So I finally got round to buying a tablet. In a week where the whole world was going mad over the iPad Air, I bought an Asus T100T. A what? I hear you cry. An Asus T100T. It’s the latest release from the people who brought us the original netbook and more recently the very lovely Zenbooks.
Why did I buy it, rather an iPad? Well, I was curious, about a lot of things, Windows 8, Intel’s new Bay Trail processors and how useful a tablet would be in general. Given my needs a Windows tablet looked like it would be a better fit, particularly this one. Since the Asus has the full fat version of Windows 8.1, it runs Scrivener, Dragon Naturally Speaking and a lot of other software I use right out of the box. I wanted to use the tablet mostly as a PDF reader for my extensive collection of games PDFs, but I thought I might do a little light editing and emailing on it as well. Using speech recognition software obviates the need for a keyboard and, as I have remarked elsewhere, Dragon Naturally Speaking is very, very good for this.
The T100T was cheap. Roughly 10900 Czech Crowns, around £360, and that was with an Xbox 360 thrown in. Granted I suspect I was doing the retailer a favour by clearing the Xbox from his shelf space before the new Xbox Ones arrive but what the hell, I thought, I’ll set it up in my office and maybe finally get around to playing that copy of Dishonoured that has been sitting on my shelf since last Xmas. Not only that the T100 comes with a detachable keyboard and a free copy of Microsoft Office. Under the circumstances, it’s a bargain. For comparison the cheapest local version of the iPad Air (16Gb) is 12900 or so. In the US the Asus machine complete with Office and keyboard retails for $349, so you can see we Europeans are paying a bit of a premium.
The keyboard is pretty basic. It has no second battery in it, unlike the rest of Asus’s Transformer line and only one USB 3 port. On the plus side, I have to say it is the best netbook size keyboard I have ever used aside from the one on the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet, and let’s face it, you just can’t do better than a Lenovo keyboard. On the negative side, the trackpad sucks big time. Fortunately, the tablet part of the T100T doubles up as a touchscreen so I can ignore the shonky trackpad for long periods.
The build quality is solid. I have friends who tend to dismiss anything not made in Apple Aluminium as cheap-feeling but the truth is that I don’t care. I spend more time working with my computer gear than fondling it, and all I am concerned about is whether it will stand up to abuse. The T100T feels like it will.
There is the usual assortment of micro-ports—micro USB, micro HDMI, micro-SD as well as the aforementioned keyboard mounted full sized USB3 port. There is 2 Gb of RAM and 32GB of SSD. Much to my surprise I found I had 18 Gb or so left over after everything was installed. Many recent reviews of Windows 8 had led me to believe I would have about 4 Gb. 18 Gb is more than enough for my purposes but the memory card slot accepts up to 64 Gb SD memory cards so there’s more there if I want it.
The screen is not super-high res—its 1366 by 768, not anything like retina quality but it is clear and bright and perfectly readable, if a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
The new Bay Trail processor is pretty impressive for an Atom. I see no reason to doubt the claimed 11 hour battery life and everything runs with a certain snappiness. It is certainly more than capable of doing all the office work, web browsing and PDF reading I am likely to throw at it. I wouldn’t want to try the latest ninjatastic 3D games on it but that was never really going to be on the cards anyway. In truth, at the price I am delighted with the hardware. Which brings us to Windows 8 or rather in this case, Windows 8.1.
I have to say that I understand the hate that many people feel for Microsoft’s latest offering. I don’t dislike it myself but I can see why people would. It is schizophrenic in the extreme. The new Metro bits of the interface look great and work well but when you get into the Desktop itself, it is just familiar enough to be completely confusing. It looks like you should be able to understand it and do all the stuff you usually do in the way you would normally do it but when you come to try and do so, you find that nothing is in the right place. After a week I have gotten used to it eventually but I have to say I am felt some resistance at the start.
Going to the app store and looking at the reviews of the apps I use every day was also a bit of a shock. Dropbox and Evernote Touch appear to be watered down and very buggy versions of those old favourites. Fortunately since the T100T comes with Windows 8, not Windows RT, I can go to the appropriate websites and download the proper versions.
All of this leaves the T100T straddling a somewhat uncomfortable position. It is without a doubt, the best netbook I have ever owned. (That sounds like damning with faint praise, I know, but I’ve always kind of liked netbooks.) It can be split into a tablet that is only slightly heavier than the iPad Air and a detachable keyboard. As a tablet, the hardware is just fine but Windows 8 still has some ways to go as a tablet OS. The legacy desktop does not work very well with touch and the icons and menus are just a little too small and fiddly. The tablet does do everything I want it to, but my needs are not really those of most tablet users.
Would I recommend the T100T? Well, that depends. It is superb value, and it does everything the manufacturers claim and more. The problem is Windows 8 at the moment. If you are looking for an iPad-like tablet experience, or even an Android-like one, it is not quite there yet. If you know you are going to need a netbook-like computer and only want to do the most basic of Tablet-like things—answering email, streaming media, reading news and PDFs, I would say go for it. If you want something with the polish and limitations of an iPad, I would say go with that. The T100T is not really a tablet. It is something else, something new and something old at the same time. It is what netbooks look like in 2013. I wrote this blog post on it and it was a pleasure.