Asus VivoTab Smart
Tablet market is dominated by Apple iPad with iOS and few devices that were powered with Android OS. This is about to change since there are few devices that will be delivered to the market and will offer Windows 8 and Windows RT OS. Among those devices that will come is the Asus VivoTab Smart.
It is not surprising, but the overall design and appearance of the Asus VivoTab Smart is reminiscent of the VivoTab RT that we looked at a couple months ago. It remains relatively compact for a tablet (10.4”3 x 6.73” x 0.38”) and is easy to carry around at only 20.46 oz (560g).
This time around, the VivoTab Smart has a white backing instead of the brushed metal on the VivoTab RT, but the front is still uncluttered by the display, 2MP front facing camera, and capacitive Windows home key. Along on the left edge is the microUSB port, and the hidden microSD memory card slot and covered microHDMI video port. Up on top is the raised power button, while on the right edge is the large volume rocker and 3.5mm headset jack. Around on the back is the 8MP auto-focus camera with LED flash, which can also record 1080p video, as well as a small external speaker hidden behind a group of small microdots.
When we reviewed the Asus VivoTab RT, we were impressed by its display, since it was using a 10.1” Super IPS+ LCD panel. However, the Asus VivoTab Smart is using a standard 10.1” IPS LCD panel, which means it’s not quite as bright, viewing angles are more limited, and colors aren’t as saturated. Be that as it may, we found the display still bright enough for most conditions (except when viewed in direct sunlight). The screen resolution is WXGA 1366×768, which equals a pixel density of only 155ppi. Because of this, details aren’t quite as sharp as we would like, such as on the1080p HD display used by the Microsoft Surface Pro, but it is still tolerable when the tablet is at least 12 inches away from your face.
One of the must-have accessories for the Asus VivoTab Smart is the TranSleeve Keyboard. The sleeve is magnetic and can “grab” onto the bottom edge of the tablet, while the larger area of the sleeve grabs the keyboard. This allows for almost a laptop-type experience. But if you want to have the tablet stand on its own, you then have to take the keyboard off the sleeve and fold the sleeve behind the tablet to prop it up. Then you can just rest the keyboard on your desk or lap.
The Bluetooth keyboard is 10.25” wide, which should provide enough room for even large hands. We had no issue typing on it, and we like that it uses real physical keys that have a nice response to them, and even provide a traditional “click” sound when pressed. The trackpad at the bottom also works well, showing an on-screen mouse pointer, and there is also a left and right mouse-type buttons on the bottom. Since the keyboard is separate from the tablet and is connected via Bluetooth, youalso have to charge the keyboard via the microUSB port on its side.
Just keep in mind that the TranSleeve Keyboard is an optional accessory that you have to purchase, and does add 445g to the weight.
Interface and Functionality:
Unlike the Asus VivoTab RT that is limited by Windows RT, the VivoTab Smart comes running the full Windows 8 32-bit operating system. This means that instead of only being able to run Modern UI programs that are designed for ARM processors, the Intel Atom-based Asus VivoTab Smart can run standard Windows programs, including ones for Windows 7.
We won’t go into great detail about the Windows 8 platform, since we’ve covered it most recently on the Microsoft Surface Pro. When it comes to personalization, Windows 8 isn’t as deep as Android, but it’s far better than what the iPad delivers. Windows 8 also incorporates social networking services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but the People Hub, which aggregates all social networking content, doesn’t execute well with its layout. Making matters worse, third party offerings don’t do the platform justice just yet; however, it’s something we’re certain that developers will improve over time.
Gestures for closing apps, swiping between them and viewing the Charms Bar on the right are quite basic and easy to learn once you get the hang of it. But if you don’t want to bother with the Live Tiles, you can always go into the desktop view, which has a traditional Windows 7-style desktop. Though missing is the popular “Start” button on the lower left, which is replaced by the full Start Screen in the Modern UI.
Processor and Memory:
The power behind the tablet is a 1.8 GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2760 processor along with 2GB of RAM. While this is good enough for most basic programs, such as MS Office, web browsing, and watching videos, it still is lacking a punch when compared to the Intel i5-3317U processor with 4GB of RAM found on the Microsoft Surface Pro. When running more demanding programs on the VivoTab Smart, or having multiple programs open at the same time, you do start to notice a bit of a lag and even some screen “stutter” as it’s trying to keep up.
Internal storage is also pretty limited. The Asus VivoTab Smart comes with 64GB, but over half is used out of the box, leaving only 25GB free. The only way to add additional room is by using a microSD memory card, which can provide up to another 64GB of storage space; though you probably wouldn’t want to install and run programs from the memory card. Because of this, it would be nice if Asus made a 128GB version.
Internet and Connectivity:
You are treated with two version of Internet Explorer. The touch-friendly Modern IE version found on the main Start screen gets things moving with its quick page loads, fast rendering, and smooth navigational controls. For a more standard desktop-like experience, Internet Explorer 10 in the desktop mode is none other than the familiar one that’s used by all Windows PCs, and even offers Adobe Flash support (remember that Android Jelly Bean Tablets officially do not). Naturally, you have the option to install and run other desktop browsers on the VivoTab Smart, such as Chrome and Firefox.
There’s no word yet on whether the Asus VivoTab Smart will come in a version to work off of cellular data networks, such as 4G LTE, so our unit was strictly Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n at 2.4GHz. Also on board is Bluetooth 4.0, aGPS, and NFC.
The Asus VivoTab Smart comes with two camera programs. The first is the standard one that is part of Windows 8, which is pretty much no frills and gets the job done. But our favorite is the Asus Camera program, as it is easier to use when changing between the camera, video recorder, and panorama modes, as well as selecting options, effects, and settings.
Images that we took outside were by no means jaw-dropping, but still quite good for a tablet with an 8MP autofocus shooter, as colors were natural and there was plenty of detail. Inside images were also good if there was plenty of light, though they did start to appear grainy with lower-light levels. We found the LED flash to be plenty bright to illuminate a dark scene, but the camera likes to focus first (which it can’t do well in the dark) and then turn the flash on to snap the image. It would be better if the flash came earlier to help the camera focus, like we’ve seen on some smartphones.
Recording video at 1080p is common these days, and VivoTab Smart does an OK job, though some detail is lacking. However, we did like that it maintains autofocus during the recording process, and playback is smooth and stutter-free at 30 frames per second.
Just like with Windows RT, the Photos Hub with Windows 8 doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary with its feature set, but rather, it’s a basic picture viewer that offers us the ability to crop and rotate images. As for sharing, there isn’t a native option, and instead accessing the “Charms” section of the Windows 8 interface will present us some of the apps that can handle the sharing process.
The new Music Hub for Windows 8 is deliciously sweet looking, as it incorporates the Modern UI style of the platform into the music player – and also offers synchronization with your XBOX Music account. All in all, it’s one of the better looking music player interfaces out there. With the speaker discretely hidden behind the microdots on the tablet’s rear, it doesn’t produce anything spectacular with its output. Instead, its weak and mute tones make it notoriously difficult to hear in noisy environments. Thankfully, you can overcome this by plugging in a pair of wired headphones to the 3.5mm headset jack, or by using wireless Bluetooth headphones or speakers.
The Asus VivoTab Smart supports various video codecs out of the box (DivX, H.264, MPEG-4, and Xvid), though MKV is not supported and will require you to install a 3rd party player. Video playback is smooth and looks well on the 10.1” display, through we can’t help thinking how much better it would be if the display was full HD resolution.
Asus claims that the internal 25Wh Li-polymer battery is capable of 9.5 hours of usage, when playing back a looped 720p video, with 100 nit screen brightness, and headphones connected. But under normal conditions, we were able to get about two days of mixed usage – including web browsing, video playback, and running other programs.
With the Asus VivoTab Smart currently priced at $499, it’s a compelling option for those looking for a moderately-sized tablet running the full Windows 8 platform without breaking the bank. But when adding on the $150 TranSleeve Keyboard option, you’re now in the price of some Windows 8 notebook PCs.
Overall we like the VivoTab Smart as a Windows 8 tablet, since it has a lot of features for the price, and can run pretty much any Windows program, though the Intel Atom processor does seem to hold back performance.
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