When I think of ASUS and Android, the first thing that comes to mind is their past portfolio of Android tablets. ASUS has been making Android tablets since the first wave of Android Honeycomb tablets hit the market. Back then, ASUS's point of differentiation from all the other Android tablets with essentially the same Tegra 2 hardware platform was their attachable keyboard dock. One could argue that ASUS really pioneered the 2-in-1 tablet form factor with their Transformer tablets.

While ASUS continued to release a number of additional Transformer tablets with updated specifications for some time, it has been a while since we've seen any new high end tablets from the company. Recent offerings have usually been more budget oriented devices like the MeMO Pad series, or the hard to find ASUS PadFone, with the spot for a more standard tablet being left unfilled.

Today's review takes a look at a tablet that doesn't pick up where the Transformer series left off, but instead kicks off a new line of tablets from ASUS under the ZenPad brand. There are a few different ZenPad tablets on the market, with multiple SKUs for each product creating even more versions. The tablet I'm looking at today is the ASUS ZenPad S, and more specifically, the ZenPad S Z580CA, which is ASUS's most high end tablet offering. Since the ZenPad S comes in two different versions I've laid out both of their specifications in the chart below so you can get an idea of how the two devices differ from each other.

  ASUS ZenPad S 8 (Z580C) ASUS ZenPad S 8 (Z580CA)
SoC Intel Atom Moorefield Z3530
4x Silvermont @ 1.33GHz
Intel Atom Moorefield Z3580
4x Silvermont @ 2.33GHz
GPU PowerVR G6430 @ 457MHz PowerVR G6430 @ 533MHz
RAM 2GB LPDDR3 4GB LPDDR3
NAND 32GB + microSDXC 64GB + microSDXC
Display 7.85" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Dimensions 203.2 x 134.5 x 6.6mm
Mass 298g
Camera 2MP Front-facing
5MP Rear-facing
5MP Front-facing
8MP Rear-facing
Battery 15.2Wh
OS Android 5.0 Lollipop with ASUS Zen UI
Other Connectivity 802.11b/g/n + BT 4.1, GNSS, 3.5mm audio 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, GNSS, 3.5mm audio
USB Connector Micro USB USB Type-C
Price $199 USD $299 USD

There are two versions of the ZenPad S. The less expensive model is priced at $199 USD, while the more expensive model that I am reviewing is $299 USD. This is not unlike the price split between the two versions of the ZenFone 2. However, while the two versions of the ZenFone were differentiated only by their RAM, NAND, and included charger, the two models of the ZenPad S have more differences than similarities as far as their specifications go.

What's shared between both devices is the 7.85" 2048x1536 display. ASUS advertises it as 8.0" but measurements of the display's diagonal show that there is some rounding going on. In addition to the display, both devices have a 15.2Wh battery. At $100 more, the ZenPad Z580CA doubles your RAM and storage to 4GB and 64GB respectively, increases the resolution of both cameras, bumps the max CPU clock by 1GHz and max GPU clock by 76MHz, and adds 802.11ac support.

The one thing that sets the ZenPad S Z580CA apart from most other devices is its use of the new USB Type-C connector, along with support for USB 3.0 speeds of 5Gbps (Superspeed). While we have seen USB 3.0 featured on some past devices such as the Galaxy Note 3, the large size and unsightly appearance of the USB 3.0 Micro-B connector resulted in it receiving almost no market adoption. It's important to note that just because a device uses the USB Type-C connector does not mean that it supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Superspeed+) along with all the USB alternate modes for networking or display interfaces. With the ZenPad S Z580CA only supporting USB data, you cannot do video out or use any other USB alternate modes. Such features will have to wait for future SoCs and controllers with USB 3.1 and USB alt mode support.

As for the connector, Type-C is slightly larger than your standard Micro-B port in all dimensions, but it's reversible, more durable, and maintains a much stronger connection to a device. You can insert it in two orientations, and when you push it in there's a click to let you know that it connected. Some users will see the adoption of USB Type-C as a nuisance, as it will prevent them from using existing cables to charge the tablet or transfer files. I personally recognize this as an unavoidable transition period, as there's no chance of every vendor and user in the world deciding to move to Type-C all at once. It's obviously a bit of an annoyance to be unable to use existing Micro-B cables, but I believe the advantages are worth it.

The ZenPad S uses ASUS's ZenUI skin for Android. It's basically the exact same UI as on the ZenFone 2, but with some layout and app design changes to work better on the larger display. For a look at ZenUI I recommend looking at the software section of my ZenFone 2 review, as I won't be discussing it in this review due to it being mostly redundant.

Design
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  • jjj - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    You guys are out of touch. 300$ for what is a midrange tablet? -with misguided AR and horrible design but lets put that aside. This would have been high end 3 years ago. At 40% lower prices it would be ok-ish - at lest for Apple users that got used with the irrational 4:3 AR and are in love with how briefcases used to look 30 years ago. Odd niche to address but w/e.
    PC OEM mentality, just dropping parts in a box. They aren't selling lettuce, they are supposed to be in tech and do much better than nothing. They just need to gift wrap some parts together and that's somehow way too difficult for them. They sell out to Intel, they use no neurons in product design and then they whine that the tablet market is not doing well. And that's not just Asus but Asus at least used to be slightly better than others.
    Reply
  • boeush - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    What's so misguided about 4:3 AR? It's basically the same as the standard 8.5" x 11" paper sheet. It's close to the AR of a typical book. It's pretty great for consuming text-based or text-heavy media (hello - Internet?), or just scribbling on for kicks and doodles (or notes). Only thing its not perfect for is movie watching, but who watches movies on a tiny friggin' tablet screen - unless one's desperate? Reply
  • BugblatterIII - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    4:3 is way better for everything apart from movies. It was one of the main reasons my last tablet was an iPad rather than another Android. I'm glad there are now some Android options. Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Not really.

    Aside from multimedia, widescreen is better for gaming - more immersive, and also for professional software, where in most cases the UI revolves around a hefty side bar and a central viewport. Having a 4:3 screen means you either lose your viewport or your sidebar.

    Honestly, the sole upside to 4:3 might be text editing, but flip a widescreen at 90 degree and suddenly 4:3 is not that much of an attractive prospect.

    The only reason people like 4:3 is because apple is still stuck there, and those people are apple fanboys who care not about usability but to be exemplary corporate zealots.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    The one thing 4:3 is really good for is browsing poorly designed websites. That's about it... If that's what your computing routine boils down to - go for it. Reply
  • BillyONeal - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    As a Nexus 7 and Surface owner, can confirm 16:9 is garbage for anything but movies. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Yeah, but *computing* is so 1990s. All these devices are primarily entertainment vehicles. In due time, may be less than a year, there'll be a 16:9/10 watchy thingee so you can consume "Straight Outta Compton" on the way to your cubicle. Reply
  • cwolf78 - Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - link

    As another Nexus 7 owner, I agree wholeheartedly. I will not be purchasing another 16:9 tablet. The shape is just too awkward for anything other than movies which I can't stomach watching on a tablet in the first place. Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Thursday, September 3, 2015 - link

    I'm also a Nexus 7 owner and I think the shape is perfect. Its just narrow enough to fit in my pocket. Wait, you want to actually use the device. Whaat? Reply
  • BugblatterIII - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    So anyone who disagrees with your opinion is an Apple fanboy and/or mostly browses lousy websites?

    I don't like Apple; I reluctantly bought an iPad because it was the best choice for me at the time.

    I have a 24" 16:10 monitor. I always use it in portrait. For videos and games I use my TV. It's a very nice set up and meets my needs perfectly.

    If ever you want to have your views taken seriously then you need to be less dismissive of the views of others.
    Reply

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