ExoPC Slate hands-onSee all photos
When it comes down to size, the 11.6-inch ExoPC Slate fits right in between the 12.1-inch JooJoo and the 9.7-inch iPad. And though it's better held in two hands, it's still just as thin and light as Apple's tablet. Overall, we were quite taken with the build quality of the prototype device we saw, and the fact that it manages to make room for two USB ports, an SD card slot and an HDMI out. There's also a VGA webcam along the top bezel. Internally, the tablet packs an 1.6GHz Intel Atom N450 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. On top of all that, the Slate promises full 1080p playback thanks to its Broadcom Crystal HD chip. While our experience with the HD solution has been flaky at best, we did witness a high-def clip play smoothly on the screen.
But the hardware and specs of the ExoPC aren't what impressed us the most about the tablet. Nope, the capacitive touchscreen and the custom software layer on top of Windows 7 stole the show. While we found the 1366 x 768-resolution screen to be super reflective and ridden with poor viewing angles, it was extremely responsive to light taps, swipes and multitouch gestures within Windows 7 Ultimate and ExoPC's own UI. And the latter is just the sort of thing we have been looking for in a Windows 7 slate. We've taken to calling it the Connect Four interface, but regardless of what ExoPC officially calls it, the Win 7 layer is incredibly unique and simple to navigate with a finger. Each of the circles can be customized to contain a different program or website shortcut and there are added setting controls along the peripheries. The video demo should speak for itself, but after just a few minutes of playing around with the device we had gotten the hang of closing apps by dragging them to the side and getting back to the main menu. Interestingly, the ExoPC guys aren't just relying on regular Windows applications -- they have created polished, touch-friendly e-book, music and photo gallery programs. They're also working with other developers to create an app store. However, those that prefer a standard Windows 7 tablet experience won't be disappointed -- you can easily get back to the OS and they plan to ship it with a stylus for navigating menus / handwriting input.
Here's where we'd love to tell you the wait is over, but unfortunately it isn't. ExoPC has a ways to go in terms of working on the LCD quality and the UI integration, but promises that the tablet should be ready by early September for $599. Of course, we'll believe that when we see it, but at least we're one step closer to knowing that there are some very solid and innovative Windows 7-based tablets out there.
Update: Our bad for not mentioning the promised battery life. According to ExoPC, the two-cell battery should last five hours on a single charge, but a bit longer when playing video using the Broadcom card. We'd say that we're probably looking at more like three hours with WiFi on, but we won't know until we actually get to test it.