Fusing an Android tablet with a Windows 8 Ultrabook is an impressive feat of engineering, but it’s far from an ideal partnership.
While Asus has created countless Windows and Android devices, the Transformer Book Trio TX201LA is the first to unite the two platforms.
Part-tablet, part-laptop, this 11.6in device teams an Atom-powered Android tablet with the body of a Haswell-equipped laptop, and allows you to switch between the Microsoft and Google operating systems at the press of a button.
Hardware and design
It’s impossible to clock the Asus’ unusual talents at a glance. It would be easy to mistake it for just another Windows hybrid. It must be said, however, that the Trio TX201LA feels nicely put together: brushed metal curls around the lid and base, interrupted only by the pin-prick speaker grilles, the lens for the 5-megapixel rear camera, and the power and volume buttons.
It works well as a convertible. The tablet feels stout and rigid, and there’s barely any trace of give in the keyboard dock. Slot the tablet home and it wobbles a couple of millimetres back and forth, but two latches hold it securely in place. The weight is spread evenly, too, so it’s possible to tilt the display all the way back without it toppling backwards. It’s fantastically well built.
The downside is that the whole package weighs a hefty 1.7kg. The tablet makes up 710g of this, and the keyboard dock adds 990g to the figure – almost as much as many 11.6in Ultrabooks weigh on their own. It isn’t a particularly slender pairing, either – together, the tablet and keyboard measure 23mm thick.
There’s good reason for the Asus’ portly dimensions: the Trio TX201LA doubles up on more than only operating systems. Unlike the forthcoming Asus Book Transformer Duet TD300, which ingeniously powers both Android and Windows with the same Intel Core processor, the Trio TX201LA squeezes all the Windows hardware into the keyboard base – CPU, RAM, hard disk, wireless chipset and so forth – and has a different set of components in the tablet section, running Android on a discrete Intel Atom CPU.
The two parts are entirely independent. There’s a power button on the tablet for the Android hardware, and a separate button for the Windows system in the base. Indeed, if you want to walk off with the Android tablet portion and leave the Windows keyboard base attached to an external monitor, you can.
This two-headed approach has its benefits. For one, switching between Windows 8 and Android 4.2 is impressively slick. With the Trio docked and powered up, a dab of a key on the top right of the keyboard swaps between the two almost instantaneously. If either half is powered down, then a dialog box pops up asking if you’d like to power up the other system.
Inevitably, this arrangement imposes some limitations. First, it’s only possible to swap between Windows and Android with the tablet docked into the keyboard base; disconnect it and you’re left with only the Android tablet.
Sharing data between the two operating systems isn’t entirely seamless, either, although it isn’t prohibitively awkward. In Windows 8, the Android tablet appears as if it were connected via USB, so it’s possible to browse the tablet’s 16GB of storage and the contents of its microSD card and copy files back and forth reasonably quickly.
Accessing data on the Windows disk from the Android OS is less speedy, however, since it’s necessary to use Asus’ PC Tool software, which transfers files over any existing Wi-Fi network. This means that both devices need to be on the same network, and transfer speeds will be limited to the capabilities of your network. We achieved around 2MB/sec on our local 2.4GHz network. Annoyingly, while the Android tablet’s single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi worked without a hitch, the Realtek 802.11ac adapter in the Windows base refused to connect to our 5GHz network.