Slate design Windows tablets are few and far between these days. Those that are available tend to be expensive vertical market solutions or under-powered and under-sized models from small makers. Asus has entered the market with the game changing Eee Slate EP121, a 12.1” Windows tablet with high end specs generally seen only on expensive verticals at a price that’s consumer-friendly. You’d think Asus has a slam-dunk since the market for a capable Windows slate tablet offers little competition; but the bigger problem is Windows’ somewhat unearned reputation for being a poor tablet platform. Though there’s some merit to these complaints, many dings rise out of ignorance: the platform has been around for 10 years and many reviewers dismiss Windows 7 tablets based on dated experiences. It hasn’t helped that several small manufacturers (generally Asian companies whose products arrive here online or through importers) went with underpowered Intel Atom CPUs and screens that are too small to work well with Windows.
The Eee Slate uses a 12.1”, 1280 x 800 pixel display; the sweet spot for Windows tablets and the most common size for mainstream convertibles like the HP TouchSmart TM2 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X201t. It runs on a ULV Intel Core i5 CPU for plenty of processing power and ships in 2 gig/32 gig SSD and 4 gig/64 gig SSD versions. The display handles both capacitive multi-touch with 2 touch points, and it has a Wacom digitizer with EMR pen for note-takers and artists. It runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit and performance is better than the capable Lenovo IdeaPad U260 12.5” notebook and worlds better than Intel Atom and AMD Fusion ultraportables (Fusion does have a gaming advantage though). Asus likes to bundle accessories in the box, a rare treat these days, and the Eee Slate comes with a leather portfolio case that can act as a stand and an Asus-branded Microsoft 6000 portable Bluetooth keyboard that’s received solid reviews of its own. The leather case’s functionality as a protective device and stand are very good but we weren’t terribly impressed with the uneven bonding of the leather to the semi-rigid inner backing material (there are ripples in the surface). The keyboard is excellent: it’s compact with a gentle curve for better typing ergonomics. Since it’s wireless Bluetooth, you can set the Eee Slate on a tablet in front of you, and use the keyboard in your lap (excellent for us couch potatoes).
The Eee Slate weighs 2.5 lbs. vs. 1.5 lbs. for mobile OS tablets and its battery life is shorter at 3 to 3.5 hours. Though it runs a full Intel CPU with all the usual PC parts inside, the 2 fans are quiet and the machine stays uncannily cool, even when streaming Hulu or Netflix over HDMI to an HD TV. The Slate has 2 USB ports, Atheros WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and a mini-HDMI port. There is no wired Ethernet port, and that means you’ll need a USB Ethernet adapter if you use a wired network connection.
Deals and Shopping:
The design is elegant with the large glass dominating the front and an aluminum frame surrounding the slate. Torsional rigidity is excellent and the tablet doesn’t flex. The back is white textured plastic and looks nice enough, though not as classy as the front. Ports and controls are well machined, and there are volume controls, an on-screen keyboard trigger, anti-rotation lock and power slider on the sides. All ports are located on the left side, and the two USB ports are under plastic covers that look nice but require a fingernail to open easily. The machine has both charging and power status (on/off/sleeping) LED indicators on the side and top. There’s a large button on the front face, and a short press runs Aero Peek (shows all your running apps in staggered stacked card style windows) and a long press sends Ctrl-Alt-Del.
The front-facing stereo speakers are surprisingly loud and full sounding by tablet and ultraportable standards. We enjoyed watching and listening to Hulu, Netflix and ripped video thanks to the good speakers and sharp, bright and colorful display. The 2 megapixel webcam lives above the display (when held in landscape mode), and yielded better Skype video quality than we've seen on many laptops. It's not much for still shots, however.
Who is the Eee Slate for? It’s for artists who use the Wacom pen and pressure-sensitive digitizer to work in Photoshop, Corel Painter, Alias Sketchbook and the included Art Rage application. It’s for note-takers who prefer the pen to the keyboard, students (especially Engineering and math students who use symbols and equations that are hard to enter via keyboard) and workers who need to work with forms, draw diagrams and the like. Given Asus’ attempt to consumerize the tablet, it’s also for those who want a tablet but want or need to do more than mobile OS tablets like the iPad 2 and Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom or Samsung Galaxy Tab can do. If you’re sick of not having Adobe Flash or dealing with its lackluster performance on some Android devices, if you want to do it all, from MS Office to Adobe Creative Suite CS5 to iTunes, Netflix and Hulu, the Eee Slate is worth a look. Since it’s Windows 7, the Eee can do anything a PC can do, and you’re not tied to an app store or market to get apps. The drawback? Since it’s Windows you must deal with Windows updates and anti-virus software. And not all UI elements are designed for easy touch operation. Watch our video for run-down on the touch experience and a few things you can do to improve it:
Windows 7 Touch Experience Video
Display and Digitizer
In a word: “wow”. The Slate’s 12.1” AFFS (advanced fringe field switching) display by Boe Hydis is simply fantastic. The technology is similar to IPS (used in the iPad and offered as an option on some Lenovo ThinkPads). Like IPS it’s very bright and has wide viewing angles (up to 178 degrees). The display is extremely sharp and clear and colors are accurate with relatively little shift and fade at extended viewing angles. It’s so bright that I rarely use it above 50% indoors (it averages 282 nits) and contrast is quite high. Unlike the iPad that tends to fade terribly outdoors, the Eee Slate is readable and usable outdoors—a big plus for vertical users who work outdoors and outdoor sketch artists. Its sharpness and viewing angles put the otherwise capable HP TM2 to shame (the TM2 has lousy viewing angles) and its clarity and colors beat Fujitsu convertible tablets like the T5000 series and T900. If you’re an artist, you’ll love this display for its brightness, good colors and wide viewing angles—other than the glare from the gloss Gorilla Glass surface, it’s near perfection. Thanks to the Eee’s much better display and much lighter weight, I’ve decided to replace my HP TM2. That said, if you need a keyboard most of the time and carry the tablet with you to classes, work or other places, the TM2 can still make sense.
You can use your finger to interact with Windows and applications, and the OS and Microsoft apps are touch aware. That means you can scroll pages and pinch zoom just as you would on mobile touch OS device (see our video, above). Microsoft’s Touch Pack for Windows 7 is pre-installed and it includes finger-optimized apps like Microsoft Surface Globe, Rebound and MS Surface Collage. For non-Microsoft apps that aren’t touch aware, you’ll need to use the scroll bars (we suggest you follow our tweak and enlarge them) and you might not get finger-panning and scrolling. We assume Asus has used a fingerprint-resistant coating on the display since it stays fairly clean and is easy to wipe off.
The buttonless Wacom tablet PC pen lives in a spring-loaded silo up top under a door (open the door and the stylus pops up). After calibration, pen accuracy is on par with other Windows tablets on the market, and it supports pressure sensitivity. However, like most all tablet PCs, the Wacom Wintab driver for pressure sensitivity in Photoshop isn’t pre-installed (you do get pressure sensitivity in the included Art Rage app and others that don’t depend on WinTab). There are a variety of drivers you can use to get pressure sensitivity in Photoshop, including Wacom’s own tablet PC drivers.
Here's our 15 minute Asus Eee Slate video review. We look at touch, the pen and Photoshop, video playback, included accessories and compare it to the iPad 2, Motorola Xoom and HP TM2.
Horsepower and Temperatures
The Eee Slate runs on Intel’s ULV (ultra-low voltage) Core i5 470UM CPU clocked at 1.33GHz with Turbo Boost to 1.86GHz. It has 2 cores and 4 threads with 3MB cache. This 32nm CPU was just launched in Q4 of 2010, and it’s the latest and greatest for ultra-portable Intel CPUs (we’re only now seeing Sandy Bridge ULVs). It can address up to 8 gigs of DDR3-800 RAM, though there’s only 1 SODIMM slot, and 4 gig sticks are the largest available on the market. The machine has Intel HD integrated graphics that can clock up to 500MHz. It’s not nearly as impressive as Intel’s HD3000 graphics used in Sandy Bridge, and as a result this is no 3D gaming rig (trust us, we tried). Intel’s HD graphics are more than adequate for 1080 video playback, casual games, Photoshop, a variety of art programs and some light video editing. We had no trouble streaming 1080p video via the mini-HDMI port to our big screen HD TV. Photoshop CS5 runs smoothly (see our video above), and even heavy filters executed with good speed.
PCMark: 4489 PCMarks
TV and Movies: 2220
The Eee Slate uses the new mSATA SSD drive design, and that drive looks like a mini-PCI card. This is not a 2.5” standard notebook hard drive form factor, and there’s no room for a standard drive. Asus offers the Slate in 32 and 64 gig configurations, and for the extra $100 we heartily recommend the 64 gig model that also increases RAM from 2 to 4 gigs: the price is reasonable for these upgrades and it’s hard to get by with only 32 gigs of storage. The SSD drive is made by Sandisk, and if you wish to upgrade capacity (and speed by a little bit), the 80 gig Intel 310 SSD is a good choice for $200. The tablet has an SD card slot, and it’s handy for storing movies, large images and other documents but you wouldn’t want to install programs on a card because the SD card interface is too slow.
We’re impressed at how cool the Eee Slate runs: it remains completely comfortable to hold in the crook of your arm even when plugged in. With moderate use, the back temperatures range from 74 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and when playing Hulu for an hour, the back got no hotter than 86 degrees. Remarkable. The CPU isn’t chronically underclocked by default either; it manages to run this cool at full speed.
Inside the Eee PC Slate: Opening it Up
How do you break into the Asus to upgrade components? There are no screws or obvious points of entry since Asus didn’t design it to be opened by novices. To remove the white plastic back cover, you’ll need to pry it off, starting at the USB port area. Use a credit card or spludger tool continue working around the edges to pry off the back. It’s actually not that hard, but do watch out for the ribbon cable that runs from the motherboard to the back cover. Once you have the back off, you can access the single RAM slot (it takes standard DDR3 10666 RAM), the mini PCI network card, and mSATA SSD drive under a copper RF-shield film. To replace it, simply snap it back on by pressing on the edges where it joins the aluminum frame.
Battery Life and Charger
The 34W/hr Lithium Polymer battery is sealed inside the Eee Slate, so you can’t swap batteries for a long day in the field away from an outlet. Asus claims the EP121 can run for up to 4.5 hours, but with brightness set to 50% and both WiFi and Bluetooth on, we average 3 to 3.5 hours on a charge. The Slate can play a 2 hour HD movie on a charge, but not much more. In terms of battery life, Windows tablets can’t compete with mobile OS tablets like the iPad 2. Asus could have used a larger battery (the battery actually consumes a good deal of the inner cavity), but that would mean a larger and heavier tablet. Likewise, they could have used a low power Intel Atom CPU, but performance would have tanked, making the Eee not much better than other underpowered competitors.
The compact white charger is easy to carry and pack and we love the USB charging port that’s built-in.
This is one of the best Windows 7 tablets we’ve seen in years, and one of the few slate designs that targets not just artists and verticals but consumers. The $999 to $1,099 price tag might sound high relative to consumer notebooks, but it’s much cheaper than 12” Windows slates that target business users in healthcare, real estate and the like. We love the no-compromise Core i5 ULV CPU that can easily handle Photoshop, Alias Sketch Book, Painter, MS Office and coding applications. The display is simply wonderful, and graphic artists should be pleased despite the glossy glass. The tablet runs cool and quiet, but we do wish battery life were better (though we find 3 hours acceptable). Build quality, design, ergonomics and looks are top notch, and Asus includes useful accessories like the portfolio case, Microsoft 6000 Bluetooth keyboard and a microfiber cleaning cloth. If you need the power of Windows and all the applications that go with that OS, but want a tablet form factor with touch and pen, it’s hard to beat the Asus Eee Slate EP121.
Pro: Excellent AFFS display with capacitive multi-touch and Wacom active digitizer and pen. Fast for a tablet with enough horsepower to handle business and art applications. Runs cool and quiet. Lovely design and excellent built quality. A folio case and Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard are included. SSD means you can move the Slate around without fear of hard drive damage and it's fast.
Display:12.1", AFFS 1280 x 800 LED backlit display. Capacitive multi-touch and active digitizer with pen. Display uses Corning Gorilla Glass to resist scratches and other damage. Intel HD integrated graphics. HDMI port (mini-HDMI).
Polymer 34W/hr rechargeable. Not user replaceable.
Core i5 470UM processor with 3Mb level 2 cache and Turbo Boost to 1.86GHz. 2 or 4 gigs DDR3 RAM in 1 standard SODIMM slot. 32 or 64 gig mSATA SSD drive.
x 8.16 x 0.78 inches. Weight: 2.5 pounds.
Camera:2.0 MP webcam with digital array mic.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
AR9002WB-1NG WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0.
7 Home Premium 64 bit. Included apps: Art Rage Studio, Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7, MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, Asus utilities, Roxio software.
Expansion and Ports:1
SD (Secure Digital) slot, 2 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and 3.5mm stereo jack.