Review: Does the Asus Eee Slate Redeem Windows As A Tablet OS?

Written by Ardjuna Seghers     14/06/2011 | 00:08 | Category name i.e.INDUSTRY

The Asus Eee Slate has been creating a lot of interest in the Australian market even with its high price point. We take a look at what this Slate has going for it.

Key Features

12.1 inch 1,280 x 800 IPS display,

Gorilla Glass

Intel Core i5-470UM,

4GB RAM, 64GB SSD

Capacitive screen, Wacom digitizer with stylus

USB 2.0 and mini-HDMI, Bluetooth

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

 

Introduction, Design and Case
As the tablet wars rage on, the iPad 2 is still one of the slickest tablet experiences around, while Windows 7 is generally regarded as the worst. That's hardly surprising, since Microsoft's OS wasn't primarily designed for either tablets or touch. Unfortunately, sub-par implementations on Windows tablets like the Acer Iconia Tab and MSI WindPad 100W didn't do it any favours. However, since Asus has produced one of the best Android tablets available today with its award-winning Eee Pad Transformer, we have high hopes for its Eee Slate EP121.

 

The Eee Slate takes a slightly left-field approach to the tablet market, in that it goes for the biggest and best of everything, a fact that's reflected in its $1499 asking price. Where most of the competition offers tablets of around 10 inches or less, the Slate's screen is a relatively huge 12.1 inch - and with an IPS panel protected by Gorilla glass it's as good as it gets. Where rivals contain underpowered Atom processors and max out at 2GB of RAM, the Slate rocks on with a full fat mobile Core i5 and 4GB of RAM. Combined with a 64GB SSD, it offers more power than many budget desktops, allowing for effortless productivity and multi-tasking.

 

For artists, designers or just those fond of handwriting, the integrated Wacom Digitizer with included stylus is a dream come true, and for regular finger interaction the screen offers capacitive touch too. And finally there's the bundled wireless Bluetooth keyboard. Rather than an average first-party keyboard, Asus has made the laudable decision of going with the Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000, which takes typing comfort to a whole new level.

 

Unfortunately, the included case doesn't really keep up the premium impression. Though it's well-made with a sturdy leatherette finish, it relies on a Velcro strap to hold the tablet in securely and doesn't offer much flexibility when trying to stand the tablet up. You only get the choice between a 30 degree incline in either portrait or landscape orientation. What's more, it weighs a whopping 376 grams - as much some smaller tablets!

The tablet itself restores our confidence with a seamless glass front overlaying the black screen bezel, framed by a metal surround. Asus has gone with white plastic for the back, which isn't the most premium looking material but at least it keeps the weight down, and it's textured rather than glossy. This prevents fingerprints, decreases wear marks and provides a better grip.

 

 

Large ports are hidden behind strong-hinged flaps, buttons are chromed and build quality is generally excellent with no creak and minimal flex. Our one minor concern is that putting pressure on the centre of the tablet's rear affects the screen. However, with a little care when handling, this shouldn't become an issue.

Considering its 312 x 17 x 207mm dimensions and high-power internals, the Eee Slate is not too heavy at 1.17kg, but it's certainly not a tablet you can hold comfortably one-handed for any length of time.

Connectivity on the Eee Slate EP121 is excellent. All of it can be found along the left side of the tablet, where you'll discover a mini-HDMI port, combined headphone and microphone jack, SDHC-XC/MMC memory card reader and twin full-size USB 2.0 ports hidden behind sturdy flaps on flexible hinges. This makes it easy to hook the tablet up to a TV for playing back Full HD video, or to connect a monitor and mouse which, along with the keyboard, gives a full desktop experience. There's also a front-facing 2 megapixel webcam, though none at the rear.

 

On the wireless front, meanwhile, there are both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi N, though unfortunately there's no physical switch to turn these on or off - a small yet annoying oversight on Asus' part. A more serious issue is the Slate's lack of 3G, which you would expect to be included on a tablet costing nearly $1500.

 

 

On the other hand, the tablet's internal specifications do help to justify that price a little. The highlight, of course, is an Intel Core i5-470UM processor. This dual-core CPU runs at 1.33GHz as standard, with a maximum Turbo Frequency of 1.86GHz. It also supports Hyper Threading for up to four virtual cores. As it's a low voltage model, it sucks down only 18W, which is very frugal for such a powerful CPU but more than double the 8.5W demanded by a dual-core Atom.

 

It's backed by 4GB of DDR3 RAM, an almost unheard of amount for a tablet and plenty for high-intensity productivity and demanding applications. For storage, meanwhile, there's a 64GB SSD, of which around 32GB is left free by the Windows 7 install. This should be adequate if you keep your application and video count frugal, and don't forget that you can expand the tablet's storage by up to 128GB (and more as larger SDXC cards become available) using its memory card slot.

Only the graphics card is a disappointment. It's Intel's older generation integrated effort, meaning even a relatively undemanding 3D title like Stalker will run at a frame rate of single digits. However, it's adequate for casual gaming.

 

Thanks to these laptop-like specifications, the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium is a perfectly smooth experience on the Eee Slate EP121. In fact, this is the first Windows tablet we've come across where the OS doesn't feel like a burden, and where you can load applications and keep multiple windows open while playing HD video, all without feeling constrained by the hardware.

A handy dedicated button - the only one on the tablet's front - gives access to Windows Flip 3D with a short press, or to the Windows Security screen (from which you can access Task Manager) with a longer one.

 

An orientation sensor ensures the screen will match the way you're holding the tablet. If you want to keep it the same there's a handy orientation-lock switch, an essential but oft-neglected addition to any tablet.

Asus' premium tablet isn't just impressive on the inside. As with its Eee Pad Transformer, the company has wisely gone with an IPS panel for the 12.1in screen. Until larger versions of the AMOLED display used on the stunning Samsung Galaxy S II come along, this is as good as it gets.

 

Viewing angles are flawless, colours vibrant yet accurate and blacks deep and detailed. Along with the unmatched codec and container support offered by Windows, the large, 1,280 x 800 screen allows you to enjoy 720p video material in all its glory. This is something the iPad 2 can't claim because of its lower 1,024 x 768 screen resolution, while Android tablets like the Eee Pad Transformer are hindered by a poor selection of media players.

The only caveat is that the Gorilla glass layer does cause reflections, but this is the price you pay for the added protection, and a glossy screen finish is common to most tablets.

Considering the Slate's speakers are tiny, the sound they produce is undeniably impressive, especially since they do so without distortion. There's more depth, bass and detail then you would get from many netbooks, and though headphones are still recommended, they're certainly not required.

 

We're glad to report that the Slate's capacitive screen is as responsive as you could wish, and its larger-than-usual size also helps to make navigating with your digits a more pleasant experience than on many rival Windows tablets. However, the fact remains that Microsoft's OS isn't particularly touch-friendly to begin with. Therefore, it's actually much easier to navigate using the included stylus, which is stored in a nifty spring-loaded compartment at the tablet's rear.

 

Wacom's built-in digitizer means the stylus doesn't require batteries, as it uses magnetic resonance to detect the pen's position and pressure level. The pen itself features a replaceable tip at its base and a rounded eraser at its top. Though it's a plain white plastic affair, we prefer the feel of it to the more aesthetically pleasing effort that accompanied the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 Tablet.

 

For handwriting it works flawlessly. However, as an artist's tool it's not without its limitations. For one thing, drawing on the Gorilla glass surface does take some getting used to, especially if you're used to the paper-like feel of a proper Wacom Intuos 4. It also lacks the tilt sensitivity of dedicated tablets, and only registers 512 pressure levels compared to the Intuos 4's 2048.

 

On the other hand, being able to draw directly on the screen holds an undeniable appeal. To get a similar experience with a 'proper' graphics tablet, the only option right now is the 12.1 inch Wacom Cintiq, which will set you back $1498 on its own. Much like the $2749 X220 Tablet then, Asus' Eee Slate EP121 is a flawed but nonetheless appealing proposition for artists and designers.

 

Getting to typing on this tablet, again it's made easier by the screen's larger size, and we appreciate the inclusion of a handy dedicated button to bring up Windows' built-in touch keyboard. However, quite simply we prefer the onscreen keyboards of every other OS but windows. So if you're planning an extended typing session, the included Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 is a godsend.

 

To get the full low down on this award-winning little keyboard you should click through to read our review, but suffice it to say that it's compact and light yet very ergonomic. It offers a superb typing experience that we doubt any of the keyboard docks for competing tablets can hold a candle to.

 

So far then, the Eee Slate EP121 has been holding up very well indeed. It's nicely designed, fairly well-built, comfortable to hold and well-connected, with a superb screen and impressive speakers by tablet standards. Its responsiveness, large display, stylus 'pointer' and excellent wireless keyboard combined with meaty specifications make it easily the most usable Windows 7 tablet we've seen, and it runs quietly even when under load, something the MSI WindPad 100W couldn't even manage with an Atom running at its core.

 

However, the Slate pays the price for its powerful components in battery life. During average use with the screen at full brightness we managed just under three hours, while playing back a looped video at 50 percent screen brightness and with wireless radios disabled still netted us only three hours and ten minutes. That's poor by any standard, but especially grim when compared to the nine hours and more you would get from an Android or IOS tablet.

 

When you get right down to it, however, that's not a completely fair comparison. If you want a multimedia and browsing tablet that can also do light productivity, the iPad 2 and Eee Pad Transformer will serve you well. But if you want the ability to run the same software as on your laptop or desktop, Windows is the only way to go - and frankly, this is the first tablet on which Microsoft's OS feels truly usable.

 

Unfortunately, the next hurdle is price. At a whopping $1449, the Slate is far from a value proposition, especially compared to the $579 iPad 2 or $799Transformer. On the other hand, if you look at it as a designer tool and compare to an alternative like the $1498 Wacom Cintiq, it suddenly seems like a far more reasonable proposition.

Verdict

Asus' Eee Slate EP121 is a unique Windows tablet that has a lot going for it. A beautiful 12.1 inch IPS screen offers both capacitive and pen feedback with the included Wacom stylus, making it an intriguing artist's and designer's tool. Powerful internals ensure Windows 7 rarely feels less than smooth, while comprehensive connectivity and surprisingly good speakers are the icing on the cake.

However, poor battery life and its incredibly high price limits the Slate's appeal to a niche audience of well-heeled, productivity-oriented individuals who don't need to stray too far from a power outlet.

 

To read the original review, click here

 

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Pros & Cons

Pros:

Large IPS screen with Gorilla glass; Powerful and fast, excellent connectivity; Capacitive or stylus interaction; Windows 7 offers superb productivity potential; Premium wireless keyboard

Cons:

Very expensive; Windows 7 not designed for touch or tablets; Poor battery life; No 3G; Too large and heavy to hold one-handed