This morning at its "Zensation" event in Taipei, ASUS unveiled a new line of 8-inch Android tablets under the ZenPad brand — the ZenPad 8.0 and ZenPad S 8.0. Then after that presentation, the company showed off a further two low-end ZenPad models — the ZenPad 7 and 10, at 7 and 10 inches respectively. While most of these devices won't appeal to spec-happy tablet buyers, the new flagship ZenPad S 8.0 delivers an impressive combination of hardware power in a slim, sleek form factor. And even the budget offerings have some unique accessories going for them. We'll take a closer look after the break.
The focus of ASUS' press conference was on the ZenPad 8 series. The lower-end ZenPad 8.0 features an Intel Atom X3 processor paired with 1 or 2 gigabytes or RAM depending on SKU, and 8 or 16GB of storage depending on which model you pick up. So we're looking at a very basic Android tablet experience, but you do at least get the Android 5.0 Lollipop-based firmware, which is topped with the manufacturer's Zen UI. We've seen Zen UI before on phones like the ZenFone 2, and if you can handle the colorful and sometimes jarring graphics, it's a decent enough interface. It's funcitonal and overflowing with features, but not as attractive as the stock OS.
Whichever ZenPad you pick up, you'll be dealing with the same multicolored UI, complete with an array of pre-loaded apps you'll probably never use. ASUS does at least offer some useful additions, including automatic contrast enhancement for photos and movies.
The real star of the show is the ZenPad S 8.0, with its higher-res display and beefier internals.
The lower-end ZenPad 8.0 is supported by a pretty extensive ecosystem of cases. The back panel is removable, and ASUS today showed off replacements in a variety of colors and textures. It's also possible to hook up a battery case to the ZenPad 8.0 for added battery capacity, use the "ASUS Clutch" to prop up the device more easily, or snap in a case that doubles as an external speaker. It's a pretty neat idea, and we'll admit to being a bit disappointed that all models aren't supported.
The real star of the show, though, is the ZenPad S 8.0. This higher-specced model loses some of the expandability of the vanilla ZenPad 8.0, but boasts a more powerful Intel Atom Z3580 (Moorefield) quad-core processor, which is paired with an equally beastly PowerVR GPU and 4GB of RAM. The build quality is similar, albeit without the removable back panels, and the overall feel is of a plastic device, but one that's slim and easy to hold.
The ZenPad S 8.0's display is also mightily impressive. Unlike the "HD" class panels used by other members of the ZenPad family, the S bumps up the resolution to 2048x1536, same as the Nexus 9 and iPad. And that pixel density is matched by equally impressive brightness — around 400 nits, ASUS says — and color quality. What's more, the 4:3 aspect ratio is a more natural fit for reading and web browsing.
We don't yet know how much ASUS promising new high-ender will sell for — U.S. availability for the ZenPad series remains up in the air. But if our first impressions are anything to go by, ASUS should have at least one interesting Android tablet in its future.