The Transformer Flip Book has thrown its hat in the ring taking on a plethora of other designs in the 2-in-1 category. The Flip offers consumers a notebook PC that is convertible to a tablet via a 360 degree rotating display. Lenovo’s Yoga Pro series immediately springs to mind as a leader in this convertible market, a product design from which the Transformer Book Flip takes its inspiration. The model we have from ASUS is the Transformer Book Flip TP300L which features a 13.3 inch Full HD display, an Intel Core i5 processor and the Nvidia GeForce 820M graphics processor. For a retail price of approximately $1,000 USD, can ASUS rise above the competition to really shine? Mobile Geeks report:
The Transformer Flip Book TP300L we are looking at today is powered by an Intel Core i5 4210U processor which is backed by a reasonably small 4GB of DDR3 RAM (up to 16GB is available however). In terms of storage you are getting a 1TB 2.5” Hitachi hard drive. This is a standard 5,400 rpm notebook hard drive that will not excite when it comes to performance – more on this later. The display is a 13.3 inch IPS LCD at a Full HD 1080p resolution, rotating around a hinge that allows 360 degrees movement. The battery is a 50 Whrs Polymer battery that is non-removable.
In terms of ports you get an audio jack, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, a full sized HDMI out port, an SD card reader plus a volume up/down rocker. There is no Ethernet port interestingly which means it’s WiFi or bust as far as the Internet goes. The device weighs in a 1.75kg and is 22mm thick. There are built-in speakers and a microphone backed by ASUS SonicMaster Lite Technology, while above the center of the display you will find a HD web cam.
Built to Flip
The idea of a convertible notebook PC is of course the ability to rotate the touchscreen all the way around to essentially become a Windows tablet, a design precept that requires a hinge of some description. Lenovo really stand out in this regard and have made some exceptional strides with its hinge design, employing two stage hinge design that really impressed on the first gen, and a space-age combination of braces and braid that offers precision adjustability on the newest Yoga 3 Pro that we recently looked at.
The Book Flip series from ASUS uses a single long hinge design that works well without being quite as elaborate or complex as Lenovo’s approach. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite offer the same level of precis control when setting the display at acute angles and the lid needs to be pried from the chassis’ corner mounted magnets with two hands. It does feel sturdy and well made however and offers great tent and stand mode positions.
When it comes to materials, the chassis is made of a kind of plastic but the main body of the device – where we find the keyboard and track pad – has a very professional metallic feeling that could almost fool you in to thinking it’s made of a metal alloy. It is silver and has a kind of grainy finished that is metallic to the touch. The lid is made of brushed aluminum which offers a great deal of rigidity to the display. Also note the aforementioned hinge is actually made of a single piece of hardened plastic.
Overall the Flip Book is not the lightest at 1.75kg, a fact that is especially true when trying to use the device as a tablet in the hand. It is also reasonably thick at 22mm which also does not help when you want to hold it for a while. The left edge features the power button, volume rocker and a ‘Windows’ button which helps for tablet mode usage. You will also find an SD card reader, one USB 2.0 port and a Kensington lock. The right edge of the chassis gives you two USB 3.0 ports, a full sized HMDI port, headphone jack and DC in power port. The front edge has small LEDs that notify power and hard drive activity.
ASUS Keyboard, Typing for Pleasure
The chiclet keyboard is certainly one of the highlights of the Transformer Book Flip. There is virtually no give from the chassis in the keyboard area and the keys themselves have plenty of play. We get two larger Shift keys, which is always good to see although the navigation arrows in the lower right corner are somewhat undersized, which can be a pain when typing – especially if like me, you tend to back pedal a lot to correct typos.
Overall the keyboard is a real pleasure to use. I have clocked up several thousand words on this baby and have really come to appreciate its quality. The only real complaint (again if we compare to Lenovo’s Yoga Pro devices) is that it is not back-lit – so there is still a little something that can be done to improve further this great typing experience. The track pad is also good. It’s larger, well positioned and overall did not interfere with extended typing bouts – something I find a real pet peeve on other devices. It also supports two finger scrolling, again something that is perhaps becoming less influential on a touchscreen device but also welcome.
ASUS is in the habit of making great quality track pads, if you get an update that makes it glitchy, their website usually has a few iterations of drivers so that you can get it right. There has yet to be an ASUS device that we haven’t had to reset the track pad at some point. It’s good to be aware that this type of tweaking can happen down the line and it’s likely not the hardware crapping out, since most people keep their devices a year or three.
Full HD Touchscreen Display
The display on the Transformer Book Flip is a real beauty in all honesty, although it doesn’t quite beat the QHD displays we have seen on Yoga Pro screens. In terms of pixel-depth the 1920 x 1080 resolution is nothing too special but it is well suited to Windows 8.1 which does get lost in terms of scaling with high, and ultra high resolutions screens. This Full HD display here is a 13.3″ IPS LCD that uses an LED back-light with a glare resistant finish (note: some more affordable Book Flip models do in fact use a display with a 1366 x 768 resolution).
Overall you would have to say that this display is bright, sharp and as we have come to expect from IPS panels, it has great viewing angles. As far as we can detect there are no issues with light bleeding and the colors look natural and well reproduced. Brightness levels are also solid and the automatic brightness adjustment works well. The screen is a little reflective in outdoor conditions despite the anti-glare finish. The touchscreen also works well and so far hasn’t really begun to show any fingerprint stains – it will be interesting to see how the coating stands up over time.
Full ASUS Transformer Book Flip Gallery
General Performance: CPU and Drives
The inclusion of an Intel Core i5 4210U processor based on the Haswell architecture means that you are taken care off when it comes to base performance. It is a dual-core processor with a base clock of 1.6GHz, peaking at 2.6GHz when it turbos. Scoring in several benchmarks including Cinebench 11.5 and PC Mark 07 show us that the Intel processor is no bottleneck when it comes to performance. It does a great job without taxing the battery too much thanks to the low 15 Watt TDP of the chip.
As the I mentioned in the hardware overview, one of the real disappointments about the TP300L model that we received from ASUS was the lack of an SSD. Having used this model for several weeks now, I can attest that this is the single biggest issue when it comes to performance. Boot speeds are slow, the machine takes several minutes to settle down after booting and application load times can be really sluggish. The overall responsiveness of the device is way off what I am used, then again that is specifically because I am used to using PCs and mobile devices fitted with at least an SSD for the OS. Am I spoiled? Or just your average geek in 2014?
Testing with Crystal Disk Mark 3, we found sequential read and write speeds of less than 100MB/s. This is actually not bad going for a 5,400rpm drive but it’s way off what an SSD setup would give you, usually well North of 200MB/s. Random read and write scores (a test much closer to the stresses of running an OS) show the 5,400rpm drive really struggle compared to SSD levels, with a 512k score of 28MB/s and 42MB/s for read and write respectively. Common SSDs can hit 300MB/s, so you really can see the night and day difference having an SSD makes to overall responsiveness.
The Transformer Book Flip (TP300L) we have uses a 1TB 5,400rpm drive (Hitachi Travelstar) which means you have plenty of space for video games (which do take up a great deal of space these days.. agreed), but for a device of this price range and segment, I am really disappointed to find that ASUS did not decide to include at least a small capacity mSATA SSD. I can squeeze Windows 8 on to a 64GB partition without too much issue (just remember to keep apps and stuff on the other drive!) but I guess this could cause RMA problems with less experienced users who install everything on the C: drive as per default installer behavior.
There is also only one 2.5” drive bay on the Book Flip, so you can forget about adding an additional drive – SSD or otherwise. Switching out the presently installed drive would void the device’s warranty so there really isn’t too much scope to improve overall responsiveness. My advice is to make sure that if you purchase a Book Flip, that you get a version of it that includes an SSD. From what I see on Amazon however, that choice may prohibit you from enjoying discrete graphics at this point in time.
To be frank, I thought that all but the cheapest devices in 2014 where using SSDs for the OS. It seems strange to marry high performance graphics with a slow hard drive, unless they were thinking of all those large game file sizes and decided to prioritize capacity over performance.
The inclusion of the Nvidia GeForce GT 820M means that this device should have plenty of extra punch and power when it comes to gaming. The GT 820M chip itself also has its own memory sub system that removes memory bottle necks to the GPU, so you are getting 2GB of DDR3 VRAM in there too. We cranked up plenty of games to see just how much gaming grunt this guy has within.
I am a first-person shooter fan which means I really do have some demanding graphical needs. What we found withe the Book Flip is kind of typical of most mobile graphics chips – good, but perhaps not as good as we would like. Let’s take the example of ‘Counter Strike Global Offensive’, the most recent in the CS series but still a somewhat less demanding game being based on the older Half Life 2 engine. We find solid frame rates of around 35-40 fps, and with adjustment of filter and model settings, this can be upped to even higher playable frame rates. Problems arise however when we tried more demanding games like Metro 2033 – a notoriously difficult and demanding game for most desktop PCs. With 2033 we found the game virtually unplayable, even with all settings turned down. Even lowering the resolution of the game proved to unfruitful.
In conclusion we have to say that the Transformer Book Flip is a worthy mobile gaming rig as long as your expectations are realistic. The very latest PC titles have astounding graphical realism which requires a beast of a GPU that you will only find on a desktop PC, with the exception of some boutique level gaming notebooks that are twice the size and price of the Book Flip. If you are tempted to engage in casual gaming, the Nvidia GT 820M is more than sufficient.
Switching Graphics: Intel and Nvidia in Tandem
The Transformer Book Flip actually has two graphics processors within. We have the Nvidia GT 820M, but also don’t forget the Intel Core i5 chip has its Intel HD 4400 graphics processor embedded alongside its CPU part. Intel HD graphics use considerably less power than the Nvidia discrete chip and the two companies have worked hard to make it possible for your system to switch between the two according to the task at hand and the workload needed. Need extra GPU grunt? The Nvidia chip kicks in. Typing an essay or surfing the web? The Intel HD Graphics will take care of it, thus saving power and battery life.
This switching graphics works seamlessly, with options within the software to tell Windows which GPU you want to use with which app. Kudos to Intel and Nvidia however as the software does a good job of allocating appropriate resources automatically.
Software: A Wee Bit of Bloat?
The notebook market has long been plagued by the phenomena of pre-installing trial software apps. Profit margins have sunk in the last decade or so to the point where adding trial software means the chance to double your pretty meager margins. Most manufacturers feel they have no choice, such is the difficult notebook PC segment right now. It is little wonder that major players like Sony have made an exit.
The software install we find on the ASUS Transformer Book Flip is by no means the worse offender when it comes to comes to having a bloated Windows environment but nonetheless it does promote certain pre-installed apps. One of which is Tune-Up 1-Click Maintenance, an app that tells me that my system is no longer optimized but promises me the chance to fix things for a discounted price of $29.95. I’m not sure that it’s a good thing to tell your customer that his/her spanking new notebook device is actually suffering from an un-optimized OS, and then go ahead and offer to fix it for a price. Sounds like BS to me… Unless you a) purchase the app, b) uninstall the app c) remove the app from the Win 8 startup routine, you will be greeted by these alarmist messages every time you boot up.
You will also find a Office 365 (trial version), McAfee Anti-virus (wants you to go pro huh?) are here as per standard (but unfortunate) practice. You will also find ASUS Web Storage, Trangent Games, AsusDirector, PhotoDirector, Fresh Paint, Flip Book, Music Maker and more. Not all useless, but I am still the kind of Mobile Geek that would just as well install my own Windows 8.1 fresh and clean and then install my own preferred (and largely free open source) apps. I realize this is not the case with all consumers who might enjoy having plenty going on the first time the open the machine. Watch out for long boot times as all those apps get settled in every time you turn on the machine.
Apart from the issues mentioned above however, you are getting a pretty standard Windows 8.1 experience – one that divides opinion at times, but is well suited to a convertible, touch-screen device.
Solid Battery Life
As I mentioned earlier, despite the addition of a discrete, high-performance GPU from Nvidia, the Transformer Book Flip manages to offer solid battery life. In general usage – for me that means typing and web surfing mostly – you can expect a solid 4 hours usage from the 3 cells 50 Whrs polymer battery. But even when we go all out on the GPU side we find acceptable results. We ran the Furmark burn-in test on medium brightness at 1080p for around 1 hours 35 mins. That is basically maxing out the GPU in an Open GL test continually throughout, which is more intensive than most games in the real word. From that I would expect you can expect close to two hours of regular 3D gaming before your battery dies out. Reasonable enough.
Flipping the Book: ASUS Transformer Book Flip as a Tablet
The Lenovo Yogo Pro series has really proved to me that it is possible to create a convertible PC that works in both tablet, notebook and other flipped modes in between for optimized media consumption. This was largely possible, not only through innovative hinge designs, but also through the creation of a thin and light device. The Lenovo Yogo 3 Pro we looked at a few weeks ago is 12.8mm thick and weighs just 1.2 KG.
The Book Flip is a much thicker 22mm and weighs 1.75Kg – these are significant differences, significant enough to hinder the device in tablet mode. In other modes – flipped over for watching movies and TV is my favorite – the Book Flip works very well. The hinge design offers really solid options for almost all positions. However, there are situations where the Flip will still excel – in flight media consumption as a tablet for example is still very possible.
The audio quality of the Book Flip is pretty impressive and clearly an area where ASUS have worked hard. You have two stereo speakers located on the bottom front corners. These speakers are not big (judging from our shot of the interior of the device below) but they do offer a decent quality of audio and feature ASUS’ SonicMaster technology. There are decent bass frequencies here with a full sound that will more suffice when playing video games.
As I mentioned earlier the Book Flip has only one 2.5″ hard drive bay (not surprising on a device this size) which in our case was fitted with a 5,400 rpm 1TB drive – but removing or replacing this will void your warranty. How I wish there was an mSATA slot for a small mSATA SSD. Also, you will find it frustrating that you cannot access the devices’ RAM slots which appear to be sealed in an aluminum cover. My advice? Buy the thing with the right components from the get go… it might turn out to be a hassle to upgrade this baby.
Final Thoughts. Any Flipping Good?
The ASUS Transformer Book Flip is a very attractive and well built device and one that I have enjoyed using in most respects. The hinge is effective and offers the choice of usage modes that we would expect from a convertible notebook. The CPU and Graphics performance is there, the display looks great and the keyboard is really, really pleasant to use.
However, there are some issues. The device is a little heavy and a little thick (especially compared to Lenovo Yoga alternatives), the battery life is ok, but not exceptional… but the real kicker on this particular model is the oh so slow hard drive which grinds everything down to a pace I cannot handle to be honest.
The Transformer Book Flip is solid and attractive convertible notebook…. just make sure you get one with an SSD!