(Pocket-lint) - The Asus Transformer Mini T102HA is a hybrid for people who want a Surface Pro 4 but can't face the price.
It's smaller, far cheaper and, simply put, not as good. But it is really quite a lot cheaper - around £360 at the time of writing - and still has a stylus and more connections than some £1,000 laptops offer these days.
The main reason to leave the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA on the shelf is its performance. As it uses an Intel Atom CPU, it starts tripping up as soon as you ask it to do more than one basic thing at a time. Keep that in mind, however, and this dinky machine could be the basic on-the-go device for you.
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA review: Design
- Magnesium-aluminium alloy build
- 800g including keyboard
- wide-ranging, if dated connections
Asus has borrowed the basics of the Microsoft Surface design DNA for the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA. What this means is that the keyboard sticks to the screen portion using magnets, and that the main part has a kickstand, rather than relying on the base to stand up.
The obvious benefit is that you can treat the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA as a giant picture frame. Probably not one to look through old holiday photos with, but to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer idly while you do something else.
The kickstand almost opens up to 180-degrees, making almost any angle possible. It's not quite as smooth as the Surface Pro 4's, but it's not bad for the price.
Asus hasn't skimped too much on construction overall. The tablet part of the Transformer Mini is made using a magnesium-aluminium alloy, with glass on top of the display, and the keyboard does its best to feel like a laptop keyboard rather than a tablet accessory.
Magnesium's top-billing feature is that it's very light for its strength. In its laptop config, the Mini weighs 800g, which is even lighter than the new breed of laptops so thin they can't fit in USB ports.
The Asus does have a USB, and all the basics you'd ask for in a laptop, albeit in a miniaturised form factor. There's a video out (microHDMI) and a memory card slot (microSD). The battery charges via microUSB too, letting you use your phone cable as long as you have an Android (or Windows phone) that isn't so new it uses USB-C instead. That USB-C is the one obvious missing bit: most new higher-end laptops have one.
There's also a fingerprint scanner on the back, a bit of a modernist consolation prize. However, you tend to need to put a finger over it a couple of times for it to work, making it less useful.
The two questions to ask of any hybrid are: is it any good as a laptop and does it work as a tablet? As the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA is slim and its screen comes off entirely, it looks and feels the part. However, even with Windows 10 tablet mode, there are still real shades of “tiny all-in-one PC” to it. Android and iOS models feel far more like pure tablets.
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA review: Keyboard and features
- Removable keyboard with 1.5mm-deep keys
- Slightly cramped typing feel
- Pressure-sensing stylus
It's also not perfect as a laptop, though, as the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA is pretty small (clue is in the name, we suppose). It has a 10.1-inch screen, where laptops of 12-inches and above give you that feeling of a machine you can work on all day long. The Surface Pro 4 has a 12.4-inch screen, for example.
Using the Asus to type a 1000-word article, hands feel cramped after a while as your wrists are forced into a less than entirely comfortable position. If you're after something to complement your desktop or home laptop while you're travelling or on your hols, it'll do just fine. But we wouldn't want to use it eight hours a day, every day.
When you attach the keyboard to the screen, it flicks into place using a series of magnets. The keyboard doesn't sit absolutely flat on whatever surface the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA is put on, but rests at a slight upwards angle to make typing that bit more comfortable.
There are a lot of worse keyboard accessories out there, and the key action here is actually a lot deeper than, for example, that of the 12-inch MacBook. However, it's still a bit of a step down from a real laptop as, even without the space issue, the key feel isn't as satisfying.
Cut-outs can be an annoyance too. Despite connecting directly with some contacts on the screen, slight movements tend to cause the keyboard to disconnect momentarily. It can get annoying, particularly if you have the sound on as that classic Windows chime plays as it loses and then regains the connection.
One cool part of the keyboard is the loop on one side. This hold the stylus, a surprisingly expensive-feeling aluminium pen with a couple of buttons on its barrel. Rather than being a dumb stylus, this is a pressure-sensitive tool with 1,024 levels of pressure. Roll back to a few years ago and this was a top-end spec, although bedroom digital artists might not want to throw away their Wacom tablets just yet.
There's a slight delay to the input that means the input seems to trail behind the pen slightly, and the hard plastic nib doesn't feel all that smooth on the glass top surface. Consider the iPad Pro's Pencil costs £99 on its own, though, and we can't complain that loudly. It's still fun to use if you match it up with a pressure-sensing program like Adobe Photoshop, and a 10.1-inch screen isn't a bad size for sketching, much as it is pretty small for a laptop.
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA review: Display
- 10.1-inch IPS LCD screen
- Good top brightness
- Limited WVGA resolution
The Asus Transformer Mini T102HA's screen is relatively low-res as well as being small. Its 1280 x 800 pixels looks a bit blocky even when used as a laptop. And as a tablet? Get the screen a bit closer to your face and those pixels become very apparent. Small fonts look a bit Lego-like.
You can get much nicer tablet screens at the price, but look for larger laptops sub-£400 and you'll actually find a lot of worse screens. The Asus Transformer Mini T102HA has a nice 'n' bright IPS LCD panel, where a lot of budget laptops still have TN screens in the lowest price brackets (which are displays that look strange when tilted the wrong way).
This display isn't fancy, but it is practical and up to the job, able to cope with use outdoors thanks to a powerful backlight. Display colours are fine too. They're not as deep or rich as the Surface Pro 4's, but aren't weak either.
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA review: Performance
- Low-power Intel Atom CPU
- Not good for gaming or advanced apps
- Limited storage
So far we've dug up some good and bits of the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA. They even out, for the most part, when you look at the sheer breadth of features against the price.
However, performance is the main reason to be put off by the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA. It has an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 CPU, paired with 4GB RAM. This is close to bottom-rung stuff, much less capable than even a Core i3 system. It's not too bad if you're mostly just going to faff about on Facebook, send some emails and browse the internet. However, the Transformer Mini won't thank you if you try to do these things at the same time, or do anything more advanced. A bit like a netbook of old.
Try to create a 50-layer masterpiece in Photoshop using the stylus and the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA will probably start screeching. We tried some editing of images and it wasn't at all fun. All apps take longer to load than normal and there are some stutters with basic navigation too, and it's no use for gaming beyond the real basics.
This is where the Transformer really isn't a direct replacement for a Surface Pro 4 or a meat and potatoes laptop. Just like the keyboard, the performance means we wouldn't recommend this as a laptop to use as your main computer. It also has very limited storage. There's 64GB of solid state storage, but when Windows 10 eats around half of this, you'll be left juggling files before too long.
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA review: Sound and battery life
- Excellent battery life
- Decent stereo speakers
- MicroUSB charging
Maybe that's not such a big deal if you've already bought into media streaming and aren't intending to download too many data-heavy apps. It's not as if the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA can play demanding games, after all.
The Asus Transformer Mini T102HA has enough stamina for long-haul travel too. We may not like the Atom CPU, but it goes seriously easy on the juice. This hybrid lasts for around 12 hours of normal use, which is mammoth, and even better than Asus's own claim of 11 hours. It does use USB charging, though, which is slower than a good laptop charger.
One other nice extra is that the speakers aren't too bad given they live in the 14mm tablet part. There are two drivers, one firing out of each side.
The Asus Transformer Mini T102HA has a wide breadth of features, including a pressure-sensitive stylus, fingerprint scanner, hybrid design and fairly versatile connectivity.
However, it doesn't ace the basics. Performance is pretty poor, which is perhaps stretching what's acceptable for the price. That said, it is pretty cheap. An iPad with a keyboard or Android hybrid will feel much less compromised - but you'll have to pay more.
Perhaps the biggest reason to buy this Transformer Mini is that its battery life is great. It'll last for a strong 12-hours when doing basic tasks, so if you're looking for a machine to do some casual tasks then don't write it off entirely. Just make sure you've considered the serious power limitations before buying.
The alternatives to consider...
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
It's an awful lot more expensive than the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA without seeming to have that many more features on the surface. However, you could use this a Surface Pro 4 as your only computer with no issue, where the Transformer Mini isn't really up to the task unless your demands are minimal and you have some patience.
Read the full article: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review
If you like the idea of the Transformer Mini's stylus but want a real pro feel, the iPad Pro is what you need. The 9.7-inch version costs £200 more when you consider the added cost of the Pencil stylus, though. And that doesn't include a keyboard either. As ever, Apple gear isn't cheap.
Read the full article: iPad Pro review
HP Pavilion x360
Sure, this is much more laptop-like than the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA, using a 360-degree hinge and much larger screen. However, if you're turned off by poor performance, the x360 solves this by using proper Intel Core-series processors. We'd much rather use this for all-day working.
Read the full article: HP Pavilion x360