Rounding out the trio of new Windows tablet/laptop hybrids announced at CES 2015, also including the 12-inch T300 Chi and the 10-inch T100 Chi, the T90 Chi is the baby of the pack with a mere 8.9-inch screen. This compact form means it has a reduced size keyboard and no trackpad, so does it still hold the dual appeal of its larger siblings? We got our hands on it to find out.
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The most obvious characteristic of the T90 Chi is that, like the other Transformers, the tablet lifts out from the keyboard section so it can be used on its own. Unlike the larger Chi models, though, this keyboard section doesn’t have retaining pins on the inside of the hinge/dock mechanism, so it can be placed in its dock in different positions.
However, only one of the long sides contains corresponding magnets to actually grip the keyboard, so docking it using any other side means the keyboard will fall off if you pick up the tablet. It also means the tablet requires a support piece to wrap around the back, creating a slightly unsightly bulge when in laptop mode.
The other obvious thing about this convertible is how small it is. The tablet is essentially the same size as the iPad mini, with its 8.9-inch screen. This most clearly impacts the trackpad, in as much as there isn’t one.
This means all navigation – bar a few keyboard shortcuts – has to be done via the touchscreen, and although Windows 8 is somewhat touch-optimised, it’s certainly nowhere near enough that you’re likely to be happy without using some sort of pointing device for anything more than browsing the web, playing some music or watching video.
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This productivity limitation continues when it comes to the keyboard, which has had to be shrunk to fit in the same footprint as the tablet. We found it too small, or at least too small for immediate, easy touch typing.
With a bit of time you could probably get used to the slightly smaller spacing and key size. What’s more the actual key action isn’t too bad, making it easy to discern if you’ve pressed a key.
It’s mostly good news when it comes to the screen, too. Its resolution of 1280 x 800 isn’t outstanding for this size of screen, but it’s still good, making everything appear nice and sharp. Viewing angles, colour reproduction and black levels all appeared decent.
All that height and width saving pays dividends when it comes to weight, too. The tablet weighs just 400g and with the dock it’s only 750g in total. With overall dimensions of 241 x 137 x 7.5mm (16.5mm thick with dock) it’s the sort of device that can travel pretty much anywhere with you.
The sturdier, laptop-style design of the keyboard dock also means it’s a far more secure and practical approach to having a keyboard with your tablet than a separate Bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard cover like on the Microsoft Surface.
While the tablet is metal, giving it a premium look and feel, the dock is plastic, but they still look good together, even with the bulge from the tablet dock.
Inside the T90 Chi is an Intel Atom Z3775 processor, which is a quad-core model that runs between 1.46GHz and 2.39Ghz. That's plenty for a device of this type. Having only 1GB or 2GB of RAM seems a little limiting, but we’ll have to wait for our full review to really assess if this impacts performance.
Storage is limited to just a 32GB or 64GB of SSD, though a microSD slot allows for some expansion and you get 1TB of Microsoft OneDrive (1 year free) and unlimited Asus WebStorage (1 year free) included.
You’ve also got front (2MP) and back (5MP with autofocus) cameras and Wi-Fi a/b/g/n along with Bluetooth 4.0 and stereo speakers porting from the two shorter sides. Asus hasn’t quoted a battery life yet, but we expect it to be around the 10-hour mark.
Other connectivity is quite limited, but that's no surprise on a package this size. As well as the microSD slot you get a Micro USB port and a headphone jack. This tablet also charges straight from its Micro USB port rather than having a separate power socket.
The appeal of the Asus Transformer Book T90 Chi is likely to be more limited than that of its larger siblings, simply because you lose the easier typing experience and trackpad of those models.
However, considered as an alternative to something like an iPad mini with a compact Bluetooth keyboard, it makes a lot more sense. The docking system keeps the whole lot together and protected when in transit, and the adjustable screen makes for easier use on laps or other situations where you can’t find a nice flat surface to work on.
What’s more, all this starts at just $299, making it a real bargain for what you get.