Skip to main content

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro review: Not quite a Surface Pro killer, but damn close

Quick take

On the whole the ASUS Transformer 3 Pro is a hit. It looks great, it's got plenty of specs and it's a joy to use. It even gets the edge on the Surface Pro by having Intel RealSense, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. But the Core i7 model has too much fan noise, not brilliant battery life and above all, scratches incredibly easy on the rear. Such things, sadly, take away from an otherwise wonderful experience.

Pros

  • Fantastic display
  • Thunderbolt 3 USB-C support
  • Great keyboard and pen

Cons

  • Scratches far too easily
  • Fan noise on the Core i7
  • Battery life is average at best

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro full review

The Microsoft Surface is an iconic product that defined a new type of Windows product. Not only a tablet, but a tablet capable of replacing the often large, heavy laptop in your life. And it's helped spawn a new generation of similar products from Microsoft's manufacturer partners.

The latest to come on board is ASUS with the newest model in the popular Transformer range. The Transformer 3 Pro is an alternative to that hot new ultrabook you've had your eyes on. It's slim, it's light, it's incredible to look at and best of all, it's a 2-in-1.

This style of products doesn't suit everyone, but their popularity continues to grow. Innovations from Intel are helping to get more power and productivity from ever slimmer, more portable machines. As one of the latest generation, the Transformer 3 Pro could well be the one to get. But is it?

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro video hands-on

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro: Hardware and design

Transformer 3 Pro

As a thing, the Transformer 3 Pro is stupendous. To look at it, to hold it, then to realize there's a full Windows PC inside it is still a remarkable feat of modern engineering. Of course, it's not alone in offering the same in this form factor, but it doesn't make it any less remarkable.

In some regards, what ASUS has done with the Transformer 3 Pro surpasses even the mighty Surface Pro 4. The benchmark for this type of Windows machine, ASUS has some notable points over and above the Surface. The first, and probably most important of those is USB-C Thunderbolt 3.

The Transformer 3 Pro is a remarkable computer in a tiny package

Utilizing the new standards, the same port will both charge the Transformer 3 Pro and allow for super-fast data transfer, such as pushing an output to a high-resolution display. Beyond even that, the Transformer 3 Pro can hook into ASUS' external graphics dock, allowing you to play high-end PC games on the Transformer 3 Pro using a desktop GPU. Oh yes.

Image 1 of 2

Transformer 3 Pro

Image 2 of 2

Transformer 3 Pro

The svelte form of the Transformer 3 Pro also contains front facing speakers which are both loud and quality sounding, and a full Intel RealSense camera array. The Surface Pro 4 can do Windows Hello, but the RealSense cameras have many more applications should you be in a position or have the desire to use them. But for Windows Hello, it's fantastic. It works as quickly as you'd expect it to, and it's not even like it's a particularly bad webcam, either.

Nothing this expensive should scratch so easily

I suppose the display should get a mention too, because it's rather nice. That and you'll spend the most time interacting with it of anything else on the Transformer 3 Pro. It's a 2880 x 1920 resolution display, so everything is razor sharp, the colors are bright and vivid and it's a joy to behold. It also supports pen input with ASUS' own digital writing instrument, which means you can Windows Ink to your heart's content.

Inside the Transformer 3 Pro are a range of specification options. Our review unit came with the top of the line options, including the Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD storage. Aside from just being a lot, what you've got is a high-end ultrabook inside a tablet. And that's no joke. The trade off with this spec seems to be fan noise. While the Transformer 3 Pro performs very well, with no slow-down in any area during my time with it, it seems almost impossible to use it without the fans making more noise than is really acceptable.

Transformer 3 Pro

There is, however, one other issue with this otherwise incredibly good looking, well made and high-end product. ASUS has obviously applied a finish to the metal in order to create the color of the tablet, but it's pretty horrid. Not in how it looks, because it looks superb, but it has no durability whatsoever.

It could just be a flaw in some early units, but after only a few days of light use and being put in and out of a laptop bag a couple of times, there were some noticeable scratches on the rear. And that's not what you want from something that costs what this does.

I think I was more disappointed because ASUS hardware is usually pretty tough. But hopefully something changes with this.

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro: Keyboard and Pen

Transformer 3 Pro

Pen loop not included!

To get the most from the pen input on the Transformer 3 Pro, you'll need the Anniversary Update. Our review unit wasn't pre-loaded, but upgraded before any form of testing began. Windows Ink is the big differentiator, and it adds a whole new raft of functionality to your digital scribblings.

The pen itself is pretty close in design to the Surface Pen, as it is to use on the screen. I'll admit to not being the biggest user of digital pens, but it does feel incredibly natural on a device this size. Using an app like OneNote with a fine pen tip, handwriting is responsive and accurate and a hugely satisfying experience.

Image 1 of 2

Transformer 3 Pro

Image 2 of 2

Transformer 3 Pro

But while the pen comes in the box, there isn't any way to attach it to the tablet or keyboard. Not even magnets. So I threw on a Surface Pen Loop. Otherwise, the pen would easily have gone missing. It's a small detail, but it's a usability issue I'd have liked to see ASUS solve.

The other major input device, the keyboard, is equally excellent. ASUS has been making keyboards for a long time and they're still as good as ever. For something this size, the keys are very good, they have excellent travel and a nice feel to them. One of my personal dislikes about this kind of product is the typing experience has never felt quite right to me, but the Transformer 3 Pro nails it. I used it to compose several longer articles for this site during my time with it without getting tired fingers or frustrated that it wasn't a 'proper' keyboard.

Transformer 3 Pro

In fact, it's better to type on than the keyboard on my laptop. Which is phenomenal.

It attaches to the tablet with a simple magnetic pin connector wand you can use it either flat on the desk or propped up at a slight angle. Oh, and it's backlit, too, which I like very much. The trackpad is OK, but not a lot more than that, and honestly, you'd be foolish to expect too much. But a Bluetooth mouse will be much better to use.

But both keyboard and pen are a hit. You won't get frustrated using either, and after only a short time I became very comfortable with both. And I've never really used the Surface Pen in the past either, but with Windows Ink on your side it's a killer feature to have.

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro: Battery life

Transformer 3 Pro

This is the part of the review where I say that the Core i7 is probably overkill for most people and the trade-off is battery life. Throughout two weeks with the Transformer 3 Pro no day passed with anything more than 5-6 hours off the charger. If you're around plenty of electricity, that might not be an issue, but you can't leave for the day without some way to juice it back up, which is disappointing.

Of course, lower spec versions should do much better, but it brings into question why you would spend the extra on a Core i7 Transformer 3 Pro. If you're going to hook it up to the graphics dock and play games, sure, but given the not so stellar battery life and the fan noise, personally I'd go for something lesser. And cheaper.

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro: The bottom line

Transformer 3 Pro

The Transformer 3 Pro isn't perfect. It has sub-par battery life and too much fan noise at the spec as tested, and the ease of destroying the finish on the rear is a worry. The first two at least can be improved by stepping down to an i5, which would be a recommendation if you don't actually need an i7.

Everywhere else the Transformer 3 Pro is superb. It's well designed, extremely portable and every bit the 'laptop replacement' that the Surface Pro has become. Microsoft's own isn't perfect, either, and the Transformer 3 Pro's support of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is a big tick in the ASUS column. Likewise with the RealSense camera array, and the keyboard is probably better too.

It is disappointing that it scratches so easily, and hopefully, that's something ASUS can fix on future models. But on the whole, it's a terrific 2-in-1 that's all the PC many would ever need.

See at Amazon

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

97 Comments
  • Man I like this, I'm trying to see what my next Windows tablet gone be.
  • Me too dawg. I can't seem to decide
  • Wait for the Surface Book 2 ;)
  • I'll just wait for the 3rd iteration :) since i bought the original SB just a few months before.
  • Yeah, I just have the Surface 3, but it is great! I'm not in a big rush to replace it. But I'm definitely keeping my eyes open.. :)
  • S3 here too. Just got the type cover 30% off from Microsoft Store, waiting for delivery eagerly. S3 itself is brilliant
  • This is the Transformer 3 Pro!
  • Yeah, that's a good idea
  • With all this 2-in-1 devices that are being showcased, I already feel like a dinosaur using my deal Inspiron...
  • Same with my old HP laptop :D
  • I know we should not have to, but I guess a skin would cure the scratching on the back....but again, you should not have to do that!
  • I wonder if Kensington would make a case for this just like they do for the Surface Pro 4 (Blackbelt case)
  • This is such far cry from the T-100 book I bought 3 years ago, though it sounds like the build quality might be the same.
  • The ultimate 'Surface Pro killer' is the product itself. After all the sleep/wake issues who would buy that ****?
  • The "issue" you talk about is an OS issue, not an issue with the Surface device. If the Surface has a "sleep/wake" issue, then so does this. It's common sense, please use it before you post.
  • although what you're saying is right Dave, its just that most people don't care about OS/Hardware split. It either delights them, or doesn't. The sleep/wake issues are probably firmware issues, and MS should have fixed those by now. I really love Surface line, but still, these are rather critical issues.
  • I thought they have already been fixed or is it still on going?
  • I think it was fixed some time ago.
  • I guess that's why my experience has been great so far.
  • "Easily scratched" as a con vs the Surface Pro? Have y'all used a Surface for more than a day? That rear paint comes off if you look at it wrong.
  • I don't know about you, but mine stays on very well. I keep a case on it at uni, but at home or on the weekends, it's been fine bare. You just have to be careful with your tech dude. :)
  • I doubt that you've ever even seen one, as there is NO paint on a Surface. It is made from a solid billet of Magnesium. Go back to your "fake news".
  • It may not be "paint" or whatever, but there is indeed a finish on Surface devices. I had the finish flake off a Surface 2, and there's a more shiny surface underneath that is similar in color. I've also had Surfaces that never did this, so it might just be a random defect, like mishandling during the finish process. 
  • There is a process used to protect the outside of the Surface devices that is an injection molded Magnesium process (VaporMg). It is a process, not a "paint". It's not "flaky".
  • Call it whatever you wish, it indeed flaked off of mine in places. Not everywhere, but you could clearly see that patches of the finish had come off. Not scratches. 
  • I've got my L920 all coming off with flakes. After three years of intense use and some slips and falls. The polycarbonate casing of the heavy-set Lumia's like the 920 appears to flake off as a show of degradation. Not so good. Perhaps the same problem occurs with the surface though it's not polycarbonate like the 920.
  • Surface 2 had a different appearance - since SP3, the Surface's have all been plain silvery magnesium with no covering. I believe the Surface 2 had a black covering, am I right?
  • Yeah, I don't get why some are moaning when they are wrong. My first get SP and RT from black, half their backs turned silver.
  • Surface RT and the original Pro were black. Surface 2 (RT) and 2 Pro introduced the new silver "natural" finish. I also had a Surface 3, which has an identical finish to the Surface 2.
  • Fair enough, weird yours flaked then. Can only presume it was a defect or something because I've never heard of it before.
  • Yeah, I think it was a defect in that one unit, as I had more than one Surface 2 and only had that happen once. It was pretty bad, which made me suspect the case was mishandled before finishing. My comments were more to the point that we aren't looking at the natural finish of the VaporMG. It was odd that MS made it sound like we were seeing it that way, when there is indeed a bonded finish of some kind. It is close in color, but not in texture. Underneath is smoother. 
  • I've had paint flaking off mine, too. So, um, NOT "fake news".
  • My SP3's back has a couple of scratches from when I accidentally let it slid over the floor, but apart from that, there are absolutely no signs of wear after all this time. Mind you, it's been two years now for me with the SP3. Daniel used the Transformer 3 pro for a couple of days.
  • I had this issue on my original Surface RT, I have seen it on the original Surface Pro too but my Surface Pro 3 has been perfectt, not even a noticable scrach on it after two years of daily use
  • WTH are you talking about?  We have multiple SP3s and SP4s and I don't see any scratching on them.
  • LOL. Surface devices used VaporMg instead of aluminum, hence its coloring is on its material used. On the other hand, T3P uses aluminum with paint-coating as finishing, so there it goes: easy to scratch, and my Transformer Book Flip uses that finishing too.
  • You need to be specific... Surface RT/1/2 or Surface 3/pro/4?
  • My original first gen Surface Pro doesn't have any scratches.
  • eGPU Support is just awesome.
  • Yeah! This alone is the biggest advantage against Surface Pro (even on all current Surface devices). Though the trade-off is on Core i7 version which have underwhelming battery-life for a tablet. The trackpad wasn't detailed enough but it said its okay, so not worst but below average? With device with this price, I wish trackpad would be better than that.
  • Does have wireless charging?
  • Are you kidding?
  • I've never heard of being able to "wireless charge" any tablet, laptop, or ultrabook before.
  • But still it would be great if we could! Josef stated that there that HP Touchpad have one. It's been a while since I seen those tablets.
  • I have one and it does have Qi charging even with Android OS.
  • How come in 2011 HP TouchPad has built in!
    Who is kidding?   HP TouchPad
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HP_TouchPad   HP - Touchstone Inductive Charging Dock for HP TouchPad Tablets
    https://goto.walmart.com/c/1943169/612734/9383?sharedid=159229&subId1=UU...
  • Good point. So many people forget (or aren't educated in the fact) that Palm released their tablet (just after being purchased by HP) with wireless charging long before anyone else even looked at it. They had it on the Pre back in 2009 and put it on their first tablet in 2011.
  • Does that tablet use an intel cpu? No. Is it a low watts machine? Yes. THAT IS WHY it has wireless charging.
  • This isn't a phone
  • I did not asked about phone!
  • Not with a metal body for efficient wireless charging. Wireless charging works better with Polycarbonate (or cheap plastic).
  • Although this would be nice, you'd have to wonder how long it would take to charge it wirelessly due to it being inefficient.
  • Wanted this but it uses year old internals. Could have been good.
  • Year old? DDR3 ram is ancient and uses more power and has less speed. SODIMM DDR4 memory is virtually the same price, faster, and uses less energy. Why the SP4 and this tablet skipped DDR4 is beyond me.
  • I am not sure but the 2016 Macs are also with DDR3 RAM LOL... :)
  • Careful Steve Adams is going to get you.
  • LOL. He's been there as the one of the first commenter ;)
  • Nah,  I bought a new Dell 2 in 1.!   wahhhhh
  • Upvoting you for the free mention! thanks PachecoCorportationCeo!
  • Also with their 'restriction': no more than 16 gigs of RAM, and they now have no function keys (in favor of 'Touch Bar')...
  • My last pc was the TX300 Transformer Book; a beast on paper, but in reality it didn't outperform my previous HP Envy X2 by much, despite the radical difference in specs. Never an Asus again, at least not until they can consistently present a string of killer devices...
  • Their GPUs are pretty good. The only nitpick I have about them is that they should be using a metal shroud. Other than that, phenomenal device.
  • Wait for a Surface Book 2 ;)
  • Vikas, this does not compete with the surface book.  it competes against the surface pro.  Two completely different animals.  Besides the removable screen,  the UX 390 competes with the book.
  • Use bare OS (I mean, OS with no junkware on it), and try the same benchmark.
  • I don't think this has very much bloat on it.
  • Yeah, if you don't have Windows 10 pre-installed in it. Otherwise may have some.
  • I am going by my previous asus products with windows installed.  There was very little "extra" programming on it.  I remember old machines from HP and Acer with XP on them were full of extra crap!
  • Great to see 3rd party's using the surface ideas. I see more and more using what Microsoft are doing with the surface line and for me its a good thing. One thing that Apple should of done a long time ago in let 3rd party's use iOS and mac os. Just hope Microsoft can build some quality mobile device like hp have done and lead the way with it.
  • It would require way too much work for Apple to code for the many different configurations that OEM's would produce.  The main reason for them to keep things somewhat reliable is by having their OS coded for only their hardware configurations.  This is why I cut Microsoft some slack in regards to driver/OS issues on product release.  It's also the reason why I wait a little while before purchasing new hardware. 
  • One of the reasons the SP4 stays cool is that the entire chassis is a heat sink. The ASUS here isn't. The SP4 is fabricated out of a solid billet of Magnesium to keep the inside cool, and the outside from having "issues". The SP4 is a premium device in the build quality, and you do pay for that. The ASUS has nice specs, but it has skimped out on the build quality, hence the loud fan noise due to not being able to transfer heat readily, and the finish scratching issue. The pen not having a place to be stored is a total oversight of a good design. The ability to hook up to an external GPU unit is something that I'm sure that MS will add in the future, or at least I hope so.
  • SP4 has a large copper piece inside that helps regulate and distribute the heat from the CPU. It helps keep the fan from kicking in as much versus SP3.
  • That helps as well, and I read that it was done because of the problems they were having with heat dissipation in the SP3. There was a hotspot, and the copper was added to keep that hotspot from occurring.The whole chassis being solid Magnesium is the main heatsink that dissipates the heat better than the body made of another material. I know that the ASUS isn't constructed of solid metal, although I don't know what it is constructed of. I'm sure that the ASUS has a big heatsink inside of it, but it has to be dissipated somewhere other than the chassis itself. ASUS likes to wear a specifications badge, so to speak. They are probably overclocking something to make the specs look good. I can't claim that to be true, but they are known to tweak the hardware to make the specs look stellar. This is the first iteration of the device so maybe they will tweak the heat spreaders some in the future. I have an i7 SP4 and the fan has never bothered me. It comes on sometimes, but very infrequently, and it's never audible enough to be a distraction (to me anyway).
  • Still Waiting for a Surface Book 2....
  • the author says the trackpad is ok, but be expected on this type of device.  has he used the phenomenal SP4 keyboard??
  • Really doesn't sound like it. As much as this review was billed as the transformer vs the surface pro, there wasn't a lot of apparent hands-on usage of the surface pro by the reviewer.
  • Yeah, I'm so stoked i spilled beer on my SP3 keyboard and bought the newer one, the trackpad on it is simply sublime, better than so many laptops.
  • Man... this is great. Gotta buy this one... but really, I really want Surface Pro 4 to be available in Indonesia, but Transformer 3 Pro is good enough ;)
  • You can always go to your neighborhood (Malaysia or Singapore) to get SP4 if possible. I wish you good luck.
  • Ahh, good idea, as I haven't traveled to one of these countries just yet. Thanks.
  • Or come to Thailand mate.
  • Thanks! I will add it to my consideration while I plan for a holiday travel :)
  • Or just pay me an extra 50 cdn and I will buy you one and ship it to you!
  • Does the shipping fee included in your additional cost?
  • Ha ha, no.  It would be 50 dollars extra for my time to go find the one you want, package it up and bring it to the post office.  
  • Would be good to know how much it throttles / limits the cpu speed. Less battery life and more fan noise could just mean they aren't capping performance.
  • Thanks Richard for the nice review. PC OEMs have lots of experience producing Windows laptop and tablet. So it's normal that they'll come up with decent product. I saw review between Surface Pro 4 and acer switch alpha 12. The main difference lies mainly in the ssd and sd card reader performance.
  • i don't buy Copy Paste products :)
  • So are you still rocking the original smartphone?  (it's not an Apple device)
  • The real significance of this is the take-up of the 3:2 aspect ratio, following Microsoft. I applaud this, as a 35mm photographer. 4:3 of iPad is too 'square',  16:9 is too impractical for vertical use on a tablet.   
  • Windows Central - please give us benchmarks, and then plug in a Razer GPU into the thunderbolt port, and tell us what this thing can do.
  • I have always been a big fan of ASUS glad they have a surface contender, maybe be looking at this if my surface pro 3 i7 starts having issues.
  • People interested in 2-in-1 might also want to check out the Acer Switch Alpha 12. I'm typing this comment on the Core i7 version right now, and it's easily the best computer I've ever owned. The comparably specced unit can be had for $1k, while the i5 goes for $800 retail (around $700 on Amazon), keyboard included. It also has liquid cooling, so no fan noise whatsoever.
  • Frankly, I want the Surface Pro 5 to copy the higher-res rear camera (go beyond 10 MP, the Creator's update will be making having a great camera in a tablet form-factor even more practical than ever), the feature-packed real-sense front-facing Camera, and Thunderbolt 3 port. If they can copy that and perhaps longer battery life in the Surface Pro 5 without dumping any functionality offered by the Surface Pro 4, will gladly upgrade from my Surface Pro 2.
  • I'm still running a Surface RT, but I'm keeping my options open for a very affordable deal as I work part time.
  • A full Intel RealSense camera is an interesting addition. I hope it catches up because I've explored the features ofered by it harware wise and it has a lot of potential. For example, out of the box, you can use it for videoconferencing or recording youtube videos and it eliminates the background as if you had a green screen. It works pretty well though it's probably improved in the more recent revisions of the hardware (the F300 camera in the newest dev kit). I've tried a couple of games too and it works pretty well I guess.
  • I personally own one of this machine, but I just don't get why the one they sell internationally comes only with a 8gb RAM... the standard for the price I paid was 16gb... this was my only gripe, because the notebook is simply stellar. If anyone can answer why notebook manufacturers do this for international users, I'm all ears... I use to live in America, but with work abroad, buying devices in the Philippines or anywhere in Asia, always comes with limitations...