As Microsoft continues to push forward with developing premium computers, there’s still room in the market for copy cat-like devices that aren’t nearly expensive, yet are nearly as capable as Microsoft’s own laptops, tablets and desktops.
Take the Asus Transformer Pro T304 as an example. For a lot less than the entry level all told, you not only gain a full-fledged (and similar-looking) 2-in-1 tablet, but Asus also includes a keyboard and a pen.
It makes more sense to bundle everything a user will need for a complete computer, and that goes a long way towards putting a checkmark in the win column for Asus.
But, of course, there’s more to consider about any gadget than just how good of a deal it is. On paper, the Transformer Pro T304 compares favorably with the most recent Surface Pro and HP Spectre x2, but it just doesn’t muster quite the same oomph.
Price and availability
The Asus Transformer Pro T304 starts at a reasonably-priced $999 (about £1,281, AU$1,499). At that price point for a 2-in-1 powered by a Kaby Lake Intel i7 processor, 256GB SSD, and 8GB RAM, it’s hard to ignore that the price includes the Transformer Keyboard Cover and Asus Pen.
The UK and Australian models feature identical specs, save for the processor, which is an Intel i5 in both regions.
A similarly configured Microsoft Surface Pro costs $1,599 (£1,549.00, AU$2,449.00) without a keyboard or Surface pen, which adds up fast. The takes the same approach as Asus, and includes a keyboard and stylus in the box.
However, instead of several hundred dollars more than the Transformer Pro T304, as is the case with the Surface Pro, the Spectre x2 with nearly identical hardware is priced at $1,229 or £1,499, though for double the storage in the UK. (This model doesn’t appear to be available yet in Australia.)
If you’ve seen Microsoft’s Surface Pro, then you have a good idea of what to expect regarding the design of the Transformer Pro T304. It’s not a direct clone, but it does share a lot of the same aesthetics.
On the right side of the device is a small notch for easy access to the hinge, a speaker grille, charging port, USB-C port, full-sized HDMI port and a standard USB-A port. The left side features the same notch and speaker grille, followed by a microSD slot, volume buttons and a headphone jack.
On the backside of the Transformer Pro T304 is a camera lens, and a solitary line cutting the device in half horizontally, as a marker for where the 155-degree kickstand hinge bends.
A power button with a built-in fingerprint reader is found on the top-left corner. The bottom of the unit is where you’ll find the connector for the keyboard.
Weighing ever so slightly more than the Surface Pro (1.73 pounds) at just 1.79 pounds, this tablet is super portable and easy to throw into a backpack. In fact, it’s also slightly bigger than the overall footprint of the Surface Pro, but not enough to make a huge difference in determining if one is more portable than the other.
The 12.6-inch display of the Transformer Pro T304 is clear and vivid, but not the brightest. In direct sunlight, even with the brightness set to max, it was difficult to clearly see what was on the screen.
The touchscreen is responsive and accurate, whether you’re using multi-touch gestures or the stylus.
Nice selection of ports, but…
With a healthy mixture of ports, ranging from USB Type-C to full HDMI to a microSD card reader, we would have loved to have an additional USB-C port in place of a proprietary charging solution.
USB-C is now prevalent enough with adoption from smartphone and PC makers alike, it feels like a step back whenever we have a device that doesn’t charge with USB-C.
Additionally, if Asus were to replace the proprietary charging port with a second USB-C port, you aren’t stuck with using the port just for charging — it can still sync a phone or read external drives. Whereas, as it is now, the charging port is a single serving use of space.
Keyboard cover and pen
In almost all promotional photos of the Transformer Pro T304, a small sleeve for the Asus Pen is seen on the right side of the keyboard. However, included in the box with our review unit was the Transformer Keyboard Cover without any sort of sleeve attachment to hold the pen while not in use.
It’s a small gripe, but one that would find validation the moment we lose the pen and are forced to purchase a replacement or go without.
The Asus Pen itself has two buttons on it, one functioning as a left click and the other as a right-click. The tip is replaceable in the pen. The pen is fairly light, and doesn’t have the same heft of, say, the Apple Pencil to it. The buttons each have some wiggle to them, which can get annoying when you’re trying to write and your fingers are inadvertently on top of one (or both) of them.
Overall, the pen travels smoothly across the display with minimal latency.
As for the keyboard itself, it’s spacious and the backlit keys offer a fair amount of travel. Using magnets, the keyboard can be placed at a slight angle up off the desk for more ergonomic typing, or with a quick change the keyboard can transition to flat against your desk or lap.
Overall, we have no complaints about the Transformer Pro T304’s performance. It’s not slow, by any means. It’s able to handle whatever it’s tasked with – well, except gaming. It’s Intel HD Graphics 620 just isn’t cut out for intense gaming sessions, but that’s to be expected.
Instead, it’s powerful enough to handle most basic computing tasks, like multiple-tab web browsing in resource-heavy Chrome, including more than one Slack session running within Chrome, as well as updating apps, triaging email in the Microsoft Mail app, and streaming Pandora.
Sadly the Surface Pro’s processor outclasses the Transformer Pro’s in graphical performance, with its Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 GPU compared to the Asus’s standard Intel HD Graphics 620. Take, for instance, the 3DMark Sky Diver result of 1,341 for the Transformer Pro T304.
The most recent Surface Pro scored a 6,431 in our gesting. Similar drastic results are also found in the Cinebench Graphics test, with the Transformer Pro T304 scoring a lowly 17 fps while the Surface Pro hit 68 fps.
As far as compute performance is concerned, the Transformer Pro T304’s single-core score came close to matching the Surface Pro on the Geekbench 4 CPU test, with 4,238 and 4,656, respectively.
Asus is up front with battery life expectations for the Transformer Pro T304. According to its specification sheet, users can expect six hours of battery life. That’s not enough to get through a full day’s worth of class, let alone a cross country flight for professionals.
We experienced less than the six hours in real-world use and the PCMark 8 battery life test, that clocked in at a measly 3 hours and 6 minutes. That’s a full hour less than when we ran the same test on the Surface Pro.
On the up side, if you’re planning on watching a movie, you can expect over 6 hours of power with the screen set at 50% brightness.
The thought of pushing the power button and unlocking the Transformer Pro T304 in one motion sounds convenient, and it is – when it works. We find the fingerprint reader to recognize our fingerprint on the first attempt only about half the time.
On a few occasions, it flat out refused to read our fingerprint, forcing us to enter a backup PIN or password instead.
When it does work, however, by the time the screen is fully lit up and visible, the Transformer Pro T304 is unlocked and ready to begin working.
For just two speakers, the Transformer Pro T304 is impressively loud. It’s not just able to pump out tunes at high volume, but the sound emitted from the Harman/Kardon tuned audio system sounds good at the same time.
We’ve played a myriad of different music genres and found each one to sound as good as we’d hoped.
The kickstand is easy to adjust, yet stiff enough when you press against the screen with the pen or a finger it’s not going to immediately give way. With a full range of 155-degrees, the screen can tilt up to 170-degrees.
When in the flattest position, the screen is angled in such a way that lends itself to jotting notes or sketches with the pen.
Having the versatility of so many different viewing angles when compared to a setup like the one found on Samsung’s Galaxy Book that only features a couple of viewing positions, the hinge truly shines.
Overall, the Transformer Pro T304 is lightweight, affordable and performs well enough for most. With a keyboard and pen included in the box, you’re not left questioning which accessories you should get based on what you can afford. Just don’t expect a lot of out its performance when it comes to graphics.
The fingerprint sensor was awesome, but only part time. The battery life is not nearly good enough, and being forced to carry around a specific charger is more annoying than useful.
There’s a lot to like about the Transformer Pro T304, from pricing to basic computing performance. Microsoft purposefully looked at the high end for its products, leaving plenty of room for just this type of product.
Perhaps with more practice, and maybe even saving the same fingerprint more than once, the scanner will become more reliable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to be done about battery life.
For those on a budget, this is one of the most affordable 2-in-1 Windows tablets available and is worth seriously considering. As long as you’re not out to edit countless hours of video, or spend an entire weekend gaming online, it should be more than enough computer for you.