- Great screen
- Good performance
- Quality stylus
- Poor battery life
- Chassis feels vulnerable to scratches
- Mediocre touchpad
- 2,880×1,920-pixel screen
- Dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U
- 4GB RAM
- 256GB SSD
- Detachable keyboard
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- USB-C charging, USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, SD card reader
- 1.15kg with keyboard
- Manufacturer: Asus
- Review Price: £999/$1,498
WHAT IS THE TRANSFORMER 3 PRO?
Microsoft’s 2015 Surface Pro 4 was the ultimate tablet-come-laptop. Offering advanced stylus support, plus a nifty new keyboard cover that was actually comfortable to type on, the Surface Pro 4 remains one of the most flexible laptop replacements on the market.
Which is why it’s no surprise we’ve seen all manner of new Surface-like convertibles, like the Acer Switch Alpha 12, hit the market this year.
However, while its rivals may look the part most have cut a few too many corners to truly challenge Microsoft. Asus has also cut a few corners, but this is still a good 2-in-1 machine.
From a distance the Transformer 3 Pro is all but identical in design to the Surface Pro 4. The only minor difference is that the Transformer’s metal chassis is slightly darker than the Surface’s and there’s an Asus, not Microsoft, logo on the back.
Some will complain about the lack of originality, but I’m all for it for the sake of practical computing. Too many convertibles attempts to be different have led to significant design flaws.
The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S looks nice and is super thin, but the lack of a full sized USB port makes it ill-suited as a full-on laptop replacement. The Huawei Matebook suffered the same issue, but also has a dire keyboard cover which magnetic stand design makes it nearly impossible to use as a laptop.
The inclusion of a kickstand makes using the Transformer 3 Pro as a laptop every bit as easy as it is on the Surface, and means you can manually adjust the angle you want the screen to sit at. The inclusion of a single full-sized USB 3.0 port also makes it easier to use as a laptop than the Matebook and Galaxy TabPro S, but personally I’d still have liked to see a second port for extra peripherals.
Asus has also made a number of small tweaks to the Transformer’s design that in my mind improve on the Surface’s connectivity and usability.
For starters, the Transformer 3 Pro charges using a regular USB-C cable. This may sound small, but I’ve always hated the fact Microsoft Surface’s use proprietary charging ports. Too many times I’ve thrown the Surface Pro 4 into my back, headed out for work, only to realise I’ve left the cable at home and been forced to make an emergency U-turn to get it. The Transformer 3 Pro by comparison works with any USB-C adapter, so long as you have a plug with a high enough wattage.
The inclusion of a full-sized HDMI, rather than Mini DisplayPort connector, is another welcome change that made it easy for me to connect the Transformer to my office monitor and use it as a full on work machine. The Surface can do the same thanks to its mini display port, but most people won’t have the correct cable lying around and will need to pay extra for an adapter.
My only qualm with the design is the that the metal casing is a bit too easy to scratch, even when compared to the Surface Pro 4, which itself wasn’t immune. My unit picked up a few dings along the way and while I am perhaps clumsier than some with my tech, I’m still unsure where some of the marks came from.
I’m also a little annoyed that there’s no way to dock or store the active stylus, which makes it all too easy to misplace. It’s not easy to find a replacement pen from UK retailers at the time of writing, so you’d better hang on to it.
You’ll hardly notice the differerence between the Transformer and the Surface Pro 4; both weigh practically the same at around at 1.15kg and 1.13kg respectively with their keyboard covers attached. That’s seriously light.
KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD
I’ve never been a huge fan of Type Cover-style keyboards. The attachable keyboards always have poor travel compared to proper physical type stations and aren’t reactive enough to feel comfortable. These issues remain true on the Transformer 3 Pro’s attachable keyboard, but aren’t quite as bad as some competitors, like the Huawei Matebook and Galaxy TabPro S. But as detachable keyboards go, the Transformer 3 Pro’s is decent.
The keys are suitably spread out and feel noticeably more reactive than most Type Cover style peripherals. I wouldn’t describe them as clicky, but they have better travel than competing devices, like the Matebook, and don’t feel quite as spongy. The fact the keyboard is backlit is a minor, but welcome touch, that makes it easy enough to use the Transformer 3 Pro in dark rooms.
I’m less enamoured with the trackpad, however. It’s reasonably large, but a little schizophrenic when it comes to reading commands. The pad isn’t Microsoft Precision-certified and it shows. Basic one-finger commands work reasonably well, though rapid movements can cause it to go haywire. Multitouch commands such as two-fingered scrolling are hit and miss.
DISPLAY AND STYLUS
Asus has made some important claims about the Transformer’s screen that will make it more alluring to creative types, with the screen capable of covering the sRGB colour gamut and a few colours beyond.
It has big shoes to fill: in most ways the Surface Pro 4’s 12.6-inch display is excellent. The 2,736 x 1,824 resolution on the Surface Pro 4 ensured text and icons were sharp and the screen is excellent for regular use. however, its lackluster coverage of the Adobe RGB required by many artists and photographers was an issue. The Surface’s screen only covered 96.2% of the sRGB spectrum and a lackluster 68.3% of the Adobe RGB gamut.
The Transformer performed marginally better than the Surface. The screen managed a very similar sRGB figure and was capable of showing a greater portion (76.1%) of the Adobe RGB gamut.
The 252.4 nits max brightness and 0.1150 black level also give it a perfectly adequate 997:1 contrast ratio, making for detailed images that have plenty of ‘pop’ to them. The 7,125K colour temperature is a wee bit above the 6,500K ideal, but that won’t be much of an issue for anyone but professional photographers and videographers – most of which will need a more powerful device in any case.
With the stylus in hand I also found the screen more than good enough for basic digital painting and sketching. It uses stylus tech from Wacom, which is my preferred choice. The Surface, meanwhile, uses NTRIG hardware. NTRIG is stylus tech generally designed for rapid note taking, and as a result it can be a little hit and miss for precision artwork, where things like pressure sensitivity are more important.
My only qualm with the screen is that it is fairly reflective. Using the convertible outdoors the screen regularly picked up stray light and became difficult to read. This is a problem I experience on pretty much every tablet, laptop and phone I test, but it felt more pronounced on the Transformer 3 Pro, perhaps because the screen’s brightness isn’t a high as your average tablet.
CAMERA AND AUDIO
I’ve never been a fan of taking photos on a tablet. The awkward dimensions make capturing photos and shooting video a cumbersome experience and most have poor sensors that don’t even match tiny smartphones snappers.
This remains true on the Transformer 3 Pro, but the 13-megapixel rear camera is usable and better than most competing tablets. Photos taken on it in regular light are good enough for sharing on social media, and it is good enough to record a conference speech, if the tablet’s rested on a flat surface. The front-facing camera, meanwhile, is good enough for calls and Skype video calls.
The front mic is also solid and ensured people could hear what I was saying during video calls, even when chatting in a busy London coffee shop.
Speaker quality is par for the course and no better or worse than most Windows 10 convertibles. The speakers are more than good enough for Netflix binging, but you wouldn’t want to rely on them when listening to music.
Asus is offering the Transformer 3 Pro in various configurations. The top version comes with a sixth gen Intel Core i7 CPU and 8GB of DDR4 RAM.
The unit I tested features a more modest 2.3-2.8GHz Core i5-6200U CPU, 4GB of memory and came loaded with a 256GB SSD. Ideally I’d recommend buyers invest in a configuration with more RAM and would have liked to see a new Intel Kaby Lake CPU used, but the model I tested still performed admirably during benchmarks compared to the Surface Pro 4.
On Geekbench, which provides a general gauge of a device’s performance, the Transformer 3 Pro ran in with a 3,173 single-core and 6,632 multi-core score. The score is impressive and puts it just below the Core i5, 8GB RAM version of the Surface Pro 4 I tested, which enjoyed a 6,727 multi-core Geekbench score.
The Transformer also managed to beat the Surface during the 3DMark IceStorm graphics test, where it scored 43,474. The Surface Pro 4 scored 32,828 by comparison. The score doesn’t mean the Transformer will be able to play serious games smoothly, though.
During everyday use the Transformer performed well and was more than powerful enough for everything from basic tasks like word processing and Netflix binging to digital painting and basic 3D modelling. Serious video editing will be a bit of a stretch for it, but lighter work in HD will be passable if you’re prepared to endure long render times. If you’re serious about video editing, upgrading to the Core i7 model with 8GB of RAM would be a sensible decision.
Battery life is one area the Transformer 3 Pro falls flat. The 39 Whrs battery performs notably worse than competing devices, including the Surface Pro 4, Galaxy TabPro S, Huawei Matebook and Acer Switch Alpha 12.
Running Trusted’s standard battery test, which involves synthetically looping 10 minutes of web browsing and 5 minutes of video playback with the screen brightness set to 150nits in Powermark, the device lasted a piddly 4 hours 45 minutes. I’d expect a convertible to last at least six hours running the test.
The Transformer Pro 3 offered below average battery with real-world use, too. Using it as my primary work laptop the device needed to be reconnected to the mains at 4pm, having been powered up at 9.30am. Video streaming with the screen at the same 150nits brightness, the Transformer 3 Pro lost between 15-19% of its charge per hour, which again is below average.
Should I buy the Asus Transformer 3 Pro?
The Transformer 3 Pro is an impressive device. It may not be terribly original, but it makes a number of subtle improvements to the Microsoft’s design, that in some ways make it a better Surface than an actual Surface.
My only qualm is with Asus value for money claims. The basic i5 variant of the Transformer will set you back £900/$1,350. While the top end i7 will retail for a hefty £1,400/$2,100. Even when you consider the fact the keyboard is included in that price, there’s no getting around the fact the Surface Pro 4 is currently cheaper.
The equivalent Core i5, 4GB RAM version of the Surface Pro 4 currently retails for £849/$1,273 on the Microsoft Store. Even with the £110/$165 Type Cover added on, the Surface remains £40/$60 cheaper. The only sacrifice you have to make is that the i5 Surface comes with a more modest 128GB of SSD space, which will be an issue for most people with even a modest collection of files. Still, it’s a decent deal and does take away slightly from the Transformer Pro 3’s appeal.
The Transformer Pro 3 is a decent convertible and worthy rival to Microsoft’s Surface. But battery life and its relatively high cost make it a tough sell.