We've already reported the announcement of four upcoming tablet PCs of various types from Asus at CES, but later in the show, we managed to get some hands-on time with several of them. Asus is obviously taking a multi-pronged approach to the tablet market, mixing a bit of cunning with an apparent willingness to throw several things at the wall and see what sticks.
I have to admit to being a skeptic about the potential for the most expensive of its new systems, the Windows 7-based Eee Slate EP121. Win7 seems like a poor choice for a tablet due to the mouse-centric interfaces of the operating system and the applications that run on it. The EP121 isn't cheap, with prices starting at $999, and is thicker and heavier (~2.2 lbs) than your average iPad or competitor. I was pretty well convinced that a system like this one didn't have any place in the burgeoning tablet market.
Then I got to spend some time playing with one, and my impressions have been altered. Asus' decision to include a stylus gives the EP121 a pointing device every bit as precise as a mouse or touchpad, making that traditional Win7 GUI easily navigable. Much of the credit on that front goes to the very sensitive Wacom digitizer encased behind the EP121's Gorilla Glass display surface, and the rest of the credit goes to the gorgeous, high-density IPS panel lurking beneath. The combination of the digitizer and the display make the EP121 a potentially fantastic tool for artists, designers, and other creative types.
The hefty built-in hardware includes full-fledged, Core i5-based laptop guts. That gives the EP121 its relatively thick profile and fairly short battery life (about 3-3.5 hours doing real work.) But the powerful hardware inside of the system makes it feel effortlessly responsive to pen-based input, whether you're drawing in a paint program or scrawling a phrase into the handwriting recognition tool. The system's weight and thickness make it feel substantial but not especially clunky or unwieldy.
I'm not saying the EP121 is for everyone, and it's certainly no iPad competitor, but after using it for a while, I do think it may find a dedicated following in the hands of the right users. Most folks will probably want to make use of a Bluetooth keyboard at times, of course.
Asus tells us it hopes to see this slate's battery life increase with the transition to Sandy Bridge mobile processors, and it apparently has a battery upgrade in the works, too. Together, those changes could add up to roughly six hours of battery life in a future version of the slate, which would be a very helpful improvement.
After I'd made peace with the EP121, I had to rush off to another appointment, but our faithful videographer Matt Butrovich stayed around to get a look at the even more promising Android-based tablets Asus announced, including the Eee Pad Transformer and the Eee Pad MeMO. Here's a look at each of them below.