Asus Vivo Tab RT has thoughtful design, but brings a mixed tablet experience

Asus' latest tablet is stylish and benefits from Microsoft Windows RT's strengths, but also trips up on some tablet basics.

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Inside the Windows RT OS

The Microsoft Windows RT interface closely resembles what you'll see on full-bore Windows 8. At startup you'll see the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro), with its bright and colorful live tiles. As a tablet interface, Windows RT can be smooth and fluidand that's what I experienced on the Vivo Tab RT.

One big benefit of Windows RT's Windows 8 roots is its support for true multitasking, native drivers for peripherals like printers and game controllers, the Charms bar, and features like snap view, which lets you use two apps side-by-side with one app snapped to the left quarter of the screen and the other to the remaining three-quarters. When I had a MicroSD card or USB drive plugged in, I loved being able to start copying content in parallel, without having to wait for one folder to complete it's copy before the other folder started (a failing of Android tablets I've used).

The Modern UI interface looked alive and organic in a way that Apple can't touch, and that Google barely approaches. I loved this interface's clean lines and style, and appreciated its new standard features such as semantic zoom.

That said, I didn't always find the layout of Microsoft's design convenient to use. For example, the back button always appears at the top left of the displayfar from where your fingers are likely to be in many use scenarios. I sometimes accidentally invoked the Charm bar when I intended to swipe inward; this happened frequently when I swiped right-to-left to page through books in the preinstalled Amazon Kindle app.

Windows RT is jam-packed with included apps, most of which live under the Modern UI interface (a few are buried under the Desktop mode). Most of the usual suspects are here: Internet Explorer 10, Maps, Messaging, SkyDrive, News reader, and more. One of the biggest omissions was the absence of a dedicated music player. The included Music app is really just a shameless, in-your-face conduit to Xbox Music, rather than a dedicated app for playing music. I'm sure that some developer will come up with a better music playback app, but a solid music player is a basic feature that I've come to expect on a modern tablet.

More disturbingly, I often felt frustrated by limits to Windows RT's usability. I assessed the Vivo Tab RT against competitors such as Apple's iPad and Asus's own Transformer Pad Infinity. Given its shared DNA with the Transformer tablets, the latter comparison seems particularly relevant. Overall, I found that both Apple's iOS and Google's Android 4.x provided a more visually cohesive experience than Microsoft's Windows RT.

Since Windows RT was designed for ARM-based processors, you can't run standard x86 apps on the tablet. It has a Desktop mode, but this feature is a stopgap for navigating files and accessing some settings, functions, and apps. I found myself in Desktop mode oftento access a file I had downloaded,for example, or to copy files from one place to another. The more I used the tablet, the more I realized how integral Desktop mode was, and not just for the benefit of the included version of Office Home & Student 2014 RT.

I thoroughly appreciated Windows Explorer's presenceand I was thrilled to have full control over my tablet's files and folders, just as I'm accustomed to have it on my PC. But the interface change was jarring; I often longed for a more Modern UI-variant of the venerable Windows Explorer. Oddly, the Files navigationthe closest Windows RT comes to a file managerdoesn't have its own tile. Furthermore, you can get to it only by passing through the search option on the Charms menu. Once in Files, you can't simply double-tap a file or press it to open it; rather, you must tap the file to select it, and then move your hand to the lower bottom right corner to tap it open. I noticed similar tap-a-thon-lie interface inefficiencies elsewhere, such as in the Xbox Music app's music player.

I also was confounded by the OS's unpredictable behavior. For example, I couldn't use the included charging cable to connect via USB to a PC and mount the Vivo Tab as a drive on my laptop. I do that all the time with Google Android tablets to move content from one to another; but with Vivo Tab RT, you have to use the cloud or a sneakernet alternative such as a USB flash drive or a MicroSD card (or you have to set up a home group manually via wireless networking).

Another peculiarity I ran into was that Windows RT sometimes had different responses for the same action. For example, when connected to the keyboard dock, Windows prompted me to specify what I'd like to do with the USB drive, and it did so in Modern UI. However, when I used the same flash drive with Asus's USB-to-dock-connector adapter, the drive opened up in the desktop interface; and before it did so, the desktop app popped up a classic Windows box asking for permission to run some Microsoft-authored app that I'd never heard of. I proceeded, but I couldn't help thinking this was precisely the kind of inexplicable computer behavior that drove consumers to enthusiastically embrace the dead-simple alternative offered by Apple's iOS.

Asus includes a handful of its own apps, most of which I found useful. If you register, you'll get 8GB of Asus WebStorage for the lifetime of the tablet. Also preloaded are SuperNote, MyLibrary (an e-reader powered by Txtr), MyDictionary, and Asus Camera.

Bottom line

Tablets are all about the experience of software married to hardware. The Asus Vivo Tab's solid hardware provides the makings of a good experience, and Windows RT is a good foundation for that experience. But Windows RT's many software quirks and omissions may limit the Vivo Tab's audience to dedicated PC users who've recently purchased a Windows 8 laptop or desktop, and want to extend their new Modern UI software purchases across both systems. The inclusion of Office Home & Student 2014 RT gives the Vivi Tab RT an edge, but that edge would have been greater still with a better keyboard dock.

This story, "Asus Vivo Tab RT has thoughtful design, but brings a mixed tablet experience" was originally published by PCWorld.

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