Asus Transformer Mini T102HA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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