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Asus targets iPad with four tablets

Three run Android, one runs Windows 7

Netbook pioneer Asus has Apple’s iPad firmly in its sights here at the CeBIT trade fair in Germany, with the announcement that it will hit the tablet market with four models of its own.

The product manager we spoke to claimed that Asus would beat Apple by offering “more choice and more innovation”, and it’s hard to argue with the first point at least: the four tablets we were shown each have a specific market in mind, and specifications to suit.

Perhaps the most surprising choice Asus will give customers is the operating system: while most of the new tablets will run Google’s tablet-optimised Android 3.0 ‘Honeycomb’ OS, the highest-end model will go with Microsoft’s Windows 7 Home Premium.

When we asked about this decision, an Asus exec argued that Windows 7 was necessary for the professional applications Asus wanted to include with the Eee Slate – of which more shortly – but that the adaptable Android environment was more suitable for the creative consumer types it would be shooting for with the three Eee Pad models.

Sounds a bit like hedging bets to us, but time will tell if the strategy pays off.

Asus boasts of the Eee Slate EP121’s power. It runs an Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, 2GB or 4GB of DDR3 RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium, as mentioned above. Storage comes courtesy of a solid-state drive, which will have a capacity of either 32GB or 64GB.

The Slate EP121 has a 12.1in (1280×800) capacitive screen, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and comes bundled with a Wacom Digitizer pen for an alternative input method. It measures 312x207x17mm and weighs 1.2kg.

Designed for professional buyers, the Slate EP121 is expected to retail for 899 to 999 euros, depending on the specification.

The first of Asus’s Android Honeycomb tablets, the Transformer comes with a detachable qwerty keyboard unit. When combined, the unit looks somewhat like the Eee netbooks Asus has been unveiling here at CeBIT this week.

The Pad Transformer has a 10.1in (1280×800) capacitive touchscreen and runs an nVidia Tegra 2 processor. You get 1GB of RAM and 16GB to 64GB of Flash storage. It weighs in at 695g.

A 3G module is an optional extra.

With a similar ethos to the Transformer, the Slider switches between two forms; in this case, the main tablet unit slides across the keyboard like a mobile phone, raising the screen and presenting a (slightly more cramped) keyboard area for typing.

The Slider also has a 10.1in touchscreen, 1GB of RAM and the same storage options as the Pad Transformer. It weighs a little more, at 899g.

Finally, the Eee Pad Memo is a very different creature, almost replicating the feel of a large smartphone rather than a fully fledged tablet. It’s a GSM quad-band model with GPS and a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

The MeMO has a 7in (1024×600) touchscreen and two cameras: the rear one is a 5Mp model with flash, while the front camera has a 1.2Mp sensor.

There’s a nice feature whereby a considerably smaller Bluetooth unit (called the ‘MeMic’) can be used to answer calls – avoiding the classic big phone/micro-tablet situation where you have to hold a brick-sized object up to your face.

The Bluetooth MeMic unit on the left can be used to answer calls

The Eee Pad MeMO measures 199x117x12mm and weighs 389g.