With the VivoTab Smart, ASUS has created a bona fide Windows 8 tablet that's just as affordable as the iPad and premium Android tablets. For $499, this device includes an Intel Atom processor and a generous 64GB of memory in a design that's lighter than Apple's tablet. ASUS also offers an optional Bluetooth keyboard and cover that doubles as a stand, so you can use the VivoTab Smart as a mini-laptop. Sort of.
The VivoTab Smart's 10.1-inch display is surrounded by a glossy black bezel, at the top of which sits a 2-megapixel camera. To the left of that is a subtle gray ASUS logo. The back is home to an 8-megapixel camera and LED flash, below which sits a silver ASUS logo.
The VivoTab's left edge features a microUSB port and microSD card slot, while the right edge plays host to the slate's thin volume rocker and headphone jack. The power button sits on the top edge. Unfortunately, the edges, particularly the right edge, are a bit too sharp for our liking.
At 10.7 x 6.9 x 0.5 inches, the VivoTab Smart is a hair thicker than the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 and Dell Latitude 10, which measure 10.3 x 6.5 x 0.4 inches and 10.8 x 7.0 x 0.4 inches, respectively. All three tablets weigh the same 1.2 pounds. Microsoft's Surface RT, while thinner than the VivoTab Smart (10.8 x 6.8 x 0.4 inches) weighs slightly more at 1.5 pounds.
Display and Audio
The ASUS VivoTab Smart's 10.1-inch 1366 x 768 IPS display offered clear visuals and vibrant colors. While viewing a 1080p trailer for "Star Trek: Into Darkness," fine details such as wrinkles on characters' faces and small pieces of debris flittering through space were easily visible. Captain Kirk's blue eyes stood out in stark contrast to the Enterprise's austere white interior.
At 292 lux, the VivoTab Smart's display is brighter than the Acer Iconia W510's 262 lux rating but dimmer than the category average of 367 lux. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (389 lux) and Dell Latitude 10 (473 lux) are both brighter, but they're also more expensive..
Stereo speakers--both on the left side of VivoTab Smart's rear panel--produced clean audio that was just loud enough to fill a small conference room. The Alabama Shakes' "You Ain't Alone," came through clearly, but lacked bass.
ASUS' optional 0.9-pound TranSleeve with Keyboard ($129) is made up of a folding magnetic smart cover that serves as a stand for the VivoTab Smart and a Bluetooth keyboard. When transporting the tablet, the cover and keyboard magnetically connect to each other and serve to protect the VivoTab's display. Unfold the cover, and the TranSleeve Keyboard separates from the cover and the tablet. While this setup works fine when sitting at a desk, it's not optimal for use on a lap, especially on a bus or train. Folding the cover into a stand was less than intuitive; it took several attempts to find the correct method.
The TranSleeve Keyboard sports the same netbook-like layout of most other Windows 8 hybrids and tablets. As a result, keys are smaller than a standard keyboard, which can lead to typing errors. That said, tactile feedback and key travel were satisfying, and the small wrist rest made typing fairly comfortable. On the Ten Thumbs typing tutor test, we averaged 68 words per minute with a 4 percent error rate, well below the 80 wpm/1-percent error rate on our desktop keyboard. Among Windows 8 tablets, we prefer the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2's keyboard, which has larger keys with greater travel.
The small clickpad beneath the TranSleeve's keyboard made navigating the Windows 8 desktop environment far easier than relying on the VivoTab's touch screen alone. The clickpad supports most Windows 8 gestures, including swiping in from the right to access the Charms menu, swiping in front the left to switch between apps and swiping down to access in-app options. However, the pad doesn't support gestures for docking apps.
While Windows 8 gestures worked well, executing multitouch gestures such as two-finger swipe and scroll were unreliable.
After streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the VivoTab Smart's back panel reached just 86 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider temperatures of 95 degrees and above to be uncomfortable. That's just below the tablet category average of 87 degrees, but higher than the ThinkPad Tablet 2's 80-degree back panel temperature. The Acer Iconia W510 and HP Envy x2 recorded temperatures of 77 degrees and 76 degrees, respectively.
The VivoTab Smart has a microUSB port, a micoSD card slot and a covered micro-HDMI port on its left edge and a headphone jack on its right edge. In the top left corner of the rear panel is an NFC chip that allows users to send and receive items such as apps, photos, websites and more.
What's missing? A full-size USB port, something Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2, Dell's Latitude 10 and Microsoft's Surface RT offer. That means you can forget about plugging in a USB drive.
The VivoTab's 8-megapixel rear-facing camera captured exceptionally sharp images when taking pictures outside of our office. But while color reproduction was accurate, the camera couldn't compensate for transitions in ambient lighting. A shot of the Empire State Building bathed in sunlight appeared blown out when taken from a shadow-draped street corner. The camera had difficulty capturing action such as pedestrians walking down the sidewalk or cars driving down the street. The 1080p videos we recorded with the rear-facing camera were just as sharp as photos.
The slate's two-megapixel front-facing camera offered images clear enough to see wrinkles on our foreheads and around our eyes. Color reproduction was just as accurate as the front-facing camera.
In addition to the standard Windows 8 camera app, the VivoTab Smart includes ASUS' own ASUS Camera app, which offers settings such as filter effects, white balance adjustments and the ability to turn off the flash. The camera also includes a panorama feature, which worked extremely well.
ASUS' VivoTab Smart is powered by a 1.8-GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2760 processor and 2GB of RAM. Graphics performance comes by way of Intel's integrated graphics chip, while storage is handled by a 64GB eMMC flash drive. When installing a new piece of desktop software such as Spotify or iTunes, the VivoTab Smart's performance fell off precipitously. Likewise, we noticed programs such as ASUS Cloud Storage, iTunes and Spotify took several seconds to open from a cold boot.
On the PCMark 7 benchmark, which tests a machine's overall performance, the VivoTab Smart registered a score of 1,399. That's below the tablet category average of 2,973, but well within the range of other Intel Atom-powered tablets we've tested, including the Acer Iconia W510 (1,305), Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (1,428) and Dell Latitude 10 (1,440). As expected, Microsoft's $999 Surface Pro, with its Intel Core i5 processor, scored a much higher 2,739.
The VivoTab Smart's 64GB of eMMC flash storage booted in just 19 seconds, faster than the tablet average of 28 seconds and the similarly equipped Acer Iconia W510, which started in 20 seconds. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 and Dell Latitude 10, meanwhile, took 16 seconds to start, while the HP Envy x2 came to in 14 seconds.
It took the ASUS VivoTab Smart's 64GB of eMMC flash drive a middling 4 minutes and 48 seconds to finish the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 17.7 MBps, which is well below the category average of 53.8 MBps. The Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet 2 registered 21 MBps, while the Dell Latitude 10 and HP Envy x2 notched 22 MBps. Once again, Microsoft's Surface Pro outpaced the competition, thanks to itsSSD, completing the test at a rate of 124 MBps.
Our VivoTab Smart took 30 minutes and 18 seconds to match 20,000 names with their addresses in OpenOffice. That's a little faster than the Lenovo ThinkPad 2's time of 30 minutes and 33 seconds, but slower than the Acer Iconia W510 (29:56), Dell Latitude 10 (29:48) and HP Envy x2 (29:45).
With its Intel Graphics Media Accelerator chip, the ASUS VivoTab Smart can handle low-intensity games such as "Judge Dredd vs. Zombies" and "Jetpack Joyride," but don't expect to play anything more than that. In fact, the GPU couldn't even run the 3DMark11 graphics test, as it doesn't support DirectX 11.
We ran into one issue during our testing. The capacitive home button beneath the display didn't respond to our taps at times, requiring a more forceful push than we'd like. However, ASUS says that it has tested dozens of units in its labs and has not encountered the same problem.
At 8 hours and 17 minutes, the ASUS VivoTab Smart's battery lasted considerably longer than the tablet category average of 7:12 on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi with the display set to 40 percent brightness). The Acer Iconia W510 ran for 8:49, (15:09 with its keyboard dock attachment). Dell's Latitude 10, meanwhile, lasted 7 hours and 16 minutes with a standard 2-cell battery and 17:40 with its optional 4-cell battery. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 lasted 9:42.
In addition to ASUS' proprietary camera app, the VivoTab Smart includes My Library for storing books and periodicals, My Dictionary, SuperNote, ASUS WebStorage with free 32 GB of online storage for 36 months, ASUS@Vibe Fun Center and Amazon's Kindle app. Other apps include Netflix, Skype, FingerShare file manager and games such as "Pinball FX 2," "Taptiles," "Solitaire" and "Microsoft Mahjong." ASUS includes a free 30-day trial of Microsoft Office, but the Windows RT-powered Surface comes with Office Home and Student 2013 for free.
Out of the box, the 64GB version of the VivoTab Smart has 34.2GB of available space.
There are currently no other configurations of the VivoTab Smart available, but you can upgrade to the TranSleeve Keyboard (which includes a origami-style cover and Bluetooth keyboard) for $129.
ASUS also offers a Windows RT version of the VivoTab called the VivoTab RT. That 10.1-inch tablet features a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and quad-speakers. An optional keyboard dock is also available for the VivoTab RT and adds nearly 5 hours of battery life.
ASUS' VivoTab Smart has some things going for it. It features a crisp display, long battery life and the ability to run both modern-style Windows 8 apps and traditional desktop apps for the same price as the more limited Micorsoft Surface with Windows RT. Plus, for $499, you get 64GB of storage, which is double the 32GB $499 Acer Iconia W510. (The 64GB version of the W510 costs $579.)
On the other hand, ASUS did cut some corners to achieve such an aggressive price. The design is plasticky, and you won't find a full-size USB port. And while the optional $129 TranSleeve Keyboard can come in handy, it's not as convenient as a dock that feels more secure in your lap. You can pick up the 32GB W510 with a clamshell keyboard dock (with its own extended battery) for $549.
It's definitely not a laptop replacement, but the ASUS VivoTab Smart is a pretty good choice for Windows 8 tablet shoppers on a budget.