Very quietly, the 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid market got a lot more interesting with the introduction of the Intel Core M processor. These new chipsets run cool enough to not need a fan. And, while Core M doesn’t always mean the device is going to be fanless (i.e. the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro), the devices that do end up being fanless are thinner and lighter, making them much better suited for the mobile lifestyle that 2-in-1s were created to serve.
The two form factors that seem to have won out are the 360-degree hinge (like the Lenovo Yoga line) or the detachable slate design (like the Microsoft Surface line). Asus’ newest 2-in-1, the Transformer Book T300 Chi, is in the latter camp, and looks to be one of the best alternatives yet to the Surface Pro 3. And at 16.5 mm thick and 3.15 pounds, even if it’s not the thinnest or lightest option out there, it’s still super portable.
The Chi is made from diamond cut aluminum, which makes it both trendy and attractive. The aluminum construction makes the Chi look great while keeping it light and sturdy. The display connects to the keyboard using very strong magnets—unless you pull the two apart, the display won’t fall away.
The 12.5″ Transformer Book T300 Chi runs Windows 8.1 Pro on an Intel Core M processor and comes standard with 4 GB of RAM, which can be increased to 8 GB. Given that thinness and lightness is all-important in the 2-in-1 market, discrete graphics are out of the question. Instead, graphics are provided by the Intel chipset, with a solid performer in the Integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300 GPU. The display makes the Chi competitive with those other top-end 2-in-1s thanks to a 2560 x 1440 option, although you can opt for a 1920 x 1080 display to keep the price down. The Chi has a 32 Whr battery, which isn’t bad, but will be taxed if you go with the 2560 x 1440 display.
Ports are all miniature for the Chi, which isn’t ideal, but that seems to be the new trend with similar portable systems such as the Dell XPS 13 and HP Folio G1. The ports include a combo audio jack, two Micro USB ports, one micro HDMI port, a micro SD card reader, and an AC adapter port. For something that purports to be both a tablet and a laptop, the lack of a full-sized USB port is a bummer—to use even a USB mouse, you’ll need to use a supplied adapter. For connectivity, there is also Bluetooth (most importantly to connect the keyboard and the display) and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi starts at $700. The Micro SD card slot helps, but having even a 256 GB option would have been nice. Even still, the Chi does enough right to warrant being part of your shopping list when deciding which 2-in-1 to invest in this year. We tested the 4GB configuration powered by an Intel Core M-5Y10c processor and a 128GB SSD. The system earned a PCMark 8 sc0re of 1966 under the Home Conventional 3.0 test. In general, performance is solid, even with just 4GB under the hood. Popular Windows 8.1 apps like Skype, One Note, and Microsoft Office, all run well. But we highly recommend upgrading to 8GB of RAM.
An optional stylus is available for the T300 which helps extend its usefulness for taking notes in One Note, making it that more desirable for students. The stylus is also great to work with since it’s pressure sensitive and offers a fine pen-like tip.
We can’t help but compare the T300 to the new MacBook. In which case, priced $400 less than the comparable new MacBook with similar specs, it really offers a lot of value for the money. Pair the system with a subscription to Office 365 University and the student in your life will be set. All in all, the Asus T300 Chi is an incredible value that will likely be very popular amongst students come back to school season. Not only is it versatile because of its 2-in-1 form-factor, but we love that it looks and feels like a premium device, all without suffering from a premium price-tag. The 8GB RAM / 128GB SSD model retails for $899.
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The Good: Beautiful premium aluminum design is super thin and lightweight, excellent 12.5-inch WQHD display, the keyboard is included, versatile form-factor, comes with free upgrade to Windows 10, runs fanless, solid performance, compatible with an optional stylus, keyboard has its own dedicated battery that lasts for a long time, trackpad is small but one of the best we have used on an Ultrabook
The Bad: 16:10 aspect ratio is a bit awkward – especially for tablet use, at about 5 hours on a charge – battery is a bit disappointing, keyboard is a bit springy but still pretty solid