If things like Apple’s iPad Pro are too big and the latest smartphones are too small, Asus’s ZenPad S 8.0 could be just right. Starting at $200, it offers an economical alternative to the iPad Mini.
At 8- by 5.3-inches and only a quarter of an inch thick, the ZenPad is a dead ringer for the latest iPad Mini and can slide into and out of a jacket pocket with ease. Available only in black, the ZenPad weighs in at 10 ounces, exactly what the iPad Mini 4 weighs. While the ZenPad has a grippy edge on one side that works well for it in horizontal and vertical mode, it, however, does without the pull-out tripod support that’s on the Surface family of tablets.
It uses a 2,048 by 1,536 resolution IPS screen that is comparable to the Mini’s display, except at 8.0-inches, it is slightly bigger. Still it takes up 74-percent of the surface, versus 71-percent for the iPad Mini. The screen is more rugged than any of the iPads because it is made of Corning’s ultra-tough Gorilla Glass 3 and pumps out exceptionally detailed and vivid images.
The screen quickly and reliably responds to 10 independent touch inputs and offers an optional $30 Z Stylus active pen that can work with 1,024 levels of pressure. While it has two programmable buttons, the stylus is kind of bulky and the slate lacks a place to stash it. Asus’s inexpensive TriCover has a loop for the pen, though.
Asus’s software helps a lot here with the ability to adjust the color temperature of the display, which you can set for pure white document backgrounds or for better photo-realistic color reproduction. Preset modes include those for displaying a vivid color pallet, using a Bluelight filter to potentially reduce eye strain or creating your own mix of settings.
Inside, the $300 ZenPad I looked at had a quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 (2.33GHz) processor along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space. There’s also a 32GB model that has a Z3530 Atom, 2GB of RAM for $200.
Either should be more than enough because the system comes with an extra 100GB of GoogleDrive space for two years and a lifetime stash of 5GB on Asus’s Cloud servers, plenty for even the most dedicated file hoarder. Plus, unlike any iPad, at any time you can add up to a 128GB micro-SD card to the system to top off its capacity.
Rather than Apple’s iOS 9, the Zen Pad runs on the latest Google Android 5.0 software, aka Lollipop. The company’s Zen UI extensions take this to a new level with a secure mode for kids and the ability to create shortcuts from finger motions.
While it has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth built in for connecting, the ZenPad skimps on ports. Like the latest Macbooks, the ZenPad has only a Type C USB port, which can be a point of frustration. Even though it’s been more than a year since the first Type C systems came out, the accessories are still few and far between, but it worked with a Kensington four-port hub.
On the downside, the Type-C port is for data and power only, not video. At any time you can show the display to the class by broadcasting to a nearby Chromecast or Miracast receiver attached to a projector or big screen. It includes EZCast software for connecting.
In short, the ZenPad is a screamer with the ability to run just about any software you’re likely to encounter. It scored an impressive 7,195 on the Octane 2 series of Web tests, but lagged behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 on the GeekBench 3 series of processor tests with a 926 (on single-processing tasks) and 2,876 (on multiprocessing tasks).
The system’s 225 milliamp-hour battery pack is small compared to other tablets but was able to power the system for 6 hours and 10 minutes of continuously playing YouTube videos, a little short of the Mini’s mark, but still good enough for more than a full day of teaching, grading and email.
While the increasingly antiquated iPad Mini 2 starts at $269 and the Mini 4 at $100 more, the the ZenPad S 8.0’s $200 and $300 price tags significantly undercut the competition, yet will likely last longer in the hands of clumsy students and teachers. To my mind, the ZenPad S 8 is the bargain performer of the small tablet crowd.
+ Thin, small and light
+ Vivid Ultra-HD screen
+ Top performance
+ 5GB of online storage
+ Gorilla Glass 3
- USB Type C port
- Can’t directly plug into a projector