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mobile review

Asus Transformer T300 Chi — Windows 2-in-1

Asus has worked hard to move upmarket. Making low-cost no-brand PCs is not good business. Today Asus wants to been seen as a maker of affordable, good-quality hardware. And Asus 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.

It works well as a laptop. Make that a touch-screen laptop.

Inevitable Macbook comparison

The list price is NZ$1800, the same as a 13-inch Apple Macbook Air, the 256GB model. You may find it cheaper.

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 didn’t spend enough 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, biut push it hard and you’ll find shortcomings. Don’t expect to edit video, run photoshop or handle huge databases on this device.

Windows 8.1

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. 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. And I’m sure some users like being able to display windows side-by-side on the wide display, I find it irritating to have such a shallow screen when I’m typing. I prefer reading down the page over a narrower measure.

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 computers 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 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.

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mobile

Showing BlackBerry Classic on Firstline

Last week I was on TV3 Firstline talking about a man who used virtual reality to watch his baby being born, the BlackBerry Classic phone and the Asus Transformer T300 Chi. Both products benefit from being shown on TV. I’ll have more on the Asus device soon.

The new BlackBerry a classic reborn?

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review

Asus pushes upmarket with Zenbook UX301

Asus Zenbook UX301Asus is best known for mid-price PCs and tablets in New Zealand. It aims to change that with the upmarket Zenbook UX301.

Ultrabooks tend to be better made and more elegantly designs than everyday laptops. Asus pulled out the stops building the Zenbook UX301.

Like most Ultrabooks it’s well engineered and nice looking. The metal lid has a distinct purple tint and a spiral pattern. There’s an Asus logo that lights up MacBook-style when the Zenbook is in use.

That’s no accident. The MacBook Air is clearly Asus’ reference point. The Zenbook aspires to be the nearest Windows equivalent. It gets close.

High resolution Zenbook

The Zenbook UX301 has a 13 inch 2560 x 1440 pixel screen. This makes it one of the highest resolution Ultrabooks on the market. It is an ideal device for working with photos, video or other creative tools that need high-resolution.

While high-resolution is a good thing, it’s not without problems. The way Windows works means text often displays in tiny sizes. The good news is you can view two documents side-by-side. That’s great for editing. The bad news is I ended up straining my eyes squinting at the tiny type.

In theory Windows 8.1 allows you to scale type, icons and other screen items. Scaling doesn’t work with all applications.

Touch screen good at times

This is troubling because the Zenbook UX301 has a touch screen. Some touch buttons and links are tiny.

In practice I found myself touching the screen only when using the Windows Modern interface and apps. The touchpad is better when working in the more familiar Windows desktop.

Laptop makers face a trade-off between raw computing power and battery life. Apple keeps MacBook Air lights on longer by reining-in the processor and other settings.

Asus takes the other approach with the Zenbook UX301. You get three or four hours use. In return the Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram and graphics co-processor chew through tough tasks at a nifty pace. This is a good machine for running big spreadsheets. Storage is fast too, speeding data intensive work.

Zenbook UX301 verdict

At $2499, the Zenbook UX301 isn’t cheap. On the other hand it is roughly the same price as a similarly configured MacBook Air.

One niggle is the power supply. Asus packs a bulky charger, which needs an extra adaptor to fit in New Zealand power sockets. This isn’t well balanced, so the charger pack tends to drop out, disconnecting the device. On one occasion this left me with fully discharged batteries at an awkward moment.

Despite the shortcomings, the Zenbook UX301 is a good Ultrabook for anyone needing desktop processing grunt and graphics power in a portable. If you just want Windows grunt and portability, the Surface Pro 3 could be a better bet. If you prefer the same thing in a more traditional package, the Zenbook should fit the bill.

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review

Asus Transformer Pad TF103 review

At first glance the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 is a decent low-cost tablet. The specification, build and performance aren’t noticeable better than the multitude of rival Android devices aiming at the same market. However, the value is undeniably ahead of the competition. Asus’s New Zealand NZ$500 asking price buys a ten inch tablet and a decent, hard shell docking keyboard.

The Transformer Pad TF103 an Android tablet and it’s not made by Samsung. If you’ve watched the tablet market you’ll know exactly what that means: price is everything.

Anyone considering the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 will look at the price tag first. It’s a business decision: how much tablet you get for the money and will it deliver?

Transformer Pad TF103 — a lot of tablet for $500

That’s a lot of mobile productivity for $500. You could spend the same money and buy a low-end laptop, but the Transformer Pad TF103 weighs considerably less at 550g and takes up less room.

Apple’s iPad Air is certainly a better all-round tablet. The design and built are better. It comes with better software and there’s a thriving app market covering all the bases. And yet you’d need to find an extra $250 to buy the tablet, plus at least another $100 to add a decent keyboard.

If you’re looking at the Transformer Pad TF103 because you’re wedded to Android, Samsung’s dazzling Galaxy Tab S is the main competition. Samsung’s display is streets ahead of the one packed into the Asus TF103 and while there’s a lot of bloatware, Samsung offers a better software experience. Yet, as with the iPad Air, you’d need to find at least another $350.

What don’t you get?

What this adds up to in practice, is asking what you don’t get when you spend less on your tablet and whether the missing features, functionality and so on make saving $350 a sensible move. Or if you simply, don’t have the extra money, what will you miss?

Even without the keyboard, the Asus Transformer Pad TF103 is thicker and heavier than the iPad or Galaxy Tab S. Add the keyboard and there’s noticeably more to carry. The build quality is on a par with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, but a fair distance behind the iPad Air. Samsung’s flagship tablet borders on being flimsy, that’s not the case here, Asus has built something far more solid.

The 10.1-inch, 1,280-by-800-pixel LCD display is all you need for most apps. It’s not a patch on Samsung’s Tab S screen and a long way behind Apple’s 2048-by-1536 Retina screen. Assuming you’re happy with Asus’ plain vanilla Android approach, this is the make or break compromise.

Performance

There’s an Intel Atom chip inside the Asus Transformer Pad TF103. Forget the geeky details, in practice it means most applications should run faster on the TF103 than on a Galaxy Tab S. My experience bore this out, the TF103 is fast by Android tablet standards.

It’s not all good though. Crashes are extremely rare on the iPad and, despite Android  sometimes being flaky, not especially common on the Galaxy Tab S. I found the TF103 falls over more often than either of those two tablets, but it’s not that often and certainly not a deal breaker.

Like every other tablet maker, Asus packs its own software in the device. There’s a custom Android overlay, which, frankly, I prefer to Samsung’s TouchWiz. If anything Asus has given the icons, menus and built-in apps more of an iOS 7 look and feel than you’d usually find on Android. The built-in apps are surprisingly good and will almost certainly be enough to get you started.

Conclusion

Anyone well-heeled enough to find the extra for an iPad or a Galaxy should walk away at this point. So should anyone who thinks they’ll work with images or spend a lot of time with visually demanding entertainment software. On the other hand, if you’re running a small business and you simply want to put affordable tools in your worker’s hands, Asus could be a better choice. It’s great for the basics and the included keyboard effectively turns it into a $500 laptop replacement. It’s not exciting or dazzling, but you’ll get the productivity you need for a ridiculously low price.

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productivity

Sony Vaio, Samsung PC business in Asus’ sights

Asus New Zealand Systems Business Group manager David McKean says Sony and Samsung’s retreat from the laptop market left a gap his company plans to fill.

In February Sony sold the Vaio laptop brand to a Japanese investment firm. At the time Sony said it was dropping the underperforming PC business to concentrate on mobile hardware.

Samsung’s strategy is less clear. Earlier this year it said it was pulling back from many markets to focus on tablets and smartphones. The company still lists laptops and all-in-ones on its New Zealand site.

These moves have left a vacuum in the New Zealand market that Asus intends to fill. The PC business has been under pressure in recent years with falling sales thanks to the growth of tablets and smartphones.

Those left in the game have seen increased pressure on margins. Winning is partly about achieving economies of scale. That could be difficult for Asus in New Zealand as the company is a relative minnow here, not featuring in the top five PC suppliers. However, the company is a big player in some overseas markets.

Asus PR and marketing manager Sally Vernon says the computer maker is pushing its brand up-market in aiming to fill the gap. She says Asus isn’t widely known in New Zealand for its high-end products, but the products will be here once the brand is better known and establishes a greater market share.