There's a fine line between a quality, low-cost tablet and an underpowered, low-resolution tablet that happens to run Android and also doesn't cost all that much money. And that line, we've discovered, is about $50.
It's not often that we pick up a new device -- and quickly want to put it down again. A phone or tablet might not be the cream of the crop, but we try to find some good in it. Some reason to buy. But with the top-of-the-line hardware hitting a bit of a plateau over the last year or so, and with prices continuing to drop, we've raised our minimums. There's less room for low end these days, plain and simple.
That brings us to the 7-inch ASUS MeMO Pad Android tablet.
Look at the specs of the MeMO Pad and it's quickly apparent that we're not looking at a top-shelf device. The 1024x600 resolution. The VIA WM8950 processor at 1 GHz. The Mali-400 GPU. And we try to rationalize that at $149, it's not meant to be a high-end Android tablet. We knew all this from the time it was announced.
But there's something in our brains that thinks "maybe it's not that bad." This is ASUS, after all, maker of many a fine Android tablet, including our current go-to device, the Nexus 7, which starts at $199. And the truth is, from the outside, the MeMO Pad is pretty solid. The textured back isn't as soft as the Nexus 7, and the buttons are on the opposite side, but no matter. It's got good heft and balance. It's got a microSD card slot. Even the "cherry pink" color we picked up is more cherry than it is pink. (Certainly not as pink as in ASUS' promo shots.) We'll even go so far to say that the upper-lower "MeMO Pad" doesn't look nearly as ridiculous when presented in ASUS' font, with the lowercase "e" properly stylized.
But there ends our brief love affair with the MeMO Pad. From the moment you turn it on, you realize the 169 pixels per inch -- and their poor viewing angle -- just won't get it done. The Nexus 7 has a 216 DPI, which certainly won't knock your socks off. (And we're expecting an updated version soon.) But the $50, 47-pixels-per-inch difference is woefully apparent. You owe it to your eyes not to subject them to this display.
The MeMO Pad also lacks horsepower compared to its Nexus 7 cousin. That extra $50 bumps you up to a Tegra 3 processor and 16GB of total on-board storage. And that's a small price to pay for the performance increase. The MeMO Pad at least appears to be able to run ASUS' lightly skinned user interface. (And we still rather like what ASUS does on the UX side of things.) But anything more taxing than that and it'll quickly hit a wall. Oh, it'll play Angry Birds OK, but only if you like stuttery graphics and the sound cutting in and out. Same thing for another of our favorites, Jet Pack Joyride. Web browsing is equally painful.
As we said from the outset, this is one of those rare times when we're flat out going to say "Don't buy this tablet." Do whatever you have to to scrounge up the extra $50 to get a Nexus 7. If you're in a region that doesn't have a Nexus 7, find something else with comparable specs. Because what's inside the ASUS MeMO Pad just isn't going to cut it.