Despite all the Microsoft Surface hype, Windows 8 tablets have yet to find their niche. It’s difficult, after all, to be more expensive than Apple’s ever-cool iPad, yet less usable than a reasonably cheap laptop.
So what can the Asus VivoTab Smart—a slim little 10.1-inch tablet with a Clover Trail processor—bring to the table? Well, for one thing, it’s relatively cheap: the VivoTab starts at just $499, and that includes 64GB of built-in storage. It also runs the full version of Windows 8, so you don’t have to settle for Windows RT.
Good tablet performance and battery life
Just because it runs a desktop OS doesn’t mean it runs like a PC, of course. Compare it to a low-powered Ultrabook, and it’s toast. It’s moderately powerful for a tablet, however, scoring higher than similarly appointed models with Intel Pentium 6 CPUs and 2GB of memory, such as the Samsung XE500T1C-A01 and the Acer Iconia W510-1422. Battery life is good and long, at 7 hours and 36 minutes in our tests.
Of course, the $499 price tag doesn’t include the VivoTab’s accessories: a Smart Cover-esque magnetic screen protector that folds into a stand, and a separate, Bluetooth keyboard and touchpad. The screen protector/keyboard combo costs an additional $130, which means it’s about $629 for the full VivoTab Smart experience. This is still a fairly good deal—the Dell XPS 10 tablet with keyboard bundle also costs $629, but it has half the built-in storage.
Pretty, thin design
The VivoTab itself is pretty enough: it has a solid polycarbonate back in white, black, or red, a 10.1-inch glossy screen surrounded by a medium bezel, and a maximum thickness of about 0.38 inches. It weighs a mere 1.28 pounds (580 grams), and the accessories add hardly any additional weight or thickness.
The IPS screen offers up decent coloration (whites look a tad yellowish at lower brightness settings) and good touchscreen responsiveness and accuracy. It also has excellent off-axis viewing angles, though the screen isn’t quite as bright as I usually like. It’s 350 nits, which isn’t quite good enough for outdoor viewing. By comparison, the latest iPad’s screen is about 400 nits.
Ports and slots are pretty limited—it is a tablet, after all. There are no buttons aside from the power button, volume rocker, and touch-sensitive Windows button on the front bezel. There’s also a MicroSD slot, MicroUSB port, and a micro HDMI slot, as well as a 2-in-1 audio jack. As far as connectivity goes, the VivoTab is actually better equipped than expected, with built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, and an NFC chip.
Convertible tablet cover/stand
Looks aside, the VivoTab Smart’s real appeal are its accessories. There are two accessories, though they’re sold together as a bundle. The Smart Cover-like screen protector is what Asus calls the “Transleeve.” It comes in several colors, including black, pink, and light blue, and connects to the VivoTab via a magnet along the side. Though the Transleeve looks like Apple’s Smart Cover for the iPad, it doesn’t act like a Smart Cover—that is, it doesn’t automatically wake/sleep the VivoTab when you pull it open. It does, however, lay flush against the VivoTab’s screen for a moderate amount of scratch protection.
What’s cool about the Transleeve is that it folds into a stand. Folding it is easy—there are scored lines that show you where you’re supposed to bend it, and there are built-in magnets that help it stay in place. The stand lets you use the tablet in an upright position or a lower, angled position. I assume the upright position is for use with the external keyboard, while the angled position is more for typing directly on the tablet. The only issue I had with the stand was that it’s not adjustable, and the upright position offers a bit too much lean for my liking. I’d prefer a keyboard dock that lets you adjust the screen position.
Surprisingly comfortable keyboard
The Bluetooth keyboard accessory is surprisingly pleasant to use. Not only is it extremely lightweight and slim—you wouldn’t think twice about tossing this in your bag alongside the VivoTab—it’s surprisingly comfortable to type on. Well, relatively speaking. The island-style keys are small, but well-spaced, and they offer considerable tactile feedback. It’s certainly not my first choice among keyboards, but as far as externals go, it’s pretty good.
As a lightweight hybrid that’s more tablet than laptop, the Asus VivoTab Smart is a decent choice. This tablet is both extremely portable and usable, and the full Windows 8 OS is a welcome bonus.