ASUS hasn't given up on Android tablets — its latest ZenPad looks like a decent metal-clad slate, though you'll need have to contend with the company's typically odd software UI.
Once upon a time it seemed like everyone wanted to release a cheap, small Android tablet. But unspectacular tablet sales — in part fuelled by the rise of larger phones — has cooled enthusiasm for the form factor among device makers. Nevertheless, Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS continues to push out Android tablets; its latest, the ZenPad 8s 8.0, wasn't included in its glitzy Computex press conference, but it was on display on the show floor in Taipei this week.
The physical hardware of ASUS's new ZenPad draws inspiration from the company's Android phones, with a slim (6.9mm) aluminum unibody accented by diamond-cut chamfers. Up top there's a glossy cutout around the camera module — otherwise, it's all-metal, with pleasantly curved side walls.
ASUS knows how to make pretty metal gadgets.
The ZenPad's button setup takes its layout from the ASUS ZenFone line, which is to say it borrows it (vicariously) from Samsung's 2014-2016 Android phones, with capacitive back and recent apps keys flanking a physical home button. The home key was a little stiff on the demo units I played with, perhaps a consequence of the pre-production hardware on show at Computex.
The display itself looks great, though — it's a 2K panel that looks sharp, and provides ample pixel density at a 7.9-inch form factor. The only downside, it seems, is the tablet runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip as opposedo something with a little more oomph, and UI performance wasn't exactly fluid on the units I played with. The 625 is a fine chip, with an Adreno 510 GPU at its disposal, but it feels out of its depth running a 2K panel.
An Android experience more fitting of a device from 2013.
On top of that, you'll have to deal with ASUS's hodgepodge ZenUI, which is feature-rich, but inconsistent. It manages to copy parts of Samsung's older Android UIs, but overall remains a mess of different visual styles. Combined with the ample lag I experienced, it's not a great look — which is a shame considering how nice the physical hardware is.
(A side note on software: The spec sheet on the show floor lists Android 7.1, however the units themselves were running version 7.0. Make of that what you will; obviously everything's still pre-production here.)
ASUS ZenPad 3s 8.0 specs
Operating System Android 7.1 (currently 7.0)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
Main Camera 13MP f/2.0, 5-part lens, LED flash
Front Camera 5MP ASUS PixelMaster
Audio DTS headphone: X 7.1 channel surround
5-magnet dual speaker / Smart Amplifier technology
Display 7.9-inch 2K LCD with ASUS VisualMaster
Chassis 6.9mm aluminum unibody
At least battery life should be solid, with a respectable 4,680mAh cell inside the ZenPad's svelte body. Given the Snapdragon 625's reputation for efficiency, you're likely going to be looking at multiple days between charges, particularly if you're mostly using it for streaming and web browsing.
So the hardware is nice, the software is weird, and on the latter point, ASUS is still its own worst enemy with a bewildering loadout of branded custom technologies and features like VisualMaster and PixelMaster. Hopefully future versions of ZenUI will show more polish and restraint.
The ZenPad 3s 8.0 isn't going to be a major release for ASUS — after all, it didn't even get so much as a mention in the company's Computex press releases. What we have here is another commodity Android slate that'll probably sell for a fairly cheap price, before being largely forgotten. That's a shame, because with the right software and perhaps a little more horsepower, this could've been a promising little gadget.