ASUS Kicks Off CES With Four New Tablets

ASUS today introduced four new tablet devices at the first of a week’s worth of press events at the Consumer Electronics show. The Eee Pad MeMO, Transformer and Slide are all Android (s goog) devices, while ASUS also announced the Eee Slate EP121, a 12-inch slate tablet running Microsoft Windows 7 (s msft). ASUS is entering the tablet game on multiple fronts: the lifestyle side and the productivity angle with its offerings, which are the first of many tablets devices expected to debut this week

Eee Pad MeMO. Although geared for consumers, the Eee Pad MeMO looks peppy with a dual-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm (s qcom) Snapdragon MSM8260 processor (s qcom). Like Apple’s iPad (s aapl), the ASUS tablet uses an in-plane switching display for wide viewing angles on the 1024 x 600 screen, sized at 7-inches. The most unique features are the stylus support for note-taking and a Bluetooth microphone attachment for phone use, called the Eee MeMIC. ASUS expects the Eee Pad MeMO to ship by June with pricing set between $499 and $699.

Eee Pad Transformer. This is a 10.1-inch Android tablet (shown above) runs at 1280 x 800 resolution on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 (s nvda) chip. The touchscreen device works by itself, but slides onto a full-sized keyboard for easier text input. ASUS expects the Transformer to provide 16 hours of battery life, so even though it’s only 0.5-inches thick, I’d expect it to be as heavy as Apple’s iPad, if not more, based on the battery claim. I’ll get a better idea once I get some hands-on time with the Transformer, which is appealing based on the keyboard attachment. Look for the Transformer in April with prices ranging from $399 to $699.

Eee Pad Slider. The last Android tablet for ASUS is oddly reminiscent of the HTC Shift UMPC from a few years back, although with a 10.1-inch screen, it’s bigger than the Shift. The Slider is similar to the Transformer, and also uses the Tegra 2, but the keyboard is always attached and can’t be removed. Instead, it slides out from under the screen to create a small notebook look-and-feel. The Slider will run Android Honeycomb when it arrives in May for $499 to $799. Speaking of Honeycomb, if Acer’s first tablet to use Android 3.0 is slated for April, that might mean no Honeycomb tablets will appear by then, but we’ll have to see what others announce this week.

Eee Slate EP121. Rounding out the four tablets is the large Eee Slate EP121, which uses Intel’s Core i5 (s intc) processor to power the 12.1-inch IPS touch tablet with up to 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of flash storage. Even though the screen is capacitive, a stylus can be used for Microsoft’s native handwriting recognition in Windows 7. With Windows and a starting price tag of $999 later this month, the EP121 is clearly geared at enterprise and the pro-sumer tablet market, although I suspect it won’t be an all day device like many consumer tablets are today.

It’s telling that three of the four new ASUS tablets are running on a mobile operating system; the company that arguably defined the netbook market with its Eee PC line understands that Windows has a place in the market, just not so much in the tablet market as it exists today, and maybe not for the next few years.

In fact, several of these new Eee Pads look like what I expected to see from the old smartbook concept, and with the dual-core processors, all will bring improved performance over current tablets as well as 1080p video playback. I’ll get some playtime with new Eee Pads to see if the size and keyboard enhances the mobile tablet experience, so stay tuned.

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