Asus has debuted the Transformed Book Duet TD300 at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The TD300, a laptop/tablet convertible, is being marketed as the first ever “quad-mode” convertible, as it is able not only to switch between tablet and laptop mode, but also between Windows 8.1 and Android.
“Who with the what now?” is probably a reasonable response to this product.
Touchdown and conversion?
One of the things that makes Asus an interesting company – and also one confusing to those consumers who really just want to know what colors the Apple iWatch is going to come in – is its readiness to experiment. The Eee PC – a tiny, inexpensive laptop with a 7″ screen that launched the company as a serious maker and seller to the consumer – was an example of this. More recently, the PadFone – a phone that slotted into a tablet mounting when a larger screen was required – headed a series of hybrid devices released alongside more orthodox devices (such as the FonePad, which turned out to be a 7″ tablet with a SIM card slot and dialler software, and of course Google's first Nexus 7).
The high watermark of this willingness to smush genres together is, and remains, last year’s Transformer Book Trio – a convertible with an ARM processor in the screen and an Intel Core chip in the base.When united, the Trio was a Windows laptop. When separated, the screen became an Android tablet and the usually purposeless keyboard, if connected to a TV or monitor, became a desktop PC. This seems utterly absurd, until you start enumerating use cases – in particular someone who needs a Windows machine, and is often at a desk, but who also has some desire for mobile computing – or even a family which needs both of these devices, but not necessarily two of either.
Although this is an exciting new way to play Rymdkapsel, the expectation is probably that the system will largely be used with Windows 8 running in the dock, and Android running when removed for tablet usage. So, in effect, Asus is offering a solution to the problem of the relative paucity of apps available for Windows 8′s Metro-as-was tablet mode – a solution that involves running an entirely different mobile OS when the 13-inch screen is undocked. This seems extreme, but in particular for those who are used to using their tablets as productivity devices, and who have invested significantly in apps, it opens up some interesting possibilities.
It is also worth noting that Android will run absurdly quickly on a mobile Core i7 without virtualization, although it will lack hardware optimization built for ARM processor architecture, and realistically Android apps are not built to optimize for that level of processing speed. The switch between Windows and Android is performed with an “instant switch” button (a hard button on the keyboard, or a soft button on the tablet), with the switch apparently taking place in around four seconds.
Beyond this feature, the Transformer Book Duet TD300 follows the expected spec for a mid-range ultrabook, with a 1920×1080 screen, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive in the screen section. As is traditional with Asus laptops, the installed storage can be expanded with a semi-permanent addition of a MicroSD card up to 64GB in size. The keyboard section also contains a 1TB mechanical hard drive and the usual ports (USB3, USB2, LAN, HDMI). the whole assembly weighs 1.9kg – a little on the toppy side for an ultrabook, but of course most ultrabooks do not have two storage drives and a detachable lid assembly.
Cost is likely to be a deciding factor in the desirability of the Duet – the Trio, although a fascinating device, came with the premium of having two separate processors – one was not so much buying a multiple-use device, but rather a laptop and a tablet that happened to share a screen. This time around the versatility is provided primarily by software.
Discontent among manufacturers with the continuing delay in bringing some key apps (such as Spotify) to the Windows 8 tablet experience fuelled talk of “PC Plus” last year – that is, a Windows PC also able to use full-screen Android apps through emulation. Asus have chosen a more sharply divided solution, but one that opens up some interesting possibilities for mobile computing.