A tablet stuck between a price point and a hard place.
ASUS is a huge name in the Android tablet space, and while it may be best known for its "Transformer" tablet line and Google's Nexus 7, it also produces a more budget-centric line of tablets under the "MeMO Pad" brand. Targeted directly at the lower end, the MeMO Pad line doesn't focus on specs and instead tries to offer acceptable performance with a few useful features wrapped up in a solid case at an undercutting price.
We reviewed the original MeMO Pad 7 and came away with mixed feelings about the value proposition of a 7-inch tablet with shaky internal hardware hitting the $150 price point. This time around ASUS has bumped up some of the sorely low specs and even dropped the entry price as well, but is it enough to make you consider it as a budget tablet choice?
Hang with us after the break where we find out if the MeMO Pad HD7 has what it takes.
The MeMO Pad HD7 has a solid display for its price class and internal good enough specs. With the inclusion of HDR, the camera can actually take decent snapshots. 16GB of storage at a $149 price point will be plenty for most, but the 8GB model isn't going to fly without using the SDcard slot for large media files.
The tablet feels cheap in both materials all around and build quality in some places. Lack of NFC is understandable, but not having an ambient light sensor seems like an unnecessary cut from the spec sheet. The software is very lightly customized, but those few changes and gobs of bundled apps just get in the way and slow you down.
Inside this review
ASUS has cut back in a lot of places to save money on the MeMO Pad HD7, but we've still come away with acceptable internal specs. We're looking at an ARM Cortex A7 quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz, 1GB of RAM, either 8 or 16GB of storage (SDcard expandable) and a 3890mAh battery. On the front ASUS delivers a 7-inch 1280x800 IPS display and a 1.2-megapixel camera. There's also a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, which we'll dive into more farther down the review.
This is a budget tablet with a budget build quality to go along with it. The underlying design falls in line with the original Nexus 7, with almost exactly the same dimensions and button placements. ASUS moved the headphone jack and microUSB port up to the top of the device, but the power and volume buttons as well as the speaker meet up in the same places.
"This is a budget tablet with a budget build quality to go along with it."
The MeMO Pad HD7 only deviates from the Nexus 7 when you get to build materials and quality. ASUS has gone straight for the low end with light and highly glossy plastic around the back and sides, which isn't the best-looking material, but feels good enough in the hand. The HD7 comes as either an all-black model or in one of four two-tone combinations, with the back plate being a different color — pink, green, white or blue — from the sides and front. ASUS also offers a variety of colorful cases and covers.
"ASUS has gone straight for the low end with light and highly glossy plastic around the back and sides."
While that back plate is securely fastened to the tablet's chassis, it has an unfinished look with an edge around the entire perimeter of the tablet that juts out from the black plastic rim around the sides. The edge isn't sharp, but it makes it look like a manufacturing error made the back plate about a millimeter too wide on all edges. Around to the front, ASUS kept the large bezels from the original Nexus 7, which don't look terrible and actually help usability, giving you plenty of room to grab the tablet without touching the screen.
The MeMO Pad HD7 seems relatively well made, but does creak in a couple spots if you give it a hard squeeze. That's going to happen when you have a cheap plastic build, although it certainly doesn't feel as though it is going to fall apart by any means. As far as using the tablet goes, it feels just fine — if a little bit slippery — in our hands, and it's quite light considering its size and thickness at just 302 grams. Overall it feels exactly like a tablet that costs under $150, and we understand that compromises have to be made to hit that price point.
ASUS is pretty well-known for putting good quality displays in its Android tablets, but this one is a bit of a mixed bag. Again likely in an attempt to cut costs (see a theme here?) ASUS has kept the resolution of the HD7's IPS display a modest 1280x800 (213ppi) and skimped on a few different aspects of it.
"We came away much more impressed with the display on the HD7 than we expected."
In terms of brightness and clarity the HD7's panel performs right on par with the original Nexus 7, but things get a bit sticky when it comes to contrast and viewing angles. Colors don't seem to "pop" as much as other displays out there, and while the viewing angles are acceptable they do cut down on the vividness of images when viewed off-axis.
Most of these issues seem to be due to ASUS skipping out on using a laminated (or "gapless") display, meaning that there is a noticeable space between the display itself and the glass covering it. Gapless displays have really become the norm nowadays and as such it's more noticeable when a device doesn't have one.
We have to say that we came away much more impressed with the display on the HD7 than we expected, and there was no aspect of it that actually hurt usability or drew our attention away from using it. In many respects, at this price point just having a display of moderate quality is a feat.
ASUS lists "stereo speakers" on the spec sheet of the MeMO Pad HD7, but turning the tablet over reveals the same single speaker port on the back as on the original Nexus 7. Listening to both games and music on the HD7 sounds just fine for a basic small speaker, but we're not hearing "stereo" sound here. You'll still want headphones if you're looking for a better audio experience.
The MeMO Pad HD7 keeps things connected with b/g/n Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and a standard array of sensors. The only things you'll be missing out on here are NFC and an ambient light sensor of all things, which means there's no automatic brightness option.
Behind the glossy plastic backing of the HD7 is a non-removable 3890mAh lithium-polymer battery. Although it is on the lower side in capacity alone, the processor doesn't seem to use much power and provided us with ample longevity throughout our testing. Like most tablets, the HD7 idled for days without any issue, and the main battery drain will be the screen — especially when at high brightness levels. ASUS quotes the HD7 at 10 hours of battery life (continuous use, of course), and we have to say that claim matches up with our experiences.
Sticking with the styling of its other recent devices, ASUS has gone with a relatively light customization of Android 4.2.1 on the HD7. Most of the changes are mainly visual, and for the most part rather useful.
Launcher and interface
If you've used Android 4.2 on a 7-inch tablet before you'll feel right at home in this interface. As we noted earlier, the changes here are primarily cosmetic insofar as the status bar is transparent, folders have a slightly different styling and the settings menu has been skinned in a light rather than dark theme.
"We wish ASUS would simply give checkboxes for all of these customizations in the settings."
ASUS has changed the way a home button swipe-up works, making it work as a quick app launcher rather than just Google Now with options to quickly access settings and some of the built-in productivity apps. The other navigation bar addition is a quick launch button in the bottom left, which somewhat sluggishly pops up a menu for accessing even more apps. These two features seem redundant, and frustratingly we didn't see any option to turn them off.
But what you can turn off are ASUS' tweaks to the notification pane. Instead of the frankly ugly customization that ships by default, you can hop into the "ASUS customized settings" area of the device settings and uncheck "Use ASUS Quick Setting" to go back to a somewhat-standard stock Jelly Bean implementation of notifications. It's a breath of fresh air, and we wish ASUS would simply give checkboxes for all of these customizations.
"All together we found over 20 pre-installed apps that really aren't going to be useful."
ASUS has bundled up a group of apps on the HD7, each of varying levels of usefulness. Some of the basic tools such as App Backup, App locker, AudioWizard and File Manager can be quite handy. But ASUS has also included a lot of generally useless stuff like Amazon Kindle, BuddyBuzz, MyBitCast and Zinio.
All together we found over 20 pre-installed apps that really aren't going to be useful for enough people that we would find them a necessary inclusion on the device out of the box. Something like a folder full of stub apps or a special place in the Play Store would be a better place for these, especially when some people are going to pick up the MeMO Pad HD7 with just 8GB of internal storage.
Performance and usability
With an unbranded Cortex A7 quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM, the HD7 isn't going to win any awards for speed or fluidity. Apps tend to take a couple seconds longer to load and scrolling can be sluggish at times. But when you're in apps and navigating around you won't notice the lower-end hardware too much. We think that as far as trade-offs go, ASUS did a good job of keeping the performance acceptable on the HD7 considering the limited resources it had to work with.
With all the cost savings at play on the HD7, ASUS has decided to keep a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera on the tablet. Although you wouldn't expect much in terms of features, the camera interface and software actually offers a good set of options.
"The camera interface and software offers a good set of options."
You have a variety of camera modes including HDR, panorama, portrait, night, landscape, etc. as well as live artistic filters. As for manual control, you get quick exposure settings, manual white balance, ISO (50-800), timers, burst mode, focus modes (smart, infinity, face detection), touch-to-expose and grid display options. The camera interface makes it simple to access settings or hide them while shooting — and although it may not be the best looking design ever, it's perfectly functional.
Considering the difference in price between the MeMO Pad HD7 and the new Nexus 7, it was surprising to us that the images the HD7 produced were markedly better than shots from Google's latest tablet. When taking quick snapshots in "normal" mode we experienced some of the same noise issues as with the Nexus 7 — but there's one big difference here, and that is the inclusion of HDR.
Although it isn't the fastest shutter ever and therefore requires quite a steady hand, turning on HDR almost completely fixed the noise issues we experienced in normal mode. Now of course this isn't a perfect solution when your subject is moving, but for regular shots you'll be best served by locking the MeMO Pad HD7 in HDR mode. Another point where the HD7 one-ups the new Nexus 7 is in focusing and metering, which we had no issues with in our photo tests.
Using HDR mode and leaving things in automatic settings aside from occasional tap-to-focus, we got quite acceptable daylight pictures that look good enough to post online without any noticeable flaws. We're actually quite happy with what the HD7 can produce if you're willing to keep a steady hand take a few shots to get things just right.
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Naturally, the MeMO Pad HD7 also has a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. It works just fine for the occasional still or video call, but it won't be winning any awards for its quality.
The HD7 records video in 1080p by default, and offers many of the same options as the still camera including the live art filters, exposure, white balance, auto focus modes (smart or infinity) and touch-to-expose. Overall quality seemed pretty good, with accurate color representation and proper metering to expose high and lowlights, but it has a tendency to stutter during quick movement. Again, if you have a steady hand the HD7 will perform well enough.
After spending a good amount of time using the MeMO Pad HD7, we came away impressed with what ASUS was able to offer for $149 in a 7-inch tablet. Aside from a few missteps in build quality and software customization, there's not a whole lot to complain about on the HD7. You're getting a solid screen, capable specs and good performance for your hard-earned money.
Although there's a decent amount of value here, you're going to get so much more for just a little bit more money with a certain device around the $200 price point. So much so that it's hard to recommend you pick one of these up without seriously considering the new Nexus 7. But if price is a primary concern, the ASUS MeMO Pad HD7 is definitely worth a look.