Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101

Tablets can be great companions for lots of things, but if you want to use one for work, you’ll probably need a case that props up the screen on an angle, plus an external keyboard for efficient typing. The Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101 eliminates the need for both of those accessories, while retaining the portability that tablet buyers crave. The Slider (US$479 for 16GB, US$579 for 32GB; prices as of September 27, 2011) is notable for its sturdily hinged slide-out keyboard.

That innovation comes at the cost of increased thickness and weight, however. At a time when many tablets are becoming thinner, the 10.1-inch Eee Pad Slider is 0.72 inch thick in its tablet state (closed up, with a normal slate profile). That’s more than double the thickness of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Likewise, the Slider weighs 2.1 pounds, versus 1.24 pounds for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and an average weight of 1.5 to 1.6 pounds for first-generation Honeycomb tablets. But the trade-off is worth making if you value productivity and efficiency.

In landscape mode, a small lip along the top of the Eee Pad Slider, just above the front-facing camera, provides a grab space to catch the top half of the tablet; pulling it up and out reveals the keyboard beneath. The design is very effective. I found the tilt angle of the display appropriate both for typing and for reaching up to use my fingers for navigation–a necessity because the keyboard lacks a built-in pointing device. The small keyboard reminds me of some external Bluetooth keyboards. Its Back and Enter keys are comfortably large, however, and the island-style keys were easy to type on. I also appreciated the keyboard’s four Android keys for Home, Back, Menu, and Search. My small, touch-typist fingers flew over the keyboard with only one recurring difficulty: The space bar is recessed too low beneath the outside lip, and as a result my thumb continually banged into the lip, instead of striking the space bar. But I have no doubt that this setup will improve anyone’s tablet productivity. The best part is that it does so without requiring the user to lug around extra attachments.

The keyboard design relies on a hinge mechanism that felt sturdy in my tests. I frequently hoisted the tablet by its screen, while the keyboard was out, and could detect no flex or other indication that I was stressing the design. And though the hinge’s performance may degrade over time, Asus reports that the hinge mechanism was tested to pass a total of 30,000 “swing counts,” meaning that a user would have to open and close the tablet 20 times a day for more than four years before the hinge might approach the spec limits.

I liked grabbing the tablet by the base, just behind the tilted screen, when it was open. And in that state, the gap enabled me to hold the tablet in one hand and type with the other. I could see this being an invaluable tool to users who want to type fast on-the-fly, but need extremely care-free portability, such as while on sales calls or at a trade show.

Inside the Slider

The Eee Pad Slider comes in two colors–pearl white and metallic brown–with a smooth, rubberized back. Its vertical and horizontal dimensions are bigger than most tablets’, at 10.75 by 7.1 inches. When closed, the tablet’s chief attraction is its 1280-by-800-pixel IPS display, with an unusually large (almost 1-inch) bezel on the left and right sides (in landscape mode). The display looked sharp and vibrant for images, but text wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked; I could see the dots, as I’ve come to expect from Android displays of this size and resolution. I also found the display glary at times, no doubt due in part to the visible air gap between the glass and LCD beneath.

The range of acceptable viewing angles is wide, as you’d expect from an IPS display, but it didn’t quite live up to its 178 degree billing in my hands-on testing. Still, it’s more than adequate for several folks to crowd around for a presentation, for example. And because the display is covered by Corning Gorilla Glass, you don’t need to encumber the tablet with a case.

The Eee Pad Slider contains a typical 2011 Android component set: a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2, 1GB of RAM, Android 3.2, and either 16GB or 32GB of memory.

All of the Slider’s ports and buttons are situated on the lower slice, with the keyboard portion of the design. When the tablet is closed, the power button on the top left is easy to find; but I got frustrated by its location and poor physical definition when using the tablet with the keyboard open and in landscape mode. Next to the power button are a volume rocker and a tiny, hard-to-press reset button. A MicroSD card slot appears in the far corner.

Up top are the mini-HDMI port and the connector port for charging the tablet and syncing data, and at the right rear are the headphone jack (which doubles as an external microphone input) and a USB port (which will work for input devices such as a mouse, and for flash devices such as memory drives). The front-facing camera is a 1.2-megapixel unit, while the rear-facing camera resolves to 5.0 megapixels.

The tablet packs a number of sensors, including G-sensor, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, e-compass, and GPS. And like its sibling, the Eee Pad Transformer, the Eee Pad Slider comes packed with a slew of software apps, many direct from Asus. Among them: Asus Launcher; Asus Sync; File Manager; Kindle Books; MyCloud, for use with one year of free Asus WebStorage; MyLibrary; MyNet; Polaris Office; PressReader; and Zinio Magazine.

Asus includes its MyWater wallpaper, which uses water level as a metaphor for remaining battery life. Asus expects the Slider to get 8.2 hours of battery life on a single charge. Our tests are pending, but the Slider has already impressed us with its excellent standby time. I left the tablet with Wi-Fi on but unused for several days, came back, and still found the tablet’s MyWater level at 66 percent.

As cool and innovative as the Eee Pad Slider is, this tablet probably isn’t for you if your tastes run to svelte and stylish, or if you want to use it your tablet as an e-reader (2.1 pounds is way too heavy for that). But if you value portability and productivity in an Android tablet, the Eee Pad Slider could be a great companion.

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