ASUS officially announced its Eee Pad on Monday the Computex Taipei trade show. Calling it a “slate” PC–the term Microsoft uses for touch-based tablets–the Eee Pad will be an Apple iPad competitor and the ones that ASUS showed off at Computex will run Windows.

ASUS describes its Eee Pad as “an ultra-slim and light yet high-performance slate device designed to provide users with a real time cloud computing experience.”

The Eee Pad will come in two models:

  • EP121 – This is the flagship Eee Pad. It has a 12-inch screen, runs on Intel’s CULV Core 2 Duo processor, runs Windows 7 Home Premium, features an integrated webcam, and has a USB port. ASUS also showed off a a full size keyboard dock that allows you to slide in the Eee Pad and use it like a standard laptop. ASUS claims it will get 10 hours of batter life. The base price will be $499.
  • EP101TC -This is the “lite” version of the Eee Pad, and ASUS didn’t reveal quit as many details about this one (the demo unit at Computex was barely functional). It has a 10-inch screen, is powered by the NVIDIA Tegra processor, and runs Windows Embedded Compact 7. The base price will be $399.

ASUS stated that the tablets will be available in the first quarter of 2011.

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In case you missed it, Hewlett-Packard recently killed the Windows 7 tablet that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off on stage at CES 2010. And then, HP bought Palm and admitted that it now plans to use the Palm webOS to run its slate PCs, reportedly because Windows 7 was too much of power hog.

While HP’s moves are a major blow to Microsoft, it also opens the door for new hardware makers like Acer, ASUS, and MSI, which have all been gaining momentum with their laptops and netbooks in recent years.

In fact, MSI also unveiled a slate PC called the WindPad 100 at Computex. It has similar specs to the Eee Pad EP121, while adding an HDMI port, and will also cost $499 and arrive before the end of the year.

While the Eee Pad has an aluminum casing like the iPad, the WindPad 100 has plastic casing similar to most laptops. The WindPad 100 has a 10-inch screen like the iPad, while the Eee Pad EP121 has a 12-inch screen. While the iPad has a 768×1024 screen resolution, the WindPad 100 has a 600×1024 resolution.

Sanity check

The Eee Pad announcement offered a few surprises. First was the price. At $400-$500 (Windows obviously piles on an extra fee), it would likely have a tough time competing with the iPad. Sure, the people who won’t buy anything from Apple might bite on that, but the masses will not. You can’t sell people a Ford for the same price as a Lexus and expect most of them to buy it just because it was made in America. You have to actually build a better product or offer a better value.

Another surprise was the 12-inch screen for the flagship Eee Pad EP121. At 10 inches, the iPad is almost a little too bulky and heavy. Some have argued that a 7- or 8-inch iPad would be lighter and easier to handle, and I admit that I’d like to try something in that form factor. I think 12 inches is going to be too big, and definitely too heavy.

The last surprise was that Eee Pad only runs Windows, and that there’s not an Android or Chrome OS version, which was rumored leading up to Computex. It’s certainly possible that ASUS will follow up with an announcement of an Eee Pad running Google software. I’d expect a Google powered tablet to cost less, likely in the $300 range, where ASUS could probably sell a ton of these if it built a good product.

I’d be interested to see if the ASUS laptop-docking form factor would make sense. I’m also interested to see if its smaller Windows embedded model can overcome some of the performance and power problems that Windows is likely to face on slate devices. If HP can’t make Windows 7 work on a slate (and it has a long history making tablets), then I’m skeptical whether other OEMs can pull it off. The enterprise is more likely to adopt Windows-based slates than iPads, but not if they’re slow, clunky, and don’t have good battery life.

Of course it’s good to see iPad competitors popping up, but the fact that ASUS won’t be releasing its Eee Pad for another seven months (or longer) tells me that this product isn’t much more than a concept right now. It also says that ASUS saw what Apple did with the iPad and essentially decided to start from scratch with Eee Pad, since it already builds laptops and could take some shortcuts in building a tablet if it wanted to bring something to market more quickly. Hats off to ASUS for starting with a clean slate (pun intended).

But, by the time the Eee Pad arrives, the iPad will have been in the market for nearly a year, and since it is already selling a million per month, that means spotting Apple a big head start.

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