Tech reviews are all about the latest devices and new releases, but how do these devices hold up over time? How are consumers supposed to determine which devices are worthy of consideration for purchase as a refurbished or used unit?
These are the questions I attempt to answer in my Retro Review series, featuring commonly available laptops and tablets that are worth considering for purchase a year or more after their release date.
Today’s Retro Review: The Asus Transformer Book T100-TAM (2014)
What is it?
The Asus Transformer Book line launched in late 2013, featuring a 2-in-1 hybrid design, and attempted to offer the convenience of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop running Windows 8.1. It featured an Intel Atom processor, a 1366×768 IPS touchscreen display, and an all-plastic body design. An updated version has been released annually since that time, as the initial one was a commercial success for Asus.
Why this Model?
The T100-TAM is the version I’m covering, as I feel it represents the best value proposition for consumers. Released in 2014, its original MSRP was $399.99 for the 64GB version, and it featured a step up from the prior year in terms of specs and build quality. This version has a much more premium feel with metal body components for the detachable “tablet” portion of the 2-in-1, and features a modest processor bump to the Intel Atom 3775F, which has a slightly higher clock speed than the 2013 edition.
While most of the units you’ll find available on Woot! and Groupon are the original 2013 edition with 32 GB of storage, checking on eBay and Amazon you can find the 2014 edition available for an average sale price of under $175, in some cases far below that; I paid $166.00 with no tax or shipping for the unit I purchased from eBay in December 2015 and the price continues to drop.
Compared to that older edition, the 2014 model’s improvements make it competitive with budget Windows laptops released in 2015. The key cost drivers for the Transformer Book unit are its 2-in-1 hybrid design, featuring a tablet display that removes from the included dock, and its use of IPS touchscreen display technology. While I would not recommend spending $400 to buy one of these new, and would even hesitate at the $299 price point of the 2015 edition, at a $200 price point, this is a compelling unit.
Budget laptops in the $200 and under space, like the Lenovo 100S, HP Stream 11 2015, and Acer Cloudbook 11, all use TN display panels, instead of the IPS display on the Transformer book. While the T100 has a glossy display that has more reflection than the matte display on the laptops I just mentioned, it also has a much more vibrant display and has significantly better viewing angles, making it much better for consuming media. In addition, it also features a touchscreen display, something not available in any of the budget laptops on the market.
I also prefer the available 64GB of internal storage on this machine, compared to the 32GB local storage available on most new $200 systems. That jump up to 64GB dramatically increases your local storage space. You can expand this using micro-SD cards, but with this system you have the headroom to install your programs on the internal memory, which improves performance.
Finally, the performance of the aging, but still commonly used, quad-core Atom 3775 processor is favorable when compared to the N3050 dual-core Celeron that came out in late 2015. In many general use tasks, like web browsing, the T100 will actually perform better than the HP Stream 11 or Acer Cloudbook 11. The main place that those laptops hold an advantage is in their superior integrated GPU performance.
Note that if you prefer to purchase your devices new, you should still consider the 2015 edition, which retails new for $299.99 and features a newer Cherry Trail x5-Z8500, a thinner and lighter design, comes with Windows 10 already installed, adds a USB Type-C port, and comes standard with 4GB of RAM, though Asus has adjusted the display dimensions and resolution to 1280×800.
What I Like
Unlike most budget Windows 8 and Windows 10 laptops, the T100 actually has a bright, 300-nit IPS display with vivid colors and excellent viewing angles, at a fairly standard resolution of 1366×768. It also has a responsive touchscreen display, a rarity on budget laptops.
It also has performance that still holds up today. The Intel Atom 3775F processor handles Windows 10 well for the price, staying responsive throughout basic use and with multiple tabs for web browsing. In fact, compared to the newest crop of Windows 10 budget laptops running the N3050 dual-core Celeron, the T100 offers a better web browsing experience in real-world use.
The convenience of the 2-in-1 design is also something you can’t find in a new device below the $200 price point. When detached and used as a tablet, the T100 is light and it has a high enough quality display to function as a media consumption device; this version’s metal case also feels relatively premium when used in tablet mode.
Finally, the T100 offers micro-USB charging, which is convenient in that it avoids another proprietary charging cable.
What I Dislike
While the 2014 edition of the T100 uses nicer build materials – specifically, the tablet portion is now metallic while the bottom dock remains textured plastic – its overall design was already a bit dated upon release, as it copied the 2013 version. Compared to newer units, especially the 360-degree hinge units like the Asus C100P Chromebook Flip, the T100 looks antiquated.
It is heavy even compared to more modern 2-in-1 designs, and its thick dock connection makes it awkward to put into standard laptop sleeves; since the initial release in 2013, there have been substantial improvements to the docks and hinges for these types of devices. That said, the one benefit to this type of connection is that it is sturdy enough to use as an actual laptop, in your lap.
As with most 2-in-1 devices that are in the 10-inch class, the keyboard and touchpad are cramped, and not ideal for long-term use. That said, the keyboard dock is included in the cost and don’t require separate charging or connection via Bluetooth. The speakers are decently loud, being of average quality for a Windows 2-in-1. Unfortunately they are rear-facing.
There isn’t much in the way of connectivity with only one USB port on the dock itself and none on the tablet, though the one that is there is a USB 3.0 at least. That said, you do get micro HDMI and a micro-SD card slot, so while there are less options than on most true laptops, you do at least get expandable storage and HDMI out for an external display, which can’t be said for most tablets.
While the micro-USB for charging is convenient, it does mean that this unit is very slow to charge, and in fact when plugged into power while in use, depending on the charger you’re using, the T100 may use more power than it pulls in, meaning the battery discharges even when used on plug.
Finally, while the 64GB of local storage gives you sufficient space for local installation of your applications, the 2GB of RAM on these units will hinder their longevity to some degree; similarly, this unit still uses 32-bit Windows, which isn’t an issue now but may cause compatibility issues down the road.
How I Use It
I mostly use the T100 as a streaming device, specifically for movies and games. It can handle streamed content from any major application or website, such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and so on, and conveniently can be used with the dock, or as a true tablet.
For gaming, while the T100 has previous-gen 802.11n wireless, it does have a solid WiFi adapter that has decent range and holds a connection well. As a result, it has worked quite well for game streaming, both from Steam and the Xbox One. This has been a convenient way for me to play games when the living room TV is occupied, but I need to be in that room for whatever reason.
Note that in order to stream Xbox One games to Windows, your unit needs to have Windows 10, so if you buy one of these second-hand and the prior owner didn’t upgrade to the newer OS, you’ll want to do that. I’ve also used it for some light Steam local gaming like Binding of Isaac:Rebirth and Don’t Starve.
Final Verdict: Still Worth Buying?
Yes: when the 64GB model is available at a price point of under $175, this is an excellent buy. The T100-TAM still has solid performance from its Intel quad-core Bay Trail 3775F processor, a glossy but vibrant IPS touchscreen display, and it is a versatile PC with greater than normal I/O for this type of device.
Compared to the current crop of $200 Windows laptops, which usually have TN panels rather than IPS touchscreen display, and only 32 GB of local storage, I definitely recommend the T100-TAM as a unit worth consideration as a refurb or second-hand purchase
Buy the Asus T100-TAM
Click here for Amazon.com
Click here for eBay