We love 2 in 1 tablet / laptops here at Gizmodo. They're super-convenient, usually very sleek, and still handle all the regular tasks that you need an ol'-fashioned PC for. The Transformer Book Chi is a laptop that's already thinner than a MacBook Air for your normal work day, but then — if you don't need its keyboard half, if you're just watching videos or reading a book — you can tear it in half.
What Is It?
- Display: 12.5in, 2560x1440 pixel
- CPU: Intel Core M 5Y10, 0.8GHz or Core M-5Y71, 1.2GHz
- RAM: 4GB DDR3, up to 8GB
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 5300
- HDD: 128GB SSD
If you want to get technical, the $1299 Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi is technically a tablet. It's a Windows 8.1 tablet, with a 12.5-inch multi-touch touchscreen 2560x1440 pixel display — you get a choice of two Intel Core M CPUs, either the Core M-5Y10 with a 800MHz base and 2.5GHz boost clock or the Core M-5Y71 with a 1.2GHz base and 2.9GHz boost clock. These are roughly parallel to Intel's mainstream Core i3 and Core i7 chips, but consume a lot less power and run entirely fan-free. The T300 Chi in Australia only comes with 128GB of SSD flash storage.
The Asus T300 Chi's keyboard doesn't actually have any battery or processing power hidden away in it, unlike some other Asus 2 in 1 tablet / laptops. It's purely an input device, and actually connects via Bluetooth so you can use it wirelessly if you wish. It connects to the tablet portion of the Chi with a pair of magnets, which sit in a rotating hinge in the centre rear of the keyboard dock — the rest of that hinge is covered in felt so as to not scratch the T300's tablet edges.
Those edges are beautiful, too. The entire Transformer Book T300 Chi has a typically Asus finish — a dark, slate blue covers its entirely metal body, with chamfered edges that actually make it look a lot like an oversized Samsung Galaxy S5 or Note 4. There's a single chrome Asus logo in the centre back of the tablet, the simple felted 160-degree hinge, and the rest of the keyboard dock is finished in the same satin slate blue with cut metal accents and Asus keys.
Because the Chi is so skinny and because its keyboard dock doesn't house any circuitry apart from the peripherals, all its ports and buttons are arranged across the tablet's edges. You get a single skinny DC 12-volt power input on the left, alongside the power and physical volume control buttons. On the right, micro-USB 3.0, micro-HDMI, and a headset-capable headphone jack. The stereo speakers are arranged in a similar fashion; they fire sidewards, so you can cup them in your hands while watching a movie in landscape orientation if you so desire.
What's It Good At?
The Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi's screen is phenomenal. It's a beautiful panel; an IPS LCD with an incredibly wide viewing angle, pretty damn good colour reproduction out of the box, and a pixel density of 235ppi thanks to a high resolution of 2560x1440 pixels and a relatively small screen size of 12.5 inches. That combo means it's portable, but detailed; it also handles Windows 8.1 out of the box pretty well if you apply a tiny bit of scaling — but leave Chrome to do its thing, of course. The fact that it's a 10-point multitouch touchscreen is just icing on the cake.
The T300 Chi is just so thin, too. That tablet portion, where absolutely every piece of computing hardware lives, is 7.6mm thick. That's barely thicker than the original iPad air or any iPad mini, and it has a full CPU and full Windows hidden away inside. It's fractionally heavier than these competitors at 720g, though, but it doesn't feel heavy. And, of course, when you want to do some real work on the keyboard and trackpad, just clip it into place and the Chi is still thinner than a MacBook Air at its thickest point.
And if you do want to do some real work, you genuinely can on the Chi; its keyboard is excellent. Those chiclet keys are way better than even the already-good ones on the Transformer Books and Transformer Pads of yore, and the trackpad is responsive and provides a strong and reassuring click when you tap against it. This is a keyboard that I'd be happy to write a multiple-thousand-word review on if I had to, and it's not loud or otherwise annoying in the meantime. Even its side-firing speakers are better than I expected them to be (although there are, of course, better speakers on larger laptops out there; the Chi's are a little quiet).
Asus' claims of eight-hour battery life are, for the most part, on the money. Unless you're really taxing the processor with Full HD video decoding, exporting a bunch of files from Lightroom or rendering a project in Premiere, you'll get near enough to that figure with the screen set near halfway on the brightness scale. Because the screen is so bright at its max, it's possible to drain the battery a lot faster. I'm sure that if you went full-on power saver you'd reach a solid nine-hour figure.
What's It Not Good At?
Being a tablet, the Transformer Book Chi doesn't have quite as capacious a battery as it might have otherwise had. If Asus had used a couple of magnetic locking power contacts on the hinge, they could have stored a larger backup battery in the keyboard dock and added some extra juice for those long-haul flights. You'll still get near those Asus claims of eight hours of productivity, although if you bump up the brightness significantly over halfway on that super-bright and high-res screen you can throw that figure out the window. Nothing unusual here, of course.
Similarly, the size means you'll have to compromise on connectivity. You can't just plug any old USB flash drive into the T300 Chi because of its microUSB 3.0 port; you'll need something like the Sandisk Ultra Dual USB instead for transferring files from the Chi to another PC. Similarly, you'll have to have a microHDMI to HDMI cable handy or keep it plugged into your TV or PC monitor, because the Chi lacks full-size HDMI. These are all small compromises, but ones you'll have to learn to live with.
The Chi is a Core M machine, and for most intents and purposes that means it's largely identical to a dual-core i5 or i7 from Intel's full-powered laptop CPU stables. It will stutter a bit with a couple of dozen Chrome tabs open, though, especially if you have any other kind of resource-hungry program (like, say, Adobe's Lightroom or Photoshop or Premiere for photo or video editing) waiting in the background and chewing up stray CPU cycles. It's not a big deal at all, you just have to practice the slightest amount of restraint and not keep superfluous apps running in the background; it's just like driving a smartphone or tablet.
Probably the biggest problem with the Transformer Book T300 Chi is actually opening it. Asus hasn't included the little cut-out underneath the trackpad or at the centre-top of the display that most laptops have, and that means there's no point at which you can slide a thumb or fingernail underneath to hook under and flip it open easily. This is a minor consideration, and you certainly quickly get proficient at opening the Chi in different ways — I opted to push at one side most of the time — but it's a minor design quirk that I don't necessarily think is a good choice.
Should You Buy It?
Despite only having a relatively small battery inside its skinny tablet body, the $1299 Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi has good battery life — in my couple of run-down tests it lived up to Asus' claim of eight hours' performance. It's more than powerful enough for any regular computing task, and the Core M will handle the odd bit of casual photo or video editing — making it powerful enough for anything but the most serious or professional users.
Its design is excellent. It's just about the right size for portability, like the Toshiba Portege Z20t, when you unhook the keyboard dock and go tablet-only; when you use the two together it's just like the MacBook Air but thinner. It's Retina MacBook-grade thin. The finish, too, is of a high quality and is consistently applied; I'd say the T300 Chi is one of the best built Asus laptops that I've ever used. I only wish it was easier to open.
If your usage isn't of an extremely high-end nature — unless you're editing 4K video, or stitching together multi-segment panoramas at extremely high resolution, or intending to play modern games — then the Transformer Book T300 Chi's Intel Core M processor and integrated Intel graphics will be more than capable of handling your needs. It also helps the laptop eke out long battery life if you're Web browsing or just watching downloaded or streamed video at a moderate screen brightness.
But it is that screen that is an absolute standout on the Asus T300 Chi; it's incredibly detailed for its size and has an excellent range of brightness over which it can be used. That combination means the Transformer Book Chi is equally capable of playing video on a long-haul flight or handling a spot of high-res photo editing (but not every day). It's a great laptop for the regular user, and it's surprisingly affordable for what you get.