Asus Trans­former Mini T102HA

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

A 10.1in screen means it’s smaller than the 12in MacBook, even though it doesn’t have ‘ex­pen­sive’ fea­tures such as a screen with al­most no sur­round

Asus of­ten caters for peo­ple who want a £1,000 lap­top but have nowhere near that bud­get. The firm’s lat­est of­fer­ing is the Trans­former Mini T102HA: a low-cost take on the Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro 4. It’s a lap­top with a de­tach­able key­board, its own kick­stand and a sty­lus. From an­other per­spec­tive, it’s just an­other hy­brid, but one with a Sur­face-flavour twist.

Price

The Trans­former Mini T102HA costs £349. That in­cludes the key­board base, sty­lus and a one-year war­ranty. Com­pare that to the Sur­face Pro 4 and the huge dif­fer­ence in price is ob­vi­ous. Mi­crosoft’s en­try-level model will set you back £749 and the key­board an ad­di­tional £109, bring­ing the to­tal to around £860.

These two hy­brids are only com­pa­ra­ble in a loose sense though, as the Sur­face is a lot more pow­er­ful and sig­nif­i­cantly larger. It seems that dra­mat­i­cally un­der­cut­ting Mi­crosoft is part of Asus’s mis­sion state­ment.

There’s also a 128GB SSD ver­sion of the Mini T102HA, though as that cur­rently costs £590 it rep­re­sents a poor-value up­grade.

De­sign

Con­sid­er­ing the low price, Asus has done a great job of hold­ing onto a few hints of higher-end de­sign. The rear is alu­minium rather than plas­tic, for ex­am­ple, and like the Sur­face there’s a smooth-fold­ing kick­stand on the back.

This is the main thing that sep­a­rates the Mini T102HA from older Trans­former-se­ries de­vices, most of which use a key­board base that the screen slots into. Here, the key­board is more like a thick, rigid fo­lio cover. It locks onto the dis­play us­ing mag­nets, and a fur­ther set of mag­nets let the board sit at a slight an­gle for more com­fort­able typ­ing.

The key­board part is fi­bre­glass rather than alu­minium, which helps keep the weight down, but its rear is a neat syn­thetic felt. This doesn’t look like a £700 hy­brid, but it doesn’t seem em­bar­rass­ingly cheap ei­ther. The kick­stand isn’t as smooth as that of the Sur­face, but it is easily strong enough to hold the screen at al­most any an­gle. It swivels to around 170 de­grees: highly flex­i­ble.

At 790g, in­clud­ing the key­board, the Asus is also light and por­ta­ble. A 10.1in screen means it’s smaller than the 12in MacBook, even though it doesn’t have fea­tures such as a screen with al­most no sur­round.

There are a few dif­fer­ent pros and cons to a Sur­face-style hy­brid like this. Un­like a 360-de­gree hinge hy­brid, the dis­play comes off to func­tion as a proper tablet, and the kick­stand means you can lean the de­vice back al­most flat and it won’t top­ple over. On the down­side, the kick­stand feels awk­ward when rest­ing on your knees and you end up with a key­board that feels like part of a case.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

Asus has taken an old-school approach when it comes to con­nec­tiv­ity and doesn’t of­fer a USB-C port. Al­most all mo­bile de­vices, apart from very cheap mod­els, are likely to fea­ture USB-C in 2017, so stick­ing with Mi­cro-USB for charg­ing means the Trans­former Mini T102HA will date more quickly.

Aside from this though, the con­nec­tions are smart. There’s a USB 3.0 slot, so adding a mouse is a cinch, plus there are Mi­cro-HDMI and mi­croSD ports. It’s enough to make the Asus seem like a mini PC rather than the kind of ultraportable that’s not re­ally de­signed to in­ter­face with peripherals.

There’s also a finger­print scan­ner on the rear, used as part of Win­dows

Hello to let you lo­gin to Win­dows 10 with­out typ­ing a pass­word or code. It gives the Trans­former Mini T102HA an­other fea­ture to show off, but like Win­dows Hello in gen­eral it doesn’t end up sav­ing you much time un­less you have a longer pass­word. The pad is, how­ever, much pick­ier about your fin­ger po­si­tion­ing than a phone or An­droid/iOS tablet scan­ner. It tended to take us two at­tempts rather than one to un­lock the de­vice.

Key­board and track­pad

There’s a lot of com­pe­ti­tion if you’re out for a slim work ma­chine, the best al­ter­na­tives be­ing Chrome­books (see our top picks on page 122). One prac­ti­cal is­sue we en­coun­tered is that the key­board is around 90 per­cent that of a full size model and un­til you get used to the new di­men­sions it will feel a lit­tle cramped. This is one of the is­sues com­mon among 10in hy­brids: there isn’t room for a full-size key­board.

There is still a lot to like, though. The fi­bre­glass base is more rigid than the sur­rounds of some tra­di­tional lap­tops and 1.5mm key travel pro­vides a feel closer to that of a nor­mal key­board than most tablet add-ons. The key ac­tion is ba­sic, less re­fined and clean than a truly good lap­top key­board. There’s also no back­light, though we didn’t ex­pect one at this price.

Sim­i­larly, the track­pad is a ba­sic rec­tan­gle of plas­tic rather than the tex­tured glass high-end lap­tops use, but has a nice firm click and while small it doesn’t seem un­der­sized rel­a­tive to the key­board.

We did, how­ever, have other is­sues with the Trans­former Mini T102HA’s pad. For ex­am­ple, it has a ten­dency to be far too sen­si­tive to the pres­ence of a sec­ond fin­ger, of­ten mak­ing the cur­sor sud­denly fly across the screen when you click the but­ton, as if you’d also just made a grand swipe across the pad.

For us this is the most an­noy­ing part of the Asus. We man­aged to im­prove it by tweak­ing the Win­dows mouse driver set­tings (by stop­ping light taps on the pad from be­ing reg­is­tered as ‘clicks’), but it seems un­likely many buy­ers will know how to do this. It’s a clas­sic track­pad driver nig­gle.

Dis­play

The Trans­former Mini T102HA also has a ‘clas­sic’ bud­get hy­brid touch­screen dis­play. Un­like new higher-end mod­els, there’s a lot of blank space be­tween the screen and the edge of the de­vice, and res­o­lu­tion is low at 1280x800 pix­els. Even at nor­mal view­ing distance, you can see pixel­la­tion in Win­dows 10’s small fonts. Don’t ex­pect the

Drag­ging the sty­lus across the screen doesn’t feel en­tirely smooth be­cause the nib is ba­sic hard plas­tic and there is some in­put lag

dis­play qual­ity of a £350 tablet as you’ll be dis­ap­pointed.

In other re­spects, how­ever, it’s per­fectly solid. The screen doesn’t ap­pear re­cessed, colours are good for a bud­get ma­chine and bright­ness is fan­tas­tic. At 410cd/m2, it’s brighter than a lot of £1,000-plus lap­tops. This is good news if you want to use the Asus out­side, as the glossy top layer causes reflections.

Look­ing a bit deeper into colour per­for­mance, it hits 72.6 per­cent of the sRGB colour stan­dard. That’s not go­ing to give you su­per­sat­u­rated colour, but is typ­i­cal of a de­cent-qual­ity bud­get IPS LCD screen. In per­son, the Trans­former Mini T102HA also seems slightly un­der­sat­u­rated, the deep­est reds and blues show up that this is a fairly hum­ble panel.

Con­trast also helps keep the screen look lively rather than muted. An ex­cel­lent 907:1 con­trast ra­tio means blacks ap­pear truly black un­til you ramp up the screen bright­ness, and even then they ap­pear slightly grey, which is per­haps bet­ter than them turn­ing blueish. This may not be a screen to show off to iPad Air-own­ing friends, but in prac­ti­cal terms it has the ba­sics nailed.

The sty­lus is a AAA bat­tery­pow­ered metal pen that slots into a loop on the key­board base. It’s much more ad­vanced than a ba­sic sty­lus you might buy for your tablet, with 1,024 pres­sure sen­si­tiv­ity lev­els and two but­tons that act like L/R mouse but­tons. You’ll see the cur­sor on-screen when it’s within an inch of the dis­play, too. If you want a hy­brid that’ll also work as a dig­i­tal sketch­book, this is one of the best low-cost op­tions. Don’t ex­pect iPad Pro-like re­sults, though.

Drag­ging the sty­lus across the screen doesn’t feel en­tirely smooth be­cause the nib is ba­sic hard plas­tic and there is some in­put lag, a re­minder you’re us­ing a sty­lus rather than a real pen. How­ever, re­mem­ber that an iPad Pro’s Ap­ple Pen­cil alone costs al­most a third the price of the whole Trans­former Mini T102HA pack­age, so keep your ex­pec­ta­tions re­al­is­tic.

Per­for­mance

This is not a fast lap­top, and like most In­tel Atom-pow­ered Win­dows 10 de­vices, you do feel slow-down more ob­vi­ously than in a good cheap An­droid phone or tablet.

Hav­ing used these sorts of de­vices for years, what con­tin­ues to an­noy us is key­board in­put lag. Type some­thing into the Win­dows search bar or the In­ter­net Ex­plorer ad­dress bar and you may have to wait a sec­ond as the Asus catches up. Web pages also

take longer to load than you may be used to as do ap­pli­ca­tions.

How­ever, the Asus still works per­fectly well as a light use ma­chine. We could hap­pily use this as a lap­top for writ­ing ar­ti­cles and check­ing emails. Edit­ing photos is, how­ever, a step too far. This also limits the use­ful­ness of the sty­lus a lit­tle if, for ex­am­ple, you want to start cre­at­ing your own dig­i­tal art. Add a dozen lay­ers to a com­plex image and ap­ply some fil­ters and you’ll soon find the limits of the de­vice.

That’s be­cause it has an In­tel Atom x5-8230 CPU rather than a ‘pre­mium’ In­tel Core m or Core i-se­ries one. These are slow, ba­sic pro­ces­sors, clearly shown in the bench­mark re­sults. It scored just 2300 points in Geek­bench 4.0 and 1218 in PCMark 8 Home. That’s half, or less, of what an In­tel Core-se­ries lap­top would achieve.

There’s also stor­age to con­sider. The stan­dard model has a 64GB SSD, leav­ing you with around 30GB to ac­tu­ally use. This is slow stor­age too, not a real solid-state drive. In our tests, we recorded read and write speeds of 144- and 64MB/s re­spec­tively, which is likely to be­come a bot­tle­neck.

Stor­age ca­pac­ity may not be a ma­jor is­sue if you only want the Trans­former for ba­sic tasks, but it’ll quickly get sucked up if you start in­stalling a lot of data-hun­gry apps or games. We couldn’t per­form all our usual games tests as the Asus doesn’t have enough room for 2013’s Thief, for ex­am­ple.

It would be un­playable any­way, as try­ing the less de­mand­ing Alien: Iso­la­tion demon­strates. In our tests, it ran at 8fps at 720p with all the vis­ual ef­fects turned down, and 6fps when us­ing the na­tive res­o­lu­tion with ef­fects re­in­stated. Only very old games will run com­fort­ably.

Thanks to the low-end com­po­nents, the Asus doesn’t need fans, though, mak­ing it silent 24/7.

Bat­tery life

Stamina also ben­e­fits from CPU style. This is the grade of pro­ces­sor you might see in a phone or tablet and it means the bat­tery lasts for just un­der 13.5 hours when play­ing back a 720p video on loop. That’s even longer than Asus’s own claim of 11 hours. We’d rather have a lap­top that lasts eight hours and doesn’t lag with ba­sic tasks, but it’s still re­mark­able.

The down­side of the bat­tery is charge speed: it takes a few hours. The ca­ble is also dis­ap­point­ingly short, mak­ing it tricky to charge while us­ing un­less you get an ex­ten­sion ca­ble. It’s a tablet-style ca­ble when this is beg­ging for a more lap­top-like one.

Au­dio

The speak­ers are also tablet-like, with two driv­ers in the screen part, sit­ting on the left and right edges. They’re good for an af­ford­able

The bat­tery lasts for just un­der 13.5 hours when play­ing back a 720p video on loop. That’s even longer than Asus’s own claim of 11 hours

hy­brid, too: loud and not too thin­sound­ing. A stan­dard 3.5mm jack lets you plug-in head­phones or speak­ers very easily.

Ver­dict

Buy­ers are likely to ei­ther love the Asus Trans­former Mini T102HA or be dis­ap­pointed by it. Its highs and lows are marked. Don’t ex­pect the qual­ity of Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Pro 4 for less than half the price. While build qual­ity isn’t dra­mat­i­cally re­duced, gen­eral per­for­mance is. It’s the same old is­sue with Win­dows 10 lap­tops that have Atom pro­ces­sors, mak­ing this much slower than a Chrome­book or An­droid hy­brid. If, how­ever, you can ac­cept the slower feel, com­mon to ev­ery­thing that runs Mi­crosoft’s OS us­ing an Atom CPU, then the T102HA is a handy lit­tle ma­chine. Bat­tery life is ex­cel­lent, the key­board solid once you be­come ac­cus­tomed to its smaller size, and the sty­lus a fun ex­tra. An­drew Wil­liams

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