A few weeks ago, I opined that Windows 7-based tablets had the potential to offer a great user experience and an even larger ecosystem of applications than the iPad. Many people, including my own colleagues, thought I was crazy. Perhaps even Microsoft thinks so because it just announced that it’s coming out with a tablet-friendly version of Windows called Windows Embedded Compact 7. Unfortunately, they’re all wrong; Windows 7 can be a great tablet OS.
For proof, look no further than the ExoPC Slate, a Windows 7 tablet being shown off by Intel this week at Computex 2010. The ExoPC Slate features an 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 capacitive touch display, 2GB of RAM, and either a 32GB or 64GB SSD. Somewhat surprisingly, the tablet is powered by an Intel N450, not the lower-power Intel Atom Z5xx CPU we usually see in Windows tablets. However, considering the weak performance we’ve seen from many Atom Z5xx-based products, we like this bold choice of processor, even though it results in a manufacturer-claimed battery life of 5 hours.
ExoPC Slate Size
Like other Windows tablets we’ve seen, the ExoPC Slate has several hardware features the iPad lacks, including a front-facing Webcam, and several ports, including an SD card reader and USB port. The trade-off for the large screen, powerful processor, and ports is some heft. The Slate weighs 2.1 pounds and measures 11.6 x 7.7 x 0.5 inches, making it quite a bit bigger than the iPad or other Windows slates we’ve seen. However, many users may be willing to put up with the weight in exchange for a compelling user experience.
Custom Interface and Home Screen
How do you build a truly compelling tablet experience on top of Windows 7? You design your own custom UI, of course! ExoPC’s interface really steals the show, by making it both fun and intuitive to launch programs, while it also includes several apps of its own.
When you first launch the ExoPC Slate, you boot to Windows 7 Home Premium, but rather than seeing the desktop and Start Menu, you see the ExoPC home screen. The home screen is loaded with tiny discs that serve as shortcuts to subscreens or folders or to apps themselves. The discs have a configurable wallpaper that fills in unused space. The UI supports multi-touch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom so you can enlarge or shrink the home page or subfolder pages as well.
When you launch an app, its icon appears underneath the home button on the right side of the screen. Want to switch between open tasks? Just tap the button for the application you want to switch to. To kill a task you drag its open application icon off-screen. On the left side of the screen are volume controls and a button that lets you switch to the traditional Windows 7 desktop.
ExoPC has included apps for children’s learning software, games, radio playback, eReading and more. However, any Windows program could be assigned to a disc so you can even launch your browser, e-mail, or Microsoft Word through the ExoPC UI.
After a few minutes of playing with the ExoPC Slate, we were really excited both by its power – the device plays high definition video without a hitch – and by the flexibility it provides in switching between the traditional Windows UI and ExPC’s proprietary interface.
Check out the hands-on video below for more details.