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Docking permission denied
The VivoTab Smart doesn't have a keyboard dock. Instead, its TranSleeve and TransBoard accessories team up to protect the tablet's screen and to provide a less clumsy alternative to the on-screen keyboard.

If you've ever used an iPad with a Smart Cover, you'll find it easy to figure out the TranSleeve. Like the Apple accessory, the TranSleeve latches onto the edge of the tablet magnetically and has two sides: a fluffy felt side and a harder, plastic side with a soft-touch finish. The felt side faces the display; the other protects it from the elements.

The TransBoard is magnetized and sticks to the fluffy side of the TranSleeve. It's kind of an odd arrangement, because when everything is folded up, the keys come in direct contact with the glass surface of the screen. Also, while folding the TranSleeve and TransBoard over the display puts the tablet to sleep, doing the same thing without the keyboard has no apparent effect on the system's wakefulness. So, when you're not carrying the keyboard around, you either need to press the power button manually or to wait for the system to fall asleep by itself.

Those quirks aside, the magnetic mojo makes the TranSleeve and TransBoard easy to transport with the VivoTab Smart. When folded up, the accessories stick to the machine, and the resulting contraption could almost be mistaken for a laptop.

This is no laptop, of course. The TranSleeve's hinge lacks rigidity, so the only way to prop up the tablet is to fold the material like an oversized origami creation.

I'm already not a fan of Apple's Smart Cover—and that accessory is much simpler to use, since it just rolls up into a wedge to prop up the tablet. So, the TranSleeve's bizarro folding action isn't my cup of tea. It seems that Asus took a popular but awkward design and made it even more complicated. I wish the VivoTab Smart had something like the Microsoft Surface's kickstand, instead, which would be much more straightforward to operate.

The TransBoard keyboard isn't particularly commendable, either. It connects to the tablet via Bluetooth, which means you have to charge it separately from the tablet. (There's a Micro-USB port on the rear edge.) Also, the typing action and key dimensions are... not great.

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 249 mm 91 mm 22,659 mm² 153 mm 45 mm 6,885 mm²
Versus full size 87% 83% 72% 89% 79% 70%

The TransBoard has a lot in common with netbook keyboards of old, in that it's tiny, cramped, and lacking in the tactile feedback department. Asus has compounded those problems by raising the palm rest a millimeter or so above the keys, which means your thumb butts up against it when reaching for the space bar or function keys. Blegh.

The touchpad is similarly mediocre. It's too small and too tacky for smooth movements or gestures. The lack of hardware buttons is frustrating, as well, especially since there's a raised ridge just behind the touch-sensitive area where the buttons would be. Clicking or right clicking means contorting your thumb to push down past the ridge, which gets tiresome.

I may be nitpicking too much, though. This is an inexpensive tablet, not a thousand-dollar notebook, and even a sub-par hardware keyboard is better than the touch screen for typing. Also, maneuvering the desktop interface using the touch screen is difficult, because widgets are much too small to hit reliably with your finger. For all its flaws, the touchpad solves that problem nicely. It supports multi-touch gestures for scrolling and zooming, which is always nice—and unlike the touchpads on some keyboard docks for Android tablets, it correctly ignores input when you type.

One last thing before we move on. The TranSleeve Asus sent us seemed to have a problem with its magnetic hinge. See the picture above? The curved part of the hinge should be cradling the tablet, not facing away from it. The hinge latched on properly (and much more securely) when I flipped the sleeve so that the smooth, velvety part faced away from the screen. However, in that configuration, the keyboard lay exposed when the screen was covered. Asus told us the keyboard is indeed supposed to face the screen, but it had nothing to say about the hinge issue.

Since our TranSleeve came with a pre-production model of the VivoTab Smart we received some weeks ago, I thought this might be a pre-production issue. However, some recent Amazon reviews for the TranSleeve and TransBoard combo complain of the exact same problem. Considering how seamlessly Microsoft's and Apple's magnetic covers work, it's a little surprising—and disappointing—to see this kind of flakiness from such a similar solution.