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This THREESOME is a HANDFUL: It’s the Asus Transformer Book Trio

Android tablet plus Windows laptop... plus Windows desktop

By Alun Taylor, 3 Feb 2014

Review No matter what sort of tablet you prefer, be it an iPad or an Android slate, there will be times when you will also need a good old-fashioned Windows laptop too. Asus, which has form when it comes to cooking up strange combo designs - witness the PadFone - obviously thinks that’s the case as the new Transformer Book Trio is both: a 10-inch Android tablet and a Windows 8.1 notebook.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Asus Transformer Book Trio: laptop, meet tablet

It works like this. All the Android tablet gubbins are packaged into the "screen", while the Windows bits are in the keyboard section. Detach the screen and it functions as a standalone tablet. Clip it back into the dock and it becomes the screen for the Windows laptop. You can swap back and forth between Android and Windows at the press of a button when docked, so the Trio can also function like Asus’s Android Transformers we all know and love, complete with two batteries for added runtime.

What I’ve just said suggests the Trio should be called the Duo. Not so. The third form of functionality is to use the dock as a standalone PC by hooking it up to a separate monitor much as you would any conventional desktop computer. It’s a use which Asus is actively pushing in its Trio marketing, presumably in the hope of flogging a few more monitors.

Despite the trick twin-OS set up, the Trio is relatively conventional in design. The tablet could easily pass as a standard Asus Android Transformer tablet at first glance and is a rather anonymous slab with only power and volume buttons interrupting the smooth, gently curved rear. On the bottom edge - and so obscured when docked - you’ll find a micro USB port with hosting support, a Micro SD memory card slot, a 3.5mm audio jack and the docking connectors.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

The magic button that swaps operating system sessions

The base offers two USB 3.0 ports, micro HDMI and mini DisplayPort connectors, and another audio jack. The whole package feels very solid, especially the docking connector and hinge assembly. On the wireless front the tablet boasts dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, while the tablet packs single-band 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0. The tablet has a GPS radio but no NFC chip.

Squeezing the machinery needed to run both Windows and Android into one lump does result in one compromise: weight. At 1.7kg - that’s 700g for the tablet, the rest for the dock - the Trio is a little on the heavy side and, at around an inch thick, it’s hardly the slimmest notebook around. Once reason for the bulk is the use of a 500GB HDD in the dock - 750GB and 1TB versions are apparently also available - rather than the SSD I expected to find. The tablet comes with only 16GB of storage but can take a Micro SD card of up to 64GB in size.

The batteries - both of which are fixed firmly in place and beyond the easy reach of man or beast - seem to have been shrunk to fit too. The tablet packs a 19Wh unit, the dock 33Wh. That gives the tablet around five hours of 1080p video playback.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Separated

As with Asus’s other Transformer packages, the Trio’s tablet can draw power from the dock, and the dock can use power from the tablet thus maximising either the Windows or Android system runtime. Left to its own devices, the Trio shares the power but you can manually prioritise one part over the other. The power flow isn’t absolute though.

Once the power in the dock reached two per cent and the tablet battery dropped to 30 per cent, the Windows system turned itself off. Run things the other way around and the tablet will run the dock battery down to around 15 per cent.

Subject the Windows package to the PCMark8 battery test’s tender mercies and you get a run time of just over four and one quarter hours, using both batteries. That equates to a real world battery life of between 6 and 7 hours depending on how hard you thrash the thing.

I’d rate that as reasonable but nothing more. Usefully, Asus bundles a brace of chargers with the Trio - a 5V/10W USB charger for the tablet and a 19V/45W affair for the dock. Also in the box you’ll find a zip cover and USB-to-Ethernet and mini Display Port-to-VGA adaptors.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Not the slimmest laptop you can buy

Running the Windows side of the show is an Intel Core i5-4200U Haswell chip, which can max out at 2.6GHz with its running shoes on. There’s 4GB of RAM too. The tablet uses a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Z2560 processor with 2GB of RAM. My review unit shipped with Windows 8 but the update to 8.1 was immediate. The tablet runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with a KitKat upgrade due sometime in the coming months.

When it comes to file sharing, the Android tablet shows up in Windows just as it would if connected by USB. To access files on the dock HDD from the tablet you need to do so over your wireless network. If you are away from a network, the dock can apparently create its own dedicated 802.11n hotspot from the Asus Console. I say "apparently" because I couldn’t get it to work. And I couldn’t find any way of using the bespoke Asus Android file manager to access files stored under a Windows user account other than the one the file manager is signed into.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Left-hand side: activity lights where you can’t see them in normal use

There’s also a web page transfer feature that shunts the last viewed page between operating systems, but since that only works between Internet Explorer and the stock Asus Android browser rather than Chrome, it was of no use to me. It’s probably worth clarifying here that you can’t use the tablet/screen to access Windows when it’s undocked - Windows demands a physical connection between the two parts of the Trio.

Best of both worlds?

I’ve no real complaints on the performance front, however. The Android tablet turned in an AnTuTu score of over 17,000 which is perfectly adequate and it played all the usual demanding games with ease. PCMark8 threw up scores of around 1400 running under Windows which is par for a device with a low-power Ultrabook CPU and an HDD. The Windows system has to make do with Intel’s integrated HD 4400 graphics core, which limits the system’s gaming potential, though that hardly came as a surprise.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

DisplayPort and HDMI

Lacking both the tools and the bravery to start disassembling the Trio, I can’t tell you how easy or hard it is to upgrade the RAM but, let’s be honest, this is not the type of machine you buy with the aim of rummaging around in its undergarments or installing a Linux distro.

In use, the swap between the two operating systems in a simple matter of pressing the button with the Windows and Android logos on it. A small graphic flashes up to tell you are switching ’twixt OSesr and then, wallop, you are there. Assuming both are running and don’t need to boot up. Even if they aren’t, the swap is impressively speedy.

The implementation of the switch from Android to Windows isn’t entirely foolproof though. On a couple of occasions when I hit the swap key from Android to sleeping Windows, the screen just went dark, necessitating a restart of tablet and dock to get back into Windows or Android.

I understand this is an issue with the drivers used by the Asus OS switcher which aren’t playing nice with Windows 8.1. New drivers will doubtless hove into view soon but a simple fix seems to be to just prevent Windows going to sleep, or not upgrading to 8.1 just yet.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Still separated

The dock’s chiclet keyboard is a decent enough affair. The keys are pleasant to the touch, the action positive and there is a Caps Lock light. The Asus US product page for the Trio says the keyboard is backlit, but that’s only a feature of the i7 Trio - the keyboard on my i5 review example most certainly wasn’t backlit, which was a disappointment. Nothing wrong with the trackpad, though, which is in all ways a fine example of the breed.

This being an Asus machine, the 11.6-inch IPS LCD screen is very good. The 1920 x 1080 resolution makes everything look as sharp as a tack, though the resolution/size combo makes things look a wee bit small to my eyes when running the Windows desktop. It’s an impressively bright and colourful display, just like almost every other Asus screen I’ve played with of late.

The cameras aren’t too shabby either. The 5MP one in the back of the tablet takes a decent picture in good light, while the 720p webcam makes for a clear and bright video chat.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Asus’s Console utility

Slapped across the right side of keyboard deck you’ll find a sticker advertising the Trio’s ICEpower sound system from everyone’s favourite mad audio Danes, Bang & Olufsen. It’s not just marketing blurb. The tablet’s speakers are good but the docks are bordering on the exceptional: loud, composed and very sonorous. This is one of the best-sounding laptops I’ve ever tested.

The price? At £900, the i5 Trio is hardly what I’d call cheap, but when you consider that a decent touchscreen i5 laptop with a 1080p screen can set you back not a whole lot less - though probably with an SSD - and that a quality Android tablet like the Sony Xperia Z costs around £400, it’s perhaps not an unreasonable ask. Compared to what an iPad and a MacBook Pro or Air will set you back, it’s something of a bargain.

Asus Transformer Book Trio

Power sharing is not entirely foolproof

The Reg Verdict

So, does three into one go? Pretty much, yes. Having a fully functional Android tablet and a Windows 8.1 PC in one package and both with a fine 1080p display certainly has its attractions. Cough up a few hundred quid for a monitor and it becomes an even more flexible package.

There are a few slightly rough edges, like the wonky file sharing hotspot and the absence of a keyboard backlight on the cheaper i5 machines. And the batteries could be little more beefy. But there’s no denying that with one of these in your backpack you have got all the bases covered for work or play or anything in between. ®

Asus Transformer Book Trio Benchmark Results

Benchmark results

Asus Transformer Book Trio

This THREESOME is a HANDFUL: It’s the Asus Transformer Book Trio

Cunningly contrived Windows laptop, desktop and Android tablet, all in one - or, rather, all in two. A cute idea, but compromised.
Price: £900 RRP

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