ASUS TransformerBook T200TA review

mj0

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In case anyone?s interested I?ve recently purchased a used Asus TransformerBook T200TA for a very specific use case. Here?s my little review.

What?s the deal?
Next year in January, my wife and I will be relocating from Germany to the US. We?ve decided to travel around by motorcycle for up to a year first before we settle down, and since space is obviously limited on a motorcycle (especially when travelling two-up) I am currently in the process of reducing the number of gadgets to a bare minimum. From past experiences I know that having a tablet at hand while travelling can be very useful (for example when planning next day?s route) but I also need a real keyboard since typing anything longer than a short text message on a touch keyboard is a major PITA. Thus, my requirements were quite specific:

  1. It has to be a hybrid device that can be used both as tablet and laptop.
  2. Small and light but not too small, has to house a full-sized laptop keyboard thereby ruling out everything with a 10? screen.
  3. Cheap so that neither lost nor damage nor wear will cause any financial grief.
  4. Completely noiseless due to personal preference. Fanless designs are a must since in this price range anything with a fan will be driving me nuts.

My current lineup is an Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13? and an iPad Air. Knowing that I don?t want to take the MacBook with me (German QWERTZ keyboard layout, too expensive to lose or damage, and almost impossible to sell in the US) and also don?t want to take both a laptop and a tablet on the road I?ve accepted the fact that even though both are fairly new I have to part with them. If Apple was offering a hybrid laptop I might have gone down that road, but we all know they don?t. Having travelled around extensively by motorcycle in the past I know that everything suffers from the vibrations and the cramped space inside motorcycle panniers, and all electronic devices will eventually either show wear & tear or stop working altogether. Thus, the third point on my list was quite important in order to keep the financial loss as low as possible in case anything happened to the device.

Things that didn?t matter are performance (not like I will be doing any programming, heavy photo editing or anything else as demanding as this on the road), looks & feel, and longevity. I know for sure that once we?ve found a place to live I?ll ditch this thing and return to MacBook and iPad, anyway.

There were a few options available: the HP Spectre x360, the Microsoft Surface, as well as several Asus and Acer notebook/tablet hybrids. In the end most devices ended up being too expensive, so I?ve decided to give the Asus TransformerBook T200TA a go since in addition to fulfilling all abovementioned requirements it also offers a hard drive slot in the keyboard dock. Due to the fact that the usual suspects offer a mere 32-64GB of onboard storage that can usually be upgraded with Micro SD cards, but even those max out at 64-128GB. Since I?ll need plenty of storage to backup photos and videos as well as all my own and my wife?s personal files and music this won?t cut it. Therefore the first thing I did was to add a 250GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD to the dock and move the important stuff onto that extra storage space. In addition I?ve also added a 32GB Micro SD card to the tablet itself since the SSD won?t be available in tablet mode, and some data might be necessary in tablet mode as well.

The Good
Performance surprised me the most, despite its Intel Atom Z3775 quad core CPU and only 2GB of RAM. Installing software is a bit slow but once I was actually using it the thing was fast and snappy. I was surprised how much performance had increased on Intel?s Atom designs ? in day to day work (web browsing, text editing, etc.) I cannot tell the difference between this and my MacBook Pro. Truth be told part of that performance gain is certainly due to the fact that there?s no spinning hard drive in this thing but a 32GB eMMC SSD instead. It makes things feel snappy and instantaneous.

It?s also quiet, very quiet. Must be, since it?s a fanless design and instead of a spinning hard drive I?ve added an SSD to the hard drive slot. Thus, playing 1080p video on those long, lonely nights in the middle of nowhere won?t result in any additional disruptive fan uproar.

The Bad
It?s heavy. I mean really heavy. For its size, that is. Somehow I?d expected it to be a lot lighter. The 32GB eMMC SSD also fills up incredibly fast, having installed the bare necessities (Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Picasa, Google Chrome, Mozilla Thunderbird, Garmin Basecamp, calibre, Apple iTunes, Dropbox) left me with only 4GB left on the internal storage. I?ve thus resorted to moving certain applications to the Micro SD card and using Junction Links to link them to C:\Program Files. Works like a charm.

Tablet mode is a mixed issue. It does work, the screen rotates as required and I can do basic things. However, even browsing the web seems tedious since Windows 8.1, despite all of Microsoft?s claims, is neither here nor there. For basic things such as reading a book via Amazon?s Kindle app, checking Facebook via the Modern UI App or quickly looking something up on the web it?s decent enough.

I?m also quite disappointed by the internal SATA port. Having a fast SSD connected in the dock I was hoping for decent performance yet I am unable to get more than 25 MB/s onto or from the SSD.

The keyboard is very nice to type on although my fingers tell me it?s not quite full size. I do feel a very noticeable difference between this keyboard, me Thinkpad X220?s keyboard and my MacBook?s keyboard, and this one somehow feels smaller, not as natural as the other two.

The Ugly
The Display. It?s the shiniest most reflective thing I have ever seen. Quite frankly it?s terrible, barely usable in bright sunlight. Add to this that the display doesn?t really swivel back that far and it becomes unusable in laptop mode with something bright behind me. I even find myself constantly staring at my own reflection when trying to use it with a white wall behind my back. It?s an IPS panel alright, and it?s pretty bright as well, but the reflective glass cover is absolute ****e. The glass cover is also very sensitive, and I?ve already managed to put a massive scratch right in the middle. No idea how that happened.

The Touchpad experience is best described in one single word: abysmal. The touchpad is so sensitive that a mosquito flying by might accidently trigger a tap/click, and there seems to be no palm detection whatsoever resulting in the cursor jumping up and down randomly when typing. All. The. *******. Time. Just writing this review drove me nuts already since it happens pretty much every other minute. I?m typing and bam ? suddenly I?m two paragraphs up or down. And there is absolutely no way to adjust sensitivity for the touchpad itself either. My gut feeling is that Asus either simply ?forgot? to implement this in their drivers or they disabled it for some reason. Speaking of which, ASUS?s touchpad driver is stripped down to the essentials not offering any advanced settings such as sensitivity, palm detection, scrolling speed, etc. The driver also crashes randomly, usually 4/5 times after waking from sleep mode, sometimes after having used the device in tablet mode and putting it back in the dock, and sometimes just like that with no obvious cause in sight. I?ve found a workaround creating a scheduled task triggered by certain events restarting the ASUS Smart Gesture driver via a batch file but this is ridiculous. Unfortunately I am unable to install both the Elantech and the Synaptics driver since they both fail to detect a touchpad, and ASUS?s support is more than useless.
 

WanderingTraveler

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Thanks for this informative review. Just in time, too. One of my teachers has been looking into this as a replacement for his breaking Samsung laptop. I know I would too, if I had the money.
 

mj0

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One more thing I'd like to add that I didn't have the opportunity to test before: the microphone is pretty bad. My wife is out of country and we've tried to Skype today. She kept complaining that my voice was very muffled and dim and that the beginnings of my sentences were cut off. After a while I switched over to my MacBook because she was getting pretty annoyed.

While that second problem might be Skype's fault I did some sound recordings and compared it to my my MacBook and the Thinkpad X220 I'm using for work and indeed I was barely able to understand my own recordings on the T200TA. My voice was muffled pretty bad as if I was talking into a piece of cloth. I'll have to look into that, it might be a driver/software issue.
 

mj0

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Another update on the review: I've ditched Windows 8.1 on the device and went with a full clean install of Windows 10 build 10074. So far everything works as expected, the ASUS drivers for Windows 8.1 all work with Windows 10 as well, the touchscreen works, sound & wifi work just fine as well. Continuum (automatically switching between tablet and desktop mode when docking/undocking the device) does not yet work because it requires additional support from ASUS which will probably never come. However, I'm trying to figure out whether or not it can be somehow triggered via task planner and a specific event occuring on every docking/undocking. Will keep this thread updated as things progress.

Also, the latest (unofficial) touchpad driver 3.11 (latest official one: 3.08) seems to have much better palm detection. I am no longer finding myself cursing every twenty seconds, it actually works as expected now!
 

mj0

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A quick word of warning: I haven't seen a standby battery drain this bad since back when Neanderthals walked the face of the earth. While all my other devices (iPad, MacBook Pro, Thinkpad) are somewhere around 1-2% per day (sleep, not hibernation) the T200TA needs that amount of energy per hour! Leaving it sleeping unplugged for a day will result in somewhere between 20-25% battery drain, which is ridiculous in this day and age. Even my wife's 2007 MacBook is significantly better and we're talking eight year old versus shiny brand-new technology.

Other than that the experience so far has been pleasant most of the time. Because of Windows 10's many and massive bugs and shortcomings at the time back in late May the Windows 10 phase didn't last too long. i will eventually give it another shot once the bugs and annoyances have been all but eliminated.
 

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