When I first looked at Toshiba’s Portege Z10t and Asus’s Transformer T100 a little more than a year ago, I was impressed by the ability of these convertibles to go from a standalone tablet to a traditional notebook in matter of seconds. Well, these quick-change artists have improved their acts by getting slimmer and lighter while adding larger screens and – above all – running longer on battery power. What else could you ask for in a Windows tablet?
The Transformer T300 Chi and Portege Z20t pick up where their predecessors leave off. They are dead-ringers for each other with 12.5-inch touch screens, the latest Core M processors and super-slim tablet profiles of 0.3-inches. On the other hand, side-by-side the differences jump out at you. They have weights of 1.6- and 1.5-pounds for the T300 and Z20t, respectively. That’s about 5-ounces lighter than the previous generation Z10t, despite having a larger screen.
Of the two, the Z20t slate is smaller with a 12.1- by 7.8-inch footprint, 0.3-inches narrower and shorter than the T300 tablet. While the Portege has a magnesium case, the Chi is encased in an aluminum skin, but both are easy to carry and can easily slide into an out of a bag or backpack.
They each come with a snap-on keyboard that turns the tablet into a notebook. Here, the T300 leads with a slightly thinner profile (0.8- versus 1.0-inch) and lighter weight (3.1- versus 3.3-pounds). Both come with small AC adapters, but the Portege’s is a traditional one with a power cord while the Asus adapter goes right into a wall outlet.
The Z20t mechanically mates the tablet to the keyboard, which contains an extra battery, while the T300 attaches with powerful neodymium magnets and lacks a battery for anything other than running the keyboard’s Bluetooth link with the tablet. As a result, the T300 can take an annoying second or two to wake up when you try to use the touchpad. The T300’s magnets can help by sticking to a metallic tabletop.
Despite having 12.5-inch displays that can respond to 10 independent touch inputs and using Intel’s HD Graphics 5300 video processor, the displays couldn’t be more different. The Z20t tops out at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, which should be plenty for school work, but the T300 takes a big step forward with 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, allowing it to show greater detail.
As notebooks, they both can be opened to only 130-degrees and can’t be used flat on a table. The T300’s display is rock solid while the Z20t’s screen wobbles noticeably when it is tapped, poked or swiped. I really like that the Z20t comes with a pressure sensitive stylus, but both worked well with a generic stylus.
A big bonus for teachers who need to be flexible is that both of them can work with the screen pointing away from the keyboard for small group presentations. The screens can also be folded down onto their keyboard, making a thick tablet.
After two weeks of working with both of them daily, I’m convinced that either can be used as a slate for roaming around the classroom looking over students’ shoulders, but in a second you can snap on its keyboard for typing lesson plans or progress reports to parents. Both have comfortable 19mm keys, but the Z20t’s is backlit, which can help when teaching by the dim light of a projector.
Inside, they both have Intel’s latest low-power Core M 5Y71 processor that runs at between 1.2- and 2.9-GHz and 8GB of RAM. Because the processor uses less than 5-watts of power at full blast, neither has a cooling fan. Unfortunately, the back of the T300 gets hot when it is doing heavy work.
Of the two, the Z20t is better equipped with 256GB of solid state storage versus 128GB for the T300. On the other hand, the T300’s storage capacity is augmented with a year’s worth of unlimited online storage.
Both slates have an adequate assortment of tablet ports, but the Z20t leads with a pair of USB 3.0, audio, a mini-HDMI and a micro-SD card reader. Snap on the keyboard and the Z20t adds a full-size HDMI, VGA, two USB 3.0 slots and something that’s becoming a rarity among notebooks: a wired LAN connection. In other words, the Z20t is one of the best connected notebooks around.
In addition to audio and micro-HDMI connection, the T300 tablet has an innovative, micro-USB 3.0 micro-B plug that is much thinner than a standard USB port. You can directly plug in a micro-USB cable and the system comes with an adapter that lets you use a standard USB 2.0 plug or memory key as well as a cable for charging the keyboard base. But, the T300 lacks a really useful and inexpensive adapter that would have converted it into a full size USB 3.0 port.
You may be able to bypass the cable connection altogether for teaching because they each come with Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi networking, although the Z20t uses the newer 802.11ac protocol while the T300 uses 802.11n. I was able to connect each using the WiDi wireless receiver in the Epson PowerLite 1985WU projector.
As far as tablet battery life goes, the T300 is the big winner with its 4,150 milli-amp hour cells running for 6 hours and 5 minutes of continuously playing online videos. That’s slightly longer than the Z20t’s 3,150mah battery ran for, but the Z20t has a second battery stashed in the keyboard that brought the notebook to an exceptional 12 hours and 15 minutes of battery life.
Either way, it’s good enough for a full day of school work and the Z20t can run for several days of typical work on a charge. Happily, the combined system drains the keyboard’s cells first and then the tablet’s.
Despite their similar hardware, the T300 sprinted ahead of the Z20t with a 1,863.0 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, making it the performance champ and roughly on a par with a high-end and more expensive Core i7-based system. The Z20t scored a 1,599.2 on the PerformanceTest 8.0 benchmark, 15-percent lower than the Z20t, but the difference is marginal in light of the fact that either of these systems is roughly three-times as powerful as an Atom-based slate, like Lenovo’s Yoga 2.
The top of the line Z20t B2112 version I looked at cost $1,700 and came with Windows 7 Pro; it includes DVDs to upgrade it to Windows 8.1. There are models that start at $1,400, which brings it closer to the Win 8.1-based T300’s $1,000 price tag.
By contrast, the T300 that I looked at sells for $900, but can go lower, Asus has a model with a slower 5Y10 Core M processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space for $700, half that of a comparable Z20t. This makes it easier to fit into a school’s tight budget and quite a bargain.
With a three-year warranty, the Portege Z20t is in a class by itself and a return to a day when three- years of coverage was the norm. By contrast, the Transformer T300 Chi comes with a one-year warranty, but has the advantage of it covering accidental damage.
Both of the systems are small wonders that are thin and light, exquisitely powerful and can do just as well in the classroom or a school’s office. They each have their strengths and weaknesses for school use, but if you crave more than 12 hours of battery life, the Z20t is for you. Personally, I prefer the size, weight, performance and especially price tag of Asus’s Transformer T300 Chi.