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.


Reader comments

ASUS MeMO Pad mini review - you can get so much more for an extra $50


Hopefully they can make it feel a bit more premium if they build another Nexus tablet. Mine squeaks when I barely squeeze it. The touchscreen also doesn't seem to be quite as responsive. If it performs at least as well as the Nexus 4 (speed, fluidity, and touchscreen performance) and feels more solid, I'll definitely be picking one up. A 1080p screen would be amazing, but I'm not sure how they could fit that in there for $200, and honestly, I'm fine with 1280x800.

But whatever it is, I'll most likely be trading in my current Nexus 7 for the new one.

Thanks for the Apple response. There's nothing wrong with the tablet, I'm just holding it wrong. How do you firmly grasp something without squeezing it somewhat?

This is going slightly off topic, but the squeak when you squeeze or push on certain parts of the screen is very slight screen lift. Mine had it, then it got progressively worse. Once it happens the squeak is essentially unavoidable unless you try to avoid touching certain parts of the tablet. Asus will repair it if you're under warranty, but you have to be without the tablet for a bit.

I know what you mean I love my Nexus 7 but the build quality on some units is poor I originally had a 16gb model which I gave to my girlfriend as I got a brand new 32gb model from Argos for Christmas. I was shocked that after a couple of months my screen was going nuts due to one side pushing down on itself. I took the back cover off (First time I have ever done this on this model) to find that 2 screws were missing, one turned up lodged under a ribbon cable near the battery and the other is still missing to this day but now I have re fitted one of the missing screws it doesn't go nuts anymore. Everything else about the Nexus 7 I love but the issues such as the screen really should of been fixed.

If I was in the market for a new 7-inch Android tablet right now, I would actually wait until Google makes their next announcement later this month and see if the 2nd generation Nexus 7 is going to be released or not and then look at all the options including Acer. But this Asus memo pad mini isn't worth it. You get what you pay for.

The 9" 1080p HD+ from borders now starts at $179. That's a pretty big elephant in the room for any other 3rd party tablet to move around.


speaking of cheap tablets, has anyone tried a Chinese made tablet? i've been looking at a chuwi v88 with a rockchip rk3188 quad core, 2g ddr ram, 16g rom expandable 32g, an 8" lcd, and a 5000mah battery. i gotta say it is looking tempting for $180 but i'm not sure how good that processor really is, anybody have any insight? or actually used 1?

I know, not everyone uses Craigslist; however, if I were in the market for a cheap tablet, I would spring for either the first gen Kindle Fire, or the 8GB nexus 7 (if you can find it). In the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, I've seen them going for less than $100, on occasion.

I would be happy to get one of these Memo Pads especially since I just got laid off and cant afford to get greedy.

This tablet may not be better than the Nexus 7, but has a decent Tegra 3 proc to give you a nice user experience, BTW unique color , my wife will love it. I have always trusted Asus with their innovation. :-)