The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is the Cadillac of Windows 8.1 tablets, and it offers an unmatched combination of portability and power. The Asus VivoTab Note 8, on the other hand, has a more modest set of specs. But there’s one other thing sets them apart: a $570 difference in price.
The Surface Pro 2 has a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 “Haswell” processor, along with a 10.6-inch display (1080×1920) and a full-size USB 3.0 input. The $900 unit TabletPCReview originally reviewed and used as the basis of this comparison has 64GB of onboard storage and 4GB of RAM. It runs the 64-bit Windows 8.1 Pro.
The Asus VivoTab Note 8 sports one of the new Intel Atom “Bay Trail” processors, and has an 8-inch display with 1280×800 resolution and a microUSB input. The $330 unit TPCR reviewed and used for this comparison has 2GB of RAM and 32GB capacity. It runs basic 32-bit Windows 8.1, but ships with an activation code for Microsoft Office Student and Home, which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Both the VivoTab and Surface Pro 2 do have something in common that sets them apart from the Windows 8.1 tablet pack. Both work with Wacom stylus pens. In fact, both ship with pressure-sensitive Wacom stylus pens for digital inking, scribbling, note-taking, and artistry.
Here’s the question for note takers and digital artists: do you need the $900 Surface Pro 2, or is the Asus VivoTab Note 8 good enough?
Let’s find out.
Build and Design
In terms of productivity, there is no competition. Even without the free Office activation, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 wins going away. Its full-sized display, kickstand, and full-sized USB 3.0 port make for easy impromptu notebook sessions when paired with a USB keyboard. The mini DisplayPort input may not be the most convenient for multi-monitor usage, but it does the trick with the appropriate cables.
The 8-inch VivoTab is not only too small for serious work, it also lacks viable input and output options. With only a microUSB port, users will need multiple splitters and adapters to duplicate the accessory support of the Surface Pro 2. Unless you like squinting, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint won’t be getting much use.
Surprisingly, the Note 8 actually handles relatively intensive tasks well. The Surface Pro 2 blows it away in terms of performance, but Office runs just fine. TPCR even had Photoshop from Adobe Creative Cloud up and running on the tablet. It could actually be a practical emergency option for light to moderate image editing or sketching, if not for the small display and the fact that, as of this writing (March 2014), the Asus Vivo Tab Note 8 doesn’t play nice with the drivers that enable pressure sensitivity. Here’s the official word from Adobe:
The Enhanced Driver 7.1.2 driver posted on October 7, 2013 does not support the Asus Vivotab Note 8 released in 2014. We apologize for the delay in the release of the Enhanced Driver 7.1.4 that will support the ASUS Vivotab Note 8 and we are working to release a new driver as soon as possible.
The Surface Pro 2 handles Photoshop CC just fine, in addition to a number of other popular artist programs from the likes of Autodesk and Corel. The display is large enough that even Adobe’s busy UI is still usable, if a bit cramped, and the tablet design described above leaves plenty of room for USB accessories and an extended display. In short, it’s powerful enough to function as an artist’s tablet and designed in such a way to minimize compromise. Neither is the case with the VivoTab Note 8.
Here’s how the two Windows 8.1 tablets compare in benchmark testing:
3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphic card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark and measures overall systems performance (higher scores mean better performance):
wPrime processor comparisons (lower score means better performance):
The Asus VivoTab Note 8 actually bests the Surface Pro in the battery tests. That is expected, given the Surface Pro 2 has a more powerful processor and more pixels in a larger display. While the latest Intel Core processors have better battery life than their predecessors, the new Intel Atom processors are especially good at conserving power.
PowerMark “Balanced” battery life test results (higher scores mean better life):
In regards to note taking, the VivoTab Note 8 is a workable option, owing mostly to its light build. The Surface Pro 2 weighs 2 pounds, while the Note 8 weighs noticeably less than a pound (.84 pounds to be exact). That may not seem like much, but after more than a few minutes of jotting notes, the Surface Pro 2 will seem like a brick compared to the Note 8.
While not suited for productivity, the VivoTab Note 8’s design is great for note takers. The relatively wide display bezel on the landscape sides provide a gripping point large enough to keep finger smudges off the actual display, which TPCR found to be a smudge magnet. The Note 8 also sports a pen receptacle, which the Surface Pro 2 lacks.
Users might find the Note 8 pen to be a bit too small for comfort, unfortunately. As TPCR found during the VivoTab Note 8 review, Asus’ stylus “measures a little less than 5 inches, and is plenty long for average hands. However, scribblers at TPCR had issues jotting notes for more than a few minutes at a time, owing to hand strain caused by the pen’s thin and light build.”
The Surface Pro 2 pen on the other hand, is much more comfortable. “The Surface Pro pen is about a half inch longer, heavier, and thicker, and is easier to secure in hand, making it a more comfortable option.”
Both pens work with both devices, and the difference in comfort is enough that Note 8 users may want to consider shelling out the $30 for a Surface Pro pen, even if there the larger stylus won’t fit in the stlus slot in the Asus Windows 8 tablet.
Is the Asus VivoTab Note 8 good enough? For note taking, yes. For everything else, no; and there are Android options available for the same money or less, if you’re only looking to take notes. The similarly-sized Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is an excellent note-taking device, for example. It even works with the Surface Pro Pen.
The Asus VivoTab Note 8 could make a good accessory device, which users just might rely on for emergency office work or maybe some image editing. In that case, you’ll need a micro-to-full USB adapter for peripherals, which runs about $5 on Amazon.
The experts at TPCR have written again and again, the Surface Pro 2 is the best full-sized Windows 8 tablet, hands down. The budget models may be acceptable, but they have a long way to go before they become viable alternatives… as long as you have $900.