Currently, 99% of all Android tablets use an onscreen keyboard which is included in android but for many people used to working with a real keyboard, the set of onscreen keys does not feel right and slows down typing speed. For these reasons and for these consumers, ASUS has launched the Eee Pad Slider SL101 which is the first of its kind, this 10 inch Android tablet offers a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard. This $479 device also includes a bright IPS screen (which is also rare on tablets), a full-size USB port (for connecting an external storage drive or mouse), and a pretty slick chassis. Are these features good enough to justify the 2.1 lbs weight? Is the typing experience a lot better then on other android tablets on the market?
The Asus SL101 is probably one of the best designed Android tablets we have been able to test so far but with it’s nice design, comes a bit of added weight compared to others. Measuring in at At 10.7 x 7.1 x 0.7 inches while the keyboard isn’t out and “heavy” 2.1 lbs, these specs make it somewhat larger and heavier than the current Galaxy Tab and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.Nevertheless, the Eee Slider is lighter if compared to the Transformer with its attached dock.
The SL101′s upper surface includes a glossy touchscreen and an amazingly thick black outer bezel with curved gray sides. The bezel looks pretty fat next to the Samsung Tab considering it has nearly a 1 inch surface all around compared to the slimmer 0.6inch offered by the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Despite this different, this extra room means a wider keyboard. On the backside, the surface is induced with a nice anti-slip layer of soft-touch plastic. The mix of gray with stripes gives the tablet a pretty nice two-tone look opposed to the usual all black look most tablets offer.
To get into slider mode, you simply insert a finger within the two layers on the upper side of the device (near the front camera) and push upward. While in slider mode, the display is curved at 45 degree angle, displaying the keyboard, which is made of the same material under its keys. Shifting into slider mode and bringing out the keyboard does demand that you hold the tablet with both hands but the actual sliding is smooth and easy, the hardware used feels tough so you shouldn’t be scared that the keyboard and screen will come apart.
No, let’s talk about the real neat feature that this tablet offers over others, the QWERTY keyboard. It includes a full layout of buttons, which includes: a dedicated number row, arrow keys, and dedicated keys for the home, back, menu, and search functions. Only thing we could argue about is having the search key be closer to the rest of the quick access buttons, but writers will really like not having to use an onscreen keyboard.
For the most part, people will use their fingers to do pretty much anything else beside type, even if you can use the keyboard arrow buttons to navigate around the desktop and select icons to launch apps. Sadly, the SL101 does not come with a stylus or any kind of “mouse” pointing device like laptops do but you can plug an external mouse into the tablet and use it just like on any computer.
When actually using the physical keyboard to type, we had mixed feelings. Even if we found great comfort and accuracy while typing with the keyboard, the buttons are pretty small, in fact, they are smaller then the ones found on most netbooks. Testing out with the “So You Think You Can Type” application, the team scored anywhere from 48 to 102 wpm, the huge difference came from the sentences given randomly.
For those that still want to use virtual keyboards, have no fear, the Eee Pad Slider SL101 also includes not 1 but 2 virtual keyboards: you get the stock Android keyboard everybody has used before and ASUS’ own personal layout. We liked the ASUS layout more because it includes letters, numbers and symbols on the same screen which was useful compared to having to change screens. It also has a neat trace mode which is similar to Swype.
The Slider SL101 comes with a few useful ports that you will not find on other tablets currently on the market. On the right side, you will find a full size USB port in which you can plug external devices like a USB Flash Drives, hard drives, keyboards, or mice that are USB compatible. On the upper side, you can see a mini-HDMI out port to connect the tablet to television or external monitor and a special docking connector that you must use to connect the slate to either the AC adapter for charging in an outlet or to your computer for copying files. The left side has a microSD card reader, a dedicated reset button, volume rocker, and the power button.
If you are in the market for an android tablet and like to have a physical keyboard on your smartphone, then the Asus Eee Pac SL101 Slider might be for you. It really is worth checking out but take the time to play with it before buying it, to see if the physical keyboard is meant for you.