Hands on with Asus’ Eee slates and tablets

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.

Comments closed
    • glynor
    • 9 years ago

    I’m really quite interested in the Transformer tablet. Looks like it could be a real winner.

    I’m curious to see what the situation on 3G access and GPS is on it though. Those two things must be available, without a contract and without “activation fees” for turning 3G on and off, for the device to be a viable choice for me.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 9 years ago

    1) YAY! IPS! Hopefully more companies other than Apple realize the benefits of using good screens on devices that are likely to be viewed from all different angles.

    2) The 7″ tablets actually do interest me even though I’m generally not big on the whole tablet thing even after playing with an iPad over the holidays. 7″ is a nice size for a tablet-cum-PDA/organizer thing, I don’t do smartphones and the screens are a bit too small on them for some things but 10″ tablets are a bit too large to be all-the-time portable while these are semi-pocketable. I can see the 5-7″ sizes becomeing the new ‘PDA’ for business types, if they want it as an adjunct to their smartphone.

    • thebeastie
    • 9 years ago

    I think a lot of tech companies like the idea of a Windows 7 tablet purely because they know consumers believe it is a good idea and will want to buy then. It is about making the money, if they end up buying a Ipad2/Honeycom tablet the next year well then it was truly professional business execution as the revenues and net profits will be at their peak.

    Win7 tablets will just be a hassle, always updating, getting new antivirus and anti spyware then hunting down good drivers, and constant battery charging.
    This is a perfect product to gain extra money from consumers. Tablet manufactures will deliberately let them learn at their own expense and make a lot of money out of it.

      • travbrad
      • 9 years ago

      It’s a good thing we have Apple then. Their goal has always been saving the consumer money!

    • potatochobit
    • 9 years ago

    can a slate replace a cintiq at an affordable price?
    that is all I really am interested in
    other functions would just be perks

      • SonicSilicon
      • 9 years ago

      Sometimes…
      I tried it once and found some points that can become issues.

      Parallax : That offset between where you see a pixel and where you think you should press it, will always exists. It’s caused by the separation between the actual display and the outside of the protective plastic or glass in front of it. Try keeping it minimal, otherwise you will start getting too much of a disconnect and may not really have any benefit compared to using a standard graphics tablet. (Unfortunately, this is usually only discussed on community sites.)

      Screen type : When I got a tablet, twisted nematic reigned. That meant having to conform to the computer due to poor viewing angles. A handful offered transflective displays, but were typically lower resolution, at the end of a model generation, and pricey. Thankfully IPS is an option, now, and transflective has become a bit better and more popular in the form of Pixel Qi displays (still, not widely available, at this time.)

      That’s really it for comparing them to the Cintiq line, but below are a few other things you may want to keep in mind.

      CPU : Pentium 4 didn’t quite cut it, way back when, so I doubt anything in the Atom line will. In short, you’ll need to see the results of moving the stylus instantly to make experience work. As for ARM-based tablets … well, you can run Linux and native executables (GIMP, Inkscpae, etc.) on them, but I have no idea if they have enough processing power. (There are some video demonstrations of people scribbling on ARM tablets, but it’s usually with an unnamed program.)

      Heat : Aim for low power, not just to extend battery life (super useful in a tablet) but also so you don’t have to worry about how you hold the tablet.

      Weight : Six pounds is certainly too heavy. Three could be tiresome. Around two pounds or less is probably ideal, but also limiting.

      Size : This seems highly personal. I’d recommend measuring yourself. It’s easier to hold a tablet in a portrait orientation in general and you can either handhold one or catch it between your elbow and curled fingers. Keep in mind it’s the case size, not the screen size, you need to go by. Bezel width varies a lot, and people rarely agree over how much is too much or too little.

      Graphics shouldn’t be much of an issue with how much has been put into low-end development in the last few years.You probably don’t even need to worry about drivers.

      That’s about all I can come up with, right now.

    • libradude
    • 9 years ago

    EP121: DO WANT.

    I have an old HP tc1100 upgraded to 2GB and Win7 that I use at work for notetaking or sitting in the chair at home (until the battery dies after 1.5-2 hrs) surfing while watching TV. When I’m at work, I don’t mind plugging it in. Longer battery life would be great. Even the 3-3.5 hrs mentioned here is way better than what I get.

    One thing I’ve really enjoyed is playing Diablo 2 on it, using the stylus. To me it seems much more interactive to tap on the screen to attack rather than just use a mouse. The latter might be easier, but I have had a blast going back through the game in this fashion.

    My HOPE is that by the time Diablo 3 comes out (no release date yet) there will be a tablet much like this one, but with maybe a little better (switchable?) graphics so I can enjoy D3 goodness with a stylus and not have to sacrifice graphic quality. I’m excited by all the new tablets coming out… I’ll be sad to retire my tc1100 but all this new hotness will ease the pain, I’m sure. 🙂

    I know the Android or WebOS tablets will offer a much better UI, but they won’t play Diablo or run OneNote 2010 like my tc1100…unless that ARM version of Windows comes to fruition sooner than I think it will. Anyway, just wanted to throw out a couple reasons why I doubt I would consider a tablet if it’s not running Windows. Everyone uses them differently; this is just how I use mine.

    • HisDivineShadow
    • 9 years ago

    Someday, when MS stops thinking everyone should use the conventional Windows interface for x86 laptops and designs a tablet-specific interface for tablets to use that lets people do 90% of what they want from a PC (similar to how an iPad’s interface allows one to do so much of what anyone might want to do with a PC and everything of what so many would need to do), a tablet like this WOULD be interesting to me.

    This is not difficult. Certainly, not “We can’t figure this out in 10 years” difficult. MS’s been working on tablets forever. And they still don’t have it down. It’s kinda ridiculous. As in, “We need to fire Steve Balmer because he’s clearly an idiot” ridiculous.

    Haha, Google should create a program to make an Android-overlay over Windows 7 for these devices so that they can get people hooked on the Android platform via even Windows 7-based tablets. Really put the screws to MS.

    I can’t imagine wanting a $1k tablet built on x86 or x64 CPU’s until then. I do think that Intel needs to realize this is a problem they HAVE to solve and soon. Else, people will be using ARM CPU-based tablets that connect to keyboards and mice because it’ll just be so cheap that the legacy software won’t matter.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 9 years ago

      [quote<]It's kinda ridiculous. As in, "We need to fire Steve Balmer because he's clearly an idiot" ridiculous.[/quote<] [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvsboPUjrGc[/url<]

        • kamikaziechameleon
        • 9 years ago

        I have for words for you…

        I’m so very terrified.

      • kamikaziechameleon
      • 9 years ago

      Linux has been trend setting for the computer and devices market for the last decade, The apps store existed in ubuntu and other linux distros first, Custom and flexible GUI was something that Linux users considered standard fair since the begining. Why can’t microsoft give Advanced users functional GUI control. Instead we get issues like changing icon size in win 7 makes navigating game menues a pain, something so simple and universal and microsoft can’t get it right.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    Interesting, but I`m still most interested in hp`s (rumoured, but consistent with current products) approach: a tablet with a similar digitizer, that runs Win7 as a process, with instant-on WebOS as the `front end`, which is much more suitable for fingertip use for web browsing, etc.

      • kamikaziechameleon
      • 9 years ago

      I’d hope they could make something like that in the EP121. No real reason why not, that would be a phenominal device. With the support of a Instant on android OS, or a full fledged windows app. I wonder if android 3.0 will run better on x86 architecture, if so then we may be able to fix the issue ourselves.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    glad to hear it. I thought something like this would be a great device.

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