Asus VivoTab Smart review
A full Windows 8 tablet experience for less than £400, but the lack of a full-size USB port is limiting
The Asus VivoTab Smart takes a different tack to most of the Atom-based Windows 8 systems we've seen so far. Instead of being a bet-hedging hybrid, combining laptop-style keyboards with detachable screens, it squeezes Intel's Cloverview chip into a classic 10.1in tablet.
It's one of the most compact Windows 8 tablets we've seen. The matte-black body initially looks much slimmer than the squared-off design of the Acer Iconia W510, but it's a trick of the eye – the Asus' rounded edges and all-black design mask the fact that it's a hair's breadth thicker.
It's also heavier, weighing 580g to the Acer's 566g, but it easily trumps its opponent when it comes to build quality. The polymer shell feels stiff and well constructed, and there's only a little give if you really heave it from side to side.
The Asus' 10.1in display is a decent-quality IPS panel, and while it lacks the punch and clarity of Apple's iPad or the best Android tablets we've tested, it's still perfectly acceptable – the LED backlight reaches a maximum brightness of 398cd/m2, and the contrast ratio of 971:1 is very good. Colours are reproduced with a pleasing amount of punch, and the biggest issue is a tendency to crush the darkest greys into black, obscuring detail in darker movie scenes or photographs.
The tablet's curved edges don't allow much scope for connectivity. A discreet micro-HDMI socket allows you to hook up a desktop display, and the VivoTab charges via a micro-USB port. However, there's no full-sized USB, and storage is limited to a 64GB SSD. You can add more via a microSD card slot, but access speed is likely to be slow compared to onboard storage.
Single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and NFC come as standard, and Asus has equipped the VivoTab Smart with a pair of cameras. The front-facing 2-megapixel sensor produced murky images that will serve for video chat but not much else; the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera focuses quickly, however, and produces pleasingly sharp images in good light. Noise creeps in as the light fails, but the bright LED flash makes up for this.
The Smart's speakers are weak. They're fine for voice chat, but the maximum volume level is too puny to bring music and videos to life, and bass is practically non-existent.
Performance is on a par with the other Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets we've seen; there's just enough power for basic, everyday use. With an overall benchmark score of 0.2, the Smart isn't appropriate for hardware-intensive tasks such as video editing or gaming, but the OS feels responsive, and for the sorts of things you're likely to be doing on a 10.1in tablet, performance is fine.
Yet again, the Atom platform proves highly satisfactory when it comes to battery life. In our laptop battery tests, the VivoTab Smart delivered 12hrs 21mins in light use. In our video rundown test, battery life was comparable to most iPad and Android models, with the Asus lasting for a respectable 10hrs 16mins.
Should you want to get stuck in to more serious productivity tasks, Asus' optional TranSleeve Keyboard bundles a Bluetooth keyboard and clip-on cover for £90. The keyboard element is lightweight and, considering its slimness, the keys have a surprisingly positive action. Asus' TranSleeve cover, meanwhile, acts as a rudimentary stand, folding up in a similar way to the iPad Smart Cover, and is also available for £40.
Neither are particularly robust or well executed, however: we're discouraged by how flimsy the keyboard feels in the hand, and its smooth underside has a tendency to slide about as you type; and the cover doesn't afford the tablet a great deal of protection. When compared to rival devices with docking keyboards, such as Acer's Iconia W510, the combination of a discrete tablet and Bluetooth keyboard prove lacking. We found the pairing unusable on a lap.
Despite stylish looks and good build quality, the Asus struggles to make its case. The lack of a proper docking keyboard nixes its appeal as a laptop substitute, and the lack of a USB port severely impacts upon its day-to-day utility. While the VivoTab Smart ME400C gets the price and the looks right, it's sorely lacking in practicality.
|Price ex VAT||£312|
|Price inc VAT||£374|
|Warranty||2 yr return to base|
|Features & Design||3|
|Value for Money||5|
|Dimensions||255 x 10 x 171mm (WDH)|
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,366|
|Resolution screen vertical||768|
|Display type||IPS touchscreen|
|CPU frequency, MHz||1.8GHz|
|Camera megapixel rating||8.0mp|
|Built-in flash type||LED|
|Upstream USB ports||0|
|Mobile operating system||Windows 8 64-bit|