The Microsoft Surface tablet’s iconic design has stood the test of time. Its built-in kickstand and cover keyboards are now inspiring other manufacturers with their own versions. ASUS latest Windows tablet, Transformer 3 Pro, is one product.
Windows as a Desktop
Despite years of Microsoft attempts to improve the Windows for tablet form, I still find it challenging to use Windows as a tablet. That is because the OS is too powerful and empowering that any attempt to dumb it down into an iOS or Android equivalent would be met with certain resistance.
I love Windows. It’s strength is on multi-windows multi-tasking. And since Apple refuses to develop a touch-screen version of MacOS, that makes Windows the only desktop OS that supports touch screen. So while I do not like to use Windows as a tablet, I think the touch feature helps tremendously in operation. For instance, instead of using a mouse or trackpad with multi-touch gestures, I just bring my finger to the screen and drag around or tap the area where I want the cursor to be.
And let’s not forget that scenario – however uncommon – that one might be browsing the web to read stuff. In those situations, a desktop or laptop would be cumbersome. So, there are many laptops with removable keyboard docks or foldable keyboards to the back. Still, it does not solve one big problem: weight. To make sure the laptop does not topple over, the keyboard needs to have sufficient weight, resulting in design compromises.
Tablet, Kickstand and Lightweight Keyboard
So it comes down to this ultimate design solution: to build a kickstand to support the full weight of the tablet, so that the keyboard remains lightweight. This also means the keyboard can become an optional component of the device, allowing situations where I really do not need a full keyboard, however unlikely. Neither do I rely on the keyboard dock to support the display since the tablet has a kickstand.
The kickstand design has come a long way. The first kickstand design on the Microsoft Surface is limited to fixed angles. Now, tablets like Transformer 3 Pro has adjustable kickstand that supports the tablet up to 155-degrees. The stepless hinge mechanism is so sturdy and yet flexible.
The keyboard design, too, has advanced much. No longer are we constrained with flat keyboard keys. The Transformer Cover Keyboard is backlit with real keys with 1.4mm travel and well-spaced design which I find comfortable to type with its dirt-resistant fabric. But the review unit seems to have a hypersensitive trackpad that makes the mouse jump all over the screen when I try to use it. Perhaps the keyboard has been slightly abused by other reviewers, but that gives a good idea of the durability that are not as comparable as hard keyboards.
Connectivity and Ports
The ASUS Transformer 3 Pro comes with full-size USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, 40Gps Thunderbolt port (USB Type-C), micro SD slot, 3.5mm audio-mic plug, front-facing stereo speakers, volume buttons. It is comprehensive for a small Windows tablet. If you needed more ports, there is the optional ASUS Universal Dock with HDMI (3840 x 2160 at 30Hz), VGA (1920 x 1080), RJ-45 1Gbps LAN, 2x USB 3.0, USB Type-C, SD card, USB Audio Out, Mic-In. The dock requires power to function, but it also charges the Transformer 3 Pro at the same time.
The small front-facing speakers tuned by Harman-Kardon deliver loud and clear audio when listening at normal volume. When turning up the volume, they turn out with rather heavy audio compression.
Cameras and Windows Hello
The ASUS Transformer 3 Pro is one of the few Windows devices with high-resolution 13MP rear camera, which I appreciate. However unlikely that someone would use a tablet to take photos, the component cost is so negligible that it baffles me why it is not included. Still, if someone does snap photos, at least the camera quality is good enough for sharing, though still not up to the same standard as ASUS smartphones like Zenfone 3.
The front camera remains a miserly 2MP, but ASUS included an infrared camera to enable facial recognition unlock called “Windows Hello“. It helps tremendously in unlocking the device in the absence of keyboard, and I often shudder at the hassle of typing my long password with combination of letters, numbers, special characters, requiring me to activate so many keystrokes. So, thumbs up to this feature.
Tablet Pen with 1024 Levels
The inclusion of the ASUS Pen in the Transformer 3 Pro adds to the versatility. With the right app, the pen can turn the tablet into a creative canvas. It is unfortunate that there is no place to hold the Pen within the tablet.
Display and Weight
The specs vary by models, but you get 2880 x 1920 12.6-inch LED backlit display, just 800 grams, 8.3mm thin. This review unit is speced with i7-6500U Intel Core processor, 16GB RAM, 512GB PCIe x4 SSD, Integrated Intel HD Graphics 520, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, Windows 10 Pro. Overall, the device performs fast and nimble. Though the graphics spec is not fantastic, you can plug the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 GPU docking station via the Thunderbolt port to achieve phenomenal performance.
ASUS claims the Transformer 3 Pro can last all-day, and based on my review, the 2-cell battery does meet that claim only when doing tasks like word processing and web browsing. I would also turn on Battery Saver mode to prevent the processor from going into overdrive unnecessarily. And because the 6th-generation Intel Core i7 is capable of handling powerful tasks, I would prefer to keep the battery fully charged before the day begins, in case I need to run some battery-draining apps that would instantly use up the battery within couple of hours.
The ASUS Transformer 3 Pro is a versatile product, with the flexibility to expand with accessories like stylus pen, docks and keyboard, making it one of the better portable computers running on Windows 10. It empowers me to maximise the performance at home with multiple add-ons, while traveling light with the bare essentials. I would love to see a battery add-on solution to address the power issue during times when I needed the longevity and the full performance of this capable machine.
The Transformer 3 Pro retails from S$1898, with this review unit going for S$2598, with 2-years international warranty.
- Versatile performance with accessories
- Average battery