It's hard to stand out in today's saturated tablet market, but Asus is betting that a premium tablet at a competitive price can win over shoppers. The Asus ZenPad S 8.0 tablet takes on Samsung, Dell and Lenovo slates with its high-res 2K display and handsome chassis. It's also one of the first tablets to carry a USB Type-C port that lets you insert your connector whether it's facing up or down. At just $199 to start ($299 as reviewed), the ZenPad S 8.0 has plenty to offer for the price, though mediocre battery life holds it back.
No unfortunate bulges or bulk here; the dainty Asus ZenPad S 8.0 fit comfortably in my tiny, slim purse. At 8 x 5.3 x 0.26 inches, the ZenPad is slightly thicker than the 0.24-inch Dell Venue 8 7000 and the 0.22-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (8-inch), but a hair thinner than the 0.27-inch Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (8-inch).
The ZenPad's weight of 10.6 ounces makes it lighter than the Venue 8 7000 (10.7 ounces) and the Yoga Tablet 2 (14.7 ounces), but heavier than the Galaxy Tab S2 (9.3 ounces).
The tablet's back is separated into a smooth, matte panel with a subtle weave pattern that takes up five-sixths of the space, and a bar with a leatherlike finish. It looks almost like a classy clutch, which I liked. Not everyone will appreciate this design, but Asus wins points for effort.
On the ZenPad's supersleek edges are a microSD card slot (left side), volume rocker and power button (right), USB Type-C port (bottom), and 3.5mm headphone jack (top).
While the Type-C port has the benefit of a reversible plug, it is a standard USB 2.0 connection, not a high-speed USB 3.1 connection like we've seen on some other devices.
Display and Audio
Boasting a sharp, 8-inch, 2K (2048 x 1536) display, the ZenPad made watching videos and playing games a visual treat. A 4K video clip of a little puppy getting a shower in a field was clear down to every adorable whisker on the dog's face. Surrounding green grass was vivid, as was a little girl's pink-and-white-striped shirt. Viewing angles were generous, as image quality did not degrade as I turned the tablet side to side.
The ZenPad packs one of the sharpest panels on the market for the price. The costlier Dell Venue 8 7000 (2560 x 1600) and Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8-inch (2048 x 1536) are as sharp or sharper, while the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 is 1920 x 1200. The Kindle Fire HD 7's screen is a mere 1280 x 700.
You might have trouble viewing media on the ZenPad outdoors, however, due to its dim display. Notching just 299 nits on our light meter, the ZenPad pales in comparison to the average tablet (349 nits), the Galaxy Tab S2 8-inch (420 nits), the Kindle Fire HD 7 (433 nits) and the Yoga Tablet 2 8-inch (497 nits). The Venue 8 7000 came in last, however, with just 235 nits.
Reproducing 91.7 percent of the sRGB color gamut, the ZenPad shows more colors than the average slate (86.9 percent), the Kindle Fire HD 7 (81.9 percent) and the Yoga Tablet 2 (88.2 percent). The Venue 8 7000 (173.3 percent) and the Galaxy Tab S2 (184.9 percent) can display way more hues, though.
While vibrant, the ZenPad's display wasn't very color-accurate, with a Delta-E error rating of 6.7 (lower is better). That's worse than the tablet category average of 5.29, the Venue 8's 4.2 and the Galaxy Tab's 2.9. It did better than the Yoga (10.2) and the Kindle (7.8), however.
With dual, front-facing speakers, the ZenPad was easy enough to hear everywhere in a small meeting room. The synth-heavy intro to Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" clanged unpleasantly at max volume, though, and Kendrick Lamar's rapping had a metallic, tinny quality. The audio also lacked bass.
Software and Apps
Running Android 5.0 with Asus' ZenUI overlaid, the ZenPad S 8.0 offers a host of convenient touches to make getting to your favorite apps easier.
When it's asleep, the ZenPad's lock screen presents a convenient canvas for shortcuts. Draw a C to start your Camera or a V to open your gallery, or perform a double-tap to wake up your slate. You can customize what apps these gestures will launch, and ZenUI will recognize six letters (W, S, E C, Z and V). You can even double-tap on the home screen to lock your device, saving you the need to reach for the lock key.
ZenUI also offers a Kids Mode app that lets parents select apps that their children can access. When Kids Mode is activated, a cute, pastel-colored theme showing just the allowed apps appears. Junior will need to know the PIN to access parental controls or log out from Kids Mode.
Unfortunately, Asus has stuffed the ZenPad S with a bunch of unnecessary apps, such as Asus Clean Master to clear up space in your tablet, Gameloft (Free HD Games), TripAdvisor, Avast Mobile Security and Zinio (magazines). The good news is that most of these apps are tucked away in an Apps4U folder instead of cluttering up your home screen or apps drawer, and can be fully uninstalled.
Rocking a 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 processor and 4GB of RAM, the $299 configuration of the ZenPad S 8.0 handles multitasking with ease. I played a round of my favorite mobile game, Does Not Commute, with several apps running in the background and did not encounter any hiccups.
On general performance benchmark Geekbench 3, the ZenPad scored 2,858, taking down the quad-core, MediaTek-powered Kindle Fire HD 7 (1,503), the quad-core Intel Atom Z3745-equipped Yoga Tablet 2 (2,282) and the average slate (2,582). It lost to the quad-core Intel Atom Z3580-backed Venue 8 7000 (2,866) and the Galaxy Tab S2, whose octa-core Exynos CPU netted it a whopping 4,113.
Taking 6 minutes and 46 seconds to convert a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p, the Zenpad S was slightly faster than the average slate (6:58), but slower than the Kindle (5:18), Venue (5:01), Yoga (4:28) and Galaxy (4:26).
The ZenPad S is good enough for casual games, thanks to its IMG PowerVR Series 6 G6430 graphics chip, but not for anything too taxing. Notching 13,047 on graphics test 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the Asus tablet defeated the Kindle Fire (10,381), but fell to the average tablet (16,227), Yoga Tablet 2 (15,321), Galaxy Tab S2 (19,388) and Venue 8 7000 (20,602).
If you want to shoot photos with your tablet, you'll really appreciate the ZenPad S 8.0. Its 8-megapixel rear camera captured bright, sharp and colorful pictures.
A red building in Union Square was vibrant, and windows and lettering looked crisp.
Oranges, apples and bananas were vibrant in my picture of a fruit stand in a deli.
The 1080p video I took of Manhattan streets was clear, smooth and vibrant.
The ZenPad's 5-MP front cam also shot vivid, clear selfies. However, it tended to oversaturate colors, making my peach dress look like neon orange instead.
The rest of the image had a sickly green hue.
Asus offers plenty of extra functions with its camera app, including Selfie Panorama, Low Light Mode, Beautification and GIF Animation. I loved the granular controls Beautification offers, letting you set the intensity of face slimming, skin smoothing and eye enlarging individually. Other camera apps just give you one slider for the overall beautifying effect.
One of my favorite camera modes is GIF Animation, which turns videos you record into Internet-friendly animated GIFs.
Lasting just 6 hours and 47 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits, the Zenpad S 8.0 has barely enough juice to last you a day. It lagged behind the average tablet (8:36), Kindle Fire HD 7 (8:25), Yoga Tablet 2 8-inch (9:40), Dell Venue 8 7000 (9:47) and Galaxy Tab S2 8-inch (10:19).
Price and Configurations
Asus offers two versions of the ZenPad S 8.0, both with the same screen and design, but different storage, RAM and processors. The $199 flavor comes with a 1.3-GHz Intel Atom Z3530 CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, while the more-premium version has a faster Intel Atom Z3580 chip, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, all for $299. If you're not interested in high-end gaming or doing serious productivity work, the starting configuration should be more than adequate.
Those hankering for a bigger canvas for videos and games can opt for the larger ZenPad 10, but it doesn't have the same S branding as Asus' more-premium tablets. That means you won't have the same sharp display or the beefier guts.
The Asus ZenPad S 8 0 offers a vibrant screen, sleek design and more than capable performance for $100 to $200 less than other premium 8-inch tablets.