Asus Vivo Tab RT review:

Great, but doesn't quite breach the Surface

Windows RT PC settings
It would be better to break out the keyboard section under its own heading. Lynn La/CNET

And finally, Settings accesses the basic wireless, volume, and screen brightness, as well as the settings for the currently opened app. Also available from this menu is PC settings. While most of the options here are self-explanatory, some are just poorly organized. For example, the General list feels too cluttered, and most of what's found there would feel much more appropriate in a separate "Keyboard" or "Typing" settings list.

Also, settings like screen timeout, which is usually easily accessible in most tablet interfaces, is instead located in a Windows Desktop control panel here. This wouldn't be so bad if the Windows Desktop had somehow been redesigned and optimized for touch. As it stands now, navigating through a traditional Windows interface can be a frustrating experience.

Windows RT control panel
Buried much? It takes several steps to set simple settings that should be readily available. Lynn La/CNET

Also, some Windows features are completely useless. The control panel Programs and Features, for example, serves no purpose here. Since no programs can be installed on the Desktop, there's no reason for a list of installed programs. And to a finer point, why is Desktop mode necessary at all? Couldn't Office run through the Metro environment instead?

We think it could, and we'd love to see Microsoft move even farther away from the traditional Windows environment. This tablet and other ARM-based Windows tablets would be better for it.

Other considerations
Other than requiring you to access a Windows Control panel in order to set the screen timeout options, there were a number of other very un-tablet-like things we noticed. They're ultimately minor infractions, but are worth mentioning. If you're attempting to edit a Google Drive Web document without a hardware keyboard connected, the software keyboard fails to pop up automatically. Instead, you'll have to go into settings and engage it manually.

Google Docs with no keyboard
Manually conjuring up the keyboard on a tablet is never any fun. Lynn La/CNET

When you download an app, you're only able to open the app from the app store page for a brief moment. After a couple of seconds, the option to open it disappears and you'll have to exit the app first and find its tile on the Start screen. It's a small detail, but just one of those small conveniences that illustrates the Windows Store's immaturity compared with Google Play and Apple's App Store.

Also, there's no confirmation prompt when holding down the power button to shut the tablet down. The tablet simply shuts off. Lastly, there's no battery meter on the Start screen. It appears on the lock screen and when the Charm menu is engaged, but still has no actual percentage information surfaced. Once again, you'll need to access the Windows Desktop to get this information.

Xbox games
None of our own games, but we see Xbox, Windows Games, and then Xbox 360 games again? Organization in the Xbox gaming portal isn't its forte. Lynn La/CNET

Apps are the fuel tablets run on, and without a steady supply of quality entries, a tablet can get boring fairly quickly. However, some people just want a portable device for watching movies, checking e-mail, or possibly getting some work done when away from their actual workstations.

While Windows Store app support will deepen in time, right now it's very sparse. Fortunately, Asus included some goodies of its own for the Vivo Tab RT. These include a Web storage app, an entertainment portal, a product guide, a dictionary, a library center to store your eBooks, a memo app called SuperNote, and finally, Asus Camera. This app offers more options, like color effects, scene modes, and white balances, which aren't natively included in the default camera.

Asus camera
Asus offers a handful of more photo options than the Vivo Tab RT's native camera app. Lynn La/CNET

Xbox video includes a wide selection of movies and TV shows in HD and SD for both rental and purchase. Prices are comparable to the same content on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Prime. Xbox Music allows you to stream free music from a library of 30 million songs. Of course, you'll be expected to listen to the occasional ad unless you're willing to pay $9.99 per month for the ad-free version.

Internet Explorer
There are two versions of Internet Explorer in Windows RT: the Desktop version and the Metro version. The desktop version looks the same as Internet Explorer 9 currently does in Windows 7, with a similar-looking interface and options. The Metro version is only available in Windows RT and Windows 8.

IE10 Metro has a slightly different look compared with most browsers. For one, its address bar appears at the bottom of the screen as opposed to the top and both it and any open tabs disappear unless summoned with a swipe from the top or bottom bezel. It also includes a cool feature called Flip ahead, giving the user the capability to swipe through a multipage story on a Web site without having to click any links.

On maximum brightness, Vivo Tab RT's screen is noticeably brighter than the Surface. Colors were also richer and more saturated, and the color white displayed more accurately (the Surface, on the other hand, was slightly tinged with yellow). However, due to the Surface's more muted tones, there were some incidents when we could see more detail. The subtle linings of a leaf, for example, were lost on the Asus' display.

Tested spec Asus Vivo Tab RT Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 Microsoft Surface
Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS) 495 cd/m2 422 cd/m2 (644 cd/m2) 391 cd/m2
Default brightness 262 cd/m2 112 cd/m2 148 cd/m2
Maximum black level, IPS mode (Super IPS) 0.45 0.34 cd/m2 (0.53 cd/m2) 0.27 cd/m2
Default black level 0.23 0.10 cd/m2 0.10 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1139:1 933:1 1480:1
Maximum contrast ratio, IPS mode (Super IPS) 1100:1 1241:1, (1,215:1) 1448:1

Furthermore, we had some issues with the touch screen's sensitivity. Oftentimes, it didn't sense our touch, and we had to tap on links or apps a few times over. In addition, some of our taps were registered inaccurately, especially in Desktop where text is very small, and this lead us to accidentally open up something we didn't mean to.

The 1.3Ghz quad-core processor was impressive and gameplay ran incredibly smooth and stable. Images were crisp and the frame rate while playing Hydro Thunder was pretty much on par with the Surface (about 25fps). However, compared with the new iPad, graphic rendering on Apple's tablet was noticeably more fluid.

The 8-megapixel is capable of capturing 1080p video. To activate the shutter, you can press anywhere on the screen. For the most part, the camera operated smoothly, and there was no lag time between our moving of the tablet and the feedback we saw. Photos from either camera didn't blow us away, but they were adequate enough that images were clear and generally in focus.

Despite it being dimly lit, the Vivo Tab RT's 8-megapixel camera managed to take a decent indoor shot. Lynn La/CNET

The tablet has a reported battery usage time of 8 hours, and bumps up to 14 hours with the docking station. Though we haven't finished carrying out CNET's battery life test, the device performed respectively. After leaving it on maximum brightness and spending a few hours with it browsing the Web and playing games, the battery barely lost a fourth of its reserves and it can definitely go a workday or two without a charge with casual use.

With Windows RT, the Vivo Tab RT takes some getting used to. There's a high learning curve and access to several key features is either unintuitive or buried.

But once you get the hang of it, there are a lot of things to like as well. Despite being somewhat hidden, the features are useful, and what we liked best of all was the refreshingly elegant user interface. Navigating through the Start screen feels especially silky and the dynamic live tiles are fun and informative.

Software aside, however, the Tab RT falls barely short of the Surface. Though the former has a brighter screen, other factors give the Surface that extra sliver and edge. For example, its novel keyboard is much more portable and comfortable to type on. And its larger screen offers a more cinematic, immersive experience. Just as with any flagship product, it's no surprise that when it comes to creating a better Windows RT experience, look to Microsoft itself to carry the torch.

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