We were totally taken by the Eee Pad Transformer when it came out because it did something different to the iPad, and so gave itself room to breathe away from the tablet big guns. Now its brother, the Eee Pad Slider has arrived, and manages to stand out in much the same way.
The specs are fairly typical for tablets these days. The Eee Pad Slider features a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 system-on-a-chip, offering dual-core power and good graphics performance, which powers Android 3.1 out of the box (though you can upgrade to 3.2 as soon as you get it connected to the internet, and an Android 4.0 update is on its way).
There's 1GB of RAM to keep multitasking smooth, along with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, though a microSD card slot means you can boost this. Wi-Fi is present up to 802.11n, as is Bluetooth.
The screen is a generous 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 IPS affair, so there's plenty of space for Android 3.2 to show us what it's got. We'll go into full details about the screen's quality on the Performance page.
Of course, behind the screen is where things get interesting. By grabbing the top of it, you can pull it up, so it slides back and sits up at an angle to reveal the built-in keyboard.
The front of the device is glossy black with a silver rim, like a lot of tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but the keyboard and rear case of the Eee Pad Slider are a kind of chocolate colour, with a matt finish.
It's an unusual direction for tablets, but one that we think works for this one. The more we used the Eee Pad Slider, the more we found it to be an office-focussed tablet, and the aesthetic really fits that. Overall, it bears far more of a resemblance to a BlackBerry Boldhandset than the iPhone, and we doubt thats coincidence.
The build quality of the two halves of the Eee Pad Slider is excellent, feeling totally solid and without any noticeable give. Our only (admittedly very mild) concerns are with the joins between the two.
We don't expect the hinge to break on anyone for no good reason, but the way the screen just sits loose and wobbly when in the upright position is odd compared how solid the rest of the device is.
There's also a ribbon connecting the screen to the keyboard. While we've no doubt that this offers a huge power consumption advantage over using Bluetooth to connect the two, it's an obvious weak point if your Slider should take an unexpected trip to the ground.
Around the sides, you've not only got your microSD card slot, but also the Lock key, a volume rocker, a reset button that's far too easy to press, a mini-HDMI port for video output, Asus's proprietary connection for USB connectivity and charging, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a full-size USB port.
Having two separate sliding halves in this tablet inevitably means it's a lot thicker than the competition. At 273 x 180.3 x 17.3mm, it's around twice as thick as an iPad 2, and at 960g it's around 50 percent heavier.
The weight difference really does tip it from being comfortable to hold to being just too heavy to keep in one hand for long. Between this and the slide-out function, which puts the screen at a great angle for both desk and lap use, it becomes clear that the Eee Pad Slider is less of a competitor for tablets like the iPad, and is more targeting replacing netbooks and smaller laptops.
The Eee Pad Slider looks set to be available for around £450 in its 32GB version, which isn't as cheap as the keyboardless half of the Eee Pad Transformer, but is good value compared to most other Android tablets.
The obvious major feature draw for the Eee Pad Slider is its slide-out keyboard. Offering a wide range of keys, it's got options for Home, Back and Menu, as well as a few keys to help you quickly conserve power if you're concerned about your battery life. Specifically, you can turn Bluetooth on and off, turn Wi-Fi on and off, and adjust the brightness.
Asus has taken the same route as other manufacturers when it comes to customising Android on tablets, and has included a carefully picked selection of apps and an original widget to make the Slider stand out.
The Asus Launcher is a slick widget that displays various bits of information, including the last website you left open, the currently playing music, calendar appontments, the weather, the date, and a slideshow of your photos.
It's a lot of stuff to cram into a widget, but it works really well thanks to a simple, no-nonsense design. We certainly prefer it to the utilitarian launcher widget included on the Lenovo IdeaPad K1.
As far as the apps go, the most useful is surely Polaris Office, given the nature of this tablet. It's a really good inclusion, with a slick, surprisingly powerful interface and options to create text documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
The word processor is particularly impressive, with tools for indenting, reflowing text, including media, tweaking fonts and loads more. In fact, we used it and the Slider's keyboard to write this entire review, with no problems in general (though a regular auto-save function would be gratefully received).
Cleverly, Asus is including an impressive cloud deal with the Slider. Asus' WebStorage offers unlimited online storage free for a year with the Slider. The app for it is easy to use, though it's a shame that you're unlikely to see it integrated into apps in the way Dropbox often is.
Amazon's Kindle client is included for readers, as is Zinio for buying and reading magazines, along with Press Reader for getting the newspapers right on your device. They're a killer trio of apps, all offering a great array of content, even if Zinio and Press Reader don't give you the flexibility in the publications that you get from Apple's Newsstand on the iPad.
Asus has also beefed up the built-in media options with MyNet, which adds media streaming both to and from the Slider.
The USB port on the side adds a few handy features, too. The first is that, like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, you can plug in a USB mouse and control the tablet that way. If youre doing a lot of word processing/spreadsheet work, you might find this quite useful.
It also works a USB host for mass storage, so you can plug in USB drives or memory cards (with an adapter) and use the included File Manager app to browse and move files.
On top of all this are the usual Google apps, including the Android Market. Nvidia's Tegra Zone is also bundled, making it easy to find games, if you want. No games are included, which is unsurprising considering how this tablet feels more work-focussed.
The Asus Eee Pad Slider earns itself a huge tick in the performance column in one very simply way: this is the smoothest Android tablet we've seen yet.
Scrolling between Home screens is as slick as you like, the app list flashes up and away in an instant, apps load quickly, the multitasking list is smooth and stable – this is Android at its very best, for general use, without a doubt.
It still suffers from Android's common imperfections, though. When zooming or panning in the browser, it's fast and responsive, but there can be a stutter, which makes it difficult to be precise. Sometimes, particlarly in the browser, there will be a mysterious lag when typing in the URL bar, which is frustrating.
The browser is fast to load sites, certainly, but consistently lagged just behind an iPad 2 running iOS 5 in head-to-head tests (both with Flash turned on and off). Android 4.0 looks set to boost Android tablets in this area, but that's the situation as it stands.
And yes, Flash 11 is available as ever from the Android Market. And yes, browsing a page with Flash content will drastically reduce the responsiveness of the browser. In addition, many iPlayer videos had an odd black mark that appeared occasionally, while going between fullscreen and a smaller window within the browser often caused the audio to go slightly out of sync.
However, the videos did play, and play smoothly, so for those of us who can't live without Flash, performance is about as good as we can get at the moment.
Media stored on the device played impeccably. HD video in particular was absolutely brilliant, with both 1080p and 720p files playing back smoothly. The killer is the crisp, clear screen, though. It's absolutely perfect for video, and the way the screen sits up on the Slider when the screen is out makes this an ideal tablet to keep you entertained on a long journey (well, save for the battery life, as we'll explain in a moment).
That screen really is the best thing about the Eee Pad Slider. At 1280 x 800, it's nice and high resolution, with text appearing crisp and easy to read. More than that, though, colours are vibrant and hugely appealing, and the viewing angles are excellent. It's also brighter than a lot of Android tablets. It's one of the best tablet screens we've seen, to put it simply.
Of course, the keyboard is a big feature for the Eee Pad Slider, since it's pretty much its reason for existing. And the good news is that is isn't bad. The keys are fairly small, but a nice gap between them makes them easy to find without concentrating.
In fact, we found it easy to hit the right key first time over 90 per cent of the keyboard, despite its size. You will inevitably miss more keys than you would on a full-size keyboard, but no more so than other small, portable keyboards.
Most of the 10 per cent where we weren't hitting the right keys was hunting for things like Control and Alt, which are slightly displaced because of the Home, Back and Menu keys.
The only really annoying aspect was that it's ludicrously easy to hit the up arrow button instead of the right Shift key. We did it constantly throughout this review, and it gets more annoying every time.
You will, of course, come to accomodate the layout as you get used to it, but even after hours of use, we were still nudging that damn up arrow.
Still, though, we give the keyboard a thumbs up, and the angle of the screen makes the while thing reasonably comfortable to use. Any small mobile keyboard has layout foibles, so we don't begrudge them too much, even if they can be annoying.
The last big thing for tablets is battery life, and this is probably the Slider's weakest area. It's rated for eight hours, but when we tried streaming video over Wi-Fi with the screen's brightness turned all the way up, we got just under five hours out of it.
This isn't terrible, though. You can expect a good deal more battery life than that if you're just using it type documents, for example. Though it's certainly well behind what the iPad can give you, let's remember that this is more focussed on the netbook/small laptop market than the iPad, and compared to most laptops this is great battery life in a far lighter package.
And as is so often the fashion, the Eee Pad Slider features front and rear cameras. The 1.2-megapixel front camera is as good as it needs to be, picking up a decent amount of light. The angle of the screen when slid out will give the person you're chatting to a lovely view of your nostrils, but it works well enough.
The rear five-megapixel camera turned out to be surprisingly good on a sunny day, though the 720p video footage it takes was rather weak, with a huge amount of artefacting ruining any semblance of detail.
It became clear to us when using the Eee Pad Slider that Asus isn't going after quite the same market as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It's too heavy and too thick to be in quite the same bracket, because of its keyboard.
But as an alternative to a small laptop, it really comes into its own. Suddenly it seems small, and light. Fast, too, compared many lower-powered Windows 7 machines. It even comes with a great office suite ready to go. This is a tablet for the office, the desk at home, or the briefcase, and it really works.
The screen is absolutely brilliant, which is always the first thing you want to see a tablet get right.
The same goes for the touch control and overall performance. Though smoothness in the browser and some other areas isn't quite as perfect as the iPad, this is a more than capable machine.
The way the keyboard slides out puts the screen at an ideal angle for on a desk or your lap – something that's clearly been thought through. And the keyboard itself is pretty good for a small mobile offering; good enough to write this review on.
The included apps are very useful, but quite understated, too. It's not bloatware – this is a great suite to have available from the off.
The only real disappointment with the Eee Pad Slider is the battery life. It's well below the likes of the iPad, and we'd hoped for better. As we said before, though, it holds its own against the kind of laptops it's most likely to replace, so it's not a deal breaker.
Similarly, it's chunkier and heavier than other leading tablets, which is a shame, but inevitable when you consider the extra mechanics and casing required for its two halves. And again, it compares favourably to laptops.
Our other gripes are only very minor foibles, really.
The keyboard is still harder to use than a full-size one, even if it's very good overall. Some people may never find it comfortable, but this is true of all small keyboards.
Android still needs some spit and polish here and there – hopefully Android 4.0 will bring at least some of that, and we're really looking forward to seeing the Slider with future versions of Android on.
As a tablet, this is a slightly flawed gem with a gimmick that not only makes it stand out, but makes it genuinely useful.
But as a laptop replacement, this is nippy, light, versatle and hugely desirable. As tablets increasingly become work tools, we fully expect the Eee Pad Slider to be right at the forefront of the revolution, thanks to its smooth performance, stunning screen, handy software and more-than-adequate keyboard.