Basically, it's a 12.1'' tablet built from laptop components but with a gorgeous IPS screen instead of the bog standard TN display that's usually used for notebook computers. It seems that Asus has managed to get its hands on a great supplier of IPS displays: not only does the Slate have one, but so too do the Transformer and the Slide.
The touchscreen display used here has the same resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels as the majority of Android-based tablets.
The Eee Slate has an Intel Core i5-470UM processor, a low-energy chip that's normally found in ultra-portable laptops and netbooks, and here it also helps add a little bit of extra power.
With 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of SSD, the tablet feels pretty responsive when you boot it up or install new software.
There's a pretty wide range of connectors, including two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-HDMI video output, a line out for audio, a memory card slot and a stylus. This last accessory, and indeed the whole touch-sensitive interface, has been provided by tablet specialist Wacom. When you plug it in to charge, you'll find a handy surprise in the shape of an extra USB 2.0 port.
Design and handling
It's simple: a 12.1'' display and heavy laptop components will leave you with sore wrists, and it's hard to slide the Eee Slate into the palm of your hand when it weighs 1.16 kg. Even if you've got it resting on your knees, it doesn't take long before you realise that it's too bulky to cradle with one hand while you use the touchscreen interface with the other. The travel case can be used as a stand, but that means you have to position it like a desktop monitor with the Bluetooth keyboard immediately underneath.
The connectors are all well protected under flaps at the side. A flap also covers the slot for the stylus in the top right corner. There are two buttons on the front: one to pair the Bluetooth keyboard and the other to stop the screen from rotating.
The reverse side of the Eee Slate looks like a white version of the EeePad Transformer. Be careful with the SD card slot which is spring-loaded and sends the card flying out when you release it. You could easily have your eye out!
ScreenThis hybrid between a netbook and a tablet has a 12'' display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixel. Text is a reasonable size and perfectly legible.
The screen might not reproduce colours with faultless accuracy, but its biggest problem, as far as we're concerned, is the glossy finish. We know that the majority of touchscreen devices-perhaps all of them, in fact-have glossy screens, but surely a mobile device that's designed to be used outside at least some of the time should have a matte finish to avoid the glare of the sun ruining things?
You can, of course, improve the situation a little bit by turning the brightness up as far as you can (which will look great in a showroom)-but that will have a negative impact on the battery life, which is hardly great to start with.
Despite all of this, we have to admit that Asus has made a real effort here by avoiding cheaper TN technology and its narrow viewing angles. By choosing an IPS display, Asus has ensured its customers can see what's on the screen of their Eee Slate from just about any angle. Better still, the contrast ratio is over 1080:1, which is great for a tablet, and not at all bad for any kind of mobile device.
That allows the Slate to take third place in the race to produce the best contrast ratio on a tablet, behind both the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and the Packard Bell Liberty Tab.
Interface and navigation
There isn't much for us to say about the OS, other than that it's Windows 7, which was designed to do anything but run on a mobile device. Asus has done its best to try and make things bearable by partnering with Wacom to provide a stylus, which soon becomes necessary if you want to get around the system quickly.
The manufacturer has added a few software tweaks to Windows 7, including a virtual mouse which appears when you tap the screen, allowing you select either a left or a right click. There's also a virtual keyboard that you can drag onto the display (see inset).
Finally, a physical button acts as the Alt+Tab shortcut which means you can get a quick overview of all your currently-running apps.
One last complaint is that the change from landscape to portrait mode is one of the slowest we've ever seen, but then again, we're not sure if many users will really want to use portrait mode given the dimensions on offer.
MultimediaYou can use the Slate for office work, and it also provides a smooth browsing experience and fluid playback of video, in both SD or HD, and whether you're streaming it or playing it locally.
More demanding tasks, like encoding video or 3D modelling are off the agenda though, and will take much, much longer than on a laptop running a 'normal' Core i5 CPU.
Browsing the web is super fast, and the Eee Slate easily beats any other tablet with every kind of page. Text is displayed accurately, in both landscape and portrait mode, though you'll want to be careful with your wrists if you do use it in portrait mode. You won't need to make much use of the zoom, and we're glad to see a 12.1'' IPS display finally displaying content properly. You'll need to go and download VLC if you want to play any videos outside the restricted list of formats supported natively by Windows 7. The fact you can do that is one of the advantages of having a more flexible OS on a tablet. The Intel GMA HD graphics chipset can't do that much for gamers unless they're prepared to stick with older games. Indeed, the Eee Slate does no better than the majority of netbooks on this front. You'll either have to develop an enthusiasm for retro-gaming or stick with downloads from the Windows 7 app store.
Webcam: the webcam leaves quite a lot to be desired. Movements are never smooth and the picture flickers frequently. It will do in a pinch but isn't an ideal solution.
The Eee Slate is virtually entirely silent. The only time we actually managed to coax any significant amount of noise out of it is when we pushed the components to the limit to see how it could cope with evacuating heat, and even then, it was hardly perceptible above even very modest background noise.
And those same tests revealed that the Eee Slate doesn't get as hot as you might have thought given the components used. The hottest part, of course, is next to the fan outlets along the top edge, where it's just under 40 °C. The rest of it, including the screen, never heats up at all.
Battery LifeBefore Windows 7 can really impress us on a mobile device, the battery life is going to have to get a lot better. The Slate doesn't use the low-power ARM architecture, and has a powerful processor and bright display to boot,= so it's hardly surprising that it can't reach the eight or even nine hours that the best tablets manage. Asus' spec claims that the Slate can last for five hours, but in reality, we found it to be a lot less than that. Whatever you're doing with it, whether it's watching a video, browsing the web or working on a document, you won't get more than three hours of continuous use out of it.
If you make do without the Internet by turning off the WiFi, you have a better chance of getting close to three and a half hours. All we can is that the business users that might be tempted by the Eee Slate aren't likely to be impressed by having to constantly worry about recharging their tablet.
At the end of the day, the Eee Slate EP121, just like the Transformer before it, is something of a hybrid. The components used make it a very atypical tablet, and the the weight and bulk make it less mobile than you'd expect, without turning it into a fully-blown laptop either. The Slate seems to be sitting on the fence between two different types of product, and perhaps Asus is hoping that some of its customers will be doing the same thing. But the battery life just isn't worthy of a mobile device and the Bluetooth keyboard-which is almost always needed-isn't much fun to carry around either. Asus ain't gonna revolutionise things like this ...
- Full Window environment on a hybrid product
- IPS display with incredibly good contrast
- Powerful processor
- Lots of connectors, very quiet
- Some handy touch-sensitive shortcuts
- Weight and size not really suited to mobile use
- Battery life is far too short: just three hours
- Physical keyboard feels like an unwanted extra
The Asus Eee Slate EP121 can't decide whether it wants to be a tablet or a laptop with a stylus, but it still managed (just about) to convince us that the touchscreen version of Windows 7 has got something going for it. The great display and powerful processor are let down by ridiculously poor battery life and a bulky frame. It's aimed at business users rather than anybody else.