PC

Asus' Surface Pro 4 alternative

By following the design of Microsoft's Surface Pro so closely, Asus has left itself with little room to innovate and improve.
By following the design of Microsoft's Surface Pro so closely, Asus has left itself with little room to innovate and improve.PHOTO: ASUS

The Transformer 3 Pro has some slight improvements over its Microsoft lookalike

Microsoft's Surface Pro has spawned a number of imitators since its debut in 2013.

But, to me, none has come closer to aping the look and feel of this tablet-laptop hybrid than the new Asus Transformer 3 Pro.

Like the Surface Pro, the Asus Transformer 3 Pro comes with an integrated kickstand, a keyboard cover accessory and a stylus.

Flip out the kickstand on the 12-inch Transformer, connect its keyboard accessory and the tablet becomes a laptop.

However, by following the design of the Surface Pro so closely, Asus has left itself with little room to innovate and improve.

There are areas where it betters the Surface Pro, but these are minor improvements and do not really help the Asus stand out.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $2,598

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-6500U (2.5GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 520

    RAM: 16GB

    SCREEN SIZE: 12.6-inch, 2,880 x 1,920 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, microSD card slot, audio jack

    BATTERY: 39 watt-hour

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The lack of innovation is perfectly illustrated by Asus' guide for reviewers, which lists, in painstaking detail, how the Transformer compares against the Surface Pro 4.

Some seem trivial, such as the fact that the Transformer is 0.1mm thinner than the Surface Pro. Others, like the Transformer having an HDMI port instead of a mini-DisplayPort like the Surface, are useful.

But these are not exciting upgrades. I would argue that the most significant difference is the addition of a USB 3.1 Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support. Yes, this newfangled port, found on the latest computers this year, seems like a minor improvement, too.

However, the Transformer becomes a gaming machine when it is connected to the Asus ROG XG Station 2 via the USB Type-C port.

Currently unavailable, the ROG XG Station 2 houses a desktop-class Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card and can be tapped by the Transformer to run games and other graphically intensive apps.

The Transformer's backlit keyboard cover feels as good as the Surface's Type Cover, with impressive key travel of around 1.4mm.

But the touchpad had some wonky moments - it felt jumpy and behaved erratically at times.

The included stylus provides 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, like the Surface Pen. However, the Asus Pen lacks the convenient eraser function found at the end of the Surface Pen and cannot be attached magnetically to the Transformer, unlike Microsoft's.

In the PCMark 8 Home benchmark, the Transformer scored 2,292. This is lower than the Core i5-equipped Surface Pro 4 (2,307). The fan also became quite noisy during the benchmark.

The Transformer has a dismal battery life. It lasted 4hr 12min, or an hour shorter than the Surface Pro 4, in our video-loop battery test.

To my surprise, the Transformer 3 Pro with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive costs $2,598. Also included: the keyboard and stylus accessories. A similarly configured Surface Pro 4 is priced at $3,399. And this is without the Type Cover keyboard ($199).

•Verdict: Largely inspired by the Surface Pro, the Asus Transformer 3 Pro offers minor upgrades, as well as a lower price point.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Asus' Surface Pro 4 alternative'. Print Edition | Subscribe