Zen and the art of tablet buying.
When we last reviewed a tablet from ASUS, the MeMO Pad 7, we were impressed by the build quality, aesthetics, and price of the device... as well as ASUS's ability to play fast and loose with random capital letters. This time round, ASUS have very kindly increased the number to 8, thrown in a bunch of extras, and supplied us with a gorgeous new tablet experience in the form of the ZenPad 8.0.
We apologise if that sounds weird, but as you might imagine we handle a lot of tablets and phones, and get genuinely excited by the ones that stand out from the crowd somewhat. In the hand the ASUS ZenPad 8.0 feels relatively light (it weighs just 350g) and not that much bigger than the MeMO Pad. This is because ASUS have worked hard to reduced the bezel around the screen as much as possible, resulting in a larger screen, but not that much of a larger device. For those who like stats, the screen accounts for 76.5% of the total area of the front of the tablet.
Continuing to look at numbers and letters, the ASUS ZenPad 8.0 runs Android 5.0, has 1GB of RAM, has an Intel Atom Quad-core processor, 16GB of storage built-in (expandable thanks to a Micro SD card slot), comes bundled with free cloud storage from both ASUS and Google, boasts a 5MP main camera and a 2MP selfie camera, and a battery that will last you for eight hours. Oh, another eight. Nice.
Uniquely, the ASUS ZenPad 8.0 (which comes in white, black, or metallic) features a removable rear panel. There is nothing behind that panel except the the SD card port, but it very handily gives you the option for a partial colour change. Several other colours are available in the range of spare covers, including a saucy shade of orange which paired well with our white version of the tablet. Changeable covers reminds us of Nokia phones from around 2000... which is never a bad thing. Being able to remove the back cover also helps with another additional accessory which we'll mention later.
So when charged up and running, Android 5.0 looks great on that 1200x800 screen. On top of Google's OS is ASUS's own ZenUI, which we actually rather like. The pull-down top menu seems a bit more useful (including a reading option which kills the blue light from the screen), and all the touch buttons are nice and chunky. ZenUI also gives you the option to do away with the app drawer altogether, and keep all your apps on the home screens, just like in Apple's iOS. If you're new to Android, this could perhaps help you get your brain around it better.
Everything worked very smoothly on the ASUS ZenPad 8.0, and we've yet to encounter a glitch. Sure, 1GB of RAM isn't a massive amount, and run several heavy programmes at once and you will notice a slight degree of lag, but ZenUI can help with that. Slap bang in the centre of the pull-down menu is a handy memory cleaner which will stop unneeded apps and processes, boosting vital processing power. But then again, this is an eight inch tablet; what exactly are you going to use it for other than light web, email and Twitter use?
And if you think an eight hour battery life just isn't enough, ASUS can help there too. Bundled in with our shiny new ASUS ZenPad 8.0 and spare back cover was the ASUS Power Case. This external battery has the same dimensions as the replaceable cover (if a bit thicker) and can attach to the rear of the tablet, boosting the battery life up to 15 hours! Although the Power Case can be charged while connected to the ASUS ZenPad 8.0, it also ships with a separate little dongle to be charged separately, making it extremely versatile. Seriously, the Power Case doesn't add all that much extra weight and thickness to the overall tablet, and in providing a huge increase in lifetime, its tempting to leave it permanently attached.
At the end of the day, this is a great small-not-so-small Android tablet, that drops in at a decent price. It might not be crammed with super-mighty processing power, but it is no way a budget tablet. Since using the ASUS ZenPad 8.0 we've discovered our favourite new tablet size – small enough to comfortably hold in one hand, yet big and clear enough to make watching films and TV, as well as playing games, an enjoyably immersive experience. Hats off here boys, hats off.