Asus is already well-known for its Android tablets and hybrid Windows 8 laptops, but with the Transformer Book Trio the Taiwanese firm decided to bring us the best of both worlds by merging them into one convertible device. It consists of two detachable parts: a keyboard dock with Windows 8 and laptop components inside (on our model, that means an Intel Core i5-4200U, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD) that doubles as a standalone PC when connected to a monitor; and a display with Android 4.2 and tablet hardware inside (Intel Atom, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage) that doubles as a touchscreen slate. It's a match made in heaven.
The Transformer Book Trio sports the same visual style as the Transformer Book T300, but with different colours. The aluminium body has a dark blue finish on the lid and a lighter blue on the keyboard. Unfortunately, the surface smudges easily. The components inside the keyboard make it a thick machine when the display is attached and closed, bringing the whole to 23.6 mm (11 mm thicker than the T300). Both sections together weigh 1.7 kg.
It has the same hinge as the T300, but this time we didn't notice any play in it. The keyboard is heavier than the screen, as well it should be, and the weight is well distributed when both parts are attached. This is a solid, stable-feeling device.
The keys are nice and small, but the stroke is too slack for our taste. When you use the keyboard with Android running, the system recognises all of the keys, which stay functional. The touchpad is a little small, but it's precise in both systems.
If you look closely, you'll notice a new key in the upper-right corner sitting between F12/volume up and prt sc/sysrq. This is the key that allows you to switch simply between Windows and Android when the keyboard is attached. When the keyboard is detached, the tablet runs Android only.
The tablet/display has a few of its own ports: one micro-USB port, an SD card reader and a combo audio jack. It has standard size (304.92 x 193.78 x 9.7 mm) and weight (700 grams) for a tablet. In both modes, we found the touchscreen to be precise and responsive.
The keyboard dock, however, doesn't have that many connection options for a laptop: one mini-DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports (that function as USB 2.0 only when using Android), a micro-HDMI output and an combo audio jack. We would have preferred more ports, or at least a standard HDMI output. Rounding out the wireless connectivity are Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n. We measured the Wi-Fi signal to be stable at -50 dBm from 5 to 10 metres away and -60 dBm from 20 metres away.
The Trio manages its heat exceedingly well. We recorded a maximum of 42.1°C while running full throttle. That makes it a great laptop to use on your lap. And the low heat isn't compensated for with loud fan noise: at a maximum of 39 dB(A), the Trio is practically inaudible.
The 11.6" Full HD display has a quality image, with contrast at 769:1 and brightness at 371 cd/m². It's glossy, though, so reflections are an issue.
Grey colour temperature
The colours are excellent with a Delta E of 2.6, showing that they're faithful and natural. The colour temperature of 6,800 K is near-perfect and the gamma is 2.1. Another great screen from Asus!
The speakers are typical of the convertible laptops we've reviewed: low in volume and low in bass. Mids are well reproduced, however, making for good intelligibility.
The headphone output is less impressive, with such poor soundstage that you feel more like you're listening to mono than stereo. But it does have fairly good power and no interference. This will be best used for voice calls, sitcoms and news.
Note: The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset, a 500 GB mechanical hard drive. The comments above refer to all versions of the Asus Transformer Book Trio, whereas the sections below apply only to the model we tested (see inset below). Available configurations may also vary depending on the country/region in which you live.
The Intel Core i5-4200U doesn't run at the height of its abilities in the Transformer Book Trio. In our rating system it got a score of 78, which puts it 22 points behind the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and 7 points behind the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2, both of which use the same processor.
The reason for this can be summed up in three words: mechanical hard drive. It limits how fast the computer can go. Core i5-4200U-equipped computers that have an SSD (like the Ativ Book) or an SSHD (like the Yoga 2) perform much better than this HDD-only system. You can see this in the results from our Adobe Lightroom test, as it relies heavily on a solid-state drive. In it we export 100 photos and time the process, and the Transformer Book Trio took 590 seconds, whereas the Ativ Book 9 Plus took 498 seconds. But despite these discrepancies, we found the overall user experience on the Transformer Book Trio to be quite good.
With its Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset, the Trio's gaming capabilities are naturally much lower than on a laptop that has a dedicated graphics card like the Gigabyte U24T (Nvidia GeForce GT 750M) and Asus ET2321 (Nvidia GeForce GT 740M).
You can't expect any miracles out of the 4400, especially not in the screen's native Full HD resolution. We wouldn't recommend playing anything other than what you find at the Windows Store and the odd lightweight video game like FIFA 13, but even then you'll have to lower the resolution and detail settings. HD videos, however, play just fine.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Our battery test consist of continuous video playback in airplane with the brightness set to 100 cd/m², the keyboard backlighting turned off and headphones plugged in, and the Transformer Book Trio lasted 6 hours. In Android mode it gave the same results as the MeMo Pad FHD 10: 9 hours with the keyboard detached and 12 hours with keyboard attached.
We handed the Transformer Book Trio over to our tablet reviewers, and here's what they had to say:
Rather than create a whole new tablet, Asus took the easy route and instead simply adapted the hardware it had already used on the MeMo Pad FHD 10. It's virtually the same thing, both in its advantages and disadvantages. It has an excellent Full HD screen, great battery life, nearly flawless responsiveness and even better finish. The few weaknesses include an overly wide bezel and the fast, yet limited graphics capabilities of the Intel CPU's integrated chipset when running bigger Android games.
One handy thing about the Trio is that you can transfer files between the two OS's. In Windows, Android is recognised as a USB-connected storage device, and in Android, you can access your Windows files in the My Storage tab under Settings. What is frustrating, however, is that there are no transfers between the same Asus app in both systems. Super Note is an obvious example: if you start writing a memo in Android, you can't finish writing it in Windows.