I’d need to spend more time with the computer to learn if the keyboard is better than Apple’s, but it is respectable and can take the kind of hammering that touch typists are capable of.
You get a decent, not outstanding fan-less Intel M processor. It means the Transformer T300 can handle most everyday computing tasks without a hiccup, but push it hard and you’ll find shortcomings. Don’t expect to edit video, run photoshop or handle huge databases on this device.
As you’d expect, the Asus Transformer T300 Chi is a Windows 8.1 device. In some ways it goes head to head with the Microsoft Surface more than the Macbook Air. You certainly get a better keyboard than you’ll find on the current crop of Surface Pro models. That’s a decider for some buyers.
While the design works just fine. There are three potential annoyances depending on how you view these matters.
First, the 12.5-inch display has the 16:9 aspect ratio used by widescreen TVs. That’s a plus when you want to watch a movie. Some users like being able to display windows side-by-side on a wide display.
A screen as shallow as that is not good for typing. It’s harder to proofread across a wide width, narrower, deeper screens are better for this task.
Asus Transformer T300 Chi annoyances
That annoyance can go either way depending on your taste. The second annoyance isn’t so finely balanced. As you’d expect the computer's guts are all in the screen unit. That makes sense until you come to charge it. Charging the screen is straightforward enough.
Charging the keyboard involves running a cable across the back of the device from one side to the other. It’s awkward and can mean carrying a cable all day.
Annoyance number three is the battery life. You’ll get about three to four hours of use from a single charge. That’s less than half what you can get from a MacBook or a Surface. Admittedly part of that is because you’ll need to have Bluetooth switched on all the time you use the Asus Transformer T300 Chi as a laptop. But even so, rival devices are now capable of going all day on a charge.
These criticisms aside, the Transformer T300 Chi is a fine choice if you want to work and watch movies. It’s also a solid alternative to the Surface for Windows fans. Microsoft needs more competition in that area.