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The ASUS Transformer Mini is a great alternative to the Surface 3

ASUS' baby Transformer is a worthy alternative to the Surface 3.

Transformer Mini

Windows Central Recommended Award

The venerable Surface 3 is aging, and any replacement is currently MIA. Enter the ASUS Transformer Mini (opens in new tab), a similarly compact Windows 10 2-in-1 that also has digital pen support. It's a highly portable machine that's designed to be your every day on-the-go companion.

It's not just a case of cloning the Surface 3, though. While there are similarities, the Transformer Mini stands out in its own right as a worthy alternative.

  • Display:
    • 10.1-inch LED 60Hz display
    • 1280x800 resolution
    • 16:10 aspect ratio
  • Processor:
    • Intel Cherry Trail x5 quad-core
    • 4GB RAM
    • Up to 11 hours battery life
  • Storage
    • Up to 128GB eMMC
    • microSD card slot
    • USB 3.0, Micro HDMI, microUSB

By construction, the outside of the Transformer Mini isn't the cool metal finish we've seen on the likes of the Transformer 3 Pro. That's not a bad thing, especially given the issues with the paint job on the more expensive sibling. It's lightly textured, which is great since you'll be holding this one like a tablet a fair amount. The size and weight are pretty much perfect to use without the keyboard. ASUS did a really nice job balancing things here.

Transformer Mini

Transformer Mini

And yes, there's a large bezel. This is where you'll be holding the tablet.

While the Transformer 3 Pro and the Surface devices have a professional elegance about them, the Transformer Mini looks decidedly more fun. The white back and keyboard are contrasted heavily by orange on our review unit.

The only thing that isn't so much fun is what you assume is the pen loop. Because you can't fit the pen inside it and if you just attach by the pen clip it flaps around unnecessarily.

Internally, the Transformer Mini is on par with the Surface 3, in that it's using an Atom processor and not the much more expensive Core M from Intel. Unlike the larger 'Pro' models, the Transformer Mini isn't pretending it can be your only PC. Instead, it's a companion device.

ASUS Transformer Mini

ASUS Transformer Mini

The keyboard is a little cramped, there's no way to get around that, but the keys are once again excellent from ASUS. Personally, I don't like using a trackpad as small as you find here, but since the display is touch I also find less reason to. It's not a bad trackpad, and it's fairly responsive, but due to its size it's not much use for gestures and such.

But despite the slightly cramped feeling it's pleasantly good to get work done on. As the keyboard attaches magnetically at the base of the tablet, you get the choice of fully flat or slightly angled, and it's possible to type for extended periods without much trouble.

And despite the "companion device" nature of the Transformer Mini, you're not left in the cold for being able to plug things into it when you're out and about. You get a full-sized USB 3.0 port, microHDMI, and a headphone jack. So it's limited, but it's there, and it's useful.

Transformer Mini

Transformer Mini

What's also useful is the built-in, single-touch fingerprint scanner. It's not the most convenient location if you're using it folded out, laptop-style, but it's superb for using with Windows Hello. During my time with it I had no issues with prints being recognized and logging in with just a touch is as good as it sounds.

Transformer Mini

Transformer Mini

Once you're logged in you're looking at a 1280x800 resolution display, and what it lacks in pixels it makes up for in great colors and plenty of brightness. Whites are perhaps the slightest hint too warm, but generally, the display is great to look at, to touch, and to draw on with that pen.

In the box with the Transformer Mini, you get a terrific pen. Just like you get with the Transformer 3 Pro. It's similar to the Surface Pen in design, in that it actually feels like a pen to hold. With the Anniversary Update on board, you've got Windows Ink and it's a lot of fun, honestly.

With the Transformer Mini being smaller than the Transformer 3 Pro and the Surface Pro 4, it feels more like a notebook to scrawl on. I'm definitely no artist (even stick figures are hard) but using the Transformer Mini with an app like OneNote made me want to write more down this way. Palm rejection is great, and overall it's an 'A' for the digital pen experience.

Transformer Mini

Transformer Mini

With the smaller size, the Transformer Mini is also a solid device for entertainment. The built-in speaker is pretty awful, so you'll want either a Bluetooth one or some headphones, but apart from that, it's all good. The kickstand adjusts through a full 170-degrees, and it's compact and light enough to hold in portrait to get some reading done.

Thankfully it also comes with pretty decent battery life. ASUS claims up to 11 hours and in my testing I've been getting anywhere between 7 and 9 depending on use. That's pretty good, and since it charges over microUSB you can leave for a day on the road with just a cable and a battery pack and not worry about running empty.

Ultimately what ASUS has made in the Transformer Mini is a great alternative to the Surface 3. It's got some additional features, like the fingerprint scanner, and it has its own style, but equally it doesn't really break the mold. There's no USB-C or fancy high-resolution display, hell there's not even a serviceable pen loop.

But, in a world where Microsoft looks to have forgotten about its smaller 2-in-1, ASUS has picked up the baton and ran with it. While it doesn't do a lot differently to Microsoft's own, there's no reason not to recommend the Transformer Mini if you're in the market for a 10-inch 2-in-1. It's superb as a tablet, excellent with the keyboard attached, and a lot of fun to write and draw on.

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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.

61 Comments
  • Why such a low res screen at this point in time?
  • It's small and only $400.  Plus higher res screens use more power. 
  • Thats no excuse At this point in tech with 2K screens on 5 inch phones 1080p should be the minimum resolution on a 10 inch tablet.
  • Those are valid reasons, which you didn't really comment on btw. 2k on 5" is "too much"
  • +1
  • We got my dad an HP tablet two years ago with a 1920 x 1200 res screen for $400. Yes, it didn't have a keyboard, but this is two years later...
  • Are you getting paid? That's a lame argument from someone trying to sell scraps
  • This is the only drawback I see for an otherwise full featured affordable device. Of course it is to meet the price point, but I have no interest with that resolution.
  • Probably get a little better performance out of the chip
  • Screen quality is determined by many different factors and the only real way to judge whether one works is to look at it. Quoting raw resolution is just willy-waving. I assume this is the same screen unit as on my older Transformer T100HA and it's a great, balanced trade off between quality and power draw in a device of this type. I see this newer model has restored the RAM to the 4GB promised but not delivered for the earlier model and that DOES make a difference. Glad to see too that it's being offered with 64GB eMMC memory rather than the 32 you see on so many low cost W10 devices, (including some versions of the earlier model) because 32 is only enough if you don't plan to load anything onto the machine (which destroys most of the point of having a W10 device) and you don't want to updated versions of the OS (the latest insider build of W10 may have take some of this pain away. The price is a little high for a machine of this type but will probably come down. I also have an Acer Travelmate which has a slightly larger screen and keyboard, a proper 128 GB SSD and a Celeron processor. It's not a touchscreen or a hybrid but as a lightweight work machine for just over £200 it's brilliant. In the meantime all in all Asus' choices here seem sensible to me and it looks a good machine for lightweight working away from your desk. That's what it's intended for, and needs to be judged against that intention.  
  • Cheaper price.
  • It seems that most complaints come from people that don't even own this product. I bought one from MSFT during the Christmas sale for $279. I own a Surface Pro 4 as well. This Asus is very portable, responsive, and the screen res is the least of my concerns on a 10 in device. The only complain I have is the pen holder as described by Richard in this article.
  • Nope. Those specs at that price point is not a great value for me personally
  • I had a Surface 3 for a while, but even the top-of-the-line Atom x7 struggled on websites (like WC) that had video ads. I know Edge has Adblock now, but Atom just doesn't seem to have the power to offer a good experience, and it might be why there's no Surface 3 replacement out there. Sad, as I think a Core M in that form factor would be awesome, but Intel doesn't want to price them low enough. Maybe MS could talk Intel into sourcing a Pentium-Y based on Kaby Lake? 
  • Windows on ARM is the solution to this problem. Intel doesn't want to get competitive price wise they will lose the 2 in 1 market.
  • Exactly. Windows on ARM is the reason the Surface 3 was discontinued... Nevertheless, I love my Surface 3, and I can't wait to see what MS comes out with next.
  • The low power Intel chips are fine in and of themselves. I had an Asus Zenfone 2 android phone last year with an Intel processor, was about as fast as a Sony Z3 with an 801 or my Nexus 6P with an 810 out at the same time in games and other apps I used. I didn't like Asus's android skin and returned the phone, but not because of the performance.
  • Windows on Arm is the solution like the previous poster said. I use continuum regularly, and Edge flies on the Snapdragon 820. The Snapdragon 835 will destroy the Atom chips, and possibly out perform Core M.
  • What do websites look like on desktop continuum? Surface 3 is running the desktop sites, with all the ads down the side, where typically at least two video ads are playing. I know on mobile devices, the browser backs down to mobile-friendly ads. I've never used continuum to see how it handles such pages. 
  • In continuum, websites look the same as if you were using a PC. Even desktop ads show up. It's pretty smooth. If you have a phone older than the Idol 4s or Elite x3 like the Lumia 950, your experience may be different because of the older processor.
  • I bought myself a TF mini for Xmas and can report it doesn't struggle on edge, including WC unless there are more than 6 tabs open and then there is a bit of lag.
  • The Surface 3's X7 Atom processor is more powerful and I would choose the Surface 3 over the Transformer Mini for that alone as processing power is very important to me, especially if I am going to spend $400.
  • Worse resolution, worse processor, lower quality materials in construction and not a huge issue in price... I'm not seeing the advantage. I have a Surface 3 (4/128) and it a more than capable machine for basic tasks and drawing. I use it on a daily basis as my carry around device and media consumption device. My daughter uses it to play Minecraft with me when I am on my gaming rig also.
  • This tablet was being sold for 279.99 during the holidays, and advertised towards kids, I see nothing wrong with an HD display at this size on a budget device. Phones with 2K screens are a waste, unless you hold it to your face there is no improvement over 1080p, it's a spec war to get sales on devices that are over priced. Is good for VR though, but vast majority of people don't care about VR. My Surface Pro 3 needs to have scaling enabled to make everything larger, and it makes things look fuzzy when doing that, Windows doesn't scale well on small high resolution screens. What's important are color accuracy, contrast, and viewing angles.
  • Couldn't possibly use this as a Surface 3 replacement unless it came with the ability to put a sim card in it. Way to get my hopes up for no reason.
  • Only 1, out of three, models of the Surface 3 has sim support..
  • Actually there are at least 2 versions with a sim slot. I have the 4/128 version that came with Win8 Pro from AT&T. The other one was a 2/64, IIRC.
  • "Once you're logged in you're looking at a 1280x800 resolution display..." Nope! Full stop. We're done here.  The last tablet I saw with a 10 inch display and 1280x800 resolution was the Kindle Fire HD10.  It's crazy blurry, especially when coming from my 1920x1200 Yoga Book.  I am 100% done with 720p/1280x800 resolutions.  I know people still buy 720p devices, and it's fine if they don't mind it.  Not me, though.  That's a hard pass. ...unless it's free, then sure, why not! =D
  • I thought my wait for a Surface 3 upgrade has finally come to an end, but after reading the comments and learned that the raw power of this tablet is a step back from the two-year-old Surface, I think the wait just continues.
  • I was in the same boat but didn't want to spend what they are asking for a Surface 3 given its specs. This is 5/6 of a Surface 3 for 1/2 the price as you have to buy a keyboard and stylus with the S3.
  • Such devices are easily available in China for as little as 150 Dollars. And they have top notch build quality !
  • Like everything in life some people want the highest specs at the lowest price and everything is garbage if it does not fit that unreasonable expectation. Others will look at it in the store and buy it if it fits the bill. Personally I do see this segment going to ARM architecture now full Windows can, won't happen immediately though as 835+ chips are going to be expensive for awhile. Definitely looking forward to the future though.
  • If there was no way of getting a suitable replacement for the Surface 3 and  this was the last 10 incher around; yeah maybe. But I would not condsider it a suitable replacement at all. It's clearly a budget tablet while the Surface 3 was more mainstream. The price is more than I'd pay as well. THe Miix 310 is priced better in my opinion.   It has a much slower processor, smaller screen and lower resolution. The inclusion of the keyboard is the saving grace. However the Miix 310 also includes a keyboard. If I were desperate I'd consider it, but no I'd be disappointed by the lack of real estate and the performance would drive me up a wall.
  • The miix 310 has the same res, screen size and processor as the mini. The mini was priced the same as the miix before xmas. Between the two, like the TF Book, it depends on the form factor you want, and the Surface designs tends to be priced a bit higher than the detachable laptop models.
  • Every review online sems to indicate that the screen res really isnt as big deal on this device and that the screen delivers a clear, vibrant, and bright display.  My biggest concern stems from the Atom X5.  Asus went with the slower Z8350 vice the Z8700 used by the Surface 3.  Shouldnt this device be slower and if thats the case how does it handle Win 10?  How bad is the lag if any?
  • Cherry Trail is a disappointment if you are looking for even decent speed. It just doesnt do the job well.
  • Its not a big deal. I don't notice it watching Netflix. The chip is fine but starts to lag when there are about half dozen apps or websites open. Its all about how you are intending to use it. Its basically a netbook in a modern form factor.
  • $400 is joke right? cause better buy asus x205 for $200 from year 2014.
  • I actually own one, so I guess I'll give you my opinion. Right now they are $349 at Microsoft Store. I got it for $279 during the holidays. For $279 it is definitely worth the money. It comes with the keyboard cover as well as the pen. Unlike the reviews I have read, I like the keyboard better then the Surface 2 keyboard covers. The trackpad is easier to use then the Surface 2 keyboard cover because it doesn't have cloth on top of it. Still, when I use it in desktop mode I prefer to use a USB mouse. It comes in at least 3 different color combos. I got a gray and gray keyboard combo. Speed wise, no, it's not the fastest thing in the world. The lag I notice is when opening apps or programs. I tested Dopamine music player on the Asus as well as my i7 Yoga Pro 2 and it took about 10 seconds more to open on the Asus. It is quite light and using it as a tablet for ebook reading is very nice. Much better then trying to use a Surface device. Being that it was on the cheaper side, I find myself using it more then anything else because I'm not babying it all the time like I tend to do with other devices. The speakers are at least louder then what was on the Surface 2. Like the article said, this isn't a device that will replace a laptop. This is a great secondary device that you can easily take along anywhere. I have enjoyed it more then I thought I would. One other thing, unlike the article, I like where the fingerprint reader is located. It is out of the way except for when I wish to use it.
  • For 279 - sure but not for 400 or even 350.
  • Although I have not used an ASUS with a Cherry Trail 8500, I have used similar tablets with them. Cherry Trail is a dog. eMMC storage is a dog. Not one of them I have owned or used extensively - NuVision, Chuwi, HP and Dell - are usable for anything but the most basic of things. The CPU cannot handle web pages in a reasonably quick way, the WiFi is usually spotty and full of latency, and the storage is always high access times. eMMC and Cherry Trail tablets basically are good for using the Kindle app and very, very light media usage. The NuVision I currently use can't even stream movies from a hardwired 1Gigabit server without lag and dropping frames.
  • No full HD, no deal.
  • I own a TF mini as well, in fact I'm typing this post on it right now, and got it when it was cheaper before xmas. $500 US I think is too high. Its $500 Cad right now and even that is a touch high. First the screen res is not a deal breaker for me. I really don't notice it watching Netflix in my reading chair. And because its so light I CAN watch a movie in a reading chair. The swing angles of the kickstand also gives it the same lapability as a Surface. I agree with everything Richard has stated in his review. The processor isn't as bad as some of the comments above. This is a great portable tablet that is also more efficient productivity wise than an iPad but in the same size. Turning the brightness down to 50%, which is normal brightness anyways, will yield a couple of more hours of batter than what Richard got. 10 hours is a proper duration for a companion device like this. The nit picks:
    1. the loop for the stylus should have been sized for the pen itself rather than just the clip. The stylus awkwardly flops around just tethered to the clip as noted by Richard. 2. It comes with a 3ft micro-usb cord for charging. 3ft!?! WTF? Luckily I had longer cords lying around but at 3ft what was the point of including that? 3. I could not find a white and orange unit anywhere. That's a great colour combo but only the passe-like-everyone-else-grey was available. And that's it. Its the right tool for the job its intended.
  • I agree on the performance, not bad if you think of it as a basic device. 1: I wonder why they didn't just add a magnet to the side of the device, the stylus sticks to the magnet where the leyboard attaches... 2: I already have several 6 foot microUSB cables, plus USB extension cables, and cables are so cheap now that what comes in the box doesn't matter to me, just that I CAN charge it via microUSB is a plus as opposed to having to use a special charger. 3: I think the color options are mostly for the advertisements. They probably won't be on sale now, as the grey one is, and at the end of the life cycle I think they will be the last ones you could still find on close-out. ;)
  • I also feel that the full HD is a deal breaker for me, although I think the specs is fair for it's price.
  • WOW, so many Surface 3 users here. Have 1 myself. And like you guys, I'm still waiting for the next (upgrade) version of Surface 3. Hope to see fingerprint reader built-in (face recognition might increase the price). Can't wait till //Build2017
  • Atom x5 Cherrytrail garbage. It is 2017 for cyring out loud. Why Asus still release such a **** is beyond my comprehension. Would be ok for 150$ or so if you expectations are really low.
  • Some of you just don't get who this is for, being stubborn maybe never ever will regardless of explanation. $400 machines aren't meant to set the world on fire, but if your current priority in life is to get something that works and not spend the most money then this makes perfect sense. Be glad it isn't an Android tablet pretending to be a productivity machine, god I learned that lesson the hard way. Currently on a garbage Netbook from HP eagerly waiting to pick this up, if I want to spend up to a thousand dollars on top of the line I'd get a Surface Book or even a desktop.
  • I paid $549 for my Yoga Book, which is a lot, but I think the price is justified.  For comparison, look at the Wacom Bamboo Slate.  It can also take handwritten notes/artwork and transfer it to a computer.  But it's not a computer.  It's just the slate and paper.  So the cost is $149+a computer.  An iPad Mini 2 will run you $269.  Now it's over $400 and still (IMO) not as good of a value since the YB also gives me a keyboard, Windows, expandable storage, and an micro HDMI port.  If all I wanted to do was browse the internet, then I would just buy a Fire tablet or one of those $49 NuVisions.  So while I may not like the screen resolution of the Transformer Mini, the price seems spot on for the hardware. 
  • I got one of the 64gb models for under $300 on sale from the Microsoft store in the mall before the holidays. I've mostly been using it as Nexus 7-2013 replacement, as a media video player (PotPlayer and MPC-HC) in tablet mode. A 128gb mSD handles media storage, as well as a few USB 3 flashdrives. A bluetooth 5 button mouse works as my 'remote'.   I like the hardware, though I wish I could plug this into my desktop to transfer files like I can with my old Nexus 7. And as my first Windows 10 device, I'm amazed how far behind Microsoft is with tablets, considering they made Windows CE touchscreen tablets 15 years ago. I wish I could dual-boot into Android with this, as it is powerful enough to handle any media (H264, even 1080p HEVC 10-bit) I throw at it.
  • Seems like an okay product. I was burned by Asus on their competitor to the surface RT's. It was $100 or so less than a Surface RT and I believe that it came with a powerful/keyboard. Loved the tablet, but one day it started having issues with the screen. If the screen locked, upon waking, the screen would sense a phantom "touch" in the upper right. When you tried to swipe or scroll, the device thought you were pinching to zoom. It was in usable until you restarted, but the issue happened every time the screen blacked out. Asus offered no support and refused to fix, the device was less than a year old. I can't buy anything from them anymore due to their lack of support.
  • My Surface 3 is not aging well at all and would love to find a good replacement. The 3 is under powered and had a beautiful screen that is now full of dingy yellow splotches that you can easily see on a light background.
  • Would buy such a thing for my daughter, but there are simply no apps for her. Thanks to Microsofts business focus, and the tale of 4 rotten bridges, it will never be. It's a droid, then.
  • What "apps" do you think you are missing on a full Windows PC?  Most mobile apps are garbage when compared to the full Mac or Windows application. 
  • At least as much on the Amazon App store if the device is to be taken seriously for tablet use. Otherwise, why not get a cheap laptop and supplement with a Kindle Fire, Android Tablet, or iPad Mini/Air 2? $425+ is too much for eMMC storage and a horrible screen resolution. You can get Laptops with i3/5 and 8GB RAM for around that, and just upgrade the HD to a cheap 256GB SSD. These 2-in1 devices are too often j serapeced and overpriced for it. I'll hold off on them for a couple more years and just stick with Mac's (better desktop OS right now) while Microsoft attempts to make Windows 10 presentable for non-touch laptop/desktops.
  • Asus are not very reliable for their accessories. Until these day I can't buy their pen for the Chi T300.
  • I bought one of these when they were on sale during the holidays, but I returned it because of a number of problems: the USB 2 port would not recognize my flash drive most of the time, the right click on the track pad often did not work, the charging cord is less than 3' in length, and the camera privacy light would go on several times during boot up- what's up with that? Oh- the screen had a somewhat sticky feel and was difficult to clean- is it plastic? I hope that there's a Surface 4 sometime this year, as I only want and need a very portable computer with decent battery life and pen support, but there's nothing on the market now that isn't cheap junk. Just because a computer is less expensive doesn't mean that they should be unreliable garbage.
  • I doubt there will be a Surface 4. Intel gave up on their low-power, low-cost Atom processors, so there's literally not a newer, faster processor that Microsoft could use (unless they do a Snapdragon 835-based Surface). Also, if they do make another non-Pro Surface, it will probably be called Surface 5, just to remain consistent with the next Pro.
  • Does it have a camera for Windows Hello too? I am unable to use the fingerprint scanner because of Psoriasis.
  • It's got a front-facing camera, which works in Skype. However, I haven't tried the face unlock uintil after reading your post (and setting a pin and four different fingers to unlock), and now in 'Sign-In' options, there's a message stating the 'Windows Hello is preventing some options from being shown' and I don't see the ability to use face unlock, whcih I am sure I saw when I first set this up. I'm sure it's a Windows 10 bug with Hello, as I've seen many problems with Hello on searches when trying to fix the problem. (the Pin or password always work) As far as the fingerprint sensor, it isnt as reliable as the one on the back of my Nexus 6P (it seems to read too fast before the finger is actually placed fully on the sensor) but I have set 4 finger tips to unlock and it usually works. You could try using the inside of the knuckle to unlock (I did that on my phone) if you want to use a finger unlock.
  • God, could the bezel be bigger..... iish