Archive for 10/01/2011 - 11/01/2011

Windows 8 and apologies

I apologize for the lack of  posts recently artistic, new space or otherwise. I've been playing with the Windows 8 developers preview on my asus slate ep 121 tablet along with the long anticipated alpha version of blue stacks.

NOTE: the following is mostly my opinions and impressions of Windows 8 and Blue Stacks, I am not yet a professional software developer, just a lucky guy with smart friends.

So apparently Windows tablets aren't too popular, and honestly Microsoft has no one but Microsoft to blame. Windows 7 is a far superior operating system to vista ( as i write this i am having a fight with vista home premium over Starcaft 2 on my desktop pc). However, 7 still falls short in its usability on touch based devices. Much of the interface still requires more precision in a cursor to manipulate than all but the most dainty of oriental fingers can muster. Although my tablet came with a stylus, using it as the primary input method misses much of the fun and the popularity of this generation of touchscreens.

Enter windows 8. Before I preach the wonders of my magical experience with the latest iteration of windows, I must ask; is it too little too late? While Apple spent the decade familiarizing the public with its brand and adapting them to a now ubiquitous user experience across its products; Microsoft seemed to have the reaction time of a drunk lashing out at a sobriety test proctor. All that is to say that windows tablets are nothing new, so the implementations I found in my developers preview seem a couple years too late.

The welcome screen has a large finger friendly icon with the user name and the familiar photo frame. Inside the user is greeted with a green screen full of large bright icons for apps and suites, including a revamped windows Internet Explorer 10. Potential security vulnerabilities aside, IE snaps open and takes up the screen real estate on the way we are accustomed to on newer smart phones. Pulling at the left of the screen switches applications, tugging from the bottom brings up the address bar, and the top holds multiple tabs. None of the more intrusive toolbars are onscreen to obscure the experience of the web.  The start menu appears to have been replaced by the splash screen after login, although there is a desktop icon which brings up the standard windows taskbar and desktop. from any screen pulling from the right brings up a sparse menu bar which feels incomplete, but this is not a release candidate and far from finished. I hope that the promise and progress made in the user interface will be reflected in navigating the folders on the hard drive, as currently it is the same as 7 an unfriendly to touch. To truly capture a fun and hassle free touch experience, every aspect of using windows must be revamped to be accessible without the use of a mouse or stylus. The onscreen keyboard is not yet complete but is responsive, if too large. only IE will change formats to accommodate the keyboard and all windows apps should do the same without maze of fixed boxes cluttering up the screen.

Blue Stacks does what I expected, however I am not able to fully use the multi touch of my tablet in the virtual machine like software on windows 8. Expect a full review after I reinstall 7.

Asus EEE 121 Slate Review

I got the Asus EEE 121 Slate in March of 2011. Of all the tablets released this year (and those released in the prior decade that have long been forgotten) this release from Asus is the closest to my idealized machine. While  tablets such as the Asus Transformer, the Apple Ipad, and the Motorola Xoom focused on the new world of Apps and content consumption; the Asus 121 Slate is the only tablet I found to emphasize content creation.

Technical Specifications:

Operating System:  Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition
Bundled with Bluetooth keyboard
Type 12.1 in AFFS TFT active matrix - LED backlight
Display Resolution 1280 x 800
Flash Memory 64 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards SD Memory Card,
SDHC Memory Card,
SDXC Memory Card
Processor Intel Core i5 i5-470UM
Processor Clock Speed 1.33 GHz
Multi-Core Technology Dual-Core
Front-facing Camera 2 Megapixel
Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 3.0,
Audio Microphone , Stereo speakers
Input Device
Type Digital pen,
Expansion and Connectivity
Expansion Slot(s) 1 x SD Memory Card
Interfaces 1 x Audio - Headphones/microphone - Mini-phone 3.5 mm,
2 x Hi-Speed USB - 4 pin USB Type A,
1 x Audio / video - HDMI - 19 pin mini HDMI Type C
USB Host Yes
Installed Qty (Max Supported) 1
Technology / Form Factor Lithium polymer
Capacity 34 Wh
Run Time (Up To) 4.5 hour(s)
Run Time Details Video playback - up to 2.4 hour(s)
Color White
Included Accessories Power adapter , Cleaning cloth,
Carrying case
Voltage Required AC 120/230 V
Dimensions & Weight
Width 12.3 in
Depth 0.7 in
Height 8.1 in
Weight2.6 lbs

- taken from

In other words this isn't your kid sister's tablet, its a beastly device running a full copy of Windows 7.

The Slate has given me an enormous boost in productivity and lightened my load a the amazon Kindle App as well as Foxit Reader work extremely well on it for reading digital textbooks. Microsoft One Note in particular really shines on this device as it is well suited for hand written notes, and I have heard that writing increases retention over typed text (but don't quote me on that).

I purchased the tablet with the hopes of installing and running Adobe Photoshop and reducing the amount of paper and art supplies I needed to carry on the go.

My initial dealings with the tablet were soured when I discovered that the tablet's Wacom drivers were not pressure sensitive in Photoshop out of the box. What a waste of a niche. After several months of browsing forums and trying different third party pen drivers, I finally found one compatible with my tablet in Photoshop and was off on my way.

I found the Bluetooth keyboard lack luster, often losing the connection with the computer  intermittently and at random. I have not found a solution to this problem and bought a usb keyboard for typing research papers; however the onscreen touch keyboard works well enough for typing web addresses and quick emails. It is not however very comfortable for long drawn out conversations or dissertations (so switching to Skype with the built in camera is a good idea).

The leather carrying case feels cheap and much like an afterthought on the part of Asus not just in terms of the quality but also because the hardware in the device tends to warm the same way that most laptops with similar specs will; especially when set on fabric such as a pillow or cloth. Use a laptop for long enough on a cloth surface and one finds the machine working harder to dispel its heat and continue to operate. The leather case has a fuzzy, cloth interior which is bad for the heat issue all robust mobile devices have.

The battery life is terrible. I have found I may get an hour or more on the Balanced setting, and two to two and a half on power saver. Unlike most notebooks however, there is no service or docking station for the battery and it is not yet known what will happen to a device if and when it develops problems fully charging as many laptop batteries do.

Another gripe is the pen; it is light, comfortable and easy to use, however the version originally presented at the Electronics Show 2011 in January boasted two side buttons that are absent from the shipped product. These buttons can typically be set to behave as mouse buttons and are an asset when working with Photoshop and other digital art programs such as Painter (which did not run well on with the Intel Integrated graphics chipset). One is inclined to purchase a ModBook Pen which still fits into the pen dock and works with the Slate.

Finally as for the Operating System; Windows 7 is light years beyond the headache inducing nightmare that was Vista. It is snappy, responsive and unencumbered even on the tablet.   The greatest failing of the tablet, especially when compared with an Ipad, is Microsoft's repeated inability to produce a purely tablet friendly Graphic User Interface, and thus many icons and buttons on screen require still too exacting cursors for stubby human fingers. This can lead to irritation, and although the wacom pen is more than capable of manipulating on screen objects like a mouse it defeats much of the purpose of having a capacitive touch friendly interface. Microsoft isn't alone in this shortcoming, the people at Adobe (although there is a Photoshop App with less capability available for Ipad 2) and many other software distrubtors have yet to optimize their full software suites for touch screen interaction. I suspect that this will change along with the App trend which is a good thing, and I begrudgingly applaud Apple's vanguard in advancing this consumer demand.

Despite these shortcomings, I have not replaced and have no intention of selling my slate, as it is the most well suited for my artistic and collegiate needs out of any tablet available capable of running many full blown windows applications instead of their lighter but less powerful droid or apple app alternatives. I love my tablet and enjoy using it.

My grade is a B-

Who may benefit from this device:

College students who want a more robust machine or who have an axe to grind against Apple
Digital artists who want to be able to produce content on the go
Business types
Children will love the pre-installed art program Art Rage

Not Recommended:

Anyone with extremely long papers or blogs to write as the tablet is quite large and it is difficult even with my  hands to use the keyboard with both thumbs

Non artists

Apple Fans ( go get a ModBook, or Ipad instead)

To purchase the Asus Slate: