Tablets were definitely the big thing at this year's CES tech show in Las Vegas, but we were surprised to see a couple of tablets with sliding physical keyboards breaking cover too. The Samsung TX100 piqued our curiosity, but we were even more intrigued by the Asus Eee Pad Slider, which runs Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Here are our first impressions.
The Slider is expected to launch in May in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions, costing between $499 (£320) and $799 (£515). UK prices haven't been confirmed yet.
The Slider is a 10.1-inch tablet with a capacitive touchscreen and a physical keyboard that slides out from behind the display panel, so you can tap out those important messages and emails at lightning speed. Nifty.
The Slider feels pretty good to hold. It measures 273 by 180 by 18mm, so, while the keyboard definitely makes it bulkier than rival tablets, it's not disastrously huge. More importantly, it's pleasingly designed, with curved edges, a black glossy bezel around the display, chrome edging around the sides, and a big iPad-style 'home' button, flanked by touch-sensitive menu and back buttons. It feels well put together, and generally really classy.
The touchscreen has a maximum resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which is enough to make the display look really clear and sharp. As with the upcoming 7-inch Eee Pad MeMo tablet, colours on the Slider's display aren't completely saturated -- they look natural and demure. That should mean movies and embarrassing Facebook photos look twice as good and twice as humiliating respectively.
The display is also really close to the top of the touch panel, rather than being recessed behind thick glass, which gives the Slider's screen a distinctly classy sheen.
The physical keyboard slides out from underneath the display. The keyboard itself is impressively big, although it's not as large as the tablet proper -- some room has been left so that the tablet portion can be angled upwards, which lets you type on the Slider as you would a laptop.
We were impressed by the build quality of the keyboard. It feels quite robust, and, even though the keys are pretty small, you could probably work up a fair old typing speed if you were that way inclined.
It's worth mentioning, though, that you probably won't be able to work as productively on this device as you can on a laptop or MacBook -- the Slider will run Android 3.0, which is built for tablets. We'd be surprised if your favourite keyboard shortcuts work on the Slider, and it remains to be seen if this device is fast enough to keep up with really rapid text input, without dropping letters.
Sweet as Honeycomb
Android 3.0 Honeycomb hadn't been released at the time of writing -- the version of the Slider that we played with was running on an earlier version of Android that Asus had skinned with a custom interface. We don't know exactly how Android 3.0 will run on the Slider or whether Asus will skin it (we suspect it will). Nevertheless, thanks to the dual-core, 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 chip, the Slider ran swiftly when we used it. Fingers crossed it proves as nippy as it is good-looking when it finally hits the shelves.
There's a goodly amount of connectivity provided, including a USB port, audio jack, microSD card slot, mini-HDMI socket, docking port and SIM card slot for those who want to surf over 3G. There's a 1.2-megapixel camera on the front and a 5-megapixel camera on the back.
Tablets with sliding keyboards are a new proposition, and we're yet to be totally convinced that they're much better than their normal touchscreen cousins. But we can't deny that the Asus Eee Pad Slider looks promising. If the keyboard proves useful enough to counter the fact that it makes the device bulkier than rival tablets, this machine could be a real contender.
Edited by Charles Kloet