Asus Eee Slate EP121 £999
19th Apr 2011 | 15:28
Can this Windows tablet get Microsoft back in the touchscreen game?
Asus Eee Slate EP121 review: Overview
There are two kinds of tablet in the world.
These tablets are designed for watching movies, playing games, browsing websites, creating music, taking photos and generally doing a lot of the more entertaining things laptops can do, but in a more-natural way.
They're tactile, fun, light, affordable and thanks to the challenge offered by their limited input method, far more intriguing devices than their laptop brethren.
Anyone that hasn't had chance to play with the likes of the iPad is missing out. A quick few moments with a copy of GarageBand should have most wondering how they can squeeze such a device into their lives.
The Asus Eee Slate EP121 is not one of these machines. It belongs to another group. An older, smaller group.
The other type of tablet isn't aimed at consumers. It's been tried, but ultimately it failed to make an impact with the general masses. The last big push to get such machines in the hands of users was back when Windows XP was all the rage, and while some swore by their versatility and natural inputs, most simply swore at them and walked away.
THICKNESS:The Eee Slate is enormous compared with the iPad 2
This traditional Windows tablet is still alive, although only as a niche for those industries that need the machine's compatibility and also require the tablets natural input methods. These machines are used for showing PowerPoint presentations, for using in the field where a keyboard wouldn't be practical.
They're also used by artists and designers, where the combination of a stylus and a touchscreen combine to make for a far more intuitive working experience.
Can the Eee Slate EP121 bridge the gap between these two usage types, or is it simply a new version for this existing tight niche? Time to find out...
Asus Eee Slate EP121 review: Features
The most obvious distinction of the Asus Slate EP121 is its size; at 12.1-inch visible diagonal, it's notably larger than the vast majority of consumer tablets available. The native resolution of 1,280 x 800 works well, and the IPS panel makes for great viewing angles and excellent colour representation too.
Its sober styling and chunky dimensions may not appeal to those won over by the likes of the iPad 2, but there's a good reason for the relatively large 312 x 207 x 17mm chassis, and that's the specification of the machine's core components.
While manufacturers may be fighting over what kind of low-power ARM processor to squeeze inside their machines, for the Slate EP121, Asus has gone straight for the big guns and picked Intel's dual-core Core i5-470 processor clocked at 1.3GHz.
This processor, paired up with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, makes for an impressive core that can handle everything most desktop machines can. Combined with the installation of Windows 7 Home Premium, it means that you can run the applications you know and love with the minimum of fuss.
The 32GB SSD gives enough space for a few applications, and more storage can be easily added in the form of a MMC/SD card.
A stylus is stored in top right-hand corner of the machine, which affords more accurate input and drawing, but this isn't needed since the capacitive screen is accurate enough for normal tasks without it.
Stereo speakers can be found in the lower bezel of the machine, and are surprisingly capable when it comes watching movies. There is of course a headphone socket if you'd prefer a slightly more personal experience.
You'll find a pair of USB ports on the edges of the machine, as well as a mini-HDMI port for watching back HD video on the big screen.
There's only a front facing camera on the EP121, and at 2MP it isn't going to set the world alight, but it does mean you can partake in a little video conferencing.
The main pack also includes a protective sleeve, which doubles as a stand that can be used in portrait and landscape modes, and a wonderfully designed power brick that boasts a USB port so you can recharge other devices at the same time. Asus has also included a Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000, which makes typing a lot easier and looks great, too.
Asus Eee Slate EP121 review: Performance
In use, the Slate EP121 is something of a mixed bag. The raw performance offered by the powerful core pulls no punches. Normal tasks finish quickly, and for the vast majority of the time the machine is responsive and multitasks with ease.
Even so, there are times when painting in the bundled ArtRage III, or when watching HD movies, that the performance stutters, or proceedings grind to a halt. This could be due to the operating system performing house-keeping tasks, and it's never for long, but it does still frustrate.
The biggest problem with sluggishness, though, is when changing the orientation of the Slate EP121. Switching from portrait to landscape results in at least a five second delay where the screen blanks, and then slowly redraws. It's frustrating to wait for, and the orientation lock will probably mean this machine is used one way round only.
We've commented on this before in the Acer W500 review, where the lowly specification of that system may have been to blame, but there's no such excuse here. This is clearly a problem with Windows.
The main problem with Windows on a tablet, though, is that it hasn't been designed to make the most of a touch interface. Window resizing is frustrating, closing windows surprisingly tricky and common tasks that are straightforward with a mouse and keyboard can suddenly take on Herculean proportions.
The larger 12.1-inch screen does make this an easier machine to use than the aforementioned W500, but only just. Compare the experience with a more consumer-focused tablet, and it really does feel like Microsoft has its work cut out to get Windows 8 up to speed.
On the positive side of things, the screen is a delight to use; and using the stylus to draw with is particularly rewarding, and designers for one will be eager to explore the potential offered by the Wacom digitizer.
Unfortunately, the high-powered components conspire to stop this being a designer's dream machine though, as the hefty 1.2kg machine boasts a mere two-and-a-half hours of battery life under normal use.
There's no question of whether this machine handles Flash, or a certain kind of plugin. To all intents and purposes, this is a Windows laptop, and as such everything can be made to run on it. Asus has bundled advertisement-heavy versions of Word and Excel with the machine, as if to prove this.
We did find gaming a little on the sluggish side, with the Unity-powered Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online pretty much unplayable. There are plenty of Flash-based games available that work without problem, though.
Asus Eee Slate EP121 review: Verdict
For a tablet costing £999, it really does need to do something special simply to make it worth considering, and the good news is that the Slate EPE121 does stand out from the crowd thanks to its powerful specification and large 12.1-inch screen.
General performance is great, with enough serious CPU grunt to make some desktops blush. Multitasking is painless, and thanks to the fact it runs Windows 7, you won't have a problem finding apps to make the most of that power.
The screen is bright, vibrant and, thanks to the IPS panel used, boasts great viewing angles. It's just as good as showing off your latest designs as it is watching a few movies
Drawing using the Slate EP121 is an incredible experience, with near-instant feedback on your strokes. The Wacom digitizer is a neat addition here, and actually represent decent value for money given the competition.
The bundled carry sleeve, power supply (with USB port) and Bluetooth keyboard are all of the highest standard, and genuinely add to the Slate's capabilities. It does almost double the unit weight carrying the whole lot round with you, though.
Build quality is excellent, giving the impression that this is a machine that will last you for years without problems.
It's heavy – for a tablet, at least. At 1.2kg, and twice the weight of the iPad 2, this is a machine you're going to want to rest on your desk rather than your arm for long periods. The bulky proportions don't help matters here.
The battery life is terrible. While we accept that this is due to the high-performance CPU and large screen, it doesn't make it a particularly easy pill to swallow.
Windows 7 hasn't been designed for tablets, and it really shows. Even simple tasks prove difficult when you're using the end of your finger to select something, as opposed to a carefully controlled mouse pointer.
Performance is still somewhat patchy at times, which given the focus on high-end specification and price is frustrating.
Given the current tech love affair with the more consumer-oriented tablets, it's good to see Asus offer something for serious tablet users. For that market there's plenty of good decisions at play here, and as a productive device, it's particularly impressive in the hands of artists and designers.
Unfortunately, while there's plenty of poke in this machine, it doesn't quite do enough to make it worth considering outside of its intended niche. Part of this problem is down to how Windows works, and how while it does offer great compatibility, its foibles are too great compared to the latest Android 3.0 and iOS machines.