Asus, known for its creative designs and outre hardware (such as the recent Taichi dual-screen laptop), has its own unique take on the Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet. The VivoTab Smart ME400 -- if you can decypher Asus' naming conventions, more power to you -- is a 10.1-inch touch-screen slate bundled with a fully separate keyboard/touch pad and an origami-like magnetic cover.
It's that folding cover and the keyboard that help the VivoTab (to pick one of the system's three names as shorthand) stand out from a crowd that also includes the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 and the Dell Latitude 10. All of these systems start with the same core specs -- an Intel Atom CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a small 64GB SSD, and all are between $500 and $600 for the base tablet (this model also includes a NFC chip for communicating with select phones and other devices). Adding the keyboard and cover is an extra $130, making the entire package just under $650, which is a bit less than similarly configured Dell, Lenovo, or HP Atom tablets with similar accessory packages.
With micro-style ports for USB and SD card connections, using any of these Windows 8 tablets can be hassle at times, although apps optimized for the slower Atom processor, including IE10, Netflix, and the Windows 8 UI itself feel snappy and much more usable than old Atom netbooks did.
The keyboard has large, deep keys, despite being very thin, and a decent-size touch pad. It's odd that the keyboard doesn't actually physically connect to the tablet, and the keyboard went flying across my desk or clattering to the floor on more than one occasion. When folded into the iPad-style magnetic cover, the keyboard mostly stayed put. The cover itself folds along prescored lines to form a single-angle kickstand for the tablet, but it's not totally intuitive which way you're supposed to fold it. After several days, I started getting it right on the first try most of the time. Like the Surface Pro, I found it annoying that you can't adjust the screen angle when it's set up in stand mode.
With so many products that look and perform mostly the same, for around the same price, it's easy to see these Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets as essentially interchangeable commodity products, which isn't that far from the truth. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 has the best bundled keyboard, but lacks the touch pad included here. For all-day use, I'd consider stepping up to a Core i5 tablet, such as the best-in-breed Microsoft Surface Pro, but for a Windows 8 tablet, keyboard, and cover for around $630, the VivoTab is a decent value, if you can get used to the nonstandard keyboard/cover combo.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$629 / $499|
|Processor||1.8 GHz Intel Atom Z2760|
|Memory||2GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||64GB SSD|
|Operating System||Windows 8 (32-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.7 x 7.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.3/2.3 pounds|
Design and features
If you've seen 10-inch Windows 8 slates from Acer, Dell, or Lenovo, you've got a pretty good idea of what's going on here. All those tablets, along with the VivoTab, have a front face dominated by edge-to-edge glass, with a thick black bezel and a Windows button along the bottom side, for jumping into and out of the Windows 8 UI.
Rather than the black, squared-off body of the Lenovo, for example, this VivoTab has a white back panel (a black version is also available), with gently rounded edges. That makes it more comfortable to hold in your hand, but also leaves less room for ports and connections along the outer edges.
At less than 1.5 pounds, it's certainly light, although adding the cover and keyboard add both weight and thickness. The entire package, when put together, still slips easily into a small laptop bag, and feels a bit Surface-y, thanks to the magnetic cover.
While it's perfectly fine to use onscreen swiping gestures and the on-screen keyboard for general OS and Web navigation, chances are good you're going to do any serious work, or even e-mail composition, with the Bluetooth keyboard. The super-thin keyboard/touch pad combo, with the same footprint as the tablet itself, is a great little accessory, and would make an excellent standalone Bluetooth keyboard for any number of tablets, small form factor desktops or docked laptops.
They keyboard keys are standard island-style ones, shallower than you'd find in even the thinnest ultrabook laptop, but with a bit more depth than the Surface Pro keyboard. The touch pad below the keyboard is a single clickpad, with left and right mouse button areas demarcated by a white line. Touch-pad response was a little stuttery -- the pad didn't always react instantly when touched, and gestures such as two-finger scrolling could be twitchy. Using your finger directly on the screen was much more satisfying in those cases.
Asus includes some custom software in the Windows 8 UI, ranging from useful to pointless. For example, the Asus Guide is a handy visual guide to Windows 8 gestures, but the Asus@Vibe Fun Center (no, I'm not making that up) just seems like a collection of links to online radio streams.