ASUS VivoTab Note 8: Our Personal Experience and Review

By
October 17, 2014

The VivoTab Note 8 is a unique tablet in the sense that it’s the only 8″ Windows tablet packing a WACOM digitiser. WACOM is one of the pioneers in digital styluses. They sell their own well-renowned drawing tablets, and have supplied Tablet PCs with their digitiser technology since they first came on the market. They are popular with artists mainly because of support for varying levels of pressure sensitivity. The VivoTab Note 8, for example, comes with 1,024 levels of sensitivity, making it feel almost like a traditional pen.

Not all of us, myself included, are artists. Instead, we may want to use the pen for other purposes–such as note taking, for example, as its name suggests. I have owned this tablet for about two months now and have been using it actively to get work done. Hopefully, sharing my experience would help you make an informed decision about whether you should buy this tablet or not.

But first things first…

What’s in the Box

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Like most consumer electronics today, the VivoTab Note 8 comes in a small, unelaborate rectangular box (probably to minimise shipping costs). The tablet itself is wrapped with a plastic layer, as you would expect from most new tablets and smartphones, which you can see above. Apart from the tablet itself, there’s the usual product guide and warranty information, as well as a CD key for Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013.

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Of course, there’s also a bundled USB charger and its corresponding microUSB cable. The charger is rated at 2A, which should theoretically charge up the device in about two to three hours. Apart from that, there’s nothing else worthy of note.

I purchased the device from a brick-and-mortar store, so I was given a Microsoft Wedge Bluetooth Keyboard as well as a VivoTab Note 8 VersaSleeve for free. Altogether, everything cost me about $300. Thus, you may want to check out the best deals from your local store, or on Amazon where there are regular discounts. One thing to note is that Office Home and Student 2013 is not always a given, so be sure to check properly before you make your decision.

Specifications

CPU Intel Atom Z3740 quad-core processor @ 1.86GHz (Bay Trail)
RAM 2GB LPDDR3
Storage 32GB or 64GB eMMC
OS Windows 8.1 (32-bit)
Display 8″ 1280×800 IPS Display
Graphics Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail)
Connectivity IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0, Miracast
Ports 1x microUSB, 1x 3.5mm combo jack
Optical drive No
Card reader microSDXC
Audio HD
Camera 5MP rear, 1.26MP front HD webcam
Battery 15.5W (~8 hours)
Weight 386g

General User Experience

As seen above, the VivoTab Note 8 comes equipped with a third-generation Intel Atom processor. It handles day-to-day tasks with relative ease, and multitasking is quite possible thanks to the quad-core processor. I could even play certain old games, like Virtua Tennis 3 (2006), comfortably on it. Load it up with old games and perhaps you could have your own portable arcade!

However, there were the occasional slowdowns and application crashes, perhaps due to unoptimised applications, a small amount of RAM, a slow storage disk, or a combination of these factors. For example, there may be a split second delay when typing in large Microsoft Word documents, or on certain textarea boxes in web pages. The problem isn’t as apparent using Internet Explorer as compared to Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, which suggests that application optimisation may be an issue.

Build quality is pretty good, and the screen is clear with wide viewing angles. It may be a little bit of a struggle under direct sunlight as the screen is rather reflective, but apart from that it performs just fine. A matte screen protector is therefore recommended.

There is one bugbear though, which is apparently a common issue: the power button can misbehave at times. Sometimes, when you press the power button, the system does not resume from Connected Standby, or it will interpret it as you having pressed the button for a few seconds, thus invoking the “slide to shut down” screen. Mashing the power button a few more times generally resolves the problem, but it’s a nagging (software?) issue nonetheless.

More worryingly, it seems as though ASUS cheapened out with the digitiser cables, as many users have reported their digitisers failing after a few months. Thankfully, the VivoTab Note 8 is backed by a one-year-warranty, and the fix is simply to replace the digitiser cable, which you could also do by yourself if you’d so wish. I have not faced this issue so far, so perhaps later production models may already have this quality control issue resolved.

Tablet as Laptop?

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Since my VivoTab Note 8 came with a free Microsoft Wedge keyboard, I found myself often using the tablet as a laptop instead, complete with a USB mouse paired via a USB On-The-Go cable. Though text is uncomfortably small at the default settings (which you could fix easily by adjusting text scaling in the Control Panel), it still makes for an excellent productivity device on the go. When I showed my friends how I was able to run all the traditional Windows apps, they were simply amazed. How could something so small and costing so little do so much?

There’s one catch about using the VivoTab Note 8 as laptop though: you can’t plug in any (micro)USB devices whilst charging. So, no permanently installed thumbdrives or USB mice. Thankfully, there’s a microSDXC card slot that could solve the first issue, and Bluetooth mice to solve the second. Even if you don’t have a Bluetooth mice (which is understandable since they’re a comparative rarity), there are two other viable options available: touch and stylus.

All in all, this tablet proved to be a more than satisfactory replacement for a laptop. Even though it doesn’t have the processing power of a laptop, its diminutive size and the convenience arising from that fact alone more than makes up for it.

Touchscreen and Stylus Experience

The multi-touch touchscreen is pretty responsive–typical of what you would expect on a high quality device today. Swipe and zoom gestures work in most Windows apps and they feel natural. Perhaps, certain user interface elements like context menus could be made larger, as my (fat) fingers often selected the wrong item.

The stylus pen, on the other hand, can get frustrating at times. Most WACOM tablets are infamous for having poor tracking accuracy at the edges, and unfortunately, the VivoTab Note 8 is no exception. In fact, it’s even more noticeable on a small device like this where you have less useable screen estate to work with. ASUS did not seem to have shielded the speakers properly, as a noticeable edge distortion could be seen when the stylus pen is brought near the top and bottom speakers. Thankfully, if you’re willing to sacrifice a 2cm border all around, writing experience is very pleasant: there’s no lag, and the cursor appears directly under where your pen tip is.

The stick-like pen itself is convenient but does not make for a great writing experience due to its tiny size. I suggest purchasing a third-party pen such as the Fujitsu T5010 pen to make you feel as though you’re writing using a real pen.

Despite its shortcomings, I have found the stylus pen to be a great tool for taking down notes. Sure, you could type, but it’s hard to draw diagrams on a keyboard. Using OneNote, I could easily switch between pen and keyboard to get the best of both worlds. If you prefer writing rather than typing, or have lots of diagrams or mathematical equations to copy down, the VivoTab Note 8 is the perfect device for you.

Battery Life

The tablet is rated for about 8 hours of battery life. I haven’t done an exhaustive battery rundown test, but based on daily usage (lots of writing and internet browsing on Wi-Fi at medium brightness), I’m able to squeeze about six to seven hours on a single charge. Battery wear is about 6% after two months, if you’re wondering.

If you leave your tablet on Connected Standby, it should last you at least 150 hours even with Wi-Fi on. That’s pretty impressive on a Windows device, considering sleep mode used to drain batteries on laptops years ago.

Suggested Accessories and Applications

To make full use of the VivoTab Note 8, I suggest you purchase a few accessories and applications to make full use of it, as I have done.

First, with regard to accessories, a Bluetooth keyboard (and maybe mouse) is a worthwhile investment. The Microsoft Wedge keyboard I have been talking about is a little pricey, but something basic should still get things done.

A folio case is also a must-have if you intend to use the tablet as a laptop. A point to note, though: try to avoid cases with magnets, as they can interfere with the WACOM digitiser and make your stylus go wonky.

If you’re worried about battery life, it may also be a worthwhile investment to purchase a portable power bank for the times where you don’t want to be a wall hugger.

Lastly, and I consider this a must-have: a USB On-The-Go cable. This converts the microUSB port into a full-fledged USB port where you can plug in peripherals as well as thumbdrives and external hard drives.

As for applications, Microsoft OneNote is a great application available for free on the Windows store. It works just like an online scrapbook, and the advantage is that everything you write/type there can be seen on all your other devices (OneNote is available on all major mobile and desktop platforms).

Drawboard PDF is also another excellent app, though it’s not free. I have been using it for quite some time now, and it enables you to annotate PDFs almost any way you like. It’s sometimes a little sluggish on the VivoTab Note 8 but it’s still excellent nevertheless and it deserves a solid recommendation if you intend to fully utilise the stylus pen.

Value and Conclusion

Should you buy this tablet? Despite certain complaints I’ve had (mainly about quality control), the VivoTab Note 8 is still a wonderful device in my opinion. It has improved my productivity as I no longer go “oh crap, I didn’t bring my laptop out”, since at 386g, it has become a staple item in my bag. It’s useful in situations where having a tethered keyboard would be impractical, like when you’re standing on a crowded train or bus and feel like reading a book.

In fact, if you’re looking for a tablet to jot notes with, there’s really no other alternative at this size. The Venue 8 Pro has an inferior stylus, and the Surface Pro series are much larger devices. I hope that more manufacturers start embracing the stylus all over again, because it’s really useful and I must say I have become slightly reliant on it.

The VivoTab Note 8 comes in both 32GB and 64GB variants, and I suggest getting the 64GB variant as much as possible. Out of the box, there’s about 40GB free on the 64GB version but only 15GB free on the 32GB version. Thankfully, though, even if you opt for the 32GB option, memory is still expandable via microSDXC cards, though transfer speeds would definitely be slower.

The VivoTab Note 8 is backed by a one-year warranty, which should allay most fears about quality control issues.

Overall, I believe that the VivoTab Note 8 is a solid buy, especially if you’re looking for a cheap, small note-taking device, or a powerful productivity device you could take with you on the go.

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