Review Price £997.92
Asus Eee Slate EP121 - Connectivity, Performance and AV
Connectivity on the Eee Slate EP121 is excellent. All of it can be found along the left side of the tablet, where you'll discover a mini-HDMI port, combined headphone and microphone jack, SDHC-XC/MMC memory card reader and twin full-size USB 2.0 ports hidden behind sturdy flaps on flexible hinges. This makes it easy to hook the tablet up to a TV for playing back Full HD video, or to connect a monitor and mouse which, along with the keyboard, gives a full desktop experience. There's also a front-facing 2 megapixel webcam, though none at the rear.
On the wireless front, meanwhile, there are both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi N, though unfortunately there's no physical switch to turn these on or off – a small yet annoying oversight on Asus' part. A more serious issue is the Slate's lack of 3G, which you would expect to be included on a tablet costing nearly £1,000.
On the other hand, the tablet's internal specifications do help to justify that price a little. The highlight, of course, is an Intel Core i5-470UM processor. This dual-core CPU runs at 1.33GHz as standard, with a maximum Turbo Frequency of 1.86GHz. It also supports Hyper Threading for up to four virtual cores. As it's a low voltage model, it sucks down only 18W, which is very frugal for such a powerful CPU but more than double the 8.5W demanded by a dual-core Atom.
It's backed by 4GB of DDR3 RAM, an almost unheard of amount for a tablet and plenty for high-intensity productivity and demanding applications. For storage, meanwhile, there's a 64GB SSD, of which around 32GB is left free by the Windows 7 install. This should be adequate if you keep your application and video count frugal, and don't forget that you can expand the tablet's storage by up to 128GB (and more as larger SDXC cards become available) using its memory card slot.
Only the graphics card is a disappointment. It's Intel's older generation integrated effort, meaning even a relatively undemanding 3D title like Stalker will run at a frame rate of single digits. However, it's adequate for casual gaming.
Thanks to these laptop-like specifications, the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium is a perfectly smooth experience on the Eee Slate EP121. In fact, this is the first Windows tablet we've come across where the OS doesn't feel like a burden, and where you can load applications and keep multiple windows open while playing HD video, all without feeling constrained by the hardware.
A handy dedicated button – the only one on the tablet's front – gives access to Windows Flip 3D with a short press, or to the Windows Security screen (from which you can access Task Manager) with a longer one.
An orientation sensor ensures the screen will match the way you're holding the tablet. If you want to keep it the same there's a handy orientation-lock switch, an essential but oft-neglected addition to any tablet.
Asus' premium tablet isn't just impressive on the inside. As with its Eee Pad Transformer, the company has wisely gone with an IPS panel for the 12.1in screen. Until larger versions of the AMOLED display used on the stunning Samsung Galaxy S II come along, this is as good as it gets.
Viewing angles are flawless, colours vibrant yet accurate and blacks deep and detailed. Along with the unmatched codec and container support offered by Windows, the large, 1,280 x 800 screen allows you to enjoy 720p video material in all its glory. This is something the iPad 2 can't claim because of its lower 1,024 x 768 screen resolution, while Android tablets like the Eee Pad Transformer are hindered by a poor selection of media players.
The only caveat is that the Gorilla glass layer does cause reflections, but this is the price you pay for the added protection, and a glossy screen finish is common to most tablets.
Considering the Slate's speakers are tiny, the sound they produce is undeniably impressive, especially since they do so without distortion. There's more depth, bass and detail then you would get from many netbooks, and though headphones are still recommended, they're certainly not required.