When Asus first announced its plans to launch a range of tablets, it promised that it would go off the beaten track. The EeePad Transformer set the scene, adding an optional keyboard which doubled the existing battery life. With a touch-sensitive IPS display, it was more of a netbook-tablet hybrid than anything else.
Asus has taken that hybridisation even further with the EeePad Slider, a touchscreen tablet running Android Honeycomb with a full-size slide-out keyboard. Most of the other details are the same, and in many ways it's just a 10.1'' Transformer with a keyboard already attached.
Like Asus' earlier tablet, the new Slider has a dual-core 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1 GB of RAM.
The capacitative touchscreen uses an IPS display, which should mean it can boast wide viewing angles. The lower half, with the keyboard, has all the circuitry as well as the inputs and outputs, which include a mini-HDMI port, a USB 2.0 port a microSD card slot allowing you to add up to 32 GB of memory, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a proprietary connector for recharging and connecting to your computer.
Design & HandlingWhen we got the tablet and the attached keyboard—which you can't actually remove—out of the packaging, our first reaction was that mobility is going to suffer with 950 g of hardware. To be fair to Asus, it's aiming at convenience and features rather than ultra-mobility with this product.
For comparison, other 9'' and 10'' tablets like the Apple iPad, the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung GalaxyTab 10.1 or even the Asus EeePad Transformer before you add the keyboard weigh much closer to 200, 300 or 400 g!
The Slider has the same structure as the Transformer, and looks the same from the front. But elsewhere, Asus has changed things up, switching the dark, textured finish for a combination of clean white plastic and imitation aluminium, which is joined by a third, softer material which is a delight to touch.
All of the connectors and physical buttons are within easy reach, and they all also benefit from a great build quality that helps them fit seamlessly into the case. In some cases, they're all too easy to get hold off. One example is the Reset button, something most users rarely touch. On other devices it's normally hidden somewhere and needs the tip of a pen or a needle to activate, but on the Transformer it takes pride of place next to the volume controls and only takes a single tap to reset the whole device. You need to watch out for it, especially if you're enjoying a video game, a problem we came across on several occasions. (It's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it! —Ed.)
All of the connectors and physical buttons are within easy reach, and they all also benefit from a great build quality that helps them fit seamlessly into the case. Indeed, in some ways, they're all too easy to get hold of. One example is the Reset button, something most users rarely touch. On most devices it's normally hidden somewhere and needs the tip of a pen or a needle to activate, but on the Slider it takes pride of place next to the volume controls and only takes a single tap to reset the whole device. You need to watch out for it, especially if you're in the heat of the action in a game, a problem we came across on several occasions. (It's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it! —Ed.)
But let's come to the most distinctive part of this tablet, that sliding keyboard, which is, unfortunately, a bit naff. Naturally enough, we were expecting it to work like a smartphone slider, opening with a simple press from the thumb. But no matter how hard you press, it simply won't slide anywhere unless you pull the screen back at the same time.
It might sound simple, but you have to hold the Slider in one hand to pull the screen with the other. We've certainly seen more intuitive hardware. Once you do get it open, it hardly feels very solid. We'd also like to mention the fact that the edge of the keyboard is higher than it normally is, making it hard to reach the Space bar in the same way as you do on other keyboards.
Something else we're less sure about is how well it will stand up to being opened and closed dozens of times over the course of its lifetime. Worryingly, the ribbon cable that connects the touchscreen with the lower half of the tablet is very visible in between the two halves.
Apart from the obvious benefits of being able to use a full-size keyboard, the sliding form factor has a second advantage: you don't need a dock or a stand to rest the tablet on. Sliding it open is perfect if you've got a lot of browsing to do or want to watch a video.
ScreenThe EeePad Transformer didn't break any records for unbeatable contrast ratios, but it was perfectly acceptable. The Slider is much the same: the IPS display puts in a solid performance, with very wide viewing angles that only give way to a dramatic loss of contrast when you really tilt the display away. By that we mean you need to have it at around 80° from your line of sight before the contrast disappears. That shouldn't be too much of a problem for most people, but if you want to have a half a dozen friends round to enjoy a movie on a 10'' tablet ...
The contrast ratio itself is 757:1, which is about as good as the first iPad (and, unsurprisingly, just like the Transformer). It's nothing like the Acer Iconia Tab A500, the BlackBerry PlayBook by RIM or even the Packard Bell Liberty Tab which all manage to break through the 1000:1 mark.
The average deltaE score, which describes how accurately colours are reproduced with 0 being the best possible score is 5.9. That's one of the best scores for a tablet yet, but the BlackBerry PlayBook remains in the lead at 4.0. Grey, black and red tones in particular are remarkably accurate for a tablet, or any kind of mobile device for that matter.
Another strength is the colour temperature, which is almost perfectly constant at 6463 K, producing one of the most even displays we've seen on a product like this.
The brightness tops out at 260 cd/m², and while we've seen worse in the past, we've also seen much better. If you combine that with the glossy finish, using the Slider outside in bright sunlight can be very tricky. The screen has a disappointingly average ghosting time of 25 ms, but Asus has tried to curb this problem by using interlacing with the LED backlight to give the impression of more fluid movements. Ghosting is therefore less visible than on other tablets with a similar response time.
We weren't surprised to find the basic version of Android Honeycomb 3.2 with no extras, although some users will only get 3.1 and have to upgrade themselves. As it did with the Transformer, Asus has added some of its own apps, including MyCloud, MyNet and MyLibrary. The first of these allows users to access data stored in the cloud from anywhere in the world via a special account.
The second app, MyNet, is used for sharing content from the tablet or to access other computers and servers with MyLibrary is an e-book reader, following the same basic principles and look and feel as Apple's iBooks app. Other third party apps are also installed by default, including the Amazon Kindle Zone, and Nvidia's Tegrazone store which offers downloads of games that are optimised for the firm's graphics hardware.
Not much has really changed since the Transformer, although the interface is a little faster, especially when you switch from heavy-duty tasks like watching HD video or making several simultaneous downloads to something lighter. The same is true of switching from one app to another, which is now much smoother. The same is true when you rotate the display to landscape mode, where there's been a noticeable improvement in how long it takes to adjust.
The user experience with Android Honeycomb was already more than satisfactory, but Asus has improved it again with the Slider, which is certainly no bad thing.
Web browsing is as fast as ever and even Flash-heavy sites don't present too much of a problem. It's still disappointing to find that Asus hasn't managed to find a better way of displaying web content in portrait mode. The default zoom level is far too small, meaning you always have to zoom in on both the Slider and the Transformer, but at least the zoom itself is fast, smooth and accurate.
You'll still need a third-party app to play most audio and video files-we recommend moboPlayer-because the selection handled natively by Android is very restrictive.
The tablet can handle all sorts of video games, though, and the titles available in the Tegrazone store are particularly impressive.
The Slider produces good quality audio but could do with being a lot more powerful. The speakers are at the front, inside the slide-out keyboard. The signal from the headphone jack has a little more oomph, but it's hardly likely to leave your ears ringing. The best we can say is that you can more or less hear everything.
The 5 Megapixel camera (at the back this time) takes better photos than the one on the Transformer managed, with more detail and less under-exposure in darker areas. Then again, that all suggests you actually want to take a photo with a tablet in the first place.
Battery LifeAs you might have gathered by now, the Slider didn't really have many surprises in store for us, and its battery lasted as long as the Transformer's. You can expect to get around 7 hours 20 minutes out of it if you're using it for a variety of tasks, but that can vary from anywhere between 6 hours 35 minutes and 7 hours 40 minutes of video playback depending on the files in question, and, more importantly, whether or not Bluetooth and WiFi are turned on at the same time.
- Display is generally acceptable
- USB Host port and full-size physical keyboard
- Asus has added useful extra tools to Android Honeycomb
- Interesting form factor
- Good quality touchscreen keyboard
- Display offers less contrast than some other tablets
- Heavy, and design leaves internal cables visible. Why bother when you can get the Transformer?
- Slide-out keyboard is tricky to use and less good than the onscreen version
- Reset button is far too easy to activate accidentally
- Proprietary port in the wrong place to use with a dock
The Asus EeePad Slider is an interesting concept but it will never manage to beat its cousin the Transformer, mostly because that slide-out keyboard is both tricky to access and to use. It's still a very good tablet, but you'll have to try it out first to see if you're convinced or not.