On the Chopping Block: the Asus Transformer Book Flip

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Asus is flipping things up – literally.

Meet the Asus Transformer Book Flip TP550L. We initially reviewed the Transformer line-up with the Asus Transformer T100T. The TP550L could be considered the big brother to the T100T. Priced at Rs, 85,000/-, the device is powered by a 4th Generation Core i3 4010U processor (clocked at 1.7GHz) and by 6GB of DDR3 RAM. (photos by Akash Ratnayake).

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Looks-wise, well, the TP550L looks like ye average laptop. It would be, if it weren’t for the 15.6” Full HD touch-screen display and the fact that the laptop can literally transform into a tablet via a flip of the screen. We’ve seen this type of laptop with the Lenovo Yoga and the HP Pavilion x360. With the Asus, while in laptop mode, you have the full access to standard keyboard layout – including a full numerical keypad, which I thought was a nice addition.

Packaging is pretty standard and includes the necessary manuals and driver CDs all wrapped up in brown cardboard and a handy carrying handle. Inside the box, you find the charger, related documentation such as User manual and warranty card along with a HDMI-D-Sub converter. Power is given to the device by means of a 19V, 3.42A power adapter.

The TP550L has the usual suspects for a laptop of this class – 1 USB 3.0 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 RJ 45 LAN port, 1 HDMI port, a DVD-RW drive and a SD card reader. And speakers by Sonicmaster, which again seems to be the norm with the current crop of Asus products.

A day with the Transformer Book Flip

By laptop standards, the TP550L is your average run of the mill laptop with a touch screen. It comes with genuine Microsoft Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Office preinstalled, so it basically has all the tools you need to be up and running from your first charge. Simply boot up the device, go through the initial setup steps, activate Windows, and you’re good to go. All required drivers and software are preinstalled and are backed up in a recovery partition in case you need to reinstall or refresh the operating system.

The beauty of it lies when it transforms in to a tablet. Simply flipping the screen backwards sends the device into tablet mode, with a popup warning stating that Asus FlipLock is enabled. FlipLock is a feature that disables the laptop’s keyboard and track pad to prevent accidental key presses and/or mouse click events.

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In terms of power – the U series of Intel’s processor line-up is meant to be for Ultrabooks and low power devices, which in turn mean they perform somewhat slower than their desktop counterparts. Although this is good for energy efficiency (with the CPU drawing just 15W at full load), and results in better battery life, in reality, the U series i3 gave a somewhat diminished performance and painted a somewhat laggy picture.

Couple that with a 1TB 5400RPM drive and you notice your apps tend to take a bit longer than usual to open. Indeed even simple processes like launching Windows Media Player and sometimes even launching applications such as Windows Explorer and Chrome took their own sweet time.

Loading times aside, we all know that putting Windows 8.1 onto a laptop with a touch screen can only result in one thing; touch screen gaming. While the on-board Intel HD4400 graphics are sufficient for games on the Windows 8.1 App store, don’t expect it to play any of the latest high end games as the chip simply cannot handle it.

Asus does offer variants of this device with up to an i7 for the CPU, up to a 1TB 7200 RPM drive for storage and up to an Nvidia GT840M for graphics, but as the features increase, so does the price.

The gift horse’s mouth

The TP550L is not exactly slim. It weighs a little over 2.6KGs, so we wouldn’t call it light, either. But the build is decent – with a black and silver finish, with the Asus logo on the cover of the laptop. The keyboard is quite comfortable to type on, and while the touchpad, while being responsive, felt a bit tight around the buttons, the screen is quite bright and colors are displayed with relatively good accuracy.Being a 15.6” touch screen, all Windows 8.1 (which comes preinstalled and activated) gestures are supported and the gestures are responsive and accurate and for those familiar with the gestures, navigation is snappy and easy. It’s very usable.

Be warned, though: it’s fingerprint magnet. Not only the screen, but almost the entire body of the laptop picks up fingermarks like crazy.

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While the build quality is good, I had my doubts regarding the hinge that connects the screen to the lower part of the laptop. It starts to creak after a while and didn’t seem rigid enough for my liking-  which made me somewhat reluctant to keep flipping the screen, for fear of it simply cracking or breaking.

In laptop mode, the 15.6” display gives you more than enough screen space to work on or for emails and web browsing, but as a tablet, is simply feels too large to carry about and hold in the hand. The battery life was average – around 4-5 hours of music playback, web browsing, a couple of episodes of Supernatural and some Facebook. The built-in battery’s got a projected usage of 8 hours on a single charge, and that depends on how you use the thing.

ASUS has also added a few thoughtful touches here and there. The bottom of the laptop has small indents that are used when the screen is flipped, so that it can rest on these indents to protect them from getting scratched and damaged. The left side of the device has the power port, LAN, USB, SD card, HDMI, volume rocker and power button along with the start menu shortcut in tablet mode. The audio port is a combination of headphone and mic, meaning you can use that mobile phones headset. They’ve clearly spent some time figuring out how to make the Flip work.

But overall? The Transformer Book Flip is a nice gimmick, but only that. While undoubtedly goodlooking, and doing a decent job at being a laptop, the sheer size and weight of it as a tablet was a deterrent for me. The tablet/touchscreen market has yet to mature, especially in the 15.6″ space. If you’re just looking for a laptop in that price range, there are much better alternatives out there. If you’re looking for a tablet/touchscreen based device, you might want to think long and hard about what and why you need it.

 

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