No prize for guessing who Asus is challenging with the Transformer 3 Pro. With its adjustable kickstand, folio keyboard and two-in-one design, it’s the spitting image of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. Asus is clearly hoping that its twist on the formula can steal some of Microsoft’s sales.
If looks are the first hurdle, then the Transformer 3 Pro gets off to a strong start. The all-metal body strikes an almost perfect balance between solidity, heft and slender dimensions, and it’s lovely to hold in the hand. Somehow, it weighs a mere 800g.
The striking resemblance to Microsoft’s iconic Surface includes the integrated kickstand at the rear. This swings out through 155 degrees, providing enough flexibility to use the tablet on a desk or crammed tray table on a plane.
One departure from the Surface is the USB Type-C port, which makes it possible to hook up a desktop-class GPU via Asus’ ROG XG Station 2 graphics dock – or any Thunderbolt 3 graphics dock, for that matter. Plus, you still get a full-sized HDMI and USB 3 port, a microSD slot, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
Unlike Microsoft, Asus includes a keyboard in the price. With backlit keys, it’s arguably better than Microsoft’s Type Cover thanks to a stiffer backing and a firm, positive action. It isn’t perfect, with the touchpad ignoring the odd swipe, but the bigger issue was the keyboard’s eagerness to detach itself from the tablet. The hidden magnets could be stronger.
The bundled Asus Pen has a smart, brushed-aluminium finish. Like the Surface Pro 4, Asus opts for N-trig’s digitiser, which provides 1,024 levels of sensitivity. This makes for smooth, fuss-free writing and onscreen scribbling.
The Transformer 3 Pro’s 12.6in display trumps the Surface Pro 4 by 0.3in and has a higher resolution of 2,880 x 1,920. It’s glorious to look at, principally because it reproduces 99% of the sRGB gamut. Brightness is the gotcha: 292cd/m2 is fine indoors, but it struggles to remain legible outside on brighter days. The Surface Pro 4’s 400cd/m2 is much more viewable.
Asus makes much of the dual front-facing speakers in its marketing. These are fine for occasional use, but crank the volume high enough to watch a movie or listen to music and the tinny sound and creeping distortion will soon leave you reaching for your headphones.
The Transformer 3 Pro comes in both Core i5 and Core i7 flavours. My test unit included a dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. That delivered a respectable overall score of 31, but a similarly specced Surface Pro 4 – albeit with a faster 2.4GHz Core i5-6300U chip and 8GB of RAM – scored 44. It’s multitasking that sees the Asus fall behind, with the internal fans surging into action during this section of the benchmarks. As you’d expect, most 3D games are too much for the Transformer 3 Pro. Even older titles such as Dirt Showdown slowed to a crawl at any detail setting above Low; I managed only a playable 52fps at a resolution of 1,280 x 720 with settings at Ultra Low. If gaming is a priority, budget for a Thunderbolt 3 graphics dock and card.
Where the Transformer 3 Pro really falters, though, is battery life. The benchmark here is, once again, the Surface Pro 4, which lasted 5hrs 56mins in our usual video-playback test, with the screen backlight set to 170cd/m2. The Transformer 3 Pro faded out after 4hrs 20mins.
There’s much to like about the Transformer 3 Pro – it’s attractive, connectivity is great, and it feels every bit the premium two-in-one. The big disappointment is battery life, but when a comparable Surface Pro 4 and Type Cover costs $2,800 – albeit with 8GB of RAM – you may find yourself willing to cope with bringing a power supply.