If you've been looking for a Windows 8 tablet, but don't want to be restricted to the limited number of apps available in the Windows store, the Asus VivoTab Smart might be for you.
It's running on the full version of Windows 8 allowing you to install any software you want to download such as Spotify or iTunes. It's running on an Intel Atom processor, which keeps the basics ticking along well enough and can be bought for the reasonable price of £395.
Should I buy the Asus VivoTab Smart?
Unlike most devices running the full version of Windows 8, the Smart comes in a standard tablet form, rather than a convertible that turns from a tablet into a laptop.
The screen's resolution isn't great, so the lovers of super-crisp photos among you should look towards the iPad with its retina display. It has good colours though making it perfect for watching TV shows on.
It's running on a low-powered Intel Atom processor, which provides enough power for the basics. Web browsing and social networking are fine, but more intense tasks like photo editing are a chore.
If power is your main concern then your money can be better spent on a standard laptop with a more potent processor. If you specifically want a Windows 8 slate for some swiping fun then the Smart is a great option and you don't need to worry about what software you can't get from the shop.
Design and build quality
In terms of its design, the Smart is most easily described as a cheaper iPad. The back is home to a large expanse of black plastic that curves neatly at the edges, in a very similar style as the metal casing of Apple's slate. There are pin-prick-sized holes at the bottom for the speaker and the Asus logo sits bang in the middle.
As it's made of plastic, it immediately feels significantly less expensive than the iPad though. Give it a squeeze in the middle and you'll sense a bit of flex, which isn't something the iPad will give you. Its almost featureless back is pretty unremarkable although not exactly ugly and the all-glass front is straight from the design sheet of most other tablets out there.
Unlike the iPad, the Smart is designed to be used mostly in landscape mode, so you'll find the camera on the back at the top in the middle and the Windows home button on the bottom long edge. It's 265mm wide, 171mm long and 9.7mm thick, making it slightly smaller than the iPad, but a tiny amount thicker. You certainly won't struggle to get it into a bag.
Build quality seems fair too. No, it's not metal, but the plastic casing seems quite sturdy and there's no loose panelling like I found on Dell's XPS 10 tablet. I'd have no worries about carting it around town in a bag.
Around the edges you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro-USB port (for charging and data transfer) and a micro-HDMI port, hidden behind an incredibly awkward to remove little stopper. You also get a microSD card slot, allowing you to expand the 64GB of internal storage.
The Smart will be available with a keyboard cover that's remarkably similar to the Microsoft Surface's touch cover. It's got proper keys rather than touch-sensitive ones so it should be much more comfortable to type on that just using the screen. Annoyingly, Asus didn't have any available for me to test so I'll have to reserve my judgement on that.
Even more annoying is that the keyboard costs £90, which is rather pricey for what is essentially just a Bluetooth keyboard.
The Smart's 10.1-inch screen has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, which is the absolute minimum I'd hope to see on a screen of this size. With the Surface Pro and Dell's XPS 12 packing Full HD screens and the iPad boasting its ultra-high res retina display, it'd be nice to see a bit more of a pixel push. Still, for the money, it is at least acceptable.
Small text still remains sharp enough to read for at least a couple of hours without discomfort and the icons on the 'Metro' style homepage are crisp and clear.
It's bright too -- once you've disabled the auto-brightness, which seemed to err on the side of dim -- and colours are rich. Images and videos looked good, making it a worthy option for the media lovers among you who want movies on the move. Like all touchscreen devices though, you'll need to wipe off all those fingerprints before you settle down to watch something.
Windows 8 software and performance
Although it's a tablet rather than a fancy convertible, the Smart is running on the full version of Windows 8, not the lighter-weight Windows RT version designed specifically for tablets. It's packing an Intel Atom processor, of the sort you'd find in netbooks, rather than mobile processors you'd spy in tablets like the Nexus 7.
That gives you the benefit of being able to install normal desktop software onto the Smart such as Spotify, VLC Media Player or iTunes. You therefore don't have to rely solely on the Windows 8 app store for your software needs, which is great news as it's still woefully understocked.
In terms of design, there's very little obvious difference between the two versions of the operating system. You'll benefit from the big, colourful live tiles of the Metro interface along with the People and Me hubs. They clump together all your mates' social networking accounts into one place, letting you see everything that's going on without having to jump in and out of different apps.
Unfortunately, my review model's software wasn't perfect. Swiping in from the left normally brings up your recent apps but on occasion, this didn't work. Also, the touch-sensitive Windows home button on the bottom didn't function at all in my whole time of using it. Asus explained to me that it's an isolated issue and not one that will occur in the models on sale, but it's definitely worth bearing in mind.
The Atom processor powering it is a dual-core 1.8GHz affair paired with 2GB of RAM. It managed to achieve 1,404 on the Geekbench test, which for a tablet is pretty impressive. By comparison, Apple's latest iPad achieved around 1,700 on the same test and the Nexus 7 racked up around 1,500.
As it's not running simple tablet software, you're naturally going to want to throw on some of your favourite desktop programs. I found it was able to handle high-definition video playback in VLC with ease but it fell down when I booted up Adobe Lightroom 4. Although it was able to load and edit the photos, everything was extremely sluggish, making it very difficult to use.
While you can install programs like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and video encoding software such as Handbrake, it's not going to handle them at all well. But then, for the price, you'd be wrong to expect lightning performance. For the money, it copes with the essentials admirably.
The Asus VivoTab Smart packs the full version of Windows 8 into a slim tablet body. Its screen doesn't have great resolution but it handles colours well and the Atom processor provides enough juice for important tasks.
If you're after a Windows 8 slate for social networking, Web browsing, and playing with apps from the Windows 8 store -- but you want to be able to install your own software too -- the VivoTab Smart would be a wise and affordable choice.
If you want a slate with more power under the hood and don't mind paying the extra for it, keep your eyes peeled for the Surface Pro. Its Intel Core i5 processor will provide a lot more juice for photo editing and its Full HD screen will be a great bonus for media addicts among you.
If you're mostly concerned about power however, you can snag yourself a laptop packing more potent components for similar money. Asus' £339 X501A boasts an Intel Core i3 processor, which will happily tackle more intense tasks, although that will mean sacrificing both the touchscreen and portability of the tablet.