Quite a few tablet aficionados have been mourning the loss of the Google Nexus 7 – a relatively small, inexpensive slate that wasn’t perfect but was still quite desirable thanks to its small footprint, great value, up-to-date Android OS, and sharp and bright screen.
The Nexus 7 might not ever be coming back, but those hankering for a tablet like it can consider the ASUS ZenPad S 8.0. It’s an inch bigger than the little Nexus was, but it’s still got quite a small footprint – and, just like the Nexus did, packs quite a punch despite its minuscule size.
Read our review to find out more about the ZenPad S 8.0!
Quite a decent performer
As befits the creator of a modern tablet, ASUS didn’t skimp too much on the ZenPad from a tech perspective, which has good implications for how the tablet runs and performs.
It boasts an 8-inch, 1536×2048 IPS LCD screen, which is extremely sharp and bright and is easily one of the better screens we’ve seen in the tablet world. It’s got the 4:3 aspect ratio that Apple’s iPad lineup makes great use of, so those considering switching from an iPad won’t miss that characteristic at least. Users can improve the performance of the screen through ASUS’ Visual Master technology suite, which is a set of technologies aimed at screen optimization and improvement. The ZenPad is compatible with digital stylii, so users can jot down notes or draw on the tablet should they so desire.
The ZenPad runs a custom ASUS ZenUI skin atop Android 5.0 Lollipop, which is a bit of a downer considering that 6.0 Marshmallow has been out for a little while now – as well as the fact that the Nexus 7 used to get every current new Android release immediately.
The ZenPad comes with 32GB of inbuilt storage, which can be expanded with the use of an SDXC card. It’s beautifully put together and feels like it should stay nice and solid for years. Lastly, you also get a USB-C port at the bottom instead of the usual micro-USB port – perhaps a bit of a disadvantage in terms of the cost of replacement cables and chargers, but at least the ZenPad will charge much faster than tablets using just micro-USB.
How about performance? The ZenPad rocks a quad-core Intel Atom Z3560 CPU with 2GB RAM. This combination doesn’t make it a super performer, but it’s definitely no slug either. The bulk of what we threw at it was dealt with just fine – it took medium to heavy usage well in stride, including challenging games, and only started slowing down after we started asking it to deal with relatively inordinate workloads like tons of browser tabs open and the like.
From the imaging perspective, the ZenPad is better than the average tablet, but not quite as good as a smartphone. It mounts an 8MP main camera and a 5MP front-facing snapper, neither of which are up to the standards set by, say, an iPhone, but which take good enough pictures to set it apart from most other tablets. At any rate, the pictures it takes are decent enough to be shared on most people’s social media accounts, which we daresay is good enough for most users nowadays.
The ZenPad also does mount front speakers, two of them to be exact, which are again decent but don’t stand out. At any rate they’re pretty good for playing games without earphones and/or for groups to watch movies and/or enjoy videos or music together.
Lastly, in terms of battery life, we found the ZenPad’s stamina to differ considerably depending on its usage. With very light to moderate usage (surfing the net for a couple hours a day, reading an ebook on the way home after work, and so on), the tablet lasted as long as two days before conking out – but moderate to heavy usage (including nonstop gaming or watching a saved movie at 50% to 75% brightness) discharged the battery completely after just about three or four hours.
It was a nice eye-opener for us to see that the designers of the ZenPad S 8.0 were inspired to do a little more to make their device stand out, and did so by focus on the tablet’s detailing. In total, their efforts gave the Zenpad something of an air of luxury, which serve to set it apart from most of its competition.
For one, the Zenpad’s Gorilla Glass-enhanced front is augmented with a stylish metallic-finish frame, and its rear side with an aluminum backplate – setting it apart from the standard plastic-chassis setup . Plus its lower edge is touched up with leatherette, very similar to the first Nexus 7’s perforated faux-leather finish, making it a little bit more pleasurable to pick up and use than your regular plastic or even metal tablet.
While the ZenPad may be a little far from establishing a distinctive visual identity all its own, we still do feel that this stylistic differentiation more than helps it hold its own against the tablets in its size and price class – and maybe even against tablets costing a little more.
The bottom line
The ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 is a great tablet that picks up from where the Nexus 7 left off. Just like that much-missed tablet, it’s a good combination of nice features that are available at a good price.
But far be it for the ZenPad to serve as just a replacement for the Nexus. It offers its own particular formula of style and decent performance, one that we imagine will speak to many buyers. If you’re in the market for a tablet, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.