Starting with its Nexus 7 back in 2012 and the follow-up a year later, ASUS created an ultraportable tablet that avoided the pitfalls that typically plague the category. It was one of the first budget-friendly Android tablets to prove that flimsy build quality, underpowered internals and a bogged-down UI weren't unavoidable sacrifices. The lessons that the Nexus 7 taught ASUS — as well as some leftover parts from the assembly line — helped shape the MeMO Pad 7, a stunning evolutionary step in ASUS's MeMO line and easily one of my favorite tablets on the market today.
The MeMO Pad 7 is a pleasure to use, due in large part to how well it's been designed and put together. It's crafted from a soft-touch yet durable plastic in three tasteful finishes: Gentle Black, Rose Champagne and Burgundy Red. The tablet's rear is textured, making it easy to grip and difficult to smudge, and its edges are rounded with sharp corners, akin to Microsoft's Lumia line. Weighing just 269 grams, the MeMO Pad 7 can easily go unnoticed in a bag, a jacket pocket or even the backside of a pair of jeans.
ASUS has equipped the MeMO Pad with an absolutely stunning Full HD display, capable of producing rich, vivid colors, wide viewing angles, and an alarming amount of detail. It's got a healthy bezel, similar to the Nexus 7, that adds a considerable amount of height to the device, but it only makes the MeMO Pad 7 more versatile, allowing comfortable use in both portrait and landscape modes.
ASUS also equipped the MeMO Pad 7 with surprisingly capable stereo speakers, plotted along the tablets left and right hand sides. They're capable of immense volume and depth, and can easily fill a small room with rich sound. My only gripe is that when holding the tablet in landscape, as you likely would while playing a game, your hands cover the speakers to create a muffled experience.
The MeMO Pad 7 is a pleasure to use, due in large part to how well it's been designed and put together.
Under the hood, ASUS has dropped the Snapdragon processor that powered its Nexus 7 in favor of an Intel Atom quad-core, 64-bit processor clocked at 1.8 GHz and coupled with 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and 16GB of internal storage (expandable thanks to its increasingly-rare microSD slot). This is the first time I've used an Intel-powered tablet that hasn't made me long for more powerful silicon. The MeMO Pad 7 handles Android 4.4 beautifully, boasting a buttery smooth, powerful and fully capable user experience that few other tablets in this price range can achieve. In fact, it's one of only a handful of Android-powered tablets that hasn't sent me running back with open arms to my iPad.
More importantly, to most users at least, is how long the MeMO Pad 7 lasts on a single charge. With its 3,950 mAh battery, the MeMO Pad 7 can easily get you through a full day of moderate to heavy usage. In fact, if you're willing to ration your usage, you'll glide past the 48 hour mark without any problems. I did find that the MeMO Pad 7 took a while to charge, typically well over an hour, but that's not too much of an inconvenience if you charge it while you sleep.
As far as custom UIs are concerned, ASUS' Zen UI is one of the best yet. It adds some truly useful functionality to KitKat without weighing it down, and, more importantly, without making you want to gouge your eyes out. ASUS has learned something about Android that few others have: just because you can customize every corner of the operating system doesn't mean you should.
ASUS' custom UI reminds me a lot of a TouchWiz if Samsung put it on a strict diet and exercise regimen. The icons and menus have been given a fresh coat of paint but are still easily recognizable as Android; the notification bar has been jam packed with toggles and controls yet avoids being over-crowded and difficult to navigate. In short, everything's here, where it should be, exactly how it should be – the MeMO Pad 7 is an Android tablet first, and an ASUS product second.
Take for example ASUS's AudioWizard, which offers one touch access to audio profiles custom-tailored for music, movies, gaming and speech. It's a great solution that brings tools otherwise buried in menus and scattered across third-party apps to the surface of Android, while making great use of the MeMO Pad 7's fantastic audio hardware. There's a similar app called Splendid that gives the same treatment to the MeMO Pad 7's display, as well as Power Saver for the tablet's battery. These are functionalities that Android has always been capable of, made only more accessible and useful by ASUS's light touch.
Would I have liked to see a stock Android experience on the MeMO Pad 7? Of course. It would have meant more timely upgrades, putting Lollipop on the horizon rather than making me feel stuck at an already ancient Android 4.4.2. But then again, I guess that's what ASUS' Nexus 7 is for.
I typically skip right over tablets' camera reviews, mostly because of poorly they consistently perform. But since the MeMO Pad 7 uses ASUS' signature PixelMaster technology, these optics were worth covering in a bit more depth, even if they failed to live up to the hype.
ASUS calls PixelMaster a blend of powerful hardware and software that's capable of producing "professional, high-quality" photos. Unfortunately, this claim is grossly exaggerated, and the MeMO Pad 7's 5 megapixel shooter simply fails to wow. Photos are obvious results of tablet optics, and tend to stand out like a sore thumb, especially in a sea of photos produced by increasingly capable smartphones.
But that doesn't mean the MeMO Pad 7 is unusable as a camera. The tablet's form factor lends itself well to capturing a quick shot here and there, and the camera comes equipped with a handful of shooting modes that are really fun and forward thinking. There's a Depth of Field mode similar to what we've seen on Samsung and HTC's latest flagships, as well as Smart Remove to erase unwanted photobombers and the ability to create GIFs in one click. It's a shame the MeMO Pad 7's optics are so underpowered, because ASUS definitely has camera software capable of great things.
It's very rare that I come across a review unit that makes me envious. It's happened before, sure, but I inevitably let the honeymoon period run its course and return to my tried and true personal devices. The ASUS MeMO Pad 7, however, makes me want to run to my closest Best Buy and throw my cash in a sales associate's face. It's that good.
Where to begin? First, there's the tablet itself, a sleek and sexy slab of durable and grippable plastic and glass that's lightweight, portable, and ridiculously comfortable to use. Then there's the guts, a highly capable cocktail that finally proves that Intel can actually succeed in the Android market. And then there's the price. Good grief, the price. At $199, it's almost absurd to think you can find a better deal on a better ultraportable tablet.
The ASUS MeMO Pad 7, however, makes me want to run to my closest Best Buy and throw my cash in a sales associate's face.
Is the MeMO Pad 7 the best in its class? Almost. Android purists will still probably be better served by the aging Nexus 7, which sheds ASUS's custom software for a pure, now Lollipop-powered experience, but for those who don't hold stock Android in such high esteem, the MeMO Pad 7 is as good as it gets.
The MeMO Pad 7 isn't perfect – few devices are. But the telltale sign of a truly great gadget isn't getting everything right – it's remaining charming despite its shortcomings. And the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 nails it.