Smaller tablets face a strong headwind from the rise of large phones, but the Asus ZenPad Z8 is one solid slate. The speedy, 7.9-inch tablet is not only lighter than similarly sized competitors, but its vivid screen and strong speakers also make it great for watching video and listening to music. This $249 Verizon exclusive also offers 4G connectivity. If it weren't for slight pauses while opening apps and some branded bloatware, we'd have only positive things to say about the ZenPad Z8.
The 0.3-inch thick Asus ZenPad Z8 is quite slender. Its front features a simple, 7.9-inch display, with thin left and right display bezels, and its back panel offers an elegant, textile-patterned, soft-touch finish that is comfortable to hold.
The ZenPad Z8's 8-megapixel rear camera protrudes slightly from the top left corner of the back panel, and its 2-MP selfie shooter sits off-center to the right in the display's top bezel.
Power and volume buttons live on the right side, while a flap on the top left side covers slots for the micro SIM card and microSD card (it supports up to 128GB). The ZenPad Z8's headphone jack sits on the device's topside, and its Type-C USB 2.0 port lives on the bottom. While I wish the tablet offered the speedier, USB 3.0 connectivity, I appreciate the reversible port.
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The Asus ZenPad's 7.9-inch, 2048 x 1536-pixel display is a stunner, offering tons of detail, brightness and color. When I watched a Suicide Squad trailer on this screen, I was impressed by the vivid oranges of El Diablo's flaming hands, the electric green of Joker's hair and the dark, inky shadows of Gotham at night. The panel also showed off the myriad dents on the head of Harley Quinn's mallet.
The tablet offers a Blue-Free Motion setting that Asus claims will smooth video play quality, but in my testing, it just adjusted movement to that soap-opera-fast speed you see on improperly configured TVs. The Splendid display color adjustment utility allows you adjust hue and saturation balances and offers Bluelight Filter and Vivid presets. The former may help some people go to sleep, while the latter ramps up the color saturation to unnatural levels.
According to our colorimeter, the ZenPad Z8 is colorful, bright and accurate. It produces 104 percent of the sRGB gamut, which is more than the G Pad F 8.0 (79 percent) or average tablet (89 percent) can. The Predator 8 (174 percent) shows even more colors.
The ZenPad Z8 earned a 0.88 on the Delta-E (closer to zero is best) test. That beats the scores of the Predator 8 (5), G Pad F 8.0 (1.84) and the average tablet (2.24).
Plus, the Asus emitted up to 362 nits (a measure of brightness). That beats showings by the Predator 8 (296 nits), the G Pad F 8.0 (331 nits) and the average tablet (280 nits). The Asus tablet also offers impressively wide viewing angles; I saw its colors stay strong at 70 degrees to the left and right.
The ZenPad Z8's top and bottom speakers filled a medium-size conference room with great sound. The slate provided an excellent rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away with Me," blasting strong synths, clear vocals and sturdy bass.
Asus includes a DTS-powered Audio Wizard utility that offers four sound settings: Movies, Music, Gaming, Vocal and Smart. I recommend sticking with Music, as it allows for the clearest sound in trailers, songs, games and podcasts.
Operating system and apps
The ZenPad Z8 offers a nifty Asus ZenUI launcher but also some annoying Verizon junkware. The launcher places navigation animations on top of Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, so icons visually rotate 90 degrees when you flip through screens. ZenUI also makes slight graphical changes over Marshmallow (different buttons for the bottom-row navigation that perform the same functions), and you can disable all of the launcher's twists for a pretty close-to-stock experience.
Asus automatically enables its ZenMotion gestures, which allow you to wake the tablet from sleep mode by double tapping the panel. You can also open apps from sleep mode by tracing one of six letters (specifically C, e, S, V, W and Z) on the screen. You can assign those letters to the apps of your choice, and by default 'C' opens the Camera in rear-shooting mode, 'e' opens email, 'S' opens the Camera in selfie mode, 'V' opens Contacts, 'W' opens Weather and Z opens Chrome.
Ignore the preloaded apps, including Verizon junk like texting app Message+ and glorified account-info app My Verizon Mobile.
Asus' stock email app is good for those who need to connect to all of their email accounts, as it supports accounts on Outlook, Yahoo, AOL, Verizon and Microsoft Exchange, as well as those that run on the POP3 and IMAP standards. You may find Asus' to-do list app Do It Later useful if you use other Asus devices. However, the stock Asus keyboard may prove difficult to use, as its keys are on the small end.
The ZenPad Z8's 1.8-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor and 2GB of RAM offer speedy performance. This tablet narrowly edges out the more expensive Predator 8, which is powered by a 1.6-Ghz Intel Atom x7-Z8700 CPU and 2GB of RAM. The less expensive LG G Pad F 8.0, which packs a 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 4000 CPU and 1GB of RAM, fails in all speed comparisons.
The responsive touch screen on the ZenPad Z8 allows for fast animations between home screens and when scrolling through web pages. For the most part, I was satisfied with the tablet's performance, though I did notice a delay of a second or two when switching between open apps. This mixed performance shows in the ZenPad Z8's scores on synthetic benchmark tests.
The ZenPad Z8 scored 3,355 on the Geekbench 3 general performance benchmark, which beats the scores of the G Pad F 8.0 (933) and average tablet (2,286) and edges out the Predator 8's showing (3,112).
The ZenPad Z8 is OK for gaming, notching a 17,846 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which beats the marks of the G Pad F 8.0 (3,735) and average tablet (11,245). The built-to-game Predator 8 (20,785) earned a higher score.
The tablet didn't fare as well on our video-editing test, taking 4 minutes and 19 seconds to transcode a 1080p video to 480p using the VidTrim app. The average tablet finishes this test in less time (3:13), but the Predator 8 (6:48) and G Pad F 8.0 (13:00) took even longer than the Asus.
The ZenPad Z8's cameras capture vivid color and fine detail, but the preloaded camera app defaults the selfie shooter to the overzealous beautification mode. The tablet's 8-megapixel rear camera captured solid landscape images from our roof, accurately reproducing the calm blue sky, lush green shrubs and details of the wooden boards in faraway water towers.
The rear lens isn't as great with video. Its 1080p footage may capture bright orange trucks and yellow taxis, but playback is a little choppy and almost triggered a bout of nausea.
Asus put a 4,680-mAh battery inside the ZenPad Z8. On our battery-life test (continuous web surfing at 150 nits of brightness) over the carrier's 4G LTE network, the tablet lasted 8:22. That beats the G Pad F 8.0's time on AT&T's 4G network (7:11).
When we ran the battery test over Wi-Fi, the Asus chugged along for 9 hours and 17 minutes, which is longer than the times of the Wi-Fi-only Predator 8 (5:36) and the average tablet (6:53).
The ZenPad Z8 is exclusive to Verizon, which sells the tablet for $249.99 off-contract, for $149.99 with a two-year contract and for $0 down and $10.41 per month for qualified customers. The tablet is offered only in the 16GB model we tested.
Verizon offers monthly data plans that start at 2GB for $35 a month and top out at 24GB for $110 per month. The service provider also tacks on an additional $10-per-month connection fee plus taxes and other contractual fees.
From its brilliant display and strong sound to its speedy processor and lightweight design, the Asus ZenPad Z8 is one great, pint-size tablet. Unfortunately, its user experience suffers from minor dings like slight pauses while switching apps and lackluster video-shooting.
The Predator 8 may have a more vivid display and even louder audio, but it costs an additional $30. If you're looking for a small Android tablet, you need to check out the Asus ZenPad Z8.