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.
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.)
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.
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