Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows 8, was generally released in October 2012 to widespread criticism. For the majority of PC users the OS seemed a step backwards with the Metro start screen seeming to interrupt the process of getting to the desktop easily. Microsoft also appeared to have made the simplest of tasks, such as shutting down the PC, a rather convoluted process and some tasks became very hard to accomplish if you were unaware of the keyboard shortcuts. It was clear this operating system was designed to thrust Microsoft into the world of tablet computers with many basic swipe style functions clearly optimised for a touch screen interface.
The tablet world is currently dominated by the iPad and Android tablets but Microsoft obviously wants a piece of the action. Who can blame them, tablet computers are still selling like hotcakes and many industry analysts predict continuing huge growth through 2013 and onwards. This kind of growth will soon result in sales figures for tablet computers that are in excess of traditional PCs, so no wonder Microsoft want in. So far it's been slow going for Microsoft, with current figures for 2013 giving Windows tablets an 8% share of the tablet market. This isn't fantastic by any means, but considering how hard Samsung has had to work to make any impact on the iPad's stranglehold, 8% in one year isn't too bad.
There are now several options for the tablet user who fancies the Windows 8 operating system, with the Microsoft Surface Pro representing the flagship product here, offering a mouthwatering specification such as an i5 processor and a high definition screen but at a equally mouthwatering price of around £800. Which for a 10" tablet is rather toppy to say the least. At a slightly lower price we have the likes of HP's ElitePad 900 10" tablet which costs a more reasonable £542 but includes a slower Intel Atom processor. However it still looks rather pricey compared to the likes of an iPad or the Samsung Note 10.1 for example.
Asus have clearly noticed the high prices of Windows 8 tablets and have thus decided to release their latest tablet, in the shape of the VivoTab Smart, at a very competitive price. Offering the full Windows 8 operating system, 64GB of storage, 2GB RAM, an Intel Atom processor and a generally decent specification for just £429. Could this tablet have what it takes to not only compete against the iPad and Android tablets but also to hold it's own as a Windows 8 tablet? Read on to find out...
Design and Build Quality
The Asus VivoTab Smart is a fairly standard looking tablet, it's not going to win any design awards and is functional and minimalist in it's appearance. The tablet is available with either a red, white or black rear panel, but whichever option you choose the front frame and the bezel surrounding the 10.1" screen will be all black. In landscape mode, to the top we have the power button and to the right side we have the audio port and the volume key. To the left hand side we have the Micro HDMI and Micro USB ports and the microSD card slot. The dual speakers on this particular tablet are actually completely hidden, so you will find no slots or grilles for these. To the front we have the 2MP camera along with the Windows home button and finally to the rear we have the 8MP auto focus camera with an LED flash.
The 10.1" screen has a resolution of 1366 x 768 and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The smooth almost rubberised feel to the rear panel makes it comfortable to hold and the thick bezel surrounding the screen allows you to rest your thumbs without encroaching on the screen itself. The tablet feels fairly solid although a small amount of flexing is present particularly towards to the top left of the rear panel near the power button. At a price point of £429.99, which puts it in the iPad league, we would have expected slightly better quality and perhaps even an aluminium rear panel. The two external buttons it has are perfectly responsive but the mini USB port does have a small amount of side to side movement with the cable plugged in. Our review copy was the Wi-Fi only version which has an impressive weight of just 571g which puts it amongst the lightest of this size when compared to the iPad at 652g, the Toshiba AT300 at 595g and the Samsung Note 10.1 at 602g. Although once you include the 398g Transleeve keyboard (which we will come to later in this review) it then becomes a tad heavy. It comes in at just 9.7mm thick with a height of 262.5mm and a width of 171mm.
Features and Specification
We get a full Windows 8 operating system with an Intel Atom Z2760 Dual-Core running at 1.8Ghz, 2GB RAM and Intel HD graphics (power by the PowerVR SGX545 graphics chip). You get 64GB of internal storage although, disappointingly, the available space is only 49.8GB and the actual usable free space left for you is just 31GB. You do get 32GB of ASUS Webstorage Space for 36 months but to just have 31GB left of an advertised 64GB storage space is pretty poor. The microSD slot will allow additional storage up to 64GB.
The specification does look impressive on paper, but we found during testing that with the full Windows 8 operating system most tasks were considerably slower than on other tablets such as the iPad. For example tablet users are used to programs opening instantly such as Chrome or Internet Explorer, but with this tablet it took 4 seconds just to open Chrome and then another 12 seconds to fully load the AVForums homepage, slower than all the previous tablets we have reviewed. Obviously not horrendous times, but it does point to a slower performing tablet. The Intel Atom processor clearly struggles at times and whilst you can install any Windows 8 programs, just as you would to a traditional PC, don't expect them to fly along.
Our normal comparisons with Android or iOS games are not possible here as none of our test games are available from the Windows 8 store. The tablet comes with a few basic games, one being Pinball FX2 which is a decent looking pinball game, albeit with just one free table to start you off with. There are some basic games that you will find on the Android and iOS stores, including Shark Dash which, although not seemingly well publicised, includes a free Asus exclusive version. Due to it being a Windows 8 system, some of the most popular games on tablets such as PlantsVsZombies won't be found on the Windows Store and you'll need to purchase the desktop version instead, which can work out to be a lot more expensive. Overall the games we tried ran OK, although annoyingly it took a few attempts to install some and we had a complete system crash when trying to install Shark Dash.
The tablet comes with a rear 8MP camera with autofocus and LED flash and a front 2MP camera. Both are capable of 1080P HD video recording. It's impressive to see a 2MP camera to the front which is a big step up from the usual low VGA or 1.3MP cameras we normally find. Thanks to the rear LED flash and coupled with the five element f/2.2 lens of the rear camera, the pictures in even low light conditions were of a good standard. The front camera with the lower specification was less impressive, but apart from the occasional selfie it's more than decent enough for video conferencing. One downside to the rear camera is that the 8MP quality is only available when taking photos in 4:3. If you want to do 16:9 then the quality drops right down to just 2MP, in fact the front camera will actually do better here as it takes 16:9 photos at 2.1MP.
Confusingly there are two Camera apps pre-installed. Firstly you get the Windows 8 app, which is very basic and annoyingly defaults to just 2MP for the rear camera, meaning you have to change it each time you load the app up. But thankfully you probably won't ever need to use it as you also get an Asus Camera app which has a much better user interface and plenty of options such as Panoramic mode, the usual colour effects such as greyscale and sepia plus a load of options for the more technically proficient camera user, such as changing the ISO, white balance, metering mode and EV. On the whole we had no major complaints with the cameras provided in this tablet, they produced good quality pictures that you would be more than happy with.
Onto the Wi-Fi and with this tablet we get a 2.4Ghz 802.11 b/g and n. Sadly no dual band Wi-Fi here and we did find the Wi-Fi a little slow compared to other tablets. For example, a side-by-side comparison with our iPad resulted in a download speed of 30.54 Mbps compared to 39.32 Mbps on the iPad. It also took a lot longer to download programs and files than we would have expected. The signal strength remained consistent and was on par with other tablets we have reviewed. Our review sample was Wi-Fi only, but a 3G version is also available for you city dwellers. Alongside the Wi-Fi we also get Bluetooth 4.0 and a feature called NFC Tab and Explore which allows you to easily connect and share information with other NFC (near field communication) enabled devices.
Out of the box you will find micro HDMI, micro USB and microSD. No proprietary connections are in use here and no expensive connection kits will be needed to fully utilise the tablet with one just minor exception. To enable you to connect external hard drives to the tablet, you will need to get a USB OTG cable. These are available for just a few pounds and you can even get a 4 port one to allow up to 4 external drives to be connected at once for example. Although for a tablet costing £429.99 it would have been much better if Asus had included a USB OTG cable in the box. Due to the tablet acting as a full PC, when you connect it via USB to another PC (even one with Windows 8) the tablet is not recognised at all. So to share files and media you either have to connect the tablet to your homegroup or put the files on an SD card, then transfer them to the tablet that way. A slightly convoluted way of doing things, but once you have connected it to your homegroup it is fairly straight forward to share documents between the PC and the tablet. The picture below shows the 3G version.
The display is 10.1" WXGA with a resolution of 1366 x 768 and uses an IPS panel. It's a non HD screen with a pixel density of just 155PPI. Well below other tablets in this price range such as the iPad retina display of 264PPI and Amazon's cheap Kindle Fire HD at 254PPI. So for fans of higher resolution displays you may be disappointed here. It's still a good screen though with bright and vibrant colours and text that's easily readable and thanks to the IPS panel you get a very good brightness level (once you've disabled the rather too cautionary auto-brightness option) and a great viewing angle. For a pure Windows 8 tablet, particularly on a desktop, a higher resolution might make things particularly hard to read and also too finicky to tick the right options with your fingers, which even at this resolution we did struggle with at times. Other Windows 8 tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro do offer considerably better screens but then they are also considerably more expensive than the Asus VivoTab Smart.
Home Screen, Interface and Pre-installed Apps
We were eager to get our hands on a full Windows 8 tablet for review, given the criticism thrown at Microsoft by PC users we were especially interested in how it works on a device that it was supposedly designed for. Coming from an Android or iOS device it does take some getting used. You are met with the Metro interface with all the tiles showing the various apps installed. The basic functions here are dragging from the right side of the screen to access the search and settings menus, pulling up from the bottom to access all apps (or settings whilst in some apps) and dragging from the left to switch between open apps. Also within an app, if you drag down from the top of the screen, it will close the app. The Metro tiles themselves can be moved about anywhere on the main screen or removed if required. The Windows logo'd home button on the tablet itself will take you to this main home screen and also switch between the home screen and the last app you opened.
Having used many tablets from both Android and iOS that just work, our experience with this Windows 8 tablet was disappointing. The functions we described above don't seem to work fully all the time. Closing an app for example often takes two or three attempts before it actually closes. The tiles on the Metro screen were particularly troublesome. According to the tutorial that comes with the tablet, you are supposed to double tap a tile and then move it around the screen. That just opens the app, you actually need to tap and hold the tile then move it about. Also, we found it impossible to actually remove a tile (without the use of the TranSleeve Bluetooth keyboard) as when you tap and hold, it should tick the app and then open additional settings, this sadly didn't work. So for general use it was quite frustrating.
The tablet has a full Windows 8 installation as mentioned before, so pre-installed you get everything you would expect to find, with the basic arrangement showing the weather, news and apps like SkyDrive and Internet Explorer. Alongside this you have the Asus Camera app, My Dictionary (which offers a handy language translation service), Asus Webstorage for your free 32GB cloud storage and SuperNote 3.0 which is a note taking app that allows you to insert photos, drawings and even write on the screen to store notes. Then we have the games preinstalled, although you'll just find the basic Microsoft card games plus Pinball FX2. It's very much like an iPad or any Android tablet in that out of the box there isn't a huge amount you can do with it. It's all about the apps and programs you can install.
Which brings us to the Windows Store. It has a good range of apps but compared to the Google Play Store or Apple's App Store it isn't in the same league. You have common apps of course such as Netflix, 4oD and a few popular tablet games such as Angry Birds in both its Space and Star Wars versions. But these are few and far between. If you are making the switch to a Windows 8 tablet and expect to play all your favourite tablet games from either an Android or iOS device then you will be sorely disappointed. In the entertainment category for example the paid apps total just 40 and just 77 in the Music and Video category. So you can see, for premium apps the choice is not that great.
This is where the full Windows 8 OS does have it's benefits as forgetting the Windows Store entirely (which you will probably do very quickly) you can install pretty much any Windows program that you would do on a normal PC. As a test we transferred the install files from our MS Office CD via the Homegroup to the tablet and installed it from the desktop. A fairly lengthy process, taking about 30 minutes overall. Once finally installed it worked without issue and ran faster than we had expected based on our previous tests. It's a little fiddly without using the Bluetooth keyboard but it worked as you would expect it to do on a normal PC. We then proceeded to install Steam and then just because we could we tried COD: MW2, to our surprise it actually installed OK and loaded up, but the FPS was literally about 1 and then it crashed shortly afterwards. But it does show that with a much higher specification, anything is possible on these Windows 8 tablets. Also, if you absolutely can't live without PlantsVsZombies then you can get the desktop app for £6.99.
This tablet comes with a 25Wh Li-polymer Battery with a claimed battery life of 9.5 hours. This is based on 720P video playback, brightness 100 nits, default volume with headphones and Wi-Fi associated. During out testing we found the battery life to be one of the strongest from a tablet we have reviewed so far. We survived on one full charge throughout all of our testing which included video playback, several hours gaming (including one hour lost to the addictive Parking Mania) and several more hours of testing. During our other tablet reviews we always needed at least one recharge but the Asus VivoTab Smart really has the edge in the battery life stakes. It should comfortably last all day on one charge. As standby time goes it doesn't stand up as well, losing 20% in one day pointing to a 5 day standby life but given a full operating system is running, perhaps that is to be expected. To charge from completely flat the tablet took six hours and the keyboard just two.
Once again we find a tablet with disappointing speakers. Asus market these speakers as 'Dual-speakers With SonicMaster Audio Technology giving the most precise processing protocols and codecs, dual-speakers provide an unforgettable audio experience'. As with our last review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, you can have all the codecs and software jiggery pokery in the world, but if the speakers themselves are not up to par then nothing will save them. The speakers in the VivoTab are certainly not the worst we have heard and don't suffer as much from tinniness as the Samsung Note tablets we reviewed have but they're still a much lower quality than we would expect. Also, due to the fact that there are no speaker openings or grilles, the sound comes from within the tablet and turning the volume up the whole tablet starts vibrating with the sound. As usual, we would definitely recommend headphones to get the best from this tablet.
Unlike with Android or iOS tablets, there are sadly very few apps on the Windows Store for controlling your home cinema equipment. The only ones we could find were unofficial apps such as a Squeeze remote for Logitech devices for £3.19 and a Pro Remote for Samsung TVs for £1.39. There are none of the official apps to control TVs, Blu-ray players or home cinema receivers that we find on the Google Play or Apple's App Store. Although as it is a full Windows 8 operating system, you can of course use any Windows software if it is available from the manufacturers. We don't have a mini HDMI cable in our review equipment cupboard so unfortunately we couldn't test how well it will connected to our home cinema. But as it is a standard Windows 8 installation, it should be exactly the same as a normal Windows PC in that it will connect without issue.
As mentioned above this tablet comes with 64GB of internal storage. Taking into account the Windows 8 installation and the pre-installed apps, you are left with just 31GB of usable space. Thankfully you can fit a microSD card up to 64GB plus with the purchase of a USB OTG cable you can connect an external hard drive or several drives if you get a 4 port USB OTG adaptor. This should allow for plenty of storage space.
- Full Windows 8 operating system
- 8MP rear camera
- Light and comfortable to use
- Cheap for a Windows 8 tablet
- Low quality internal speakers
- Low resolution screen
- Frustrating to use without a bluetooth keyboard
- No USB connection out of the box
- Build quality could be better
Asus VivoTab Smart Windows 8 Tablet Review
We've reviewed quite a few tablets here at AVForums, the majority using the Android OS but a couple of iPads as well. They've varied in looks, design, specification and performance, ranging from the top draw iPad down to a sub £250 Toshiba AT300. As far as the £429 Asus VivoTab Smart is concerned, it sets itself apart in that it offers a full Windows 8 operating system. This allows you to theoretically install any Windows program, just as you would do with a normal PC and, as our testing showed, software such as Microsoft Office installed and ran without issue. You can even install Steam to it, although don't expect to be running any intensive programs as it won't be able to cope. However, the restrictions placed on you by iOS or Android to install their apps, from their stores, are no longer an issue.
As far as the rest of the tablet goes, the 10" Asus VivoTab doesn't really offer anything you haven't seen before or anything that is above the competiton. We get a 64GB storage capacity, which when the tablet arrives to you gives you less than 31GB to use. We also get 2GB RAM and a rather slow 1.8Ghz Intel Atom Z2760 Dual-Core processor with equally slow Intel graphics. As with the majority of tablets we have reviewed the onboard audio is poor, although certainly not the worst. Both cameras are above what we would normally see, giving a decent 8MP rear camera with LED flash and a 2MP front camera, and bith are capable of 1080P video recording. The display is rather average with just a 1366 x 768 resolution and a pixel density of only 155PPI which puts it significantly below the likes of the iPad Retina screen or similar HD tablets. Although the screen uses an effective IPS panel, with good off-axis performance, strong and vibrant colours and clear text.
The battery life was generally excellent and you would comfortably be able to use this for most of the day without having to charge it up. Other positives were good connectivity with an microSD card slot to expand storage up to 64GB and a micro HDMI slot. Asus could have really excelled here if they had included a USB OTG cable, this is what you need to be able to utilise the micro USB port that you use for charging the tablet. With a USB OTG cable you can, for example, connect an external hard drive for even more storage. A £2 accessory at best and pretty much an essential on a Windows 8 tablet, so disappointing to not see this included.
We've found consistently in our reviews of the iPad or Android tablets that, whatever fancy pinching, swiping or other multi touch functions a tablet offers, they all operate just as they should with no frustrating multiple attempts to get things to work. Sadly with the swipe gestures on this tablet, more often than not you will find yourself performing the gestures several times to get them to work at all. Other issues include some functions that were almost impossible to perform by touch such as bringing up the right click menu on the desktop and some of the free apps we downloaded from the Windows Store, half crashed during install and had to be restarted.
The lasting impression we found during this review was that without a Bluetooth keyboard (Asus provided the optional £80 TranSleeve keyboard with our tablet) this Windows 8 tablet would just be far too annoying to use on a daily basis. When basic tasks don't work you will very quickly lose patience and simple tasks, such as typing text into a web browser, become impossible when the pop up keyboard keeps disappearing. Certain Metro tiles are almost impossible to remove without using the mouse to right click on them and many other minor issues combine to leave you with a tablet that will drive you nuts with frustration.
It's perhaps unfair to directly compare the Asus Vivotab Smart with the likes of the iPad or other similarly priced Android tablets because for a Windows 8 device it offers good value for money. Yes, the specification looks below par against these other devices, but for users that want a Windows 8 tablet, this is amongst the cheapest you will find. If you are looking for a tablet for primarily business use then this is worthy of consideration, but for pleasure you are likely to get much more fun out of an iPad or Android tablet. At least until Windows have worked out some of the kinks and improved the quantity and quality of the apps at their Store.
Our review copy of the Asus VivoTab Smart also came with the TranSleeve Bluetooth keyboard (with mousepad and buttons). This is an £80 option which includes a sleeve for the tablet. The keyboard attaches via a magnetic strip to the tablet itself, no direct connection is made via a cable, it is solely by Bluetooth. Starting with the sleeve part, it attaches magnetically to the base of the keyboard or alternatively it can be used as a foldable stand for the tablet. It's a little fiddly at first and takes a little getting used to but it works very well. The keyboard uses the same micro USB port for charging and the battery after one initial charge is still going strong after several days of testing and use. With the issues we suffered during testing in regards to the swiping gestures and the general fiddly nature of trying to use fingers on the Windows desktop, having the keyboard was a huge relief.
There are just some functions that do not work properly without the keyboard. On the desktop for example, trying to right click using touch alone was frustrating to put it mildly, with the keyboard we can just use the built in mouse pad and buttons. The same goes with entering text in websites or in search boxes. In Chrome for example, you click a text box to enter text, the keyboard on the tablet appears and then instantly disappears. Thankfully with the Bluetooth keyboard you can just start typing, but without it, this one simple task would be extremely frustrating to the point of wanting to throw the tablet out of the window. It's an expensive accessory and you can probably find far cheaper Bluetooth keyboards available, but with the issues we had on this tablet, we definitely would not want to own one without having a separate keyboard to use. For our first review of a tablet with a full Windows 8 operating system, it does seem that to get the full use out of the tablet a separate keyboard is absolutely essential!
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