Reviews -> Hardware -> Portable Devices
ASUS EEE PAD SLIDER SL101
Jamshed Avari | 27 December 2011
For : Comfortable keyboard, strong hinge, USB port.
Against : High price, inconsistent Android experience.
ASUS EEE PAD
Verdict: A high-priced toy that isn’t quite perfect either as an entertainment device or as a productivity machine.
The most obvious reason one might buy a netbook instead of a tablet today is that there’s just no substitute for a real keyboard. Accessory makers have been selling Bluetooth keyboards and dock-like contraptions for a while now, but these aren’t the most comfortable or convenient to use. Sensing an opportunity in a market full of similar-looking iPad clones, Asus has developed the first Android tablet with a truly integrated keyboard.
Like with the Eee Pad Transformer before it, Asus seems to have applied some thought to producing tablets which genuinely stand out. Rather than a simple clamshell or docking solution, the Slider looks somewhat like an overgrown smartphone. Unlike most of its competition, the Slider is by no means a sleek device. It’s over twice as thick as an iPad 2 and weighs quite a bit more too, so it isn’t going to win over those who love the idea of travelling only with a single, ultralight gadget. What we have here is a device that’s a step or two down from the average netbook—smaller and lighter, but also a lot less flexible.
At 0.9 kg, the Eee Pad Slider weighs at least a few hundred grams more than most 10-inch tablets, and is at least twice as thick. It’s also a lot wider, which allows for a decent-sized keyboard, but results in a thick black bezel around the screen. The front camera is positioned along the wide edge, so it’s on top when the Slider is open, but the rear camera is placed on what is effectively the device’s bottom, making it difficult to use and vulnerable to scratches. The sliding mechanism, as well as the arm that holds the two parts together when open, are both reassuringly solid. It doesn’t take much effort to open or close the Slider, but the screen angle is not adjustable at all, which could cause some inconvenience if your overhead lights reflect off the glossy screen too much. The keyboard is of course the Slider’s raison d’être, and it is in fact a lot better than many netbook keyboards. The five full rows of chiclet keys are well spaced, and are a pleasure to type on. Everything is in the right place, most common shortcuts work as expected, and you even have keys mapped to Android’s Home, Back and Search buttons. On the downside, the sliding design leaves a lot less depth than the usual clamshell keyboard, so there’s no wrist rest and your palms will rest a bit uncomfortably against the front edge. There’s also no built-in pointing device, leaving you automatically reaching for a mouse or trackpad, before you remember that you need to jab the screen to select anything. It’s a minor irritant, but it does interrupt workflow, especially considering that there could have at least been a BlackBerry-style nub for scrolling.
Capitalizing on its physical width, the Slider includes a USB host port, mini HDMI video out, and an easily accessible microSD card slot. The USB port can be used to connect a hard drive, pen drive, mouse, or even an external keyboard if you choose to. The only thing missing is an easily accessible rotation lock switch. The stereo speakers are reasonably loud, but strangely located behind the keyboard, which means they’re blocked and muffled whenever the device is closed.
The Slider’s screen is bright and crisp, and the 16:10 aspect ratio ensures enough space both for watching movies and for getting work done. The CPU is a fairly standard 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 2, which is more than enough for most applications, including gaming. The rear camera takes far too long to autofocus, and images are disappointingly grainy. Then again we can’t imagine holding up a tablet and shooting photos with it very often.
The battery lasted for just over a day of moderate web surfing, video playback and PDF browsing, which is impressive, but the bottom half did get hot enough to become uncomfortable on the lap.
Software and Usability
Our review unit came running Android 3.1, though the official specs list 3.2 as standard. Asus hasn’t carried out much customization, apart from a new default on-screen keyboard that takes up much more screen space, but is easier to use. Noteworthy apps include Amazon Kindle for ebooks; Polaris Office, which can read and edit MS Office formats; augmented reality tool Layar; and MyNet, which lets you browse shared media files over Wi-Fi. The usual suite of Google apps, including Maps, Latitude, Gmail and YouTube are of course available, as is an Nvidia app called TegraZone, which lists a number of games that are available for you to buy. The stock Android experience is comfortable enough, and you can of course load whatever apps you like. Thankfully, you can browse through the files on any storage device plugged into the USB port, although launching movies and music files might be a mixed bag—you’ll need to download your own choice of media player, since the built in options have trouble opening most common video file formats. The camera app is fairly pointless, as the image quality wasn’t especially impressive, and we can’t imagine ever holding the Slider up with two hands to take a photo or video.
All apps that we tried ran smoothly, and we had no problems multitasking even with 5–10 apps open in the background. The Android ecosystem still has a long way to go when it comes to immediate user friendliness, so we hope to see over-the-air upgrades to future versions of the operating system made available by Asus as and when they are released.
The Slider’s battery easily lasted through more than a day of casual use, which included a few hours’ worth of reading documents, surfing the Web over Wi-Fi, and playing music and video. Asus rates its life at 8 hours of continuous 720p video playback, though we didn’t test this formally as our unit shipped with the older Android 3.1.
Value for money
Having a mouse, keyboard and proper file management functionality sets the Slider apart from other tablets. At least in terms of mobile productivity, this puts it head and shoulders above any combination of iPad apps and accessories, and that too at a fairly competitive price. However, you end up with a device that’s still way more expensive than almost any netbook, and is just as heavy and bulky. The Slider won’t give you the benefits of running Windows and all your usual programs on standard PC hardware, but it might offer a better balance of battery life and flexibility between work and play. Asus’ other tablet offering, the Eee Pad Transformer, is also a strong alternative because it lets you ditch the keyboard when it isn’t needed and carry just the tablet around, to save space and reduce weight. Still, at this price, you could get a pretty capable thin-and-light laptop. If you want to step up, Intel-powered ultrabooks have already started hitting the market at around Rs 50,000, and the 11-inch MacBook Air is just a few thousand rupees more than that. The Eee Pad Slider is a unique device that bridges two worlds, but isn’t earth-shatteringly good either as a tool for work or for entertainment. It’s a great device, but it’s hard to see it as the best choice for anyone.
- Jamshed Avari