It may be like a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster (or at least the Jersey Devil), but we might have finally found that elusive Windows touch-screen tablet that doesn't make us want to run screaming back to a traditional clamshell laptop. The Asus Eee Slate EP121 pushes the boundaries of what we expect from Win 7 tablets by casting itself as a high-design, high-powered system, thanks to a fast Intel Core i5 processor and separate Bluetooth keyboard.
At the very least it stands out from most of the Windows tablets we've reviewed over the years, the latest being the new Acer Iconia Tab W500P. Windows tablets have typically underperformed in comparison both with more powerful Windows laptops and with other tablets, such as Apple's popular iPad.
That Core i5 CPU means that, unlike nearly every other Windows tablet we've laid a finger (or stylus) on, the EP121 responds instantly in most cases, with much less of the sluggishness that has plagued similar systems in the past. The CPU in question is still a bit of a compromise. It's a low-voltage Core i5-470UM, and not part of the upgraded 2011 line of Intel CPUs. That means it lacks the better integrated graphics and battery-enhancing properties of the latest Core i3/i5/i7 CPUs. Still, next to the typical Intel Atom found in many touch-screen Windows devices, the difference is like night and day.
The Eee Slate EP121 costs $999 with a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD) and 2GB of RAM, or $1,099 for a 64GB version with 4GB of RAM (although we have yet to see the higher-end version actually for sale for less than $1,399).
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,099 / $999|
|Processor||1.3GHz Intel Core i5-470UM|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||64GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.3x8.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||12.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.6 pounds/4.2 pounds (with keyboard and AC)|
The body of the EP121 feels solid and well-made, thanks to the edge-to-edge glass and thin metal bezel. The back is white textured plastic, but the trade-off is that the tablet only weighs about 2.5 pounds, which makes it feel very light in the hand. It may be the most iPad-like Windows tablet we've tried in terms of look and feel (even though it's a good bit larger).
Along the top edge you'll find a switch to lock the screen rotation (as on every Windows tablet, the screen rotation is painfully slow, and occasionally overly sensitive) and a quick-launch button for the built-in Windows 7 onscreen keyboard. There's also a hidden pocket for an included stylus, which is pressure-sensitive, a feature that's probably only useful with supported painting programs, such as the included ArtRage Studio. The left edge has a volume rocker switch and most of the ports and connections.
Using that onscreen keyboard is a bit easier than on some other tablets we've tried, because of the larger screen size. But it's never going to be anyone's preferred input method. Instead, we'd rather use the bundled Bluetooth keyboard, which is designed to match the EP121 and has a slightly curved, ergonomic shape. The keyboard worked fine, but we wish it included either a tiny touch pad or even a ThinkPad-style trackpoint. Instead, your only cursor input options are a fingertip, the included stylus, or a USB or Bluetooth mouse.
The real culprit here is Windows 7, which is simply not built to support finger input. Microsoft has hinted that Windows 8 will be much more tablet-friendly, but we heard the same claims about Windows 7 (and even Windows Vista).
The slate part of the EP121 can also fit into an included leatherlike folio case, which has a couple of positions it can be folded into, much like an iPad case. The folio doesn't match the slick look of the tablet itself, and a built-in kickstand could have been a much cooler way to set the screen and keyboard up like a traditional laptop. However, compared with the impossibly clunky keyboard-docking mechanism of the similar Acer Iconia Tab W500P, we'll take the EP121's simple Bluetooth connection every time.
Rather than the 7- or 10-inch screens we're used to on touch-screen tablets, Asustek Computer bumps up the display to 12.1 inches, making this feel much closer to a full-size laptop (or at least a 13-inch one). The display resolution is 1,280x800 pixels, similar to the 1,366x768 pixels found on most small to midsize laptops, and the screen's nearly edge-to-edge glass looks slick, although it's a fingerprint magnet. Whatever fingerprint-resistant coating Apple puts on the iPad and iPhone 4 isn't to be found here.
|Asus Eee Slate EP121||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||Mini-HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Combo mic/headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
Unlike the Acer W500P tablet, which keeps most of its ports on the keyboard dock, the Asus Eee Slate EP121's connections are on the tablet itself. Two USB ports are hidden behind hard-to-open plastic tabs along the left edge, along with a Mini-HDMI jack, an audio jack, an SD card slot, and a volume rocker switch.
Using the Core i5-U470M CPU, we were able to stream 720p online videos smoothly, which is a task Intel Atom tablets (and Netbooks) have struggled with. A current-gen Intel Core i5 would have included Intel's improved integrated graphics, which would have allowed for some basic 3D gaming. Instead, anything beyond basic casual games will be impossible (we ran Street Fighter IV at native resolution at 9.6 frames per second).
However, having several browser windows open at once, playing video, and running an art program at the same time didn't cause any slowdown, so this has been one of our best Windows tablet experiences to date.