Is a tablet with a keyboard really a tablet?

asus-eee-pad-slider-keyboard

The Asus Eee Pad Slider Android tablet is expected to launch this month, and an Australian blogger has one of the first hands-on looks at the unique slate. On Monday the CarryPad blog pointed me to Ritchie’s Room, which provides a full first look at this 10.1-inch Honeycomb tablet that comes with a twist, or rather a slide. The entire display can shift up at an angle, revealing a full QWERTY keyboard. That gives the tablet a laptop-like form factor when needed, in addition to the standard touchscreen-slate use.

In addition to the always-attached keyboard, the Eee Pad Slider adds a full-sized USB port and microSD card slot for memory expansion. Adding these ports and the keyboard adds some bulk and weight, however, two things I’d say actually reduce the portability of the tablet. The slider is larger overall than the iPad or Galaxy Tab 10.1, for example, and at 31.3 ounces, weighs just under two pounds.

Yes, that’s still lighter than a notebook or netbook computer, but it is noticeably heavier than comparable tablets. From a design standpoint, Ritchie says the sliding mechanism on the tablet works well. It’s a spring-loaded design that Ritchie claims is “very smooth action.” The screen angle is a fixed position, however; don’t expect to tilt the screen at different angles.

Maybe I’ll feel differently once I get an Eee Pad Slider to look at, but I’m not sold on the design for my personal needs. Honeycomb is a touch-driven interface, so your hands will be moving back and forth between the keyboard. Even though the distance looks small, it’s not ideal from a usability standpoint. With either the USB port or Bluetooth radio, you could add a mouse to address that problem, but that’s more to carry, which reduces portability even more. And the added weight of the keyboard and sliding mechanism is something buyers will be carrying the whole time, although they do gain a stand out of the design.

Again, perhaps the heavy slate will impress me when I see it for myself. And I’m not suggesting the Eee Pad Slider is a nonstarter: It will surely appeal to some who don’t mind carrying a larger device in order to gain an integrated keyboard. My concern is that I’d be “carrying” the extra weight and size for the keyboard all the time, yet I’d likely be using the keyboard for a very limited amount of time. Folks that are supplementing a true slate with some type of wired or wireless keyboard would likely feel the opposite and for them, the Eee Pad Slider might press all the right buttons, assuming Google Android is their platform of choice.

Keyboard or not, I haven’t been impressed enough by any Android Honeycomb tablet to buy one for myself. I actually still prefer Android 2.3, or Gingerbread, on my lighter 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab. And that’s a problem that no keyboard will fix.

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