ASUS VivoTab Note 8: Can it art?
Yes it can. It’s not without a few issues, but this little tablet has some great potential.
I do 99% of my art digitally these days, so I have had quite a number of devices. Currently, I’m using a Wacom Cintiq 13HD connected to a laptop to work at the office, and a Wacom Cintiq Companion when I’m working at home or at a client’s office. The VivoTab isn’t really in the same league as those, but it’s not really meant to be, either. It’s an 8 inch tablet that costs $300. The Cintiq Companion costs $2000.
The reason I bought this little guy was because I wanted a very portable device that I could do digital sketching on that would fit into my satchel. I looked into the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as well, but wasn’t terribly encouraged by the reviews I saw. However great the hardware may be, Android just doesn’t have a full-function drawing program like I’d want.
The VivoTab, however, runs a full version of Windows 8. Real programs like my beloved Manga Studio 5 could be installed. The portability of an 8 inch tablet, the software of a full computer, built-in Wacom digitizer, and only $300? SOLD.
Let’s talk about how it works.
Yep, this runs Windows 8. Some people don’t like Windows 8, and that’s cool. I find it a little clunky at times, but quite usable once you know your way around. I’m not gonna go into the OS here. If Windows 8 is a deal killer for you, this isn’t the tablet you’re looking for.
Size, Weight, Appearance
At just under 5.5” x 8.75” in size and just under a pound in weight, the portability on this is pretty great. It’s a slightly bulkier and heavier after I added a case, but I like to keep my devices protected. Just the right size for what I wanted - big enough to not feel tiny, but small enough to fit into my bag easily. The construction feels sturdy, and the screen colors look good. Worthy of note is that the included stylus is awful. Truly terrible for drawing. It technically does has pressure sensitivity, but only barely so. It’s extremely hard to control, and is basically all or nothing. Luckily, the Wacom Bamboo Feel Stylus for tablet PCs is compatible, and is excellent. If you’re gonna use this to draw, you need this stylus. It’ll cost you $40, making the actual price of this thing $340… $355 if you also include the case I bought for it.
This is definitely not a powerhouse, but neither is it weak. It runs an Intel Atom Z3740 Quad-Core processor, and has 2 GB of RAM. I’m not savvy enough to really know how that compares to other tablets, but I will say that the drawing I did above was an 8.5”x11” document at 400 DPI, and I only experienced negligible to minor levels of lag while doing linework, and moderate levels while painting. NOT BAD, little buddy, not bad at all. Every once and a while, I got a ghost stroke, however. Almost like a hiccup, where I’d try to make a stroke, it would stutter, and nothing would happen.
So, one major thing to note about the VivoTab is that while it runs a full version Windows, it lacks one major thing that a typical PC would have: A USB Port. The only way to get stuff on and off of this thing is either via wireless connection, or by using the MicroSD slot. This can present some issues, especially for Manga Studio 5 users. (EDIT: Good news! The following paragraph will soon be irrelevant, as it looks like digital versions of Manga Studio will be returning.)
At present, for some reason or another, Smith Micro stopped selling digital versions of Manga Studio 5. You can ONLY get it as a physical copy, on a disc. The VivoTab has no USB port to connect to an external optical drive, so how the hell does one even put Manga Studio on this thing? Luckily for me, I still had the digital install files for MS5 from when they DID have a digital version. I just loaded them up onto the MicroSD card that came with the tablet. I still had to buy a new physical copy just to get the serial number to activate the software, however. (It’s only $25 on Amazon!) If you’re not lucky enough to have said files, I have no idea how you would get MS5 onto this thing. Maybe make an ISO of the install disc and run it using a virtual disc drive? I dunno, it sounds plausible - good luck with that.
Wait. Nope. Not yet. For some reason, when I boot up MS5, the pen calibration on the canvas is completely whack. Left is up, right is down, down, up is right… It’s all over the place. Flipping the tablet around to reorient it only migrates this wackness with it. This only happens when I’m in Manga Studio - it returns to normal when I switch to another program. Regardless, I open up the tablet settings menu and hit calibrate. For some reason, it does not respond to my pen. I can only wait a few seconds until it cancels itself out. Hmmmm. Troubling.
I go back to Manga Studio and enter the preferences. Switching the Tablet settings from WinTab to Tablet PC fixes the calibration issue. Sweet. Time to start drawing.
Sensitivity feels good with the Bamboo stylus. Not Cintiq good, but definitely good enough to draw with. After tweaking the pressure setting in MS5 to give it a slower gain, the pressure feels even better. I can make thin lines and thick lines relatively easily. It’s still not Cintiq-good, but I didn’t expect it to be. I’d say it’s maybe 60% of the way there. Good enough for looser sketching, but not good enough for precision inking. One problem though: I’m getting some funky initial brush lag at the the beginning of every stroke, and especially for short strokes. It’s workable if I’m patient, but it’s also pretty annoying. Time to tweak more settings.
Pen and Touch settings… pen flicks off, press and hold to right click off… try again. Still got that beginning lag. It feels more responsive if I put it back in WinTab mode, but I can’t use WinTab mode due to the calibration wackness. I’m puzzled. Lost. Time to start uninstalling stuff.
I uninstall the Wacom Feel driver and try again. No change. I remember that on a previous computer, I had a calibration issue in MS when I changed monitor resolutions, and fixed it by uninstalling and reinstalling MS. I uninstall Manga Studio.
I reinstall both the Wacom Feel driver as well as MS5, making for DAMN SURE that my VivoTab stays in the same orientation during the entire process, hoping that will fix the WinTab orientation problem.
Everything is installed again, and WinTab still can’t get its bearings straight. I switch back to Tablet PC, resigning myself to brush strokes that have startup lag. BUT WAIT - THERE IS NONE. Everything is coming out smoothly now, and I have no idea why. I, literally, have no friggin’ idea what fixed that problem, but it is fixed, and now making brush strokes is silky smooth. YESSSS
Stock Manga Studio 5 doesn’t have full touch support, so I go to the Smith Micro website to get the free update. After installing it, navigating my document using pinch-to-zoom, and two-finger drag to pan works intuitively, if a bit laggy.
The drawing feels great, so I don’t even care. Time to do some serious testing! I did the drawing above and it feels good. Palm-rejection is solid. While the pen is active, touch doesn’t interfere. Everything is awesome.
Battery life on this thing seems decent. Fairly long lived if I’m just putzing around the OS and using Windows apps, significantly shorter if I’m working on 400 DPI drawings in Manga Studio, but still not bad. I’d estimate you could probably get 4 hours of drawtime on this or so, but haven’t really put it to the test.
I haven’t installed Photoshop on this yet, and probably won’t, so I can’t really say how it would perform. I’m only planning on using the VivoTab for sketching, so I have no need for photoshop, as I do all of my drawing in MS5 these days. I only boot up PS for effects, color tweaks, and file prep. It’s possible the WinTab issues may affect drawing in PS as well, but I’m tempted to say probably not - it felt like it was likely a Manga Studio specific bug to me. Who knows - your mileage may vary.
Like with all larger Cintiqs, the cursor calibration becomes more and more off as you near the edges of the screen. This is magnified when you’re on a screen this small, so it will take more patience to draw with this, as you’ll have to center your drawing more often, and menus will be significantly harder to click.
If you want a device that works great for drawing right out of the box, this is not it. You’ll need to do some tinkering. If you’re tech savvy enough to do it and have enough patience to deal with it, you’ve got yourself a great little digital sketching device for about $380. (VivoTab $300, Bamboo Stylus $40, case $15, Manga Studio 5 $25)
Don’t expect any sort of Surface Pro or Cintiq killer here, as this is clearly a device geared towards portability and low price point over drawing experience. For what it is though, the drawing experience is pretty solid!
You can buy it with free shipping from the Microsoft Store website, or just hop on over to your local Microsoft Store, where they’ll likely have it on display near the front of the store.