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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  • uhuznaa - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Things are strange right now: You can get an 8" (retina) iPad Mini 2 for $299 and at the same time Android tablets are either a little bit cheaper and really crappy or more expensive and not really much better.

    If even Apple is struggling now to sell iPads I somewhat doubt that such Android tablets are selling great now...
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    I dont know about that. I got the $199 Asus Zenpad S 8 a month ago and am loving it. Like all Androids from OEM's, you really need to spend a bit of time to root it and debloat it to make it shine. Debloated this thing flies. For $199 you get an 8 inch 2048x1536 screen, 32gb storage + SD, great build quality, thin, light, great battery life, fingerprint resistant on all surfaces and the CPU is great as well. I was worried about using an Atom chip, but in actual use, it runs perfectly smooth and cool as well. In fact cooler than any Snapdragon device I have ever used. It doesnt get hot at all, ever and I live in Arizona and it's summer. EASILY the best "bang for your buck" available in a tablet right now from any vendor. Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    @retrospooty, I agree with you. People who review a product at a certain price point who want to compare that to products that are about 1/3 more expensive? Or they simply omit the good features like the 64GB onboard storage in this situation, or the front facing speakers, the stylus support or the microSD slot? As if the $299, 2-year old iPad mini 2 with 16GB storage is a wiser choice. If the reviewer wants big battery life, best this, and best that? Then add another $100 to the price of the Tab S2 8.0 for all the features it's lacking that the Z580CA has. Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    I agree and disagree. You are welcome to compare it to a product that is 1/3 more expensive, so long as you make it known that that product is 1/3 more expensive. If you stress the comparison against a disparate competitor, then you need to stress the price differential as well. I agree it is disingenuous to point out things that may bring value on one side (display quality, build, aspect ratio, etc.) while ignoring the value adds on the other (SD slot, Storage, Stylus, etc,).

    Note: My comparison is between two imaginary products and has no bearing on products explicitly or implicitly called out in this article or thread. Comparison was made only to illustrate the point that talking about value distinctions without all of the data is impossible. You may not value the items you left out, but the party you are talking to might.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @retrospooty: Given what I've read about the new Atoms, I would probably consider it a boon to a tablet rather than a point of worry. A lot of people seem to be on an ARM or nothing kick. While I was pretty enthusiastic about ARM processors (still am) and I love the competition and what it has done for Intel's low end, I now find there is a lot to like about the Atoms in this form factor as well. Atom got a bad name from its netbook days when it was, frankly atrocious for the application. Now it has matured significantly from a performance / watt standpoint and is running an OS that doesn't run like dirt on low end processors. Of course another nicety of the Atom is its ability to support alternate x86 operating systems if you really want to, but then you have to question whether it is capable of giving you the experience you want. ARM will probably move ahead with its A72 in the near future, but that's a good thing. A little back and forth is good for keeping things moving. Reply
  • BugblatterIII - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Do not trust Asus to fix issues!

    I had (and still have) a Transformer Prime. They never managed to get that working acceptably.

    Base your buying decision on how it is at launch, and if they do manage to fix the issues then count that as a bonus.
    Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Did you not get the dongle they created? The Prime was a design flaw. They couldn't software fix their way out of it. If you didn't or don't have the dongle, then I suppose blame yourself. Reply
  • invinciblegod - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    oh REALLY, an external GPS dongle to do what it should have done in the first place? No, no one should blame themselves, they should blame asus for making a bad product. Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    A design flaw is a design flaw. You can hold onto that issue for the rest of your life if you so choose. You want to miss out of price friendly Asus products because of a design flaw on a second even generation, ground breaking device, then be my guest. I bet you didn't even know about the dongle. The fact is the issue was resolved, albeit a lousy solution. Again, you hold that against them for the rest of your life. That's your odd choice, and if you're okay with it, then so am I. Reply
  • 3DoubleD - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    The dongle fiasco was far from the worst of it though - missing GPS on a 10" tablet was really not a big deal. The Transformer Prime was a complete failure in the end due to the TERRIBLE eMMC that was used. Storage performance just plummeted after a time and while the occasional TRIM helped a bit, it was (and still is) painful to use. Once you are in an app... not so bad. Navigating Android was like watching grass grow... very choppy, laggy grass.

    It was very sad what happened to the Prime... I remember when I first got it, it blew away any Android device I'd ever used. It is one of two electronic device or computer component purchases I've completely regretted buying. (The other was an AGP Radeon x850XT... that was just outright stupidity on my part)

    So that experience colors my view of all ASUS products now. They make some nice looking devices that sometimes have great value... but I just can't help think that they are not fully tested. (As for their PC components, I've had nothing but good experiences)
    Reply

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