Asus’ tablets have fast become our favourites, even surpassing Apple’s mighty iPad thanks to their quality construction and excellent features. Now Asus has taken its excellent Transformer Prime and Transformer Pad Infinity design (which features a detachable keyboard dock for staying productive as well as entertained on the move), and transferred it to the wonderful world of Windows. The result is the excellent Asus Vivo Tab RT, a quad-core Windows 8 tablet that is marvellous for both work and play.
Look and feel
In tablet form, the Asus Vivo Tab RT is a surprisingly slender and light device. It’s only a tad thicker than the likes of the Apple iPad mini, and at half a kilo is a lot lighter than its bigger brother the New iPad. There’s a tiny bit of flex when you pull on the edges (particularly next to the front-facing webcam), but nothing to worry about beyond a little creaking. Overall this is a solid, durable device.
The rear of the Vivo Tab RT is part brushed metal, part textured plastic. The textured section helps to stop it from skidding around when you’re using it on a work surface, and gives you extra grip if your hands are all sweaty during a cramped, bustling commute. On the edges of the Vivo Tab RT you’ll find volume and power buttons as well as a 3.5mm audio jack and a covered slot for a Micro SD card, so you can expand the very generous 64GB of built-in storage.
Welcome to Windows 8 (RT)
If you’re new to Windows 8 RT, let us introduce the new desktop. This touch-based interface has a similar appearance to Windows Phone, using ‘live tiles’ as shortcuts to your apps. These tiles are similar to Android widgets, updating with fresh information on the fly - so you know when you receive a new message or your stocks have plummeted, for instance. You can pin your favourite apps to the Start screen and resize them based on importance, while sharing your files and favourite web finds is a quick and simple process.
With a swipe from the right edge of the screen, you can quickly share any pic or website that you've stumbled across with your friends, family and social networks...
Windows 8 is much more refined for touchscreen devices than Windows 7, thanks to its lack of tiny menus and other fiddly sections. All of the menus and tiles are big and bold, easy to prod without worrying about pin-point accuracy. Of course, this also makes for a more simplified experience that can occasionally prove frustrating. We had a few little gripes, such as the way it seems to be impossible to check the exact percentage of battery life remaining or change how long the screen stays on before it times out.
We also noticed some inconsistencies throughout the OS. For instance, in most screens it’s possible to go back a step by tapping an arrow icon in the top left corner. However, in the People hub we had to bring up another menu by flicking our finger from the bottom of the screen to escape from a contact’s details. Once you’re used to these little swipes and gestures, Windows 8 is a fairly simple OS to navigate through, but it never feels quite as slick as it should. For some tasks, such as file management, we even found ourselves switching to the classic ‘desktop mode’ which is a more traditional Windows environment.
Our final gripe is the touch-sensitive Windows Start button beneath the screen, which isn’t quite as responsive as we’d hoped. Perhaps we were unlucky and prodding it in just the wrong way, but it often seemed to take two or three stabs to take us back to the Start screen. Of course, at any time you can simply swipe your finger from the very right edge of the tablet to call up the ‘Charms’ menu (basically a fast way to access settings and share stuff), which gives you an on-screen Start button to poke instead.
With its 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, the 10-inch screen is a great way to enjoy movies on the go. We kicked back and enjoyed a handful of HD videos, which looked impressively crisp – we could see every tiny wrinkle, spot and mole on the actors’ faces. Just one glance at the Start screen and it’s immediately obvious how bright and vibrant the panel is. We had no trouble watching movies even with our harsh office lighting glaring down on the screen, while the excellent viewing angles mean you can stay entertained with buddies without cramming your heads together.
That screen makes the Vivo Tab RT a great web surfing device too. It’s spacious and sharp enough to cope with the most jam-packed websites, while the touch controls are perfectly responsive to every prod and swipe, making it effortless to zoom and skim your way through a webpage. The sensitive touchscreen is also well suited to apps and games, particularly those that require precision input.
Boasting a quad-core nVidia Tegra 3 processor and a mighty 2GB of RAM, this is one of the most powerful tablets we’ve clutched in our sweaty little mitts. It handles everything available on the Windows Store with ease, whether it’s fast-paced games or business software. We also had no problem streaming HD media either.
Battery life is one of the Vivo Tab RT’s other strong suits. By itself, the tablet can last all day with moderate use (occasional apps and email) or around five hours if streaming video, a decent effort considering the bright HD screen. However, hook up the dock with its built-in second battery and you can effectively double the Vivo Tab RT’s battery life, making this one of the most portable tablets around.
The Vivo Tab RT slots neatly onto the mobile dock and holds solid until you pull the switch on the tablet’s left edge to release it. If you close the tablet down over the keyboard when the two are joined, it puts the tablet into hibernation, as you’d expect from a laptop. Docking the tablet not only gives you an extra battery’s worth of life, you also get a full-sized USB port and the handy physical keyboard.
The dock’s keyboard is a fantastic partner to the touchscreen controls, allowing you to bash out a message or document without resorting to the virtual board. Your typing rate will depend on how accustomed to small boards you are. We’ve had plenty of netbooks in our time so we adapted immediately to the dinky keys, which still make the most of the limited space. They’re well spaced and none of them felt particularly cramped, plus you get a dedicated Windows key. Our only issue was the sunken design, which puts a ridge directly below the space bar. This made it difficult for us to tap the bar with our thumbs, and we had to change our posture to ensure we hit it each time.
There’s a tiny touchpad for manoeuvring the cursor about the screen, but we preferred simply prodding the tablet’s display with our fingers. You can even poke and hold to simulate a right-click. We hoped that docking the tablet would stop the virtual keyboard from popping up every time you try to compose an email or enter a Word document, but it still appeared as if the dock wasn’t connected. It’s a minor quibble at best as the board can be minimised with a touch, but we had to find something to pick on, so why not this.
An essential part of any tablet is the selection of apps, and sadly Windows 8 is lagging behind its big rivals (iOS and Android) in that area. We’re slowly getting big names such as Netflix and Skype, but many recognisable names such as BBC News are actually unofficially produced by third party developers, while categories such as Food & Dining are woefully understocked. The games section is disappointing too, with very few big names, and even fewer that are free to download. If you’re an app or games fiend, you might want to stick with another OS until the Windows Store has had a chance to grow and catch up.
The Windows Marketplace, where you can browse a (strictly limited) number of apps...
Still, the Vivo Tab RT comes stocked with a good selection of apps to get you started, including the usual calendar, maps, music and video and news/reference programs you’d expect. Students and business users will also appreciate the Microsoft Office suite, which gives you Word 2013, Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2013 and OneNote 2013. The combination of touchscreen and keyboard dock makes them all easy to use on the move, providing you have a seat of course. The virtual keyboard works just fine too, if you find yourself rammed into the aisle of your commuter train.
You get a whopping 64GB of space to store your documents, as well as your apps and media. You can expand this with the Micro SD slot, and you also get 7GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage,
Impressively, the Vivo Tab RT also packs in an 8MP camera on the rear, for snapping points of interest on your travels. As ever, taking photos with a tablet is slightly awkward, but at least you can tap anywhere on the screen to take a snap. It usually takes a second or so for the lens to focus, so be prepared to hold very still.
Our review model had very few options and settings: we could adjust the screen resolution, turn on a timer and switch to video mode to shoot home movies, but there was no tweaking of the camera ISO levels, white balance etc. A ‘more options’ menu is available but empty at present, so we’re hoping these settings will appear here in an update.
A front-facing 2MP camera means you can take full advantage of Skype and other webchat apps. Our picture was quite dark unless we positioned ourselves at just the right angle near a window, but considering how haggard we looked when the picture brightened, this can only be a good thing.
Asus’ Vivo Tab RT will be your best friend if you’re a frequent traveller, keeping you both entertained and productive wherever you roam. The bright, vibrant HD screen is a great way to enjoy games, movies and the world wide web, while the excellent Office suite, tons of storage space and SkyDrive connectivity mean you can access and work on your important documents. Factor in the long battery life and keyboard dock, and this really is a portable powerhouse.