Design

In my mind, I think of the ZenPad S Z580CA as a companion to the ZenFone 2. Both devices have an affordable price, and you can really buy both of them and still end up spending less than you would on a flagship smartphone. While they definitely share a UI and many internal hardware components, there isn't much similarity between the external design and construction of the two devices.

The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the ZenPad S isn't how the materials feel, but how incredibly thin and light the entire device feels. It's 6.6mm thick at its thinnest point, and the thickest point is only a small fraction of a millimeter thicker than that. Its mass is only 298g, which makes it the lightest tablet I've looked at to date. While it's not as thin as the iPad Air 2 or the Dell Venue 8 7840, the thickness and mass work together to give a feeling of lightness and portability that I've only ever experienced with one other device, which was the original iPad Mini.

There's not much to say about the front of the ZenPad S. Like all tablets, it's just a big display. ASUS has made space for two front-facing stereo speakers, which is something you won't get on an iPad or on the Galaxy Tab S2. As for the quality of the speakers, my highly subjective evaluation is that they are better than the iPad Air 2, and much better than the Nexus 9. They also don't cause significant chassis vibration despite the tablet's small thickness, which is something the iPad Air 2 suffers from.

Surrounding the edge of the ZenPad's front bezels is a metallic looking silver edge. This is really made of plastic, and like the plastic construction of the ZenFone 2 I'm a bit concerned about its durability. Readers may remember that a single fall from an extremely short height ended up scuffing up the back cover of our ZenFone 2 pretty badly. With the ZenPad S I have made sure to be quite careful, and haven't dropped it or hit it off anything to the best of my knowledge. Even so, there are some small dents in the silver edge. Pressing on it confirms that it's a fairly soft plastic, and I feel like it's going to be a magnet for these types of small dents and marks. In contrast, the Nexus 9 and iPad Air 2 testing units I have could probably be packaged and sold as brand new despite having them in my possession for significantly longer than the ZenPad S. If someone intends to use the ZenPad S as a tablet they can throw into their bag with other objects I would definitely be aware of the potential for damage to the edge.

The back of the ZenPad S is split into two sections. The smaller section has a soft touch feeling, and almost feels a bit like the pleather some phone cases are made of as it has a texture to it. This section is slightly thinner than the rest of the back cover, and it houses the tablet's MicroSD slot. What's interesting is that this part blends smoothly into the sides of the tablet, even though the sides have a distinctly different feeling due to their lack of texture. The soft touch part of the tablet also has the tablet's name and the Intel logo on it. However, it rubs off fairly easily as you can see in the image above, and at the time of writing this paragraph the logos have come off entirely.

The second part of the ZenPad back cover is a large plastic panel. In my review of the ZenFone 2 I said that the back cover of the phone did a good job of mimicking the appearance of aluminum, but felt entirely like plastic. The plastic segment of the ZenPad's back cover could actually convince you that it's made of metal unless you have the urge to tap on it. Like the ZenFone 2, the ZenPad's back cover has a shine to it that looks very much like the reflections made by brushed aluminum, although in the ZenPad's case the back cover has a pattern of overlapping diagonal lines rather than the straight lines of the ZenFone 2. Unfortunately, the hard plastic part of the back cover doesn't give any illusion of the tablet itself being made of metal, as you'll always be touching the soft touch plastic of the sides and the smaller segment of the back.

Right out of the box, my ZenPad S review unit did seem to have some issues with the hard plastic segment of the back cover that I think should have been picked up during QA. As you can see in the images above, there are areas on the edge of the plastic that are warped in such a way that they are no longer smooth like the other sections. It looks like these areas weren't finished properly, and when you look at the tablet from the side you can see that the entire edge around the power button and volume rocker is improperly formed and doesn't have the same color as the rest.

Ultimately I think the ZenPad S does a good job at being what it is, which is a tablet with a plastic chassis. My big concern is that the iPad Mini 2 sits at exactly the same price, and offers a completely aluminum chassis that feels much higher quality and will likely not incur the damage I've seen on the ZenPad's edge and back cover. The iPad is obviously heavier and thicker though, and the only way to achieve the low mass that the ZenPad S has is with plastic.

Personally, I think if I was given the choice I would opt for a slightly thicker and heavier device made of aluminum or a more durable plastic than a thinner and more easily damaged plastic one. The thicker device also has the benefit of storing a larger battery. Other people may value the thinness and the lightness more, particularly with 8" tablets which are more likely to be kept on someone's person than larger tablets. In the end everything is a series of trade-offs, and it's important to think about what aspects of design and build quality matter most to you when considering which tablets to buy.

Introduction System Performance
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  • Shadow7037932 - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Man, that's disappointing. I was hoping more value like the Zenfone 2. Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    More value like what? Put a 16GB storage along with 1GB of RAM like the iPad mini 2 (as mentioned endlessly in this review) and don't you think it would cost less than $199? So then the Z580CA would be price around $199 or less, and the 2 year old iPad mini 2 would be $100 more. Oh yes, more value please. Afterall, let's compare apples with oranges. Zenfone 2 value? So a 8-inch display for a price similar to a 5.5-inch display device. Put stylus support into the Zenfone 2 and what would that cost? Reply
  • Kepe - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Does ASUS pay you to troll around here, praising the Zenpad and dissing everyone who finds the product a bit disappointing? Price doesn't matter at all if the product fails on too many categories that would have been rather easy to fix. This thing has too many software issues, such as artificially oversharpening everything on the display (makes small text hard to read for example), always on CABC and poor camera image processing.
    Cheap price alone isn't enough to justify the problems this thing has. You wouldn't buy a badly made and designed car even if it was 30% cheaper than the competing, well-made and thought of car.
    Of course cheap price doesn't always mean something is bad. Look at OnePlus 1 and 2 and the new Moto X. They're half the price of the competition, but you couldn't tell that by the spec sheets or how they are made and what materials are used. Those are good examples of how to make a cheap product in an intelligent and thoughtful way.
    Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Hey friend. I think it's okay to challenge people or to question logic. You don't logically compare a smartphone with a tablet. Do you? I would expect a $100,000 car to be on a level playing field as a $20,000 car. I wouldn't compare the Z380CA to an iPad mini 2 because if you removed 3GB of RAM, put in a slower processor, and removed 32GB of storage then the Z580CA would be priced around $200 don't you think? Compare apples with apples is logical. You don't own one so I would suspect you don't have any credibility on what the Z580CA has or doesn't have. With a weak review, things can and should be corrected by people who know better in the comment section. You can always always always get more bang for your buck. Apple proves that. To me the failure is partially on Asus for sending an early review unit that OBVIOUSLY needed a firmware update prior to publisher, and beyond that, one key component the Z stylus isn't even available for those reviews. I'm expressing my opinion to clear up some of the ignorance out there. Reply
  • Kepe - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    You are not making any sense at all. The iPad mini 2 and the Z580CA cost exactly the same amount of money: $299. That is why they can and should be compared. The iPad mini 2 is 2 years old, that's why it has less ram, storage, slower processor and such.

    Somewhere else in the comments you said people shouldn't compare the Z580CA to a Samsung tablet because it was $100 more expensive. Now you say people shouldn't compare devices that cost the same. What the heck are we supposed to compare, then? Two Z580CA's and look at them with a microscope to spot some differences in the surface texture and then compare them?
    Besides, I haven't been comparing a tablet to a phone. The charts in the review have phones as well because they use the same SOCs (processors, GPUs).

    The reason graphs and charts are used and detailed measurements are taken (display, performance, specs) is to remove objectivity from the results. Without them, every review would be like this:
    "The display is ok I guess. There wasn't any significant UI lag. Gaming was ok. Weight is ok, not too heavy. Battery lasted for quite a while. It's an ok tablet I guess."

    That kind of a review doesn't benefit anyone. The only way to properly decide which device is better at which thing is to measure those things, put them in a chart and compare them. As a reader, you should have the brain capacity to understand the price and other differences by yourself. We all know that the Zenpad reviewed here costs $299 and some other devices in the charts are more expensive and some are less expensive. It's up to the reader to decide what kind of price/performance he or she wants. It's the same thing with GPU reviews. The charts have old GPUs, new GPUs, cheap GPUs, expensive GPUs all in one. It isn't unfair, because everyone understands that the cheap ones won't be as fast as the new ones, and the expensive old ones won't be as fast as expensive new ones. You have to use your own brains when you're reading.
    Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    I can appreciate what you're saying. I'm not trying to argue with you, only to discuss. Let me clarify. Similar price is fair, so long as the specs match up. The ipad mini 2 and Z580CA are total apples and oranges. It's not an equal value trade off at all. If you strip most of the things I mentioned, then you will have a true value comparison.

    The reason the new Samsung Tab S2 is worth comparing is because they are comparable spec wise, except for the storage and a bit of RAM. The value proposition of the Z580CA exceeds the negatives, but that's my opinion.

    Charts and graphs have some value, so I'm not disregarding those entirely. Obviously anandtech is very reliant on their data and that's fine. Perhaps the audience reading the review will figure things out on their own, but it's a false assumption to assume that people understand the technicalities. I don't disagree that people need to use their brains when analyzing data or stats. Some stats however are statistically insignificant and that's why I take issue with some of those devices listed.

    Those best review is one that looks realistically at the cost/value proposition. Everything out there sucks in the tablet category against the iPad Air 2. Beyond that, the review here of the display is sporadic and unclear. If it's software? If it was patched at some point during the review? That should not be made as an aside. It's not clear to me if the issues were resolved with the update and that essentially nullified most of the previous complaints being made about the display. Just not good enough in my books. Beyond that, it's never a good idea to trust one review and make a decision or judgement based on that.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    Let me try to word it a different way. For the same price you get an extra 3GB of RAM, a faster processor, and an extra 32GB of storage. If those things are of highest importance to you, then this equates to more value. However, if your personal priorities dictate that use of iOS, Apple branding, build quality, display quality, etc. are more important, then perhaps you come to a different conclusion. Reply
  • LoganPowell - Friday, November 27, 2015 - link

    Unfortunately Asus Zenpad Z580CA ranks rather poorly among top rankings (see ranking http://www.consumerrunner.com/top-10-best-tablets/ for example...) Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @Kepe: It doesn't matter if the iPad Mini 2 is two years old. That doesn't make it suddenly a better value. Either the price needs to drop accordingly, or a newer updated version needs to hit the market. Of course, you may find it a better value given other characteristics, but that depends on your priorities. Reply
  • Puck85 - Thursday, September 10, 2015 - link

    serious question: what should I buy instead of this around this price range? Is there a better value out there I should consider? Reply

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