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Intel’s 3-in-1 Concept Seems Weird

By Ashraf Eassa - Feb 4, 2014 at 1:00PM

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Intel and ASUS have put out a new "3-in-1" device that, frankly, looks like it is unlikely to gain traction.

ASUS, one of Intel's (INTC 1.39%) best partners in the PC space, recently launched what it calls a "3-in-1" product under the brand Transformer Book Trio. The concept here is that with one device you get the following goodies:

  • A Google (GOOGL -0.48%) tablet
  • A Microsoft (MSFT -0.57%) Windows laptop
  • A Windows desktop

At first glance, this seems like a pretty compelling package. Who doesn't want just one device to rule them all? Well, the problem here is that these devices are always likely to be pretty significant compromises -- jack of all trades, master of none.

The Android part isn't great
What's really interesting about this device is that it doesn't use the same hardware to run both Android and Windows. Indeed, behind the glass sits a fairly antiquated Atom Z2560 based on Intel's older Clover Trail+ silicon, and 2GB of RAM. If Intel had included its next-generation Bay Trail chip, which is dramatically better than the Clover Trail+ solution, then this would probably be a much more compelling proposition. However, as it stands, this is a tablet that is likely to offer an inferior user experience to even the bargain-basement Nexus 7 tablets.

On top of the obvious hardware fail, Intel and ASUS are including only Android version 4.2, which is a far cry from the latest and greatest Android 4.4, known as KitKat -- Google did quite a lot to improve performance/smoothness in this latest release. KitKat offers some pretty compelling performance and user-experience enhancements that would probably go a long way on the antiquated Clover Trail+ hardware. All in all, the Android portion of this device is just not all that compelling.

The Windows part is OK
The laptop portion of the Transformer Book Trio is actually pretty decent, as it comes packed with Intel's low-power 15-watt Haswell chips targeted at Ultrabooks. According to Notebookcheck.net, the performance is good, but the battery life isn't fantastic, and the ports aren't really all that great for "workaholics." In other words, it seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill Ultrabook in "notebook" mode, with all of the compromises that come with the "detachable" category.

On another note, Microsoft is probably not too enthused with the idea that users are going to completely ignore the touch-oriented UI -- and the attendant Microsoft app store. It's important to not underestimate Microsoft's influence over the various OEMs. 

Is the price right?
Another problem here is the price. This notebook can be had for $1,549 on PCM.com, configured with a 500GB mechanical drive -- much slower than the solid-state drives found in most Ultrabooks -- 4GB of DRAM, and an i7 4500U. While the convenience of a three-in-one can be argued, it's tough to ignore that for roughly the same price, one could buy a MacBook Pro 13-inch and an iPad mini with Retina Display. Or, for those who absolutely need Windows, a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro can be had for $999, and the top-shelf, Android-based Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1-inch for $519 -- roughly equal to the price of this hybrid.

Foolish bottom line
When it comes to these types of convertibles, there's always some kind of compromise to be had. It's clear that Intel wants to push these devices so that it can sell more processors per device and guarantee the sale of a higher-end Core chip. But unless it can fix a lot of the compromises that the current ASUS device offers, this class of device will simply join many of the other experimental form factors, such as the ASUS Taichi, in the bad PC form-factor graveyard.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Google and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Intel, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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