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Asus Vivo Tab RT hands-on: A sleek, quad-core tab

The svelte Asus Vivo Tab RT is equipped with a 10.1-inch IPS+ screen, a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU, and a keyboard dock.

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While Microsoft's Surface gets the lion's share of the press, it's not the only tablet running the pared-down Windows RT operating system. The Asus Vivo Tab RT will be one of four Surface rivals going head-to-head with Microsoft's tablet this fall.

The Asus unit will cost $599 for the 32GB version, and $699 for 64GB. While that's $100 more than the $499 Surface RT (also 32GB), the Asus includes a keyboard dock, which is an optional accessory with the Surface. It'll be initially sold as a Wi-Fi-only device when it hits stores on October 26, but AT&T will offer a 4G LTE version "in the near future."

Design
By itself, the tablet measures 10.4 inches wide, 6.7 inches tall, and 0.33 inch thick. At just 1.18 pounds, it's easy and comfortable to hold with one hand. If you hold it for an extended period of time, though, it'll begin to weigh down on you unless you grasp it with two hands.

On the left side are a mobile dock latch, which lets you attach the unit to the keyboard hinge, a microSD card slot, and a Micro-HDMI port. Up top are a sleep/power button and a manual reset hole for when you want to hard-reset the device. On the right are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a volume rocker.

Asus Vivo Tab RT
The Vivo Tab RT has a 10.1-inch IPS+ touch screen. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Vivo Tab RT sports a handsome aesthetic with sober black and silver surfaces. We feel it's a more attractive and practical portable product than Samsung's thicker and heavier Ativ Smart PC, a full Windows 8 tablet that's also coming from AT&T.

The device is equipped with a 10.1-inch IPS+ touch screen with a 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution, and 600 nits of brightness. Made of Corning Fit Glass, the display is great -- colors were bright, images popped with rich hues, and text was smooth and crisp.

However, we did have some issues with its sensitivity. There were a couple of times when it didn't sense our touch and we had to tap on links or apps a few times. In addition, some of our taps were registered inaccurately, leading us to accidentally open up something we didn't mean to.

The keyboard has good build quality, and we liked its sleek, dark chrome finish. Buttons are easy to press and sturdy, though we initially fumbled a couple of times with the smaller-than-usual shift key. On the right is a USB 2.0 port and on the left a charging port. Through an included adapter, it can also become a USB port.

When attached, the Vivo Tab RT and the keyboard weigh 2.38 pounds. Together, they take on the appearance of a more traditional laptop or ultrabook, than say the Surface.

On the back there's an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash that's capable of capturing 1080p video, and in the front is a 2-megapixel camera. 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.

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

Features
Powering the device is a 1.3GHz quad-core NVidia Tegra 3 CPU, which makes it quite zippy. Simple tasks like browsing through apps, opening up the camera, and transitioning back to the home screen were executed swiftly and smoothly. The tablet and keyboard also run on 25-watt-hour and 22-watt-hour batteries, respectively.

Also included are 2GB of RAM and Bluetooth 3.0. Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview Edition come included (but that should be the case with every RT machine).

In addition, the Vivo Tab RT runs on the Windows RT OS, but you can access the desktop version of Windows as well by tapping the "desktop" live tile on the start screen.

There's a high learning curve when it comes to this operating system, and there are several features that we found to be unintuitive, like this odd double swipe you have to do for recent apps. The action itself is pretty unnatural, and we only learned about it through trial and error.

However, once you get the hang of it, there are a lot of things to like as well. We especially liked the split-screen feature that allows you to view two apps at the same time, which makes watching a movie and, say, checking your e-mail, a breeze. The Charm bar, which pops up when you swipe from the right, also lets you quickly bring up search, sharing, and settings features.

The split-screen feature lets users view two apps at the same time. Lynn La/CNET

Some preloaded software includes Internet Explorer 10, Bing Maps, Kindle, SuperNote, and the Xbox gaming portal.

Outlook
The Vivo Tab RT takes some getting used to. As we mentioned before, Windows RT isn't the most user-friendly OS. And if you're looking for some familiarity in the Windows desktop, it's severely limited -- it just gives you access to saved files, the IE browser, Microsoft Office, and the control panel.

But once you get a grasp on things, the tablet works well. There are features that are useful (despite being somewhat buried) and the UI is refreshingly elegant.

However, if you prefer the full version of Windows 8, keep in mind that a step-up version of the Vivo Tab running the grown-up version of Microsoft's OS is planned, and that model will be powered by the next-gen version of Intel's Atom CPU.

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