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1 year ago

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 review

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Asus ZenPad S 8

ASUS once again has partnered with Intel to make something to make you question why we're spending so much money on high end hardware.

The quick take

The ZenPad S 8.0 is fast, capable, and has some of the best speakers we've ever heard in a tablet, but the overall experience is marred by awkward software and aggressive thermal throttling.

The Good

  • Lightweight
  • Amazing speakers
  • Impressive display
  • Solid overall performance

The Bad

  • Mediocre battery life
  • ZenUI bloatware is awful
  • Thermal issues

Asus ZenPad S 8

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 Review

If there's one thing the 2015 mobile industry has challenged, it's the notion that price equals quality in smartphones and tablets. One of the more interesting companies proving repeatedly that Android doesn't just mean a Qualcomm processor and a $600+ price tag is ASUS. We've seen the impressive splash the company made with their ZenFone 2, and now they're setting up shop in the tablet space. For their latest, dubbed ZenPad S 8.0, ASUS has opted for an Intel processor, 2K display and stunning front facing stereo speaker setup for a price that embarrasses the heavyweights in the category.

Here's our review.

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 video review

Asus ZenPad S 8

Light and fast

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 Hardware

In some ways, designing a tablet is more difficult than designing a smartphone. The added size means a balance needs to be struck, and clear intent for use needs to be outlined in that design. It's one of the things that makes the Dell Venue 8 7000 Series just shy of being one of the best tablets out there, because it's so damn awkward to hold.

ASUS, on the other hand, has nailed the design for their latest ZenPad. The metallic back is cool and grippy to the touch, sloping down to a comfortably soft rubber edge along the bottom. These edges curve up to a chrome strip that holds the glass front in place, with nothing but the power and volume keys along the edges for the users to brush their fingers across. This design encourages the user to either grip with two hands or hold the tablet from the bottom with one, and have each position be comfortable.

ASUS added a portrait-oriented badge on the front of the tablet and a landscape-oriented badge on the back of the tablet, but the stereo front-facing speakers and positioning of the rubber strip makes the tablet feel like it was designed for mostly landscape use. Additionally, the off-center placement of the USB-C port makes continuing to use the tablet in landscape while charging easier.

Overall, this tablet feels solid and comfortable in the hand.

The first thing you notice when lifting the ZenPad S 8.0 off the table is how incredibly light the tablet feels. In reality it's only a few grams lighter than the Dell Venue 8 7000 Series, but the balance and soft curves offered by this design make a huge difference in how you hold it, making it feel lighter. Turning the tablet on exposes the 2K IPS display under the glass and the fantastic stereo speakers that spring to life with the boot animation. The combination of audio quality, visual appeal, and lightweight design makes you want to sit somewhere and watch movies on it all day.

Overall, this tablet feels solid and comfortable in the hand. The design is as close to perfect as you can get if you're a fan of 8-inch tablets.

Asus ZenPad S 8

We're dimming your display now

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 Performance

Tucked under that beautiful 2K display is a 64-bit quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 processor with 4GB of RAM. If that sounds familiar, it's because that's the exact same thing you'll find the ZenFone 2. Just like the phone, performance is fantastic. Everything runs well, and the overall experience while playing all kinds of games is great.

For about 20 minutes, anyhow.

All phones and tablets get warm when you play games, but the ZenPad S 8.0 resorts to automatically controlling the screen brightness to keep the heat from reaching damaging levels. The little toast notification shows up just as the brightness drops on its own in the middle of the game you're playing, and when the system cools down you are once again allowed to control the screen brightness on your own.

Currently this seems to only happen when the screen brightness is at 100%, and ASUS has reached out and confirmed they are looking into the issue. At no point during this heat control did it feel like performance took a hit, and most of the time when the warning showed up the tablet didn't even feel that warm compared to some of the phones we've tested under the same circumstances. Regardless of reason, it's not a great thing to have happen on a regular basis.

Asus ZenPad S 8

Bloat Bloat Bloat Bloat

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 Software

As cool as it would be to tell you the software on this tablet is just as pretty and well made as the hardware, lying to you seems like a bad idea. ZenUI is very much the same bright, colorful mess it has been on the last couple of phones Asus has released, with more of the same unnecessary apps no one should actually be using. Once you are finished deleting all of the excess nonsense, the rest of ZenUI is fairly easy to get used to.

ASUS throws a lot of unnecessary junk at its users

The Manage Home section is my favorite part of this interface. From the homescreen, you flick up from anywhere and these bubbles arrive. It's a quick way to do a ton of different things, and for the most part it stays out of the way of the primary interface. The ZenUI launcher include flipping panels and other cutesy animations, and the app grid includes and suto-sort option by default that groups all of your apps into folders, but for the most part it works the way you'd expect Android 5.0 to work. Worst-case scenario is you turn a lot of this off, but unlike a lot of other interfaces for Android you actually can turn a lot of this off without resorting to custom launchers.

One thing you can't turn off is the heavily modified quick settings panel. For the most part it works like you'd expect a quick-settings panel to work, but the embedded RAM boost tool and constant reminders that apps are using battery when you use them (you don't say!) are more than a little irritating.

ASUS throws a lot of unnecessary junk at its users, no doubt due to a lot of software partnerships, but overall it's not that bad. It'd probably be different if the interface was slow or stuttery, but never once did ZenUI show signs of slowing down. It may not be the most useful interface out there, but it certainly gets the job done.

Asus ZenPad S 8

It's a tablet camera

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 Camera

Like all tablet cameras, the 8-megapixel rear camera and 5MP front camera on this tablet aren't much to write home about. They're perfectly capable video cameras, but you shouldn't expect too much when taking photos. In perfect lighting you'll get a decent photo from either camera, but even in perfect lighting the autofocus on the rear camera is hit or miss. Low light renders these cameras essentially unusable for photos, but again aren't too bad for video.

The coolest part of the photo experience with this tablet is the UI for the camera app, which includes some basic settings for your photos and a clever slider for the shutter button. If you drag the shutter button across the slider, you get up to a 5-second delay before the photo is taken. It's not something you see every day, and is perfect for those among us who use tablets for selfies.

Not great, but not terrible either

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 Battery

Android tablets aren't exactly known for stellar battery life, something we're all hoping is fixed with the help of optimizations coming in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but the ZenPad S 8.0 is almost up front about what you can expect from the battery in this tablet. The specs sheet claims 8 hours of use based on a 720p video loop at 100 nits of screen brightness. While this tablet no doubt can do exactly that, your usage is going to be quite a bit different. Using brightness at full, that number drops to closer to 6 hours of 1080p video. If you're playing a particularly resource-intense game, you'll get closer to 5.

You can easily get a full day of activity out of this tablet, unless you're absolutely determined to beat Angry Birds 2 in a day or that Back to the Future marathon is calling your name. It's not quite as good as the Dell Venue 8 7000 Series in this respect, but competes easily with the Nexus 9 in battery capabilities.

Asus ZenPad S 8

Flawed, but still thoroughly enjoyable

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0: The Bottom Line

There's a lot to like with this tablet. It's fast, looks nice, sounds amazing, and USB-C is clearly the way of the future. The software mess that is ZenUI is unfortunate, and the weirdly aggressive thermal regulation is a problem. While neither is a deal breaker on their own, combined it's clear this is not a tablet for power users or heavy gamers.

One of the most important features to this particular tablet is the price tag. At $299 for the 64GB model, it's hard to look at the majority of current generation of Android tablets — especially Google's Nexus 9 — and see the value. Are rapid software updates and a clean UI worth the extra $180 for a tablet that has half the storage and no SD card slot? It's hard to say yes.

Should you buy the ASUS ZenPad S 8.0? Probably

While this is clearly not a tablet for gamers, anyone looking for a casual browsing tablet for video and the occasional game could do a whole lot worse than this tablet, and probably spend more in the process. Overall this is a great tablet at a price point that should excite a lot of people, and serves as further evidence that a reckoning is coming for those companies whose price tags aren't competing in this space.

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1 year ago

Verizon pushes Android 5.1.1 with Stagefright patch to the Nexus 7

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Verizon is now pushing an update to the Nexus 7 which brings Android 5.1.1 to the tablet, along with a patch for the Stagefright exploit. The update brings a number of changes to the appearance and interaction on the tablet, as well as some behind the scenes changes.

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1 year ago

Android Central's back to school guide

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It's time to go back to school, and we'll make sure you're well-equipped.

For many students, it's time to hit the books again. Whether you're loading up for your first day at high school, finding your stride in college, or you're making the long haul in university graduate programs, we've got the best tech for back to school season right here.

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1 year ago

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet is coming to T-Mobile on Aug. 19 for $320

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T-Mobile's announcements for their Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+ also included the news that the carrier will begin selling the Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet on August 19. The price for the tablet will be $319.99 without a contract.

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1 year ago

Expansys USA discounts 16GB WiFi Nexus 9 to $290

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Expansys is currently offering a pretty good deal on the 16GB WiFi variant of the Nexus 9, discounting it to $290.

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1 year ago

Sales of Project Tango developer tablet open now in Canada and South Korea, more places Aug. 26

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The developer tablet for "Project Tango" went on sale in the US via Google Store without an invite for the first time in May. Now the company has expanded sales of the tablet to two more countries, Canada and South Korea, with more countries joining in later in August.

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1 year ago

NVIDIA rolls out Android 5.1.1 update to the Shield Tablet, fixes audio issues

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Android 5.1.1 update is rolling out to the NVIDIA Shield Tablet, with the OTA coming in at 767MB. According to the release notes, the update brings stability and performance improvements, along with system-wide optimizations and audio fixes.

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1 year ago

NVIDIA Shield Portable Android 5.1 update adds Chromecast support, drops Miracast and some games

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NVIDIA is pushing out an update to its Shield Portable, which brings along with it Android 5.1, and Chromecast support. Unfortunately, while bringing some new features along with it, this update also removes support for Miracast, Sonic 4, the Android Browser, and more.

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1 year ago

Dell Venue 8 7840 snags Android 5.1 update

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Android 5.1 has started rolling out to the Dell Venue 8 7840, bringing along minor tweaks and improvements to the tablet, along with added improvements from Dell.

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1 year ago

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 specs

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Samsung has taken the wraps off its latest pair of high-end tablets, the Galaxy Tab S2 series. Coming in 9.7 and 8.0-inch flavors, the Tab S2 packs premium internals including an octa-core CPU and 2048x1536-resolution display. What's more, both models will be available as Wifi-only and Wifi-plus-LTE variants.

For the full breakdown of specs across both screen sizes, check out the table below.

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1 year ago

Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 launching in August in 8-inch and 9.7-inch versions

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung has just revealed its plans to launch a new consumer tablet, the Galaxy Tab S2. It will be available worldwide in August in both 8-inch and 9.7-inch versions.

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1 year ago

ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 now available from Best Buy for $199

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The ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 is now available in the US from Best Buy for $199. Back at Computex, we got to check out the ASUS ZenPad S 8.0, a rather compelling tablet at an affordable price. Featuring an 8-inch 2048x1536 display, the ZenPad S 8.0 comes with 32GB of storage on board, and 2GB of RAM inside. It is powered by Intel's Atom Z580C chipset and a 1.83 GHz Quad-core CPU. Running Android 5.1 out of the box, this tablet features a 5MP camera on the rear, along with a 2MP shooter on the front.

Priced at $199, the ZenPad S 8.0 appears to be a great value. Best Buy is now selling the tablet, and shipping is being offered for free currently as well.

Purchase the ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 from Best Buy for $199

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1 year ago

16GB Wi-Fi Nexus 9 discounted to £200 at Amazon UK

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If you've been holding out on a Nexus 9 and happen to live in the UK, you may be interested Amazon's latest deal. The online retailer has cut the price of the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the tablet to £200 — a full £119 off of its list price.

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1 year ago

LG G Pad F 8.0 arrives on US Cellular for $129 on contract

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US Cellular has added the LG G Pad F 8.0 to its tablet lineup, bringing customers another affordable Android tablet option. The G Pad F 8.0 has already hit AT&T and T-Mobile, and now US Cellular customers can pick it up as well.

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1 year ago

Choosing a kid-friendly Android phone or tablet

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YouTube Kids

Wander into any store with an electronics section nowadays and you'll find at least one "kid" tablet. It's usually a brightly-colored rubber block with a low-end touch display running an ancient version of Android, with a custom UI featuring giant buttons and a handful of apps for a handful of basic age groups. Choosing something smaller than a tablet is even worse, especially since the concept of a phone-shaped Android-powered Wifi-only handheld never really took off.

There's not much to these cheap, rubbery slabs, but they sell because it's not always clear there are reasonable alternatives out there. Choosing hardware for a little one should be just as much about software as it is hardware, and while price should absolutely be a factor in a gadget for a kid there's some basics you should be looking at along the way. To help narrow down the options out there today, we've put together this quick buyers guide to break down the important parts.

READ MORE: Choosing a kid-friendly Android device

Choosing the right hardware

Asus ZenPad 8

This may come as a shock, but wrapping a tablet in rubber and painting it with a primary color does not immediately make it invulnerable to harm and perfect for children. In fact, the added expense of something like that probably means the hardware responsible for delivering the experiences you and your child want probably takes a hit. By all means, grab a durable case for your investment to increase its chances of survival, but if you see an $80 tablet with a big red rubber thing wrapped around it keep in mind you're almost certainly not getting a quality device.

Choosing an unlocked phone means there's no carrier-specific software to cause trouble.

Looking for a tablet you want to give a child is relatively easy, as you're essentially looking for the same qualities you'd look for in a tablet for an adult. Screen quality, a reasonably capable processor, and at least 32GB of storage should make up a short list of qualifications for a kid-friendly tablet. There's no reason to look at a tablet with less than 1920 x 1080 resolution display, and the name of the processor manufacturer or how many GHz are in each core isn't nearly as important as how smooth the OS feels when you use it.

If you must dip below 32GB of onboard storage due to the price, you might consider looking at a device with expandable storage. If the tablet is going to be connected to the Internet most of the time that may not be necessary, but games and movies soak up storage fast on these devices.

ZenFone 2

Something smaller than a tablet requires a little more work. There's never been an Android version of the iPod Touch that was worth purchasing, but there are a couple of inexpensive smartphones out there that can be modified to behave like one. If you're willing to put in the work, there are unlocked Android phones in the $200-$300 price range that can do the job. Choosing an unlocked phone means there's no carrier-specific software to cause trouble, which will make setting up the device a little easier. Going this route is especially useful if you've got a kid who is starting to need to make phone calls, as you can insert and pull the SIM card when you feel it is appropriate.

Knowing what software is important

Google Play

It's can't be stressed enough how important software is when making a purchase like this, for several reasons. Google makes Android, but it's not a requirement to make things look the way Google thinks it should. As an open source operating system, Android can be adjusted to what the manufacturer thinks is appropriate before being loaded onto a phone or tablet. This presents some great opportunities for companies that want to include a child-friendly user interface that removes unnecessary or inappropriate items from the primary interface.

Not every parent wants their child to have unfettered access to services like YouTube, for example, and in many cases monitoring apps get pre-loaded that help parents see what their kids are doing on their tablets. These changes are made with the best of intentions, but come with their own unfortunate side-effects.

Kids are smart, there's no reason to rely on simple, bright interfaces.

When Google releases a new version of Android, manufacturers with devices sporting heavily modified versions of the operating system can't just push an update. Those changes need to be adjusted to support the next version, which means additional software development hours need to be spent in order to make that happen. If a manufacturer determines a device isn't worth updating, that company can simply choose to never update your device to the most recent version of Android. Whats worse, when your child finally graduates to their own piece of hardware, the learning curve starts all over again. Kids are smart, there's no reason to rely on simple, bright interfaces when you can disable the stuff you don't want your kids to use and let them experience a proper, modern operating system from day one.

YouTube Kids

Perhaps more important than version updates and software familiarity is access to the Google Play Store and Google Play Services. Google's suite of apps — Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, etc. — are designed primarily for adults, but Google's recent push for ratings across the Play Store and child-friendly apps without offensive ads is a big deal. It means kids can take part in the ever-growing ecosystem of apps out there, educational and otherwise, and parents have the power to moderate and make decisions based on their rules.

It also means you can share music, movies, and TV shows from whatever services you want, from Play Movies and Disney Movies Anywhere to Plex and Netflix. Having controlled access to a larger environment is good for everyone involved, but it means you have to have the Google Play Store on the device in the first place.

Our top picks

Nexus 9

You've got the tools you need to get a quality device for your child, but if you're looking for something a little more specific there are a couple of options for both phones and tablets we can point you to.

Nabi DreamTab HD8

Nabi DreamTab

Nabi's 8-inch Android tablet is the exception that proves the rule when it comes to brightly-color kid-tablets. While it's sporting a "child-friendly" UI and is loaded with Nabi apps, these tools are optional and you have access to the Google Play Store. For the price, you're unlikely to find a better 1080p Android tablet for kids.

BUY: Nabi DreamTab HD8 ($140)

Asus ZenPad 8-inch

ZenPad 8

The folks at ASUS have a long history of making decent, inexpensive Android tablets that fly under the radar, and the latest ZenPad is a perfect example. It's a Intel-powered Android tablet running the latest version of the OS, and the 2048 x 1536 resolution display makes everything look fantastic. For $200, you're unlikely to find something better.

BUY: ASUS ZenPad 8-inch ($200)

HTC Nexus 9

Nexus 9

Google's current Nexus tablet is typically something we'd recommend as the best tablet for grownups, but with its front-facing speakers and killer 2048 x 1536 resolution display it's great for everyone. You just have to swallow that price tag associated with a higher quality device with instant access to the latest software from Google.

BUY: HTC Nexus 9 ($420)

Motorola Moto G

Moto G

Few companies have worked over the last two years to bring a quality experience to the budget phone market as Motorola, and the end result is a device that could just as easily be a starter phone as it could a portable Wifi device for a child. It's fast, looks nice, and Motorola has worked hard to ensure the device is regularly updated.

BUY: Motorola Moto G ($175)

Asus ZenFone 2

ZenFone2

Intel and ASUS have worked some magic on this 5.5-inch phone, and as a result it greatly exceeds expectations. There's a ton of extra, unnecessary software on this device for you to pare down if you're giving it to a child as a Wifi device, but the end result is a fun, capable gadget with 64GB of storage.

BUY: ASUS ZenFone 2 ($300)

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