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Asus Vivotab Note 8

I last reviewed a Samsung Ativ XE 500. It was one of the early generations of Atom based Windows tablet. It worked well but eventually frustrated me enough to get rid of it. The reality is Windows sucks as a touch interface and I ended up using it more as a laptop than a tablet, rarely disconnecting the keyboard. So I went and bought a Asus Transformer TF 701 which is Android. I love it. It’s fast, reliable and gets great battery life. I’ve run into some minor snags with using Android as my main (and really only) device. Some web sites don’t display right. For some odd reason spell check does not work within sites (for example this one when I am writing my blog, leaving you, my readers to wonder if I am a lousy typist or a crappy speller. The reality is a bit of both). I’ve had some challenges printing. Android multitasking is clumsy at best. And cut and paste on Android is again clumsy at best. I’ve also had issues finding a decent RDP solution on my transformer, largely due to it’s high resolution. Everything ends up so small it’s hard to read (yes even with my glasses). And I have not found an Office (Word/Excel) program I like. The newly released Microsoft Word/Excel for tablets included. And a few other things.

I also bought and love aSamsung Note 8 with a Rogers cell radio in it. The device is great for taking digital notes using one Note. The built in cell radio is super convenient. The device is fast, small and pretty portable. I have run into limitations with Android’s version of One Note.

I was reading an article on the best pen enabled devices and saw mention of this one. I snagged one on ebay for $200 to try. And thus we have the framing for this review. Setting the scene helps to know where my mind is coming from and what I am working to find solutions to. This time around I won’t be trying to make this tablet my primary device, so the use case is a little different than the Samsung mentioned above.

Physically this device is a pretty run of the mill 8″ tablet. Not the lightest, not the thinnest, and has a reasonably large bezel. But what it does have is a Wacom digitizer enabled pen for taking digital notes. Something I am doing more and more.

Physicals:
Complete list of specs
132 x 221 x 10 mm 0.36 kg. For comparison my Samsung Note 8 is:
136 x 211 x 7.95 mm 0.35kg
The thickness difference is particularly noticeable.

From a button and port point of view it has a power, volume up/down, Windows key (more on this in a bit), standard micro USB port, microSD slot and standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Some of these tablets (like my Samsung) put the Windows key on the front of the screen. It’s more convenient there. For some bizarre reason Asus put it on the bottom of the unit, on the opposite side from the power key. So when your in landscape for example the button is hidden. A really odd choice and makes it practically useless. The microUSB port serves as a USB OTG for plugging in keyboard and mouse, flash drives, CDROMs (something that may be needed in the future to upgrade this puppy, more on that later) etc as well as a charge port. They do not include a USB OTG cable but a standard one does work and they are cheap on ebay. The hardware seems to be USB 3, however the microUSB connector they have used is USB 2, the manual says USB 2. Shame. Rules out fast access to USB hard drives and the like. Using a standard microUSB power adapter (vs some proprietary connector) is HUGELY convenient! The supplied adapter is a standard 2A 5V micro USB charger.

I tried my MHL adapters but neither work so there is no way to do HDMI output on this device (there is no micro HDMI port). It does support mirracast but to date I have not found this to be a reliable or smooth way to do even simple video.

Specs
8″ LED Backlight WXGA (1280×800) Screen
Intel® Atom™ Z3740 Quad-Core, 1.33 GHz
LPDDR3 2 GB RAM
32GB eMMC (roughly 8G free once booted) your hard drive
1.2 MP Front Camera ( 720p Video Recording ) 5 MP Rear Camera (no flash)
a whopping 15500 mAH battery (likely the reason for the added thickness, for comparison my Samsung Note 8 has a 4600 mAh))
and a GPS although you won’t find it in the specs from Broadcom GNSS 4752
You can see the GPS in device manager in the sensor list:
gps

These Windows tablets are minimalistic to say the least. 2G RAM is barely adequate. 32G
hard drive does not leave a lot of space. This means a micro SD card is pretty much a must. You can mount this microSD card into the drive space to allow you to use it for program storage too.
partition

But realize that the speed of an SD card is quite a bit below the internal drive.

Local drive speed:
local-drive

Class 10 card speed:
sd-card

WIFI supports dual band N. I was able to get 150Mb/s connection and got a speed of:
jgalea-30005-150mbs

As with my past experience of Atom installing Windows patches is a VERY slow process. And to make matters worse, Windows does an awful job of cleaning up after itself leaving lots of space chewed up after each and every patch. Particularly problematic when you have very little space to deal with. Next thing I knew I was down to 2G free. I found an article on Cleaning up Windows backups. Using this process I was able to recover more than 4G. Now it’s not without it’s consequences so read the article thoroughly before you do anything.

The resolution on the screen is not what would be called high by today’s standards but it is bright and crisp. Easily read. The screen also seems particularly accurate not only to the pen but also to the touch.

The quad core atom works well and delivers good performance. Couple that with a reasonably fast flash based local drive and performance is surprisingly lively.

Now onto what caught my attention to start out with, the pen. Like on the Note series of Samsung tablets this uses a Wacom digitizer resulting in an accurate handwriting experience. In fact, the pen and the screen flow so smoothly it actually feels like your writing on paper. OneNote ends up completely functional unlike the Android version meaning you can do hand writing recognition and optical character recognition right on the device. This device was made for OneNote. And it does it well. I bought a Samsung pen (Model number ET-S200EBEGSTA) that includes an eraser function on it and even that works perfectly. Erasing on Android never worked right erasing entire keystrokes making editing challenging at best.
71SjkCzDvSL._SL1500_
From a feel point of view I have to say this is the best of the three devices I’ve used to date to write with. (The Samsung Note 8 and the Samsung Note 3). Oddly Samsung do not offer a pen based Windows tablet like this.

Windows 10 is coming. I have serious reservations as to whether any of these current generation of devices are going to be upgradeable. But with a USB OTG cable and a CDROM at least there is a chance with this device.

One of the things missing in the Windows space has been a GPS navigation app. A colleague Cristian pointed out one I had not seen called MapsPro. This app is no CoPilot or any of the options on Android but it is there. You have to pay for the app ($4.99) and then it really wants you to pay for the maps ($9.99 per country for now). You can download some small maps for free but they take forever to download and seem to have limited search capabilities. Offline maps are key to using this as a GPS. The app also supports bluetooth GPS in case your laptop/tablet does not have one built in. The app works, and has turn by turn navigation but it is limited by comparison. And I didn’t find the search in it all that good. It doesn’t seem to keep the screen on so you find yourself fussing with the device while driving which is bad. And there is no way to search for locations while moving. The app keeps coming back to following you on the map. So it works, but just barely and hokey.

All on screen keyboards are bad and frustrating, but the Windows one takes this to a whole new level. It lacks spell checking, suggestions and predictions for what you might be typing etc. And to make it even better, Windows does not seem to have opened the interface for third parties to provide innovative new on screen keyboards that would improve the platform for use on tablet. Now one of the places the on screen keyboard is bad is when you have to unlock the device. You would think you have a whole screen that is doing nothing, why not make use of the real estate and put on special characters and the like to make unlocking less aggravating? Well you would be wrong again. None of that. It is the standard keyboard. Grr. Couple this with the fact companies are encouraging us (rightly so) to use complex passwords. There is a solution, from within Windows settings, Change PC settings, accounts , sign in options and you can add a 4 digit pin. Why this isn’t the default or promoted to setup on a tablet is beyond me. But then if there is anything you come to realize is Microsoft really are not taking the tablet market seriously or they would be innovating on this stuff.

In the past there were two power saving modes for laptops. Standby and hibernate. Standby basically put the laptop to sleep (and left it there). It took very little power but offered little in terms of ways to do background tasks like mail and notifications. Hibernate was similar but dumped memory etc to the hard drive and basically turned the device off. Neither of these is useful for tablets. So Microsoft invented a concept they call connected standby. This is suppose to resolve this limitation. And keeps WIFI somewhat on and is able to give notifications while in lower power mode. This is nothing like the way Android does it so don’t be surprised if notifications (things like instant messages or email) on Windows tablets is slower in comparison to iPads or Android. According to spec to meet Microsoft requirements “Connected Standby systems must drain less than 5% of system battery capacity over a 16-hour idle period”. On this one I noticed in 24 hours it drew about 12%. Not terrible and definitely better than my older Samsung Ativ.

Overall given the honking battery on this tablet battery life is quite good. A couple days is quite possible. And leaving it sitting not in use it could last days for sure! The battery went from 22% back up to 100% in under 2.5 hours with the factory charger. That’s an impressively quick recharge cycle.

Some companies put the recovery image on the flash drive itself, but this uses precious already tight space. Asus were smart and ship an SD card with the recovery image on it. Sweet. Of course don’t loose the card. 🙂

Accessories can make or break a device. The right case is really important. I had a devil of a time finding a case I like for this tablet. I like ones that cover the device when closed and can be adjusted to different angles. I first bough an i_Blason case for it. The case was so poorly designed it blocked the microUSB slot, blocked access to the pen and would not stand up on an angle without falling over. It drove me nutz.
$_12
I looked and looked, and I eventually found one on AliExpress that is perfect. I don’t know if it’s the age of the tablet or this model but there really were not a lot of great choices. And I am not fond of the generic tablet cases.
UNTITLED

Now can it replace an Android tablet? Hmmm interesting question. I guess that will depend on what you use your Android tablet for. Let’s face it, iPhones/iPad are the kings of apps. There are so many choices as to be dizzying. Android is next up with a lot of support from apps. Windows phone is so far behind as to be laughable. And Windows Store (for tablets like this) is a way behind. Your unlikely to find apps to do everything you want to do, and everything you are already doing with your Android tablet let alone an iPad. On the positive side you end up with a full function browser, with complete support (including flash etc). Android constantly ends up on the mobile version of the web site with limited content. Microsoft office is of course also a full version rather than the poorly implemented Office clones or even Office for tablet. And let not forget that in desktop mode you can load any Windows app you want. Limited of course by memory and drive space. And be sure and have a mouse and keyboard ready anytime you are in desktop mode, cause if there is one place touch is poorly supported, desktop mode.

So all in all I like the tablet. Can’t replace my Android tablet but still. It’s one killer One note device!

Update: Not long after I got it (a couple months) the pen stopped working. I sent it back to Asus under warranty and got it repaired. A little over a month later the pen yet again stopped working. I originally thought Windows Update had broken it, but it was sadly not the case. Another call to Asus, they paid full shipping and I sent it back under warranty again … We will see how long it lasts this time. Interestingly I bought another one of these on ebay, got it, and discovered it too had a dead digitizer. I’m not sure what to make of that. Whether the tablet/digitzer is somehow poorly designed leading to an unreliable product or what. Quite disappointing all in all. Sadly there are not a lot of devices out there with a GPS, as well as digitizer in the 8″ form factor running Windows.

Another update: Three repairs later I give up. Asus can not seem to (or are unwilling to) fix the problem. It works for a little while and then quits. Very disappointing for a company like Asus.

Yup, another day another update to this irritating issue. 12/4/2015. My bud Lance did some Googling on the issue and found a terrific post explaining the issue and the fix in great detail, complete with pictures.  The specific part can be replaced. It’s Asus part number 687708050002 which can be ordered from parts places like DigiKey. There are two cables that can be at issue. So to be done with it I ordered both (DigiKey part numbers) 732-5198-ND (touch cable, 100MM long), 732-3577-ND (digitizer cable, 50 MM long). Including shipping it cost me $20. I am both relieved and livid. Asus has done three repairs how much has that already cost them? Shipping to and front etc. And how much does poor customer service cost them? I am appalled.

 

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February 22, 2015 - Posted by | Windows tablets

2 Comments »

  1. Hi, thanks for the nice article. I have the same tablet and was looking for an alternative to the supplied stylus. I will try the one you suggest in your article. You mention that, “One of the things missing in the Windows space has been a GPS navigation app.” I have installed Navmii app from the windows store. Its free and uses Openstreetmaps and they can be downloaded using the app. I have not tried to use it as a navigation device, but it accurately reads the GPS information and has navigation functionality. It also has google search option. Another app is Here maps, but this one does not have navigation for windows tablet. You can try Navmii and see if it works for you.

    Regards,
    timenotpass

    Comment by timenotpass | May 7, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks I will check Navmii out.

      Comment by johngalea | May 8, 2015 | Reply


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