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Trio tablet review

Asus Transformer Book Trio TX201LA review  July 9, 2016 – 08:26 am

Asus TX201L Transformer Book Trio keyboardIn general, whether you’re talking about PCs, peripherals, TVs or audio, tech usually matures over time. They start out as innovative ideas, often hatched by a bright-eyed, young enthusiast in a garage or dorm room, grow into a business within a cocoon of investor interest, and eventually emerge as a diverse industry, full of competitors playing by an established rulebook.

We admire the Trio’s engineering, but whether we’d actually get one is another matter.

PCs practically wrote this story and, in the decades since, have been the very picture of a matured technology. Yet the threat of competition from tablets and other touchscreen devices has suddenly slammed this tale into reverse. Computer makers have been forced to throw the rulebook out the window, leading to innovation – and confusion.

The ASUS Transformer Book Trio is a perfect example of this. Though it qualifies as a PC, it’s quite different when compared with what was on the market just a few years ago. The display, which is also a tablet that docks into the keyboard, runs Android independently of the keyboard, which runs Windows 8.1. You can even attach the dock to a monitor, using it as a desktop while the Android tablet is used on its own.

Confused? We don’t blame you, but there’s some sense to the voodoo Asus has used to make this possible. Everyone knows that Android, not Windows, is the OS you really want on a tablet, and so the Trio provides it. But can two operating systems be made to cooperate smoothly enough to justify the Trio’s , 499 price?

A match made in heaven?

Asus arguably invented the 2-in-1 with its original Transformer, which was released in 2011 as an Android-only machine. The benefit of the company’s experience is obvious. The hinge connecting the tablet to the keyboard is sturdy, yet simple to use, and releases with the press of a single button. Asus considered balance as an issue when making the inaugural Transformer, meaning that, unlike other competitors, this 2-in-1 doesn’t have a tendency to flip backwards when jostled.

Both portions of the device look and feel sturdy on their own, as well. The keyboard dock is stiff as a board and panel gaps are small, which makes the Trio feel fit to handle rough-and-tumble travel. Materials consist of a silver metal exterior and silver plastic interior, and while both look a bit plain, everything about the device’s construction is thick and sturdy.

That’s also a downside, however, particularly for the tablet. While the device’s 1.5 pound weight doesn’t seem like much on paper, it’s four-tenths of a pound heavier than the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and 50% heavier than the iPad Air. The difference is noticeable at first, and becomes more troublesome the longer you use the tablet. Asus has given the slate large bezels, making it awkward to hold.

Most of the Trio’s ports are on the keyboard dock, and includes two USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, mini-HDMI, and a combo headphone/microphone jack. Remove the tablet, and you’ll find a MicroSD card slot, a mini-USB port and a headphone jack. However, these options are available only when the tablet is used separately from the keyboard because the latter obstructs them when docked.

Agh! Why did that happen?

By mashing a tablet and a keyboard together, it couldn’t have been easy to fit a decent set of keys on the dock. While the Trio’s keyboard offers reasonably good tactile feel, individual keys are quite small, which leads to frequent typing errors. There are also a few quirks; the power button, for example, is right above the backspace key, and we accidentally put the PC to sleep more than once.

Everyone knows that Android, not Windows, is the OS you really want on a tablet.

Keyboard backlight is absent, which is an obvious deal-breaker for people who work in the dark. The exclusion of this feature is understandable given how much hardware Asus has crammed into the tiny keyboard base, but that doesn’t change the fact that more competitors offer it at this price point.

The real frustration lies with the touchpad. It’s fidgety, sensitive, senses taps and gestures that don’t occur, and is a source of constant frustration. Eventually we gave up entirely, turned if off, and used the touchscreen instead. This worked well enough because the small keyboard dock puts the screen close to the user, but the fact that we switched to it says volumes about the touchpad.

A blaze of glory

We were nearly blinded by the Trio’s incredibly bright display, which blazes at over 360 lux. Though a few laptops, like the Dell XPS 15, are even more brilliant at maximum, the Trio is configured more aggressively. The default setting is almost too bright, particularly in a dark room.

Once we adjusted the backlight, we found the screen to be a pleasure to use. However, we stop short of calling it exceptional. Our tests indicate that the display can handle 96 perecent of the sRGB gamut while managing a contrast ratio of 600:1. Both figures are respectable, but can’t match leaders like the Acer Aspire R7, which boasts a ratio of 780:1.

Black levels are the display’s only noticeable weakness. Dark areas never look dimmer than a hazy gray, which saps movies and games of some depth. However, the Trio is still an acceptable performer in this regard, and only looks sub-par if put up against stand-outs like the Acer Aspire R7.

It’s a good thing that the display is one of the Trio’s redeeming qualities, because the speakers aren’t. Distortion becomes evident even at moderate volume when bass-heavy music is played. Even dialogue, when spoken with a deep voice, can muddy the mid-range and rattle portions of the chassis. Headphones or external speakers are highly recommended.


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