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Asus brings something new to the tablet table

With most tablet contenders content to arrive at CES lugging yet another monolithic black iPad clone, and thinking its enough to say, "but look... ours plays Flash video and has a USB port and cameras and everything," it's quite refreshing to see at least one manufacturer attempting to add a pinch of something different to Apple's tried-and-tested tablet recipe.

Taiwanese netbook pioneer Asus has turned up at this year's Gadgetpalooza in the Nevada Desert toting a sackful of proddable PCs all of which are defined by at least one key differentiator.

The diminutive Eee Pad MeMO, which we can't help thinking looks like a pumped-up Palm Pilot, is a seven-inch capacitive touch-screen device powered by Qualcomm's ageing Snapdragon processor. Asus says it will eventually ship with the as-yet-unfinished tablet-centric Android 3.0 operating system, currently code-named 'Honeycomb', will be capable of HD video playback and will come with a capacitive stylus for handwriting input, which should keep the greasy finger marks to a minimum.

Rumour has it that the MeMO will also be able to carry out mobile phone duties with the addition of a Bluetooth headset.

The Eee Pad Transformer and Eee Pad slider both come with 1200 x 800 10.1-inch IPS LCD touch screens, are powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2 mobile processor and have dual cameras facing front and rear.

Both will use also Android's Gingerbread OS and each comes with its own solution when it comes to text input using a full QWERTY keyboard.

The Transformer has a docking station built into a full-sized Scrabble tile keyboard complete with a large track-pad, which also acts as an auxiliary battery offering up to 16 hours of battery life, according to Asus. Think of a conventional laptop with a snap-off screen which acts as a stand-alone tablet PC. Snaptop, anyone?

The slider, as its name suggests, has a sliding keyboard which sits under the tablet bit when not in use and boasts eight hours of use from a full charge. We can't help thinking that whole slider mechanism looks a wee bit fiddly and fragile. Not for the ham-fisted.

Finally, for those of you looking for a little more grunt in your tablet, Asus has announced the Eee Slate EP121 which sports a 12.1-inch touch screen, a beefy Intel Core i5 processor and a 64GB SSD. The company says it will be able to run full-fat Windows 7 and, like the MeMO, comes with a stylus for your scribbly pleasure.

Asus won't commit to firm prices at the moment, instead saying that the MeMO will be around the $500 mark, the slider will slip in at somewhere between $500 and $800 and the Transformer between $400 and $700, which leaves lots of room to see what the competition is charging.

Deep-trousered Windows hold-outs should be able to lay their hands (or fingers at least) on the EP121 for around $1,000.

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