Tablet/laptop hybrids can be found pretty easily on the market these days, but few (if any) can claim to be thinner than a MacBook Air – especially with both halves put together. Does the ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi have more than just an ultra-slim profile going for it?
At it’s core, the T300 Chi is essentially a Windows 8.1 tablet. A mere 7.6mm thick, it’s definitely one of the slimmest on the market, if not the slimmest. It docks magnetically with a Bluetooth keyboard base, allowing the user to transform it into a full-fledged laptop whenever they please – hence the “Transformer” moniker.
Docking and undocking is a surprisingly painless process. I’ve had some bad experiences with similar devices in the past, but Asus has made handling the T300 Chi a breeze. A solid tug is all that’s needed to detach the tablet cleanly from it’s base, without any chance of irreparably bending or breaking any delicate protrusions. The ease of it goes both ways – hold the tablet more or less where it needs to be (with some very generous allowance) and it snaps back into place effortlessly.
This might give you the impression that the tablet and keyboard could come apart easily at the worst time, but that’s actually not true. For one thing, the magnets are pretty strong, and provide a very sturdy connection. There is no way the tablet would detach from it’s base during regular usage, unless you deliberately swung the T300 Chi around like a weapon. You could hold on to either the tablet or the keyboard while letting the other end dangle freely, and remain assured that nothing bad would happen. If there’s a magic sweet spot to such things, Asus has definitely managed to find it here.
But what does it mean for actual usage? As there are no actual hardpoint connections between Bluetooth keyboard base and tablet, the keyboard goes into standby mode if you’ve been using the touch-screen exclusively, or after you’ve left it untouched for a while. It won’t be immediately responsive when you return to your T300 Chi after a break, and this can be the cause of some minor aggravation – especially when the first thing you type is likely going to be your password.
Opening up the T300 Chi can be a little challenging at times, due to just how thin it is. With it’s smooth finish and lack of proper full-sized ports, there’s simply not much real estate to firmly hold on to. It’s like trying to pry open a stubborn clam, which can get somewhat awkward at the meeting table. Still, it’s not really a big deal, especially when you consider that the keyboard itself is fantastic – by laptop standards, at least.
I’ve always preferred working on a desktop precisely because of the feel and responsiveness of a proper keyboard, and while the T300 Chi’s Bluetooth keyboard base is far from perfect, it’s a step in the right direction. The keys are sufficiently large and well-spaced, and while they could never compare to a proper mechanical keyboard in terms of feel, they certainly don’t evoke the sensation of trying to type on a tray of soggy old biscuits.
I can’t say I love the trackpad as much though. It’s certainly smooth and responsive enough, if a little on the small side. However, trying to actually click on something feels much harder than it should, due to the unnatural stiffness of it’s construction. Given that you could always use a mouse or the the T300 Chi’s own touch-screen, this could be a moot point, but it’s just one of those little things that might bother you if you’re a habitual trackpad user.
The tablet runs on a Intel Core M processor, which happens to be the same chip that powers the MacBook. Given that it was probably designed to be compact above all else, I wasn’t expecting superb performance. Even so, the T300 Chi performed admirably well during my time with it, with no major performance hiccups whatsoever.
While it certainly wasn’t built to play high-end video games, I had no issues editing multiple hi-res images with more than a dozen open browser windows in the background. With 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, the T300 Chi is more than adequate for general usage and would serve the purposes of most working professionals quite nicely. Just don’t expect to be able to do any heavy-duty computing work on it without some kind of performance drop – for all it’s bells and whistles, this is still a tablet with a keyboard attached to it and not some monster desktop machine.
Optimal performance comes at a price, though. Users can only rely on the tablet’s own internal power supply, and there is no additional power source within the base to prolong the T300 Chi’s battery life. 4-5 hours or so of continuous usage will drain the battery completely, which is significantly below average compared to the battery life of other laptops on the market. The T300 Chi is thus not well-suited for those who are constantly on the move and have limited access to an external power supply.
“Sleek” is an oft-overused word to describe devices like this, but in this case, it fits perfectly. If the razor-thin profile wasn’t already enough to capture people’s attention, the smooth black finish with polished beveled edges certainly will. The T300 Chi straddles the line between flashy and subdued, and does so brilliantly with it’s elegant, minimalistic design. It wouldn’t look out of place in a hipster cafe next to a bunch of MacBooks, yet would still look right at home on an office desk.
The Final Verdict
Retailing for SGD $1,498, the ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi is rather pricey for what is essentially a baseline Windows 8.1 tablet – albeit a very slim, good-looking one. It looks great and performs to expectations, but the poor battery life is a major drawback and the lack of any proper full-sized ports mandates the use of a dongle at all times. While not quite as revolutionary as it could have been, it’s a fine little piece of hardware that’s worth considering if you’re in the market for a hybrid device – but it would not be my top choice.