The ASUS Vivo Tab RT is let down by questionable build quality and a cramped physical keyboard.
Design and display
The ASUS Vivo Tab RT uses a very similar design to the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity, an Android based tablet that features the same detachable keyboard dock concept. The Vivo Tab RT itself without the keyboard dock makes a positive first impression. At 525g it's lighter than both the 4th Generation iPad and the Microsoft Surface RT. It measures just 8.3mm thick, too, so it's relatively comfortable to hold.
Our review model was finished in a grey, brushed aluminium colour, which is the main difference from the Transformer Infinity's "spun finished", circular pattern. This brushed finish takes up about three quarters of the back panel, with the other quarter taken up by an indented, grey plastic strip along the top. ASUS experienced widely reported issues with Wi-Fi and GPS performance on previous Transformer models, so the strip is obviously designed to prevent such issues from arising again. It does detract from the overall look of the Vivo Tab RT, but it's a compromise we can easily live with.
What's harder to live with is the Vivo Tab RT's questionable build quality. The case easily flexes when force is applied and twists far too easily for our liking. There's noticeable creaks when you press the back of the tablet, especially towards the edges of the device. The Vivo Tab RT feels far flimsier than the Transformer Prime tablet that it's based on.
There are another couple of annoyances, too. When holding the tablet with two hands you can often cover the speakers on either side, effectively muffling the sound. The speakers are loud enough to comfortably watch a movie or listen to music in a quiet room and the fact there's two of them means volume is punchier than most other tablets we've reviewed.
On the left side of the Vivo Tab RT you'll find a micro-HDMI port (covered by an annoying rubber flap) and a microSD card slot, while the top edge houses a small power/lock button with a tiny LED charging indicator and a microphone. On the right is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a volume rocker. The buttons are well positioned and easy to press.
On the bottom of the tablet is a proprietary ASUS dock connection. This may be an annoyance but it offers two benefits: it connects the tablet to the keyboard dock, and charges the device much faster (around an hour and a half) than a regular micro USB charger would. Also on the bottom of the Vivo Tab RT are two holes that attach to the dock. Unlike the Transformer Prime, the Vivo Tab RT's keyboard dock does not leave visible scuff marks on the bottom of the tablet. ASUS includes a full-sized USB adapter in the sales package, which plugs into dock port at the bottom.
The ASUS Vivo Tab RT comes with a super IPS + display with a resolution of 1366x768, which is the same resolution that appears to be standard fare on the first round of Windows RT devices. The screen is bright and clear, displays vivid colours and has excellent viewing angles, particularly vertical. Its biggest weakness is the fact that it can't display the same super crisp text as the iPad's higher resolution 'retina' screen. This is most notable when displaying text, such as browsing Web pages through the Internet Explorer browser, or reading books through the Amazon Kindle app. For other tasks, like playing games, or watching movies, the Vivo Tab RT's display is excellent.
The ASUS Vivo Tab RT's keyboard dock adds a full-sized USB port, a trackpad, and its own built-in battery. ASUS says the Vivo Tab RT is good for up to nine hours of battery life as a stand alone tablet and up to 16 hours if the keyboard dock is connected. Impressively, if both the tablet and the keyboard dock batteries are fully charged, the Vivo Tab RT draws power from the keyboard dock first in order to preserve power for tablet-only use.
Unfortunately, using the keyboard dock is a chore thanks to the small keys and a cramped trackpad that hinders the overall user experience. The keys are spaced well but they are significantly smaller than the ones on the Transformer Pad Infinity's dock. We regularly and routinely missed keys while typing, even after a full week of use. The keys aren't backlit either, which makes typing at night time rather difficult.
The trackpad is very small and therefore doesn't lend itself to effectively use multitouch gestures, like pinch-to-zoom. Its height is also a particular problem for two finger scrolling on Web pages through the Internet Explorer browser. Unlike the Transformer Pad Infinity, the Vivo Tab RT's keyboard dock doesn't offer a full-sized SD card slot, which is a feature we really would have appreciated.
Another annoyance is connecting and removing the Vivo Tab RT to and from the dock. There's no firm click when the tablet attaches into place, although the arrows on both the dock and the tablet are a nice touch as is the audio confirmation that the dock is connected. Removing the tablet from the dock is a difficult and awkward process due to the odd location of the release switch on the bottom left side of the tablet. It's a two handed affair and the process is rather clunky.
Software & performance
As its name suggests, the ASUS Vivo Tab RT runs the Windows 8 RT operating system. It looks and operates just like the full version of Windows 8, with one big difference: it's basically a tablet-only version of Windows, which can only run apps from the Windows Store. There's no support for regular Windows desktop apps.
There aren't many apps in the Windows Store — the likes of Skype, eBay, TuneIn Radio, Evernote and Kindle are all present, but apps this author uses regularly, like Dropbox, Pocket, Spotify, Pinterest, Pulse News and Flipboard aren't available right now. The Store will only improve its catalogue over time as third-party app developers jump on board, but for now the Vivo Tab RT feels very limited.
There are a few positives despite the lack of apps. The Start screen, which uses a new Live Tile interface is intuitive and smooth. These tiles display live and updated information, so you can quickly glance at information without having to actually open apps. This is useful to see new emails as they arrive, for example, checking on the weather, or seeing the latest updates to your social networking feeds like Twitter and Facebook. The overall look and feel of the Start screen is also fresh and attractive and the vibrant interface appears to be floating on the Vivo Tab RT's screen.
Like all Windows RT tablets, the Vivo Tab RT also includes a full Microsoft Office suite with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps. The Office suite preloaded on the device is only a preview, but Microsoft says that once the full version is released, it will be available for users via Windows Update. It's a suite that allows you to save directly to the cloud (that is, Skydrive), which is convenient. Users get 7GB of SkyDrive storage for free, which is significantly more than those offered on other services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Apple's iCloud.
Gaming is also a highlight of the Vivo Tab RT. The Tegra 3 processor has no trouble dealing with graphically intense games like Riptide GP, while we also played the likes of Jetpack Joyride and Cut the Rope without any issues. The frame rate is fast and graphics are impressive. ASUS also bundles a few of extra apps with the Vivo Tab RT. The ASUS Camera app adds a few image effects to your photos, and SuperNote is handy if you don't already use an alternate notetaking app.
Once you start opening other apps, however, things take a turn for the worse. The Vivo Tab RT is a sluggish device that takes far too long to do basic tasks. Most apps, including Microsoft's pre-loaded native Windows RT apps, take several seconds to load. Once opened, they often need to load additional elements that takes more time. Further, swiping through open apps is often sluggish and the Windows Store offers abysmal performance. It crashed repeatedly during our testing.
What's more puzzling than the poor performance is that the Windows RT interface on the Vivo Tab RT looks exactly like Windows 8 and even has a Desktop component. The desktop component of Windows RT runs as its own app on the system, and you can open up programs and system windows within it. You can re-arrange windows like you can on a regular laptop or desktop computer, and you can use the File Explorer interface to copy, move and manage your files.
The mere fact that the Desktop is there will end up confusing many users who then try to install software from a Web site or a USB stick. However, the main problem is that you need to switch back and forth between the Windows 8 tablet user interface and the Desktop in order to get things done. For example, if you plug in a USB stick full of photos to the Vivo Tab RT and you want to open them up in the Photos app, you'll have to first transfer them to the Pictures library. If you open one photo (which opens in the Photos app by default) thinking that you can simply browse through the rest of the photos in the folder, you'll be disappointed. You can only flick through them once they are in the library.
Sadly, these kind of inconsistencies are common place on the Vivo Tab RT and the Windows RT operating system. Another example is a basic .wav file, like our office phone voicemail recording sent via email, that refused to play on the Vivo Tab RT. It opened in the Music app, then directed us to the Store to find an app that supports .wav files, where we were presented with a very thin selection. This basic file opens without issues on the Apple iPad and Google Android tablets.
Camera & battery life
The ASUS Vivo Tab RT comes with dual cameras — a front-facing 2-megapixel camera and a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera that also doubles as a 1080p video recorder. We found the front camera worked well for video calling apps like Skype, though it captures poor quality still images. The rear camera fares much better in this department and it's aided by the ASUS Camera app, which provides a number of image filters to use.
The Vivo Tab RT is a Wi-Fi only model at this stage. ASUS says it may release a 3G model in Australia at a later date, but no further details have been revealed.
The Vivo Tab RT has excellent battery life. During testing, we recorded best figures of just almost nine hours without the dock, and just over 14 hours with the keyboard dock connected. While this is slightly less than ASUS claims it is still a fantastic result. Even if you don't use the keyboard dock extensively, using it as a reasonably lightweight charger isn't a bad idea.
The 32GB Wi-Fi model of the ASUS Vivo Tab RT sells for $749 in Australia.
Elias Plastiras contributed to this review