CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

Summary: ExoPC's Slate is probably as good as Windows 7 tablets are likely to get. But that doesn't ensure consumer success.


CES 2011

ExoPC's Slate is probably as good as Windows 7 tablets are likely to get. But that doesn't ensure consumer success.

Over the holidays, during my trip to Florida I alluded to bringing another "Unproven houseguest" with me in addition to Google's Cr-48 netbook. Stuffed in my backpack in bubble wrap was ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate, one of the first products of its kind to hit the consumer market.

ExoPC, a mobile technology firm based in Canada, is an interesting company because essentially they have more of a software developer spin than being an actual hardware producing company. Rather than design Windows 7 tablet hardware, like an Asus or even an HP, they have concentrated their efforts on user interface design which they intend to license to Windows 7 tablet manufacturers.

Their first product is essentially a testbed and developer platform and to generate interest in their UI.

Their user interface, which launches as an application at startup within Windows 7, resembles something of a "Connect Four" game board layout -- application launch icons appear as circles that are punched through a matrix that partially obscures the background graphic. Rather than try to explain further what this looks like, it's probably better that I show you a screenshot:

ExoPC has released a SDK which allows independent software developers to plug into their UI, which includes a curated app store. They've given developers a lot of leeway as to what languages they can program in -- for all practical purposes, this is full-blown Windows, but with a cool shell.

It has an integrated web browser (which is essentially Internet Explorer's engine displayed within their UI) as well as clearly placed navigation icons, including the ability to exit directly into the traditional Windows 7 user interface.

While ExoPC is a Canadian firm, the slate hardware itself is produced by Pegatron, based out of China. Short of some minor aesthetic differences, and with 2GB of RAM instead of 1GB and a faster SSD, It's nearly identical in design and hardware specification to the Neofonie WeTab, which is a Linux-based tablet sold in Germany.

Here are the raw hardware specifications, for those of you that are interested:

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium, 32-bit Edition

UI Layer: ExoPC UI Layer (use of the UI layer is optional, it functions as a standard Windows program)

App Store: Yes

Other Preinstalled Software: EXOPC Touchscreen Keyboard Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 Microsoft Silverlight Runtime for IE Macromedia Flash Player 10.1 Rescue Media Creation Utility

Screen type: Multi-touch capacitive, pressure sensitive

Display: Young Fast Optoelectronics Co., Ltd. 11.6 inch (measured diagonally) 1366 x 768 135 ppi Fingerprint-resistant coating

RAM: 2GB DDR2, installed & maximum

CPU: Intel Atom Pineview-M N450 1.66 GHz 64 bit support

Graphics: Intel GMA 3150

  • Codename Pineview
  • Pipelines 2 / 0 Pixel- / Vertexshader
  • Core Speed 200 MHz
  • Shader Speed 200 MHz
  • Shared Memory
  • DirectX 9c
  • OpenGL 1.5
  • Shader Model Support 3.0

Broadcom Crystal HD 1080p, 2-channel audio over HDMI

Storage: SanDisk SSD P4 mSATA mini

  • 32GB or 64GB
  • up to 160mb/s Sequential Read
  • up to 100mb/s Sequential Write
  • Trim Support

note: EXOPC have stated they will add a 128GB model as soon as possible.

Audio: Realtek High Definition Audio

Wireless: Atheros AR9002Wb-ING, 802.11 b/g/n Single-band 2.4GHz

Bluetooth: Atheros 2.1 + EDR

3G & GPS: *Only available in 3G models via Telco partners Huawei WWAN EM770W / GPS

Ports: USB 2.0 x2 1 Audio Jack (2ch audio out, mic in) Mini-HDMI (adapter to standard HDMI not included) Dock Connector (proprietary)

Card reader: SD/SDHC (32GB Max; access speed depends on the class of card used. SDXC cards are NOT supported.)

Accelerometer: Yes

Light sensor:


Webcam: 1.3 MP

Microphone: Yes

Speaker: Built-in, 2x 1.5W

Battery: ~4 hours (low estimate, testers have routinely achieved 4.5-5 hours)

External Power Supply: Delta Electronics, Inc. ADP-40PH AB Dimensions: 85mm x 33mm x 25mm (3.4" x 1.3" x 1.0") Weight: 99 gm (3.5 oz) Input: 100-240V, 50-60Hz Output: 19V, 2.1A

Dimensions: 295 x 194 x 14.0 mm (11.6" x 7.7" x 0.55")

First, let's get the obvious comparisons out of the way. If you're used to an iPad, this tablet is bigger and considerably heavier. It's a full 1.5" wider and without a case also weighs 35 oz, when compared with the naked iPad's 26 oz.

Secondly, unlike the iPad, this device actually generates a significant amount of heat because it is Intel x86-based, and has ventilation ports which have explicit labeling which instructs you not to block them. In other words, Don't Hold It Wrong.

Next: This is not an iPad »

Onto the good stuff. For a Windows 7 device that is essentially netbook hardware on steroids, it runs pretty fast. Windows applications load quickly and are responsive. Provided you have USB-based installation media or download executables off the Wi-Fi connection, you can install any Windows application you want. This is, after all, Windows.

This has huge potential for any business or individual that wants to mobilize existing Windows applications, such as customers in the transportation industry or for restaurants and retail stores that use Windows-based Point-of-Sale systems or inventory management.

There are tons of legacy Windows applications not to mention full-blown PC-targeted Intranet web sites that use Flash, Flex, ActiveX, .NET, you name it, which currently cannot run on iPads and Android devices.

This is a device and a UI platform that is absolutely screaming for Verticals. As such, it's an awesome one.

There's only one problem with this, and it's that the ExoPC Slate is targeted as a consumer device. And consumers now expect something like an iPad or an Android tablet. This doesn't behave anything like one and even with tons of development effort thrown at it, it probably never will.

Also Read: CES: Why Windows Tablets Will Fail

This is a full-blown Personal Computer inside a tablet casing. And unlike something like an iPad, it has the same performance characteristics of a mobile PC or a laptop -- only about 4 to 5 hours of battery life.

In terms of my personal experiences with the device, I actually found the most utility with it when leaving ExoPC's pretty UI and using it as a straightforward Windows 7 tablet device. There's simply just not enough applications on their web store to go around yet, and quite frankly, the ExoPC UI just chews up more resources and the system runs a bit sluggish with it running.

I could certainly see it running faster if their UI completely replaced the Windows 7 shell rather than run on top of it as an app -- but that would also decrease the utility of the device. If there was some way to quiesce the Windows 7 shell processes and toggle between the shells, that might be a solution for the future, but right now, the ExoPC UI runs as an application process while everything else underneath is running.

When you use the regular Windows 7 shell on this tablet, you begin to realize that this is not something that is going to resonate with most consumers. The classic shell is just not meant to be used with a touchscreen -- it doesn't properly support multitouch and classic Windows applications aren't properly enabled for it, so it doesn't feel like a natural experience like when using an iPad or even an Android device.

With Windows 7 on a tablet, It feels like you are manipulating a normal Windows PC with your fingers. Touch support is bolted on rather than designed with the OS from the ground up, such as with iOS or Android. Moving application windows around is relatively easy, but smaller UI elements and icons can be very difficult to interact with, such as processes/applets running in the Windows 7 dock.

Case in point, when you use applications that are not multi-touch enabled, you can't scroll the page around just by dragging your fingers across the screen, you actually have to touch the scrollbars just as if you would do with a mouse on a real PC.

This is a kludge, and if you're used to an iPad or even played with one casually, it's not going to make you happy. In the ExoPC UI, and also in Internet Explorer 9, you can pinch to zoom and scroll with your fingers with the integrated browser engine, but it's nowhere near as responsive or as fluid as an iPad, theres a noticeable delay on zooming.

[EDIT: Microsoft offers a Touch Pack for download, a suite of sample applications for Windows 7 touch-enabled devices, which showcase how multitouch can be used on the OS.]

There's also the issue of enabling Windows applications to properly take virtual keyboard input properly. One of the first apps I installed was Google's Chrome browser, since it's the one that I prefer using now on Linux and Windows as it fully supports syncing of my bookmarks and all my plugins and is one of the most secure browsers you can use.

Chrome runs, and it runs fast, but the problem is that as it is isolated in its own process, there are many instances when you touch areas to accept input that would normally trigger the Windows 7 touch keyboard to pop up and nothing happens at all.

Instead, you have to go to the Start Menu, choose "On-Screen Keyboard" -- an alternate keyboard from the one that automatically pops up -- and enter your text. I don't think I need to explain just how frustrating that is.

[EDIT: After discussing this with ExoPC, I found out that to make Chrome work better on Windows 7 tablets, you need to install the ChromeTouch extension. Zoom and pan gestures work, but as with IE9, it's not super-fluid as with an iPad, and there are still input issues with the virtual keyboard. To fix that, you apparently also need TipPopper, another Chrome extension.]

The ExoPC company has absolutely built a cool UI, and this is a cool computer. But as I learned when I was working as a developer liaison at Sharp Electronics during the launch of the Zaurus Linux PDA back in 2002-2004, consumers didn't necessarily want mobile touchscreen handheld computers, they wanted devices that are easy to use.

The Zaurus failed miserably in the consumer marketplace in the United States, even though the early-adopting Japanese loved it, because American consumers were used to PalmPilots (The PDA market leader at the time) which were easy to use and had excellent sync capabilities.

While my personal challenge was getting mass-market apps written by developers, the real problem was that consumers just HATED the thing, despite the fact that the Zaurus was so much more powerful and could run real apps.

The PalmPilot was cheap and it was faster, with a much longer battery life, with a huge library of apps written for it. Does this sound familiar?

Although the Zaurus flopped in retail, what we found out was that verticals, not consumers, ended up buying thousands of Zauruses, such as a large transportation and shipping company that operated cargo trains which was able to replace its expensive ($2000+) field service laptops for programming railroad track controllers with a cheap $500 handheld.

I expect to see a similar situation evolve with Windows 7 Slates and the ExoPC UI -- Consumers cold, but Verticals and Enterprise hot.

Will the ExoPC and Windows 7 Slates be a consumer failure but become a Vertical and Enterprise success? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

    The big question is (Drumroll) How much will this thing cost?
    • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

      @Rick_K Likely competitive with other Windows 7 Slates, in the $500-$600 range.
      • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

        @jperlow <br>Personally Im waiting for the WIndows Zealots to show up and proclaim how wonderful this is. Im willing to be some will even make the bold statement that this will be the next generation of computing. <br><br>More questions:<br>Is it responsive? How long is the lag between making a gesture, to when it actually happens?<br><br>Just how hot does this beast get? Are we talking notebook type of heat, or desktop replacement type heat?<br><br>How awkward is it to hold with one hand? Is this something youll need ot put on a desk to actually use?
      • Next Generation


        Wanna see the next generation of computing? Look no further than the ASUS EEE Transformer, but running a full OS instead of Android.

        Since the specs seem awfully close the the ASUS EEE T101MT I have now, you're pretty much looking at a netbook without a keyboard. I can use mine for e-books and web browsing just fine, and gestures are quick and responsive.

        Heat wise, I have yet to notice anything uncomfortable, and can grab it with one hand just fine.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

        @Cylon Centurion
        I was referring to the unit in the blog, not the one you have. The blog indicates that it generates significantly more heat than the iPad. All the Windows Zealots have proclaimed the iPad a failure, due to Size, weight, and the potential for excessive heat. This unit appears to be larger, heavier and runs significant hotter (as well as significantly shorter battery life). How is this better than the iPad (which I do not see myself ever owning)? The blog also indicates that there is a lag between making the gestures and the actual action. My question is how long is that lag? Throwing in a different unit is not answering the important questions.
      • The Asus Windows 7 tablet is $999

      • Rick_K, why shouldn't they say that?

        If they want a full blown OS on their tablet instead of a less functional tablet, why shouldn't they proclaim how wonderful this is, if in fact for their needs, it is?
        John Zern
      • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter


        I'm aware of that, I was just trying to provide somewhat of a reference to your questions.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

        @Cylon Centurion
        My point is, if the iPad is too heavy to hold comfortably That it was too big to be portable and would run too hot to rest on one?s lap. From the specs listed here this device is even larger, heavier and will run hotter. How is this an improvement? While I do appreciate your experience with a different device, I honestly do not know how it will translate to the device in question.
    • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

      @Rick_K - $650-750 depending on what config. With the 3g versions, carriers may rebate with data plan
  • Yep, more expensive, hotter, heavier, less battery life. All to support

    legacy Windows applications on a device they are not appropriate for. So, might be big in a few verticals, but, just about nothing else.
    • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

      @DonnieBoy I think it could be VERY popular in verticals. But for consumers, no.
      • If Google would make a WineLib based sandbox, Win32 applications could be

        recompiled for Android or ChromeOS on Arm, and obviate the need for a Windows 7 tablet in many cases. Of course, you have to have the source code to be able to re-compile and test the applications . . . .

        Google should buy CodeWeavers!!!!!
      • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

        @jperlow - I'm typing this on an EXOPC right now. It's great for my work in sales, and integrates seamlessly with my home system (also w7). For the record, it works flawlessly and it does NOT get hot at all. The "don't hold it wrong" comment sounded quite snarky to me.
        I din't find it to be laggy at all, quite the contrary. I do agree that it's not as responsive an an iPad, but I'm willing to trade that for seamless integration, signature capture in the field, great note-taking capabilities, etc. Another reader said it best - it's just what I need. The last thing I need is another toy.
  • I will say it again. Google should create a WineLib sandbox, so, enterprise

    customers could re-compile and test old Win32 enterprise applications on Android or Chrome. The beauty being that they could also run on Arm based devices.
    • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

      Yeah I'm sure companies want to spend millions of dollars recompiling their apps for a dead platform.
      Loverock Davidson
      • Well, maybe you are used to Windows. Compiling for Linux does not cost


        Oh, that was a pretty weak one, you did not even mention anything about your MS rep. I would only give you a 2.6.
      • RE: CES: ExoPC's Windows 7 Slate: Vertical Potential but a Consumer Non-Starter

        Its going to cost someone some money to hire developers to port it over. The companies that own the code sure aren't going to give it out for free.
        Loverock Davidson
    • DonnieBoy, if Google thought it was as easy, practicle, or

      that anyone would want it, don't you think they'd have gone that direction?
      John Zern
      • Companies do not always let you know what they are doing.

        I would not be surprised to see Google release a Win32 application environment for Android and ChromeOS, maybe a general Linux version too. Of course based on WineLib. The problem is that it needs backing from a major company. Also, Google's native client technology could make it the safest way to run dangerous Win32 programs.