Asus' latest tablet is stylish and benefits from Microsoft Windows RT's strengths, but also trips up on some tablet basics.
Asus comes to the Windows tablet party with a strong tablet pedigree, which is just one of many reasons I looked forward to seeing the Vivo Tab RT. The company already has shown a talent for innovative design with its Transformer Pad series of Android tablets. The Vivo Tab RT ($599 for a 32GB unit bundled with a keyboard dock; $699 for a 64GB model, also with a dock) handles many tasks well. But as a tabletone of the first running Windows RT to reach my deskit falls short of its Apple iPad and Google Android competition.
The Vivo Tab reflects the evolution of the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, right down to its keyboard dock, which turns the tablet into a clamshell-style mini-laptop. That clamshell-style dock approach has proved to be a winner in the Transformer Pad tablets released over the past year and a half. The dock provides multiple benefits: You get the flexibility of having a keyboard that you can detach at will; the dock adds only a modest amount of weight (1.3 pounds) to the device; and you'll get an extra battery and USB port in the bargain. The dock functions as a compact, cohesive package that's a breeze to maneuver into and out of a bag and to tote through TSA checkpoints.
Design and features
The Vivo Tab RT takes many design cues from its Android predecessor, the Infinity; but some hardware tweaks and design accentsincluding rounded edges on the glassmake this model very much its own tablet.
The tablet weighs just 1.19 pounds, and measures 10.35 by 6.73 by 0.33 inches. That's slightly narrower and lighter than the Infinity, which measures 10.4 by 7.1 by 0.3 inches and weighs 1.31 pounds. By way of comparison, Apple's newest iPad measures 9.5 by 7.3 by 0.4 inches, and weighs 1.44 pounds. The Asus tablet felt well-balanced and comfortable in my hand; I particularly liked holding it vertically for reading; its slightly narrower width made holding it in portrait mode seem especially natural.
The tablet has a metal back, with a ridged texture in its top quarter. I found that this texture made the tablet uncommonly easy to hold in one hand, without fear of its slipping through my fingers. (All of the descriptions here assume that the user is holding it in landscape orientation.) In this ridged upper area, you'll find an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with flash, and an NFC tap point. The tablet's headphone jack sits right above the volume rocker in the upper right corner, and its Micro-HDMI port hides beneath a flap in the upper left corner. Beneath that element sits the MicroSDXC card slot, which can accommodate up to 128GB of flash storage. The power button, situated along the top edge, is annoyingly slim, which makes it difficult to press.
The tablet has true stereo speakers for left and right audio porting out the rear. This feature constitutes a huge improvement on the audio available from the Infinity, and it sounded noticeably better and more usable in my casual tests.
Unlike on the Infinity, the docking port/power connector sits off-center on the Vivo Tab RT, nested inside one of the dock latches. It's a clever design, but I found the positioning of the power connector awkward and out-of-balance. The Vivo Tab RT also has a docking station release slider situated along the lower left, which made releasing the tablet simpler. (The Infinity lacked this feature.)
Still, overall, I'm less enthusiastic about this particular docking station than with the ones on previous Asus tablets. This Vivo Tab RT's docking station retains the extra battery inside and the hinged, clamshell design, but it lacks the convenience of an SD Card slot, like the one on the Infinity's dock. On the Infinity, I often used the SD Card slot with my camera's SD Card. I also missed the Infinity dock's larger keys; the Vivo Tab RT's keys are about a 1/16 inch shorter, and that made a big difference in my typing comfort and accuracy. As you'd expect, the keyboard is customized for Windows RT.
The Vivo Tab RT has a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor (1.4GHz in single-core use) and has 2GB of system memory, as with all Tegra 3-based Windows RT tablets (including Microsoft's Surface). Nvidia says that the Tegra 3 supports Microsoft's Connected Standby mode under Windows RT, so you can read email, view calendar entries, and check news headlines, with minimal impact on battery life.
Overall, my experience using the tablet to perform various tasks was positive, and the Vivo Tab RT seemed zippy and responsive. I did encounter a few instances of laggy behavior (some apps opened slowly, and in-book navigation was slow on the preloaded Amazon Kindle app), but those drawbacks were the exception, not the rule. Even the built-in Photos app speedily navigated my usual complement of high-resolution photos in the library; however, like many Android tablets, this Microsoft-based tablet doesn't appear to render the image correctly in the Photos app if you zoom into your picture.
The 10.1-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel Super IPS+ display looked good, with pleasing colors and an optically bonded display that helped improve the viewing angle and minimize glare. I did note that on-screen images had a slightly greenish cast (when compared side-by-side with the same images on the Infinity and the Apple iPad screens), most obviously with skin tones. Microsoft enables auto-brightness by default, but the display improved when I disabled that feature and adjusted the brightness manually. The Vivo Tab RT's text rendering isn't as smooth as that on the Infinity, though: The tablet's pixel density of 155 pixels per inch is a fraction of the iPad's 264 ppi, but it's slightly better than the Microsoft Surface's 148 ppi and the average 10.1-inch Android tablet's 149 ppi.
At this writing, the only cross-platform tablet tests we could perform were Web browser-based: Peacekeeper, SunSpider, WebVizBench, and our own custom-designed Web page load test. These tests provide limited insight into the Vivo Tab's performance, but at least they offer a starting point.
Asus did say that it expected additional firmware updates for the keyboard, camera, and trackpad, as well as possible GPU and OS firmware updates closer to the Windows 8 and RT launches at the end of the week. We'll keep an eye on the device and update performance scores accordingly. Also unavailable at this writing, but expected by Windows' launch is the Nvidia Tegra Zone with RT-optimized games. We'll update this review with additional benchmarks, gaming impressions, and battery performance when those details become available.
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