ExoPC has been the one we've been waiting on. Sure, its specs are similar to the recently reviewed Tega v2 and CTL 2goPad -- it's also got a capacitive touchscreen, accelerometer, Atom Pinetrail processor and 2GB of RAM -- but unlike the others the company has put some serious love into its Windows 7 software layer, which we've dubbed the Connect Four UI. ExoPC's also preloaded the tablet with touch apps, built out its own app store and included a Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator to handle full 1080p video. You can clearly see why we've had high hopes for the ExoPC ever since we got to check it out at Computex, but does it live up to the promise and provide the more enhanced and finger-friendly Windows experience we've been looking for? And is the software stable and robust enough for the average consumer? We've spent the last week with the $599 tablet so read on to find out in our full review.
Gallery | 82 Photos
Gallery | 28 Photos
- Attractive, app-packed Windows 7 touch layer
- Great HD playback
- Thin design and solid build
- Touch layer missing important features
- Less than four hours of battery life
- Troublesome viewing angles
It should come as no surprise that the ExoPC's 11.6-inch screen gives it a bigger footprint than most of the other 8.9- and 10.1-inch tablets out there, and its wider size and heavier weight -- it tips the scales at 2.09-pounds -- are certainly noticeable in everyday use. Unlike 7-inch tablets like the Galaxy Tab or Archos 7, this is the sort of device that's best used with its included stand or propped up against your legs while using it on the couch or in bed. Actually that's exactly how ExoPC is billing the slate -- as a couch surfing device -- and while it may not be your go-with-you-everywhere gadget, we didn't think twice about popping it into a laptop sleeve and pulling it out on the train to watch some videos.
The 0.5-inch tablet is relatively thin in comparison to the the other Atom-powered tablets out there, and shockingly it's just .02-inches thicker than the iPad. However, this tablet still makes room for two USB ports, a headphone jack, SD card slot and a mini-HDMI socket. There's also a SIM slot, though our unit didn't have a 3G module.
As for the viewing angles, we have to say it's been much improved since we saw it back in June, but it's still not an A+ -- colors are quick to fade when the screen is tilted off axis to about a 120-degree angle and vertical angles are narrower than we'd like. We were still able to share the screen with a friend while sitting in a small train seat, but clearly the iPad's IPS display has set the bar very high in terms of tablet screens.
So, what about the touchscreen performance? We're happy to report we have no qualms about the responsiveness of the capacitive display. As you'd expect, light taps and swipes were all it took to make selections / scroll down pages. If you prefer to give your finger a rest, ExoPC does include a foam-tip capacitive stylus, but we didn't have much luck using it to accurately write in the Writing Pad panel -- like all of these styluses, it's better used for navigating tighter menus than for inking.
Along the top bezel is an ambient light sensor, which we actually chose to disable (we're brightness control freaks, okay?), and a 1.3-megapixel webcam. Oddly, there's no included software for snapping pictures, but we downloaded Skype and enjoyed a lovely chat with a family member. The two speakers on the bottom edge of the tablet are surprisingly loud, but listening to Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" at full blast was annoyingly tinny.
ExoPC set out to design software that was extremely easy and intuitive to navigate with a finger, and it certainly accomplishes that task. The grid of icons / shortcuts is straddled by two columns of basic controls, which includes a home button, Windows icon to take you back to the desktop, application store, and power button to shut off the layer altogether. Launching one of the applications or folders on the grid doesn't only launch said app or folder on the center of the screen, but also displays a small circular icon on the right side. You can then toggle to different applications within the UI by hitting the little circles or close a specific program by sliding the icon off the right of the screen. It may seem a bit complicated, but it really becomes second nature and it's truly finger-friendly -- for instance, it's much easier to close apps by sliding a finger than by hitting a small X at the top of a windows.
However, while the framework of the UI works quite well and is stable, it only takes a few minutes to realize that the software is still very much a work in progress.
Media browser, player
ExoPC apps and App Store
As we mentioned in the video, a number of the Flash games are sluggish, but most of the doodling and art applications were quite responsive. The Silverlight demos did seem to run smoother, and the company tells us a number of apps are being developed on Microsoft's platform. Obviously, those are the big issue facing the ExoPC right now -- content, apps and development. And though the company is working with publishers and rolled out an SDK back in July, at this point there are no well known apps, games or books to be found. As it stands the ExoPC layer is an extremely nice looking and performing piece of software, but as we've repeated throughout this section, its just not done at this point and missing some badly-needed components that we'd require for day-to-day use.
Performance and battery life
We wish that the good news could continue, but those that have followed the Atom-powered tablet space with us know that we don't have much hope on the battery life front, at least not until Intel's Oak Trail arrives in Q1 2011. The ExoPC slate, like the others, didn't last longer than four hours on our video rundown test. In fact, the unremoveable three-cell battery lasted only three hours and 26 minutes while looping the same standard definition video at 65 percent brightness. When we used the tablet just to surf the web and play some games we got closer to four hours of battery life, but no matter how you slice it, the ExoPC is another Win 7 tablet that's inseparable from its AC adapter.
If it weren't for the promise of the ExoPC software layer, we'd probably write this tablet off like most of the other Win 7 slates we've seen. However, it's hard to overlook the totally unique interface and preloaded applications, as they significantly improve the Windows touch experience in a way that is unmatched by any other Windows tablet we've seen. With that said, $599 is a lot of money to bet on a platform that isn't ready and a piece of hardware that must be plugged into the wall for the better part of the day. The ExoPC may be a solid choice for developers and early adopters looking to tinker, but it's just not a mainstream consumer tablet... yet.
Editor's note: We will continue to update this review as ExoPC rolls out software updates.