Asus EEE Slate EP121

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Written by Justin Hawthorne

In a discussion with some friends about the iPad’s shortcomings, and what would be more desirable in a tablet computer, I opined that Steve Jobs had the wrong of it–that if a tablet computer were to integrate WACOM pen technology, digital painters would keep it sold out. The EP121 does that, and in spite of its own shortcomings, does sell out.

Image of ASUS EEE Slate

Asus EEE Slate

The machine itself is lovely. It is faced with a capacitive touchscreen made from the much admired Gorilla Glass.  The size is about the size of a composition notebook and the amount of usable screen real estate is in the sweet spot for those accustomed to 8.5″x11″ paper. The power button is discrete, and there is a semicircle face button that is used in a couple different ways in operation–surprisingly, powering on isn’t one of them. There is a mini HDMI out, audio out, but only two USB ports. The pen is a basic WACOM penabled pen, and slips neatly into spring loaded slot in the upper right hand corner.

It also comes with an attractive leatherette folio case and a very nice blue-tooth keyboard. The worst visible features are that the USB ports are covered, and the covers are notoriously difficult to pry open; the power cable is only two prong, I’m suspicious of ungrounded power supplies for computers.

The EP121 is a tablet computer that does something most of the present crop of tablet computers doesn’t do. It runs Windows, and all windows applications, and with the SSD, it does so fast. It is a windows computer first and foremost, running on an Intel Dual-Core i5 processor, and runs everything I throw at it briskly and cleanly; with two exceptions. It won’t run current games well, because it is relying on an Intel ingrated graphics chip; it will run them as well as most similarly outfitted laptops. I also ran into a problem with an older drawing program that was written for XP, but that was because of incompatibility with Windows 7.

Windows 7 supports touch functionality and the capacitive touchscreen of the Asus Slate is more adequate than the native OS in its default state. Fingers are imprecise pointing devices so I had difficulty using the touchscreen for finer OS navigation like dragging scrollbars, checkboxes, minimizing windows or selecting text. Doing precise navigations like adjusting the size of a window, were impossible. However, there is plenty of information available on how to make small adjustments to the OS to make the targets (the scroll bars, buttons and window edges) larger, and easier to manipulate.

The WACOM functionality is good, but less than Intuos, and if you are accustomed to using an Intuos it will be noticeable, but acceptable. The pen, when calibrated is pretty accurate, but lacks a side button. This can be corrected with an aftermarket upgrade. I find I like the pointer just a little offset (to the right because I am left-handed) so that I can see the point of contact. Drawing is fast and fluid, though has just a little bit of lag when going at top speed. Handwriting recognition was pretty good out of the box, but after spending an hour or so using built in training exercises, is top notch. For best results when using the pen, turn off the touchscreen side of things–no built in palm reject.

Unfortunately, the greatest weakness is battery life. This tablet has better battery like than most of the DTR (Desktop Replacement) laptops I’ve had, which generally ran for a half hour at best. However, it is still abysmal compared to an iPad, clocking in at about 3.5 hours under normal usage, closer to 3 if streaming video.

Pros: Windows PC, WACOM functionality, beautiful display, great for sketching, journaling and reading, very quiet, fast SSD.

Cons: Only 2 USB ports, Needs tweaking to get good touch support, no palm reject, poor battery life.

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