Following on from its announcement of the its direct iPad competitor, the Eee Pad, Asus also showed us a new concept for the e-book reader market at its Computex press conference. Called the Eee Tablet, it uses LCD technology to create the image onscreen but crucially doesn't have a backlight. Instead it uses ambient light to provide illumination just like an e-ink based eBook reader.
It's a neat idea as it addresses the problem of LCD backlights causing eyestrain and of course improves battery life. Also one of the major bug-bears of e-ink technology is how slow it still is to refresh. This 10in 1,024 x 768 LCD display, though, takes a mere 0.1 seconds to refresh making it essentially respond in real-time. When combined with a digitising stylus, as here, this makes for a great way to take notes as the screen can actually keep up with what you're writing.
Sadly, though, despite its 64 levels of grey-scale, the screen didn't seem to perform all that well in the time we were playing with it. The problem is the default colour that makes up the background is, much as you would expect, grey just like any other LCD when it's turned off. And likewise, the full black level is just a darker shade of grey. In other words, the contrast level is very poor in low levels of illumination. The screen's surface was also too reflective to seem like a viable option in bright sunshine.
Nonetheless, we like the concept and Asus has implemented a nice interface and added some neat features. For instance, there's a 2-megapixel camera on the back, making it easy to quickly take a black and white snapshot of something and sketch or annotate over it. It will also play mp3s (there's a headphone jack) and record audio and there's a SIM slot and Wi-Fi as well. Possibly the best bit is the price which is set to be just $199 USD when it's released later this summer.