Asus has built itself a reputation for producing innovative and impressive tablets. The Android-based Eee Pad Transformer TF101, for example, which comes with a detachable keyboard, impressed us a lot. Now a new Android Eee Pad has become available — the Slider SL101. As its name implies, rather than having a separate detachable keyboard, the Eee Pad Slider has a keyboard that emerges from beneath the screen.
The Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101 is made of two separate sections, with the screen on top and the keyboard underneath. This makes it somewhat bulkier and heavier than keyboard-free devices: it measures 273mm wide by 180.3mm deep by 17.3mm thick and weighs 960g. The Slider feels rather clunky when used in tablet mode, and we didn't feel like holding it in one hand for extended periods the way we might hold other, lighter, devices.
The 10.1in. Eee Pad Slider runs Android 3.2, and has a built-in keyboard
The screen is a standard 10.1in. touch-screen offering 1,280 by 800 pixels of viewing area. That's the same specification as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, and it matches rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The display is sharp, clear and bright, and benefits from tough, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.
The keyboard is revealed by lifting the back edge of the tablet section as it sits in landscape mode. The screen slides up and away from you, eventually resting at an angle of about 45 degrees on a tough built-in metal stand.
With the keyboard slid out, the screen rests on a stand at a roughly 45-degree angle
The screen is nicely viewable at this angle, but the sliding mechanism isn't as smooth as we'd like, and we had to use two hands to get to the keyboard — one to pull the back edge of the screen upwards and the other to anchor the front of the tablet on the desk. Putting the keyboard away is simpler: just push gently downwards and forwards on the top of the screen and it falls back into place.
The keyboard is about half as deep as the tablet section itself, and compared to even the smallest notebook keyboards it is rather cramped. It wasn't particularly comfortable to touch-type at speed — and this is only partly due to the relatively small key size.
The keys themselves aren't made with the same attention to detail as notebook keys usually are. There's a fairly deep return, but the feel is spongy under the fingers and there's no 'click'. Consequently, we had to tap fairly hard to be sure we'd made contact — even then, we had to slow our typing rate down to ensure we hit every key we wanted.
There is a lip below the bottom row of keys that interfered with their comfortable use, and as the space bar is here we noticed this constantly. With no wrist-rest you're reliant on a desk to provide support, and as this sits a little lower than the keyboard itself, unlike with a notebook, this felt a little odd. When using the Slider on the lap, the lack of a wrist-rest was even more apparent.
All this sounds very negative, but we did get used to the keyboard and after a while were tapping away quite happily. There are a few useful key combinations for controlling screen brightness and toggling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. PgUp, PgDn, Home and Back functions are on four small cursor keys on the lower right side of the keyboard. There are also Home, Back, Search and Menu keys which Android users will find very familiar.
Overall, build quality is good, but not great. The chassis feels solid, but the lack of metal in the build may not appeal to everyone. When we applied pressure to the keyboard section we were able to bow it — you won't want to drop this tablet from the desk to the floor.
The Eee Pad Slider SL101 runs on a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor supported by 1GB of RAM. Our review sample was running Android 3.2, and Asus says it's upgradeable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). There are two versions, with 16GB and 32GB of internal storage (for £429.99 and £479.99 inc. VAT [£358.32 and £399.99 ex. VAT] respectively), and this can be augmented with microSD cards and USB sticks.
There's no integrated mobile broadband, but Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) are both present.
There is a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel camera on the rear. The main camera lacks a flash, but its lens is very slightly recessed, which should afford it some protection from scratching.
With the Slider SL101 in landscape mode, the short left edge houses a microphone, the power button, a volume rocker and a microSD card slot. The volume rocker is a little awkward to access when the keyboard is open as the side edges curve very slightly inwards. We'd have preferred volume controls on the keyboard itself. The left edge also houses a reset button.
Meanwhile the right edge houses a microphone/headphone combo jack and a USB port that can cope with external devices like keyboards, mice and USB sticks.
The top edge houses a mini-HDMI port (Asus does not provide a cable) and the power connector — a proprietary type whose cable has USB at the other end. This can also be used for PC connection and data transfer.
Probably the most useful of the third-party applications provided by Asus is Polaris Office, which allows you to create Microsoft Office-compatible documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It's very well featured, and easily good enough for writing work documents to fire off as email attachments, or copy to a PC for subsequent tweaking and editing.
The Kindle e-book reader app is preinstalled, along with a file manager, the Layar augmented reality browser, Zinio for reading magazines and PressReader for newspapers. MyLibrary brings all reading matter downloads into one location. Meanwhile, MyNet brings DLNA-based media streaming to the device. Finally, there's a cloud-based service offering a year's unlimited storage for free.
There a speaker with SRS sound which Acer rather talks up at its web site but which we found to be somewhat lacklustre in both quality and volume. GPS is present, allowing the Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101 to perform a navigation function, and of course Google Maps is built in.
Acer claims eight hours of battery life for the Eee Pad Slider SL101, but real-world results will obviously depend on your usage pattern.
We found we could easily get through a working day just switching on and off as required for doing email and a bit of writing with Polaris Office.
But when we made more varied and intensive use of the Slider (including using it as a Wi-Fi hotspot), making some use of the GPS and spending a lot of time on the web using Wi-Fi (including viewing Flash) we ran the battery down more quickly. Under this sort of usage we had to budget for a mid-afternoon battery charge to be sure of getting a full evening of use.
The slide-out keyboard is the Eee Pad Slider SL101's key feature and it's probably the make-or-break feature if you're considering a purchase. There are two important factors to weigh up: its usability and the effect on the device's weight and portability.
The keyboard certainly makes the Slider relatively chunky and heavy. However, it also makes the device much more suited to document creation. Despite our criticisms of the keyboard, it frees up screen space to display what you're working on, that's a huge boon. The addition of Polaris Office is also a major plus point.
If push came to shove we'd probably choose the Eee Pad Transformer over the Slider, but it's nice to have the choice.