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 Asus 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 handles many tasks well. But as a tablet — one of the first running Windows RT to reach my desk — it falls short of its Apple iPad and Google Android competition.
The Vivo Tab reflects the evolution of the Asus 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 manoeuvre into and out of a bag and to tote through TSA checkpoints. See also: Group test: what's the best tablet PC?
Design and features
The Vivo Tab RT takes many design cues from its Android predecessor, the Infinity; but some hardware tweaks and design accents — including rounded edges on the glass — make this model very much its own tablet.
The Vivo Tab RT tablet is slightly narrower and lighter than the Infinity. It feels well-balanced and comfortable in the 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-centre 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.