Asus VivoTab Note 8 ReviewAffordable 8-inch Windows 8 tablets are becoming ubiquitous, and we’ve found the more recent models, such as Dell’s $299 Venue 8 Pro and Lenovo’s $299 Miix 2 8, impressive—at least in terms of overall performance and battery life. Granted, these compact Windows devices tend to cost a little more than the average like-size Android slate, but keep in mind that what you get for the few extra bucks is essentially a full-blown handheld PC that can run the majority of Windows’ entertainment and productivity programs.

In addition to providing access to millions of Windows apps, Windows tablets provide several other advantages over Android devices. For example, Windows slates deliver a much wider range of compatibility with most people’s desktop PCs; they utilize Windows’ network and security features more efficiently; and they save many folks the trouble of learning and working with two different operating systems, thereby decreasing the learning curve and increasing overall productivity.

Asus VivoTab Note 8 Start

Alas, this is not to say that these Windows handhelds are perfect compared to their Android counterparts. Despite the respectable performance and miserly power consumption delivered by their latest quad-core Intel Atom (a.k.a. “Bay Trail”) processors, most can’t match the battery life of Android compacts. And the Android OS handles relatively high resolutions more gracefully—especially when the Windows device is running in desktop mode.

In fact, objects such as icons and pull-down menus are often far too small to manipulate comfortably with your fingers, which can make using the tablet frustrating—so much so that some manufacturers, such as Dell with the Venue 8 Pro, have added stylus or pen support to help you get to those tight spots.

However, the Dell slate’s stylus support seems like an afterthought: You must purchase the pen separately, and Dell doesn’t provide any way to store it on the tablet. By contrast, the subject of this review, Asus’ $329-list VivoTab Note 8, not only comes with a stylus but also a compartment to store it in.

Asus VivoTab Note 8 landscape

And that, the bundled and neatly stowed away Wacom active stylus, is what makes the slightly more expensive VivoTab stand out from other recent Windows slates. Otherwise, it runs on the same processor and comes with mostly the same software and feature set as the Lenovo and Dell models mentioned above—two tablets that, by the way, we liked a lot.

In addition to the $329 VivoTab Note 8, which comes with 32GB of storage, Asus also hawks a 64GB version for $369. Given their low prices, all three of the Windows tablets mentioned on this page are solid buys, but we think that the Asus, with its well-performing stylus with 1,024 pressure sensitivity levels (which we’ll discuss in a minute), delivers better all-around value.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T Review and RatingsJust as touch screens first appeared on deluxe, high-end systems after the debut of Windows 8 and rapidly moved into the mainstream, Intel’s fourth-generation “Haswell” processors have migrated from ritzy systems like Sony’s VAIO Pro 13 ultrabook to more affordable models in their six months on the market.

Notebooks don’t get more mainstream than the 15.6-inch desktop replacement class—or than Asus’ consumer VivoBook line. The VivoBook S500CA-DS51T we tested in May 2013 was a solid example, with a third-gen Core i5-3317U processor with Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. Like the Acer Aspire R7 and other laptops with that configuration we’ve sampled, the S500CA offered ample performance for everyday computing tasks such as Web browsing, social media, office productivity, and content consumption, but fell short for high-end multimedia rendering tasks and resource-intensive gameplay.

But today, the $999-list VivoBook V551LB-DB71T flaunts not only a fast “Haswell” Core i7-4500U CPU but Nvidia GeForce GT 740M discrete graphics. While more expensive than the $679 model S500CA, the new VivoBook performs head and shoulders above its predecessor on most of our benchmarks, including the demanding battery-rundown test.

Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T rear angleStill, we have some of the same complaints about this VivoBook as we did the last one. For example, as you’ll see below, it’s uncomfortably big and heavy to carry around with you. In addition, considering its price tag, we think it should provide a full 1080p resolution display, instead of the meager 1,366×768 pixels typically found on lower-cost or smaller-screened models.

Furthermore, while the Nvidia chip does boost performance enough to make this machine better than most for serious graphics tasks, such as working with high-resolution images in Adobe Photoshop, it does not deliver enough oomph for playing several of today’s toughest 3D gaming titles—at least not at or near their highest display quality settings, anyway. And that’s despite this laptop’s relatively low native resolution.

Overall, though, especially compared to several slightly cheaper systems, the V551LB is one of the strongest-performing mainstream touch-screen laptops we’ve seen, and the new Core i7 processor and discrete graphics definitely enhance its overall value.

Design

With its classy-looking slim profile, single-hinge design, brushed aluminum lid and metallic texture on the keyboard and palm rest, this VivoBook reminded us of the high-end Asus Zenbook UX51VZ we looked at in February. On the other hand, at 15 inches wide, 10.2 inches from front to back, and weighing well over 5 pounds, it’s a lot clunkier than that ultrabook, or even the 4.3-pound VivoBook S500CA. Call it a cross between the company’s elegant ultrabooks and its entry-level machines.

Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T angle

As mentioned, the V551LB uses the same single screen hinge, spanning almost the full width of the laptop, as Asus’ Zenbook UX51, which is plenty sturdy enough for normal laptop operation. As we’ve seen a few times now, however, relying on the same hinge design for touch screens as for non-touch displays can be a bit problematic. Here, for example, when we touched the screen—especially when performing multi-finger gestures—the panel wobbled a little more than it should, which sometimes interfered with our accuracy.

Granted, it’s difficult to design a laptop hinge that doesn’t move a little when the screen is touched, and we’re not saying that this one travels unacceptably. We’ve seen worse, but we’ve also seen better—much better, such as the Ezel hinge on the Acer Aspire R7 we tested in June. The Ezel hinge allows you to position the R7′s screen so that it doesn’t wobble—period.

Read entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Asus MeMO Pad Smart ME301T Review and RatingsEver have a case of tablet déjà vu? We just did.

In early 2012, Asus was one of the very first tablet makers to release a slate built around Nvidia’s Tegra 3 quad-core processor—a metal-encased, premium Android-based model, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201. When we reviewed it in February 2012, we touted the Prime as ground-breaking, but at $499.99, it was also a little pricey for many would-be buyers of Android slates—especially considering the entry price of Apple iPads of the time. In response, about a month or so later, the Taiwanese computer (and now tablet) giant fired again, with its entry-level, $399.99-MSRPTransformer Pad TF300, another impressive Tegra 3-based slate, sans the Prime’s all-aluminum chassis.

Now, here we are a few days away from the second quarter of 2013, looking at Asus’ latest Android offering, the $299.99 MeMO Pad Smart ME301T—and that’s where the déjà vu kicked in. The MeMO Pad is essentially the Transformer Pad TF300 all over again, give or take a few minor configuration and feature changes. Here in 2013, in this era of the super-high-resolution Google Nexus 10 and theApple iPad’s gorgeous Retina display (not to mention the Tegra 4 CPU on the horizon later this year), the MeMO Pad takes a very different, humbler path.

Asus MemoPad Smart 10 WhiteDon’t get us wrong, we liked the Transformer Pad TF300—a lot. But a year in tablet technology is essentially a generation, and the MeMO Pad Smart hinges on being a last-gen slate. It brings no new or groundbreaking features, hardware, or apps to the party, and it provides little different from Asus’ 2012 entry-level model—well, except that this year’s model costs $100 less than last year’s.

Asus’ Transformer tablets were named thus because of their optional, attachable keyboard/docking stations that turned them into de facto Android laptops. In 2012, Asus’ relatively new keyboard docking stations were ground-breaking, perhaps even revolutionary. Nowadays, though, given the recent onslaught of swanky new Atom-based Windows 8 tablets, most slate manufacturers offer detachable keyboard docks, often bundling them with the tablet. In this regard, when we wrote this in late March 2013, the MeMO Pad Smart was again headed in the opposite direction: It’s a stand-alone slate, with no dedicated keyboard/docking station available.

Another way to look at this is, though, is that the MeMO Pad Smart, from a specs standpoint—processor, display resolution, RAM, and storage—is essentially a big-screen version of the ultra-popular Google Nexus 7 by Asus, a smaller slate with a 7-inch screen. The thing is, though, the 1,280×800 screen on the Nexus 7 looks crisp, clear, and detailed, but when stretching the pixel density to fill the MeMO Pad’s larger display (from 216 pixels per inch, or ppi, to 149ppi), overall detail and clarity take a big hit. As we’ve said in a few recent reviews, a native resolution of 1,280×800 seems about right on 7-inch Android devices. Nowadays, though, it’s the bare minimum for a full-size tablet (even though we thought it looked great a year or so ago). After looking at several high-resolution 10-inch tablets these past few months…well, 1,280×800 just doesn’t look all that impressive on screens that size anymore.

Unlike the Transformer Pad TF300, which came in storage configurations of either 16GB or 32GB, the MeMO Pad Smart comes in only one: 16GB. On the plus side, though, you can bump up the storage capacity to 48GB yourself via a 32GB MicroSD card you provide—an option unavailable on both the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10. In addition, the 2012 Transformer Pad came in three colors: Torch Red, Iceberg White, or Royal Blue. The MeMO Pad Smart comes in colors, too: Crystal White, Fuchsia Pink, and Midnight Blue…

Asus MemoPad Smart Colors

Asus sent us the blue one for review, at right. Except in bright light, it looked closer to black to us.

The question is, of course, are the high-resolution slates mentioned above worth an additional $100? Ultimately, this is a matter of choice, but, considering their overall superior detail and display quality, especially when viewing photos and digital videos, we say, yes. (After all, a tablet is nothing if not a screen.) None of this is to say, though, that there’s anything wrong with the MeMO Pad Smart—not at all. It just seems a little late to the Android tablet party.

Still, from a build-quality and performance standpoint, we can’t come up with any reasons not to buy this tablet. Our concerns center on the state of today’s Android market and technology. Asus makes great tablets, and this one, like the Transformer Pad TF300 before it, is well-built and a solid performer. We liked the MeMO Pad Smart, but we’d like it a lot more at $199.99. Now that would make a 2013 rerelease of a 2012 slate smart, indeed.

See full review at Computer Shopper.

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The technology scene has been anticipating the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system for over a year, but the OS will hold few actual surprises when it finally enters the world. (Preview versions have been circulating for some months.) But on the cusp of its official October 26 release, Windows 8 is hitting the market alongside a more mysterious little-brother version of Windows that’s gotten much, much less attention. Even for the in-the-know tech press, only now are the outlines of this new OS—”Windows RT”—emerging from the shadows.

 

The first Windows RT-based device we got our hands on—the $599.99-list Asus VivoTab RT—is the subject of today’s review. It’s the first of many Windows RT-based devices we’ll be reviewing over the next few months. And if the VivoTab is representative of what’s to come, not only was this tablet version of Windows worth the wait, but it suggests that the dark-horse Windows RT could be a real third tablet-platform option, alongside Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, very soon.

 

Asus VivoTab RT Docked

The VivoTab attached to its docking station.

 

On the whole, Asus makes great tablet hardware, as we’ve seen in its Transformer line, and the VivoTab RT is no exception. Before we spent much time with this tablet, our knee-jerk impression was that its projected $599 price was impossibly high, considering the slate competition—notably, Apple’s juggernaut iPads, which start at $399 (for the iPad 2) and $499 (for the third-, and now, fourth-generation models). But by the time we were finishing up this review, the VivoTab RT had actually convinced us that it was worth it—and, to top that, Asus then announced the $599 price would include a very well-built and attractive keyboard docking station.

 

We should also note that this $599 list price is for a version of the VivoTab RT with 32GB of internal storage, versus the 16GB in the least-expensive 9.7-inch iPads. For another $100, you can get a version of the VivoTab RT with twice the storage capacity (64GB). When we wrote this, Asus informed us that it hadn’t yet settled on a price for either of these slates without the keyboard dock. (We’ll update this review with this information when we have it.)

 

From what other slate makers, such as Microsoft and Samsung, are saying, the VivoTab RT’s $600-to-$700 range looks like it won’t be far from the competition’s pricing for a higher-end Windows RT tablet. Though the VivoTab RT is the first we’ve laid hands on, today’s true vanguard tablet for Windows RT is actually Microsoft’s own Surface tablet, which will come in RT and full Windows 8 versions. The RT Surface is already available for preorder for $499 list, and you can add Microsoft’s snazzy combination cover/keyboard for another $100. But the VivoTab’s keyboard is far nicer—it’s made of metal, for one thing, and it comes with an additional battery that extends the unplugged runtime by about eight hours. Plus, when attached, it makes the VivoTab feel much more like an actual laptop than the Surface’s accessories will. (We’ll be looking at the Surface in the coming weeks.)

 

Hardware-wise, the VivoTab RT really is an impressive slate. It’s thin, light, attractive, and well-constructed, reminding us (with the docking keyboard attached, that is) of a miniaturized version of Asus’ slick ZenBook line of laptops. The VivoTab RT lacks a dedicated USB port, though; we typically see one on high-end tablets. You can connect via USB over the VivoTab’s combination USB/charging port, or through a port on the keyboard dock.

 

Perhaps the most impressive feature on the VivoTab, though, is its 1,366×768-pixel screen—the same resolution found on several 11- and 13-inch laptops. On this slate’s 10.1-inch display, this resolution makes for great graphics and image reproduction. (We’ll talk more about the screen in the Features & Apps section later in this review.)

 

Asus VivoTab RT

 

Furthermore, this is the first time we’ve seen any form of Windows running on a standard tablet CPU—in this case, the same Tegra 3 quad-core ARM processor used in the lion’s share of recent Android slates. (Indeed, during its development, Windows RT was dubbed, rather inelegantly, ”Windows 8 on ARM.”) We found Windows RT very responsive, and most tasks, such as launching apps and working inside them, executed quickly—much faster than Windows 7 felt, running on more powerful processors in the past. As to whether Windows RT is as nimble and easy to use as Android or Apple’s iOS (the OS used by its market-leading iPads), though, we’ll discuss that in the Features & Apps section later on…and you can decide.

 

Indeed, that—your operating system preference—would be, for most users, the main reason for choosing this tablet over one using a more established tablet OS. To be sure, you can find plenty of good tablets out there right now, including both Android-based models and iPads. (Indeed, the day we wrote this, Apple had just announced its fourth-generation iPad and the iPad Mini, complicating matters further.) But if what you’ve been holding out for is a new-generation Windows slate that will use Office-compatible productivity apps—which is one of Windows RT’s key advantages over iOS right out of the gate—this first Windows RT tablet is a very good choice.

Asus VivoTab RT Review and RatingsFinish reading this at Computer Shopper.

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Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime - what a wonderful slate!

In the highly competitive tablet market, the big news in early 2012 has been the emergence of Android 4.0–based slates. (You might also have heard about Android 4.0 via its code-name, “Ice Cream Sandwich,” or ICS.) To our delight, we got our hands on one of the first tablets that feature the new operating system right out of the box: Asus’s $499.99 Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201. (Certain older tablets will see updates from 3.0 to ICS in the coming weeks.)

The Transformer Prime is a re-engineered replacement for 2011′s Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101. In addition—as if the new operating system weren’t notable enough—the Transformer Prime is the first tablet we’ve seen that makes use of Nvidia’s Tegra 3 quad-core processor.

All told, we found a lot to like in the Transformer Prime. It’s built well, and it has a gorgeous 10.1-inch screen, a thin design, and strong performance. And because the Transformer Prime makes use of the newest tablet core processor and operating system, it stands out as one of the most impressive Android-based tablets to date.

Granted, $499 may seem like an average price for a high-end slate with a screen this size, but it’s actually something of an aggressive price, in this case. Keep in mind that you get 32GB of storage, not the standard 16GB you see in slates of this price, as well as the up-to-date Tegra 3 processor. (The only major shortfall, for some buyers, will be that the Transformer Prime is Wi-Fi only; if you’re looking for a 3G or 4G tablet, you’ll have to keep looking.)

Read the review at Computer Shopper.

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Asus ZenBook UX21E Review

Asus ZenBook UX21E - Move Over MacBook Air

It’s not every day that we see a whole new category of notebook computers emerge. Nonetheless, here in late 2011, off we go headfirst into the “ultrabook” era.

A few weeks before we looked at the subject of this review, we tested the first machine to meet the ultrabook outlines as defined by Intel: Acer’s $899.99 Aspire S3-951. As we promised then, Acer’s offering would be the first in what looks to be a long line of thin, light, and powerful laptops hitting the market just in time for the 2011 holidays.

The next thin, light model to meet the ultrabook criteria is Asus’ $1,199 ZenBook UX21E. The ZenBook comes in five basic versions: two models with 11.6-inch screens, and three with 13.3-inchers. The $999 base model (UX21E-DH52) comes with an 11.6-inch screen, Intel’s Core i5-2467M processor, 4GB of DDR3 memory, and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). The 13.3-inch models, depending on their processor speed and the capacity of the SSD, range in price from $1,099 to $1,499. The top model of those three, the $1,499 UX31E-DH72, comes with the Intel Core i7-2677M processor and a 256GB SSD. Across all five models, the specifications comply with Intel’s requirements for donning the “ultrabook” name.

See the review here.

 

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