Asus Takes on the Microsoft Surface With the Transformer 3 and Transformer 3 Pro (Hands-On)

If the ZenBook 3 was Asus’ shot at Apple’s MacBook, their new Transformer 2-in-1s are definitely shots at Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Pro. The design is very similar to Microsoft’s excellent 2-in-1s down to the backside kickstand, but an impressive amount of power could give many reason to consider Asus when going shopping this year.

Like Microsoft, Asus is splitting their Transformer lineup into regular and pro models. The strategy is familiar — the Transformer 3 is more tablet-like with a less powerful processor, while the Transformer 3 Pro uses a high-end notebook CPU like the Surface Pro. The more powerful Transformer 3 Pro is has a 12.6″ 2880 x 1920 display, which is nearly the same as what Microsoft has on paper. It’ll run on a 6th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor (Skylake), along with 16 GB of 2133 MHz RAM and up to a 1 TB PCIe SSD. That makes it pretty similar to the ultra-light ZenBook 3, but with the stepped-up display the ZenBook 3 lacks.

The Transformer 3 Pro also has the ports that the ZenBook 3 lacks. In addition to a Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB Type-C port (Thunderbolt 3 speeds channeled through a USB Type-C connector), there’s one HDMI port, one regular-sized USB 3.0 port, a Micro SD card slot, and an audio jack. The Type-C port, in addition to handling charging and data transfer, can also facilitate 4k video output. Asus hasn’t yet said anything about battery capacity or expected battery life.

Unlike the ultra-light ZenBook 3, which was made from aircraft-grade aluminum, the Transformer 3 Pro uses a more familiar aluminum-magnesium alloy construction. As a tablet, it’s even lighter than the ZenBook 3 at 1.75 pounds, and thinner at 8.35 mm thick. Around the back, there’s a familiar looking kickstand hinge for using the Transformer 3 Pro as a laptop. It’s a little better than the Surface 4 Pro’s, though, as it can be locked into whatever viewing angle you want, instead of having to choose between two.

Speaking of using the Transformer 3 Pro as a laptop, it also comes with a cover keyboard. It’s a nice-looking keyboard, and offers a more comfortable typing experience than the ZenBook 3, with 1.4 mm of key travel. The keyboard comes free of charge, but Asus has a few other extra peripherals designed for the Transformer 3 Pro. There’s a stylus with 1,024 pressure levels, which isn’t the greatest we’ve seen, so professional artists in need of a mobile workstation may still want to look to the iPad Pro or the Surface Pro 4. While there is a Harman smart amp and a quad-speaker system inside the Transformer 3 Pro, Asus is selling their own external speaker in the Audio Pod, which can produce 5.1 channel 360-degree surround sound. And, there will be docks available with ethernet ports, audio/video ports, more USB ports, and more card readers.

But, the most intriguing peripheral is the ROG XG Station 2. This is an external graphics card rig that houses a desktop-sized NVIDIA card (the one I saw had a GTX 980 inside, but reps told me they would eventually be available with the new 1080 card). It connects to the Transformer 3 Pro using the Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port — trouble is, that’s also the charging port, and running games that require use of the XG Station 2 are probably going to kill that battery pretty quickly. If you spring for one, you’d probably want to invest in a dock with an additional Type-C port, too.

Next page: Transformer 3

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