Asus’ VivoTab Smart ME400C tablet reviewed

There was a time, not long ago, when Windows tablets cost at least as much as an iPad or an Android slate. It wasn’t that the Windows tablets necessarily had better hardware or software than the competition. In fact, they often had lower-resolution displays, and their selection of good touch-friendly apps was very slim. Yet Microsoft and its partners still felt confident enough to charge a premium.

Maybe it was because Windows 8 tablets could also double as productivity PCs. Maybe Microsoft expected people to stampede electronics stores in search of them. I mean, who wouldn’t want a tablet and a PC in the same device? What a bargain, right?

Well, the stampede didn’t really happen. The user response to Windows 8 turned out to be lukewarm, and as the months passed, people continued to buy competing tablets in droves. Microsoft watched, presumably with impotent frustration, as Apple broke iPad shipment records and Google moved loads of small and inexpensive slates like the Nexus 7.

Something had to change. And, last month, it did. According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft began selling Windows 8 to tablet makers at a steep discount: $30 instead of $120. The idea, one would think, was to spur a decline in Windows tablet prices—and, hopefully, to win the hearts and wallets of apathetic consumers.

Today, the most affordable Windows 8 slate is the Asus VivoTab Smart ME400C, which sells for $429.99 with free shipping—$70 less than it did at launch. It has a 10.1″ display and an Atom processor, and it runs both touch-friendly tablet apps and legacy x86 software. And we’re going to review it today.

In the photo above, you can see the VivoTab Smart ME400C accompanied by its TranSleeve and TransBoard accessories. Asus offers those accessories in a separate bundle for $119.99. The TranSleeve is the company’s take on the Apple Smart Cover: it protects the screen and folds in a way that allows the tablet to be propped up at an angle. The TransBoard, meanwhile, looks like the bottom half of a laptop. It connects to the system via Bluetooth and lets you control Windows 8’s desktop interface with a real keyboard and touchpad.

These accessories don’t turn the VivoTab Smart into a genuine convertible tablet, because there’s no laptop-style hinge to mate the keyboard to the screen. (The keyboard doesn’t even connect to the tablet physically.) However, the TranSleeve and TransBoard add a tantalizing touch of versatility to this inexpensive tablet. On paper, the VivoTab Smart seems like it could combine entertainment, productivity, and affordability in a way that still eludes more powerful Windows 8 convertibles.

We reviewed one of those upscale convertibles recently: Samsung’s ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T. That system has a proper keyboard dock, and in a very real sense, it’s an ultrabook squeezed into a convertible tablet. That means solid performance and almost all the capabilities of a real PC—but also a heavy, bulky chassis and a high price tag. The 700T cost an eye-popping $1,079.99 right now.

System-on-a-chip Intel Atom Z2760 1.8GHz
Memory 2GB LPDDR2-800
Graphics Intel GMA
Display 10.1″ panel with 1366×768 resolution
Storage 64GB eMMC solid-state drive
Audio Intel SST
Ports 1 Micro USB

1 micro HDMI

1 analog headphone/analog microphone

Expansion slots 1 Micro SD card reader
Communications 802.11n Wi-Fi via Broadcom controller

Bluetooth 4.0

Input devices Multi-touch display

Microphone

NFC

GPS

G-Sensor

Light Sensor

Gyroscope

E-compass

Camera 2.0-megapixel front

8.0-megapixel rear (w/ flash)

Dimensions 10.33″ x 6.73″ x 0.38″ (262.5 x 171 x 9.7 mm)
Weight Tablet: 1.27 lbs (575 g)

Keyboard dock and sleeve: 0.88 lbs (399 g)

AC adapter: 0.15 lbs (70 g)

Battery 25 Wh lithium-polymer battery

The VivoTab Smart is much cheaper, and as you’d expect, it doesn’t have anywhere near the horsepower of an ultrabook. Its Atom Z2760 processor may have dual cores, Hyper-Threading, and a 1.8GHz clock speed, but it executes instructions in order (rather than out of order, like on other modern x86 processors) and lacks 64-bit memory addressing. Two gigs of 800MHz LPDDR2 is the best memory configuration you can expect. Also, the chip’s integrated graphics, which are based on Imagination Tech’s PowerVR SGX545, lack even DirectX 10 support.

All of these concessions help the Atom Z2760 fit into a minuscule power envelope—less than 2W, according to Intel. They also result in a small die size and a low price. However, those savings come at a cost in terms of performance. We’ll see how the VivoTab Smart’s benchmark numbers compare to those of ultrabooks and other tablets in just a minute.

In other respects, the VivoTab Smart is generously outfitted for the price. It has 64GB of solid-state storage, a micro HDMI output, Near Field Communication, front and rear cameras, and a microSD card reader. The collection of internal sensors includes a gyroscope, a compass, and a GPS, so you can find your way around with the Maps app and play motion-sensitive tablet games—provided the integrated graphics can handle them.

And despite all this gear, the VivoTab Smart still weighs less than the iPad and measures only an extra 1/16″ or so in thickness. The claimed battery life is in the same ballpark, too—9.5 hours, compared to 10 hours for the Apple tablet. Not only that, but the VivoTab Smart’s 64GB storage capacity is four times that of the base iPad. On paper, the Asus tablet’s only obvious downside is its display, which has a lower resolution than Apple’s Retina panel.

Let’s take a closer look at the VivoTab Smart’s display now.

The display

View the VivoTab Smart’s 10.1″ panel up close, and you’ll see fonts don’t look quite as crisp as they do on the iPad. That’s because this display only has a 1366×768 display resolution. 1366×768 painted across 10.1″ yields 155 pixels per inch, which is better than many desktop monitors but still much lower than the 264 PPI of the iPad or the 302 PPI of the Google Nexus 10.

 

The visible text pixelation doesn’t impede readability in landscape mode (as pictured above), although it is noticeable. It only really becomes a problem in portrait mode, where the screen’s 16:9 aspect ratio forces websites to shrink into a very thin column. Scaled fonts look very jagged, and the ClearType antialiasing scheme leaves ugly splotches of color around them. You can always zoom in to enlarge the text, of course, but that’s not always convenient, especially when you’re dealing with wide text columns.

Portrait-mode reading is much nicer on the iPad, which has both more vertical screen space and more vertical pixels. The iPad’s fonts still shrink in portrait mode, but they remain much crisper and more readable than the VivoTab Smart’s.

At least the VivoTab Smart’s display doesn’t skimp on other areas. It features an IPS panel with good color reproduction and excellent viewing angles.

 
 

The shots above show the screen leaning back at 110°, rotated 30° to the side, facing the camera at 90°, and leaning forward at 70°. Since there was no hinge to hold the display in these positions, we propped up the tablet on its side using the TranSleeve to take our pictures. The 30° shot was taken with the tablet leaning against a couple of boxes.

As you can see, the on-screen image looks largely identical at all angles. Contrast does shift a little when the display is viewed from the side, but nowhere near as badly as it would on a TN display. We’ve tested many low-end notebooks with cheap TN panels, and they’ve all exhibited huge variations in contrast and color accuracy when viewed off-center. Since tablets are much less likely to be held in a fixed position than laptops, wide viewing angles are a must—and the VivoTab Smart delivers.

Samsung 700T1C

A nice and wide color gamut doesn’t hurt, either. The VivoTab Smart’s color gamut is narrower than the iPad’s, but it’s comparable to that of the ARM-based VivoTab RT and of the much pricier ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T from Samsung. That said, the tablets are all calibrated a little differently, so their white points aren’t the same.

VivoTab Smart

The white-point differences are also apparent here, in our color temperature measurements. The VivoTab Smart falls much closer to the 6500K sweet spot than the VivoTab RT and the Samsung 700T. That’s good; when color temperatures are too far above 6500K, colors pick up a blue-ish tinge, which is hard on the eyes.

382 cd/m²

(97%)

357 cd/m²

(91%)

359 cd/m²

(91%)

389 cd/m²

(99%)

394 cd/m²

(100%)

351 cd/m²

(89%)

383 cd/m²

(97%)

360 cd/m²

(91%)

344 cd/m²

(87%)

The VivoTab Smart doesn’t have exceptional backlight uniformity. The left side of the panel is a lot more luminous than the right—although, as we always point out, luminosity and perceived brightness follow different scales. When displaying a solid white color, the display looks almost completely uniform to the naked eye.

The display is also nice and bright. 350-400 cd/m² isn’t enough for comfortable use in direct sunlight, but it’s sufficient for indoor utilization under bright artificial lighting.

Displaying a plain black color across the whole screen reveals backlight leakage, which is minimal on the VivoTab Smart. There’s a faint white smear near the top left of the screen, but it won’t bother you when you’re watching a letterboxed movie.

We did notice one flaw our usual tests didn’t pick up. There were two small, bright blobs on the screen. One was about a half-inch from the left edge, half-way between the top and bottom of the screen. The other sat three inches diagonally from the top-right edge. These only showed up on one of the two VivoTab Smart review units Asus sent us, so we expect they’re more likely due to a fluke than to a design flaw.

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.

Connectivity and expansion

Being a tablet, the VivoTab Smart doesn’t have much in the way of physical connectivity and expansion. The right edge of the machine plays host to a 1/8″ audio jack and a volume rocker switch.

And the left edge is where Asus puts the Micro-USB port, the microSD card reader, and the HDMI port. Above those, just around the top-left corner, is the the power button. There’s also an NFC sticker near the top-left corner, at the back of the machine. This is where you’re supposed to bump the system against another NFC-enabled device to do… well, whatever NFC-related things you want to do.

Don’t worry; the sticker peels off easily. I left it on for the photo shoot, though, since it was the same color as the serial number stickers near the bottom edge. Those also peeled off easily. If I bought a VivoTab Smart for my personal use, I’d probably remove all the stickers and keep the serial number in a safe place somewhere.

Here’s a closeup of the top-left corner, with the micro HDMI port’s little rubber cover removed. (Removing that cover takes a surprising amount of effort, by the way.) To the left of the micro HDMI port is the microSD slot, which is closed off by a dummy card with a port cover. Around the corner is the power button.

There’s the VivoTab Smart’s teeny power adapter. It weighs about 2.5 ounces and is quite compact. As for the included USB cable, it’s about 35″ long, not including the length of the connectors on either end. That’s long enough if you’re just going to leave the device charging near an outlet, but it doesn’t really give you enough slack to use the tablet while it’s plugged in.

Incidentally, while the TransBoard comes with its own USB-to-Micro USB cable, you only get a single AC-to-USB adapter for both the tablet and the keyboard. That means you won’t be able to charge both devices at the same time if you don’t have a computer—or some other powered USB port—at your disposal. The keyboard shouldn’t need to be charged as often as the tablet, though.

Pre-loaded software

We’ll keep this section short and sweet, because the VivoTab Smart doesn’t ship with very much bundled software at all. This is the full list of applications in Windows’ Uninstall control panel:

And these are all of the Modern UI apps Asus includes alongside the default Microsoft ones:

There’s a webcam app, a note-taking app, some cloud storage gizmos, a Microsoft Office trial, and Kindle, Netflix, and Skype. Oh, and a handful of games that ought to appeal to retirees and homemakers.

Despite this spartan selection of bundled apps, the VivoTab Smart doesn’t have very much free storage capacity out of the box: only 34.3GB. Even if you clear out some of the bundled software, you still have to contend with an 8GB recovery partition and the stock Windows 8 installation, which has a substantial, non-negotiable footprint. Load up a few productivity apps and HD movies on there, and you may run out of space quite quickly.

To be fair, of course, I should reiterate that the $500 iPad has only 16GB of storage—and some of that is taken up by iOS. Getting 34.3GB of free space on a more affordable device like the VivoTab Smart is a bargain for sure.

Our testing methods

We’ve worked hard to pare down our mobile benchmark suite for this review. That’s because the VivoTab Smart is a 32-bit system, and many of our usual benchmarks are 64-bit applications. To avoid mixing results obtained with 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the same software, we ran only the 32-bit tests in our suite. That should make for a fair and accurate comparison with the other machines from which we’ve collected results.

Among those machines were the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T and the Asus Zenbook UX31A. In order to provide a broader frame of reference, we also included, where we could, data from non-x86 tablets: the Asus VivoTab RT, Apple iPad 3, Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, Google Nexus 7, and Samsung Chromebook.

Oh, and for clarity’s sake, we referred to the Asus VivoTab Smart by its model name, ME400C, in our charts.

We ran every test at least three times and reported the median of the scores produced. Our Windows 8 systems were configured like so:

System Asus ME400C Asus UX31A Asus X202E Samsung 700T1C
Processor Intel Atom Z2760 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7GHz Intel Core i3-3217U 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7GHz
Platform hub N/A Intel HM76 Express Intel HM76 Express Intel HM76 Express
Memory size 2GB 4GB (2 SO-DIMMs) 4GB (1 SO-DIMM) 4GB (1 SO-DIMM)
Memory type LPDDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Memory timings 6-8-8 11-11-11-28 9-9-9-24 11-11-11-28
Audio Intel SST codec with 6.2.9200.25166 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6710 drivers Via codec with 6.1.0.1100 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6788 drivers
Graphics Intel Graphics Media Accelerator

with 9.14.3.1099 drivers

Intel HD Graphics 4000

with 9.17.10.2828 drivers

Intel HD Graphics 4000

with 9.17.10.2875 drivers

Intel HD Graphics 4000

with 9.17.10.2875 drivers

Hard drive SEM64G 64GB SSD Adata XM11 128GB SSD Hitachi Z5K500 500GB HDD Lite-On M3M 128GB SSD
Operating system Windows 8 x86 Windows 8 Enterprise x64 Windows 8 x64 Windows 8 x64

Thanks to Asus and Samsung for volunteering these machines.

We used the following applications to conduct our testing:

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to discuss them with us.

Productivity

SunSpider JavaScript performance

We tested the latest SunSpider release, version 0.9.1, in a special build of Chromium (the open-source version of Chrome) that we keep around for such purposes. On the non-Windows tablets, we used the built-in web browser, instead.

In this web browsing test, the VivoTab Smart, a.k.a. ME400C, is much slower than our Ivy Bridge- and Sandy Bridge-powered systems. The Atom Z2760 is clearly no speed demon. Nevertheless, it’s quick enough to outpace the ARM-derived SoCs inside the iPad 3, VivoTab RT, and other non-x86 tablets. Since we’re dealing with a $430 tablet, that’s a pretty impressive effort.

TrueCrypt disk encryption

TrueCrypt supports acceleration via Intel’s AES-NI instructions, so the encoding of the AES algorithm, in particular, should be very fast on the CPUs that support those instructions. We’ve also included results for another algorithm, Twofish, that isn’t accelerated via dedicated instructions.

TrueCrypt doesn’t run on ARM-based slates, so the VivoTab Smart is stuck competing against ultrabooks and convertibles here—and it loses the contest by a sizable margin.

Video encoding

x264 HD benchmark

This benchmark tests one of the most popular H.264 video encoders, the open-source x264. The results come in two parts, one for each of the two passes the encoder makes through the video file. I’ve chosen to report them separately, since that’s typically how the results are reported in the public database of results for this benchmark.

Video encoding is just as slow as data encryption on this machine. If you’re planning to use the VivoTab Smart for heavy-duty productivity work, be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting.

Load times

Windows 8 boot

In our boot test, we timed how long it took each system to return from a standard Windows 8 shutdown (which is really more of a hibernation mode).

At least the built-in SSD keeps storage performance snappy. The VivoTab Smart boots a few seconds slower than our top-of-the-line ultrabook, the Asus Zenbook Prime (a.k.a UX31A), but the difference is small. The Tegra 3-powered VivoTab RT takes twice as long.

We didn’t time regular application load times, but even without a stopwatch on hand, it was obvious that application load times were also shorter on the VivoTab Smart than on the VivoTab RT. Based on what we’ve heard from Asus, it sounds like the VivoTab RT’s Tegra 3 processor is largely to blame for lengthy load times.

Gaming

The Atom Z2760 doesn’t have much graphics horsepower. It doesn’t even support DirectX 10. We tried running our usual Skyrim and Battlefield 3 game benchmarks, but when Skyrim started playing at literally seconds per frame and then crashed, it became clear that we’d have to take a different approach.

So, we took to the Windows Store and grabbed a few games tailored specifically for tablets. Since Fraps couldn’t measure frame rates (or frame times) in these, we had to rely on our seat-of-the-pants experience to gauge playability.

Jetpack Joyride is a 2D side-scroller that’s also available on smartphones, so it’s not exactly demanding. As you’d expect, the VivoTab Smart didn’t break a sweat in this game. The animations and gameplay were silky smooth. The graphics were a little fuzzy, but the menus were sharp, so Jetpack Joyride was obviously running at the native resolution.

SouthEnd Interactive’s Ilomilo is one of the best games on Xbox Live, and a version of it is available in the Windows Store. This delightful 3D puzzle game ran well enough on the VivoTab Smart, but it was visibly scaled down to a lower resolution, and animations were a little choppy. I’m guessing frame rates hovered below 30 FPS most of the time. That wasn’t bad enough to impede playability, but the game still ran worse than on a seven-year-old Xbox 360.

Drift Mania Championship 2 is one of the only 3D racing titles availble in the Windows Store. It looks a little lo-fi even compared to some similar games available for iOS, but it behaved very nicely on the VivoTab Smart. Everything was smooth, fluid, and playable. My only gripe was that the tilt and touch steering controls were way too sensitive, which made navigating tracks a little awkward. I suppose sliding out of control is part of the game, though.

Emboldened by these 3D gaming experiences, we gave Left 4 Dead 2 a try. This title is nearing its fourth birthday, and it runs passably well on Sandy and Ivy Bridge integrated graphics. How did it fare on the VivoTab Smart’s Atom processor?

Not very well. Frame rates hovered in the single digits at 1280×720 with the detail turned all the way down. Clearly, you’ll need to go much further back in time to find a classic PC game that runs well on the VivoTab Smart.

If old games aren’t your thing, then you may find casual and indie games that are less taxing on the integrated graphics. Steam is packed with 2D and basic-3D indie titles like Edge and Super Meat Boy that will have no problem running on the VivoTab Smart. The Windows Store also has a small but growing library of tablet-friendly games.

One last thing to keep in mind when gaming on the VivoTab Smart: it doesn’t have a full-sized USB port. That means you’ll probably need Bluetooth peripherals to play games not optimized for the touch screen.

Video playback

For this test, we probed video performance using two versions of the second trailer for Rian Johnson’s Looper: one in 1080p H.264 format from the Apple website and the other, also in 1080p format, on YouTube. We played back the former in Windows Media Player and the latter in Internet Explorer 10 with Flash 11.7, and we used Windows’ Performance Monitor utility to record CPU utilization.

  CPU % (low) CPU % (high) Result
Looper H.264 1080p 3.3 19.9 Perfect
Looper YouTube 1080p (Flash 11.3) 2.3 31.6 Perfect

The Atom Z2760 may struggle in modern games, but it has no trouble with 1080p video, either in YouTube or in Windows Media Player. That’s good news. The last thing you want from a tablet is crummy video playback performance.

Surface temperatures

We measured temperatures using an infrared thermometer at a distance of 1″ from the system after it had been running TR Browserbench 1.0 for about an hour.

27°C

81°F

 
25°C

77°F

 
26°C

79°F

 
26°C

79°F

 
28°C

82°F

26°C

79°F

 
28°C

82°F

 
26°C

79°F

 
27°C

81°F

 
26°C

79°F

No surprises here. The VivoTab Smart runs cool—only a few degrees hotter than room temperature during web browsing.

Battery life

We tested battery life twice: once running TR Browserbench 1.0, a web browsing simulator of our own design, and again looping a 720p Game of Thrones episode in Windows Media Player. (In case you’re curious, TR Browserbench is a static version of TR’s old home page rigged to refresh every 45 seconds. It cycles through various permutations of text content, images, and Flash ads, with some cache-busting code to keep things realistic.)

Before testing, we conditioned the batteries by fully discharging and then recharging each system twice in a row. We also used our colorimeter to equalize the display luminosity at around 100 cd/m².

There is an upside to the Atom processor’s extreme emphasis on power efficiency over performance, and here it is. The VivoTab Smart nips at the iPad 3’s heels in our web-browsing battery life test, and it actually stays on longer than the Apple tablet in our video playback test. That’s very impressive for an x86 tablet. Some ARM-based offerings like the VivoTab RT still achieve longer run times, especially when plugged into a keyboard dock with extra battery cells, but the VivoTab Smart clearly has enough battery for all-day use.

Conclusions

Well, there you have it. I think the VivoTab Smart may be the first serious Windows 8-powered competitor to Android- and iOS-based tablets.

No, really. It’s priced competitively. It’s as thin and light as the best of ’em. It’s quicker to boot up and to handle JavaScript-heavy websites, and the battery life is in the right ballpark. (Heck, our Android-powered Transformer Pad Infinity had a shorter run time when undocked.) Also, the Atom processor is fast enough to make the Modern UI interface snappy and fluid. When used as a tablet for basic tasks and web browsing, the VivoTab Smart feels like it’s in the same league as the iPad in terms of speed and responsiveness.
On top of all that, you’re able to run Windows 8 and legacy x86 software. In a pinch, you can fire up LibreOffice or Photoshop or Quicken and get some real work done. The experience may be somewhat punishing compared to what you’d get out of a desktop PC or an ultrabook. However, being able to do something slowly is better than lacking the option to do it altogether.

So, should you buy a VivoTab Smart?

That’s a more difficult question to answer. As a tablet, the VivoTab Smart does have some notable downsides: relatively cheap build quality (the rear shell is made of soft-touch plastic, not brushed aluminum), a somewhat low display resolution (1366×768), and limited capabilities as a gaming device (which partly stems from the Windows Store’s limited selection). Someone looking for a pure tablet may be better served by something like Google’s Nexus 10, which costs $30 less, has a higher-PPI display, and can run more, better-looking games. Then again, not everybody is a gamer, and the VivoTab Smart’s display is no uglier than a notebook screen when browsing the web.

Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

Whether the VivoTab Smart is for you or not, I don’t think I would recommend the TranSleeve and TransBoard combo for $120. Instead, I would grab the TranSleeve separately for $44.99, since it’s needed to prop up the system, and I would use a regular Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Those peripherals wouldn’t be as convenient to carry as the TransBoard, but they’d make the desktop interface far more comfortable to use—and when you’re running desktop apps on a 10.1″ Atom-powered tablet, every little bit helps.

Comments closed
    • melissamando230
    • 6 years ago
    • moog
    • 6 years ago

    This chip has better performance and power efficiency than most of them and runs full Win 8. I’m shocked the conclusion is so pro-Apple.

    This was a good article
    [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/6529/busting-the-x86-power-myth-indepth-clover-trail-power-analysis[/url<] Looking forward to the successor of this chip + Win Blue (better perf, power efficiency).

    • odizzido
    • 6 years ago

    After over a year of using tablets on and off, I have come to really dislike them. A lot of my major complaints are just with apple ones since that is all I have used, and this one does seem to solve a lot of them, but I really hate the weight distribution. I want to be able to use devices like this while I am laying down without having to hold them up.

    I wonder if manufacturers are going to try to force me to build my own laptop once my current one dies?

    • Duck
    • 6 years ago

    The sleeve should be a free, soft to the touch, slip on and off affair that’s included with the tablet.

    • Nutmeg
    • 6 years ago

    Oh boy, a tablet with a 1366×768 resolution screen! Please take all my money! That kind of res is unparalleled for 1995.

    • chuckula
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]At least the built-in SSD keeps storage performance snappy. The VivoTab Smart boots a few seconds slower than our top-of-the-line ultrabook, the Asus Zenbook Prime (a.k.a UX31A), but the difference is small. The Tegra 3-powered VivoTab RT takes twice as long.[/quote<] I seem to recall that some people were up in arms that Baytrail is using eMMC for accessing flash instead of a full-blown SATA interface. Something about how, even though ARM tablets use eMMC, that x86 can't possibly work without the ultimate in high-bandwidth access to SSDs. Looks like TR has busted this myth wide open, just like they busted the power myth earlier.

      • A_Pickle
      • 6 years ago

      Seriously, though, eMMC sucks.

      • smilingcrow
      • 6 years ago

      TR can play fast and loose when describing statistical data comparisons.
      I’ve seen a 5% difference in PC sales categorised as being a slump and here the Atom system takes 44% longer to boot than the Asus UX31A and the difference is overall described as being small. It is a much smaller difference for the Asus X202E (~13%) but that could be down to just that system. But the worst case scenario in this test is hardly small.

      As for eMMC versus SATA I wonder if the much slower platforms would benefit so much from SATA due to being so much slower in general. Sure I imagine they’d be faster but would they be significantly faster to a level where the tradeoffs make sense.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 6 years ago

        You’re playing just as fast and loose with statistical data comparisons by using percentage differences with no reference to the absolutes. Your WOW 44% is 4 seconds.

          • smilingcrow
          • 6 years ago

          For a site like this having an idea of what boot times on modern SSD based laptops are is not exactly arcane knowledge!
          And yes 4 seconds is not exactly an insignificant amount of time when looking at computers when it comes to responsiveness. It’s not as if it was relating to how long does it take to transcode a whole Blu-ray disc.

        • TO11MTM
        • 6 years ago

        The slower platform can and DOES benefit greatly from an SSD. Had a Lenovo Ideapad with an N450 Atom, 2GB of ram, and 250GB HD. Replaced it with a Kingston SSDNow (v+? They name their stuff so confusingly anyway…) The difference was definately noticable and dare I say it made using it an actually good experience instead of feeling like a chore.

        This really isn’t all that surprising. Look at any system and your bottleneck will be your hard drive, any way you look at it. Heck, our External data connectors (i.e. TB and USB3) can outrun every spinner I can think of in terms of actual bandwidth. I can’t think of a time that’s been true since I’ve started computing (Barring SCSI, which to me feels like Thunderbolt’s deranged grandfather…) that this has been true for end users.

        As for this beast, I did a cursory few google searches and found references to the part (SEM64G) to be a Samsung Extreme 64GB device… but this was in the source file for detecting capabilities of MMCs…. (google SEM64G and mmc.c to find what I’m rambling about.)

          • smilingcrow
          • 6 years ago

          No doubt it benefits from flash storage but the issue in question is the interface and how significant it is for a low end platform: eMMC v SATA.

      • NeelyCam
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]Looks like TR has busted this myth wide open, just like they busted the power myth earlier.[/quote<] I think Anand might deserve the credit for the original power myth bust

    • Chrispy_
    • 6 years ago

    Nice little review.

    It still looks (and apparently works) like a half-assed, badly-designed and underpowered solution that sucks pretty hard at entertainment. If you really need a keyboard for productivity then I’m struggling to see why you wouldn’t spend your $550 on a basic ultrabook.

    If you want a web-browsing, app-running, entertainment device, iOS and Android options have this thing completely licked for a fraction of the cost and with an ecosystem that completely dwarfs the limited selection of things that run acceptably on the ancient Bonnell microarchitecture which was due for retirement several years ago!

    • bjm
    • 6 years ago

    ARM who?

    • NeelyCam
    • 6 years ago

    Needs Bay Trail. And maybe more cowbell

      • smilingcrow
      • 6 years ago

      Check out this track around 1:03; my favourite ‘cowbell moment’ and the bass is damn hot to. [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NnY5oX0Yf8[/url<]

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 6 years ago

        I would have thought of Neil Peart instead of Miles Davis.
        [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ld7KrV0fcaE<]Passage to Bangkok[/url<] [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmyiOoUAp98<]YYZ[/url<]

          • NeelyCam
          • 6 years ago

          God, that YYZ gives me goosebumps…

          Still, Neil Peart is no [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOR0hUIGb4Y<]Tomas Haake[/url<] or [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2X6Iwlc1PY<]Navene Koperweis[/url<]

        • MadManOriginal
        • 6 years ago

        Ugh, is that after he went all experimental?

          • smilingcrow
          • 6 years ago

          I’ll let your ears answer that question. It’s from a concert recording in 74 and I’d say his peak period was 69 – 75 when he redefined what jazz could be.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 6 years ago

      Yeah, this close to Bay Trail with all the things that BT will improve after years of this crappy Atom architecture, it’s like giving up a foot in front of the finish line.

      It’s taken us this long to get to an OoO, x64-compatible, greater-than-2GB memory Atom. Wait a little bit longer.

    • smilingcrow
    • 6 years ago

    “Microsoft began selling Windows 8 to tablet makers at a steep discount: $30 instead of $120”

    Seemed very high so I checked the link to the TR article and that price is for a bundle of Win8 + Office.

    • drfish
    • 6 years ago

    The TR forums have a small thread about the ME400C. I posted [url=https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=86561#p1155252<]my fix[/url<] for the backwards cover problem in it (spoiler, its actually a tablet problem but you can fix it by modifying the cover).

    • Xenolith
    • 6 years ago

    You can use the micro-USB port with the help of a hub to use a USB keyboard and mouse. That’s the route I’m going with my VivoTab.

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