Given Microsoft's firm hold on the 2-in-1 market, it's unsurprising that we're starting to see a lot of copycat design. Asus' Transformer Pro T304 is one device that pulls this off flawlessly, and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two from a distance. Of course, to knock the crown from Microsoft's head, you'll need to do more than simply look like the market leader to win over customers.
The Transformer Pro is one of those more brazen examples of a device attempting to undercut its rival. It not only looks and feels like Microsoft's device, it offers the sort of internal hardware you'd expect to find on a top-end Surface Pro, at a bottom-end price. Not only that, you're also getting a keyboard and stylus thrown in with the price.
On paper the Transformer Pro is an absolute bargain, with the potential to be a genuine 2-in-1 alternative. It's just a shame its hardware doesn't quite deliver.
Design & connectivity
The Asus Transformer Pro T304 follows all the same design principles enshrined by Microsoft Surface Pro range. It features the same style of kickstand that appears hidden when flush with the screen, the same elevated keyboard that folds over with a magnetic strip, and the same squared edges that make it feel more akin to a laptop than a tablet.
Yet that's by no means a bad thing. Let's face it, the Surface Pro is a refined device, and changing up any aspect of the design formula is risky unless you've got something compelling to replace it with. Of course, the upshot of that is the Transformer Pro, despite the Asus branding, is strikingly similar to Microsoft's 2-in-1, and if you don't like the Surface Pro, there's very little here for you.
That said, Asus' version is not quite a full fledged clone. One notable difference is the range of ports available, as the Transformer offers both a USB 3.0 and a USB Type C port, as well as a microSD slot and a full sized HDMI port. It also includes an integrated fingerprint scanner built into the power button, meaning you can unlock the device and sign in at the same time using Windows Hello. Our only wish is that it opted for a second USB C port rather than a dedicated power slot - a missed opportunity to provide just a tad more utility.
The kickstand, although it borrows heavily from Microsoft's range, the build quality is not of the same standard. It's 155 degree mechanical hinge lacks enough resistance at certain angles, meaning the weight of the display will push the stand outwards until it reaches a point where it can support it. It's an annoying oversight and is a far cry from the super smooth stand of the Surface Pro.
It's also slightly thicker and heavier than the Surface Pro, but the difference is so marginal that it doesn't hamper portability, and can be easily carried around or thrown in a bag.
Keyboard & trackpad & stylus
Just in case the price wasn't attractive enough, Asus decided to throw in a keyboard and stylus, a tactic that only Microsoft seems averse to.
The truly great thing is that the keyboard is excellent. It features nicely spaced keys with decent travel time and enough feedback to make typing an absolute breeze, although not quite as refined as the Surface Type Cover. Some keys are a little smaller than we'd like, such as the left shift button, which tend to slow down touch typing, but ultimately these are little niggles on an otherwise strong keyboard.
The Transformer Pro supports two versions of its keyboard, the first being a metal board coated in matching silver, and the one we reviewed. That metal finish provides a sturdy surface from which to type, however I found it tended to absorb heat fairly easily and made my palms uncomfortably warm. Another more immediate annoyance is the lack of backlighting on this version, which should really be a staple of any keyboard in this price range. If that's a deal breaker for you, you can opt for a non-metallic board with backlit keys.
The trackpad is also great, and its glass coated surface means there's none of that sticky resistance you sometimes get on other pads. Windows' multi-touch gestures work perfectly, and the left and right buttons have a satisfying click to them.
Asus' bundled aluminium stylus works well enough for basic writing tasks, although like the Acer Switch 5's offering, it's missing a lot of the headline features of rivals, such as shading or tilt-detection. It also features a fairly average pressure sensitivity of 1,024, which pales in comparison to the 4,096 level of Microsoft's Surface Pen and Samsung's S Pen.