It’s not too often we see an affordable tablet compatible with a cellular network like Verizon deliver an experience nearly free of compromises. Although the affordable smartphone market has been more competitive as of late, with a sometimes even overwhelming number of excellent affordable options, budget tablets often leave something to be desired.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the same company that brought us the remarkable Zenfone 2, various affordable tablets, and the Nexus 7 is now offering what appears to be one of the best “bang for your buck” tablets.
Where does the ASUS ZenPad Z8 excel and where does it fall short? Let’s find out in our comprehensive ASUS ZenPad Z8 review!
ASUS has undoubtedly delivered a clean and simplistic design with the Z8. Its textured plastic rear is subtle to the eye yet impressionable in the hand, and makes the tablet easier to grip. Unfortunately, the plastic band running along the edges of the tablet doesn’t seem to help with the ZenPad’s structural integrity, which is notably weak. The tablet’s plastic construction does lend to a nice handling experience in both portrait and landscape orientation, however.
The power and volume buttons, found on the right edge, are tactile and positioned well. ASUS has implemented a fairly inconspicuous flap towards the top of the left edge, which covers the microSIM card slot, for data connectivity, and the microSD card slot, for expanding the tablet’s 16 GB of storage, up to 128 GB.
The front of the Z8 features a Verizon logo on the bottom, as well as a 2 MP front-facing camera on the top. Capacitive navigation keys are absent, and navigation is instead handled by on-screen keys. Although the iconography follows ASUS’ ZenUI design language, the layout matches what Google has defined as standard.
The ZenPad’s 7.9″ QXGA (2048 x 1536) display offers a high pixel density of 324 PPI, which is a pleasant surprise at this price. The display’s sharpness is very important when consuming text-heavy content, such as webpages or ebooks. Viewing angles are also good and the display’s color reproduction is fairly accurate.
ASUS’ Splendid app is also worthy of praise, as it offers granular control over the display’s color temperature, in addition to several screen color modes. If you’d like to bump up the display’s vividness, for example, you can simply select the “Vivid” mode.
Sadly, the display’s glass is very reflective and the highest brightness setting is still relatively low, which makes reading the display in direct sunlight challenging in many cases. I also noticed that auto-brightness tended to dim the display too much, which eventually became so frustrating that I had to turn it off completely.
One other attribute to keep in mind is the display’s 4:3 aspect ratio, which makes the tablet seem a bit too tall in landscape mode when watching 21:9 movies or even 16:9 TV shows or videos. Put simply, you may see some letter boxing when consuming this type of content. I should note that the 4:3 aspect ratio does work well, however, when reading or web browsing.
Under the hood, the ASUS ZenPad Z8 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650, which offers performance comparable to that of the Snapdragon 808. During my time with the Z8, I did not notice much lag nor did I find app load times to be unreasonably long.
I did, however, have some minor trouble multitasking with more than a couple of apps. Unfortunately, the Z8 includes just 2 GB of RAM, which although often enough for some low-end smartphones, was not enough to keep up with my tablet usage demands. If you plan on using the tablet for simple tasks like video streaming and reading, however, this should not be an issue.
The Adreno 510 delivers great gaming performance and users should have no trouble playing higher-end games like Asphalt 8: Airborne. This is great to see, as tablets in this price category often skimp in this department.
Unlike many sub-$300 tablets, the ASUS ZenPad Z8 allows you to receive 4G LTE data on the Verizon Wireless network. It’s also compatible with Verizon’s strong XLTE network, meaning that you’ll receive more reliable and faster data coverage in congested areas. And, although band support is limited to the Verizon network, the tablet itself is unlocked and can be used on other compatible LTE networks.
It’s great to see ASUS adopt the newer USB Type-C standard with the ZenPad Z8. Unlike the now outdated microUSB, USB Type-C is reversible so you won’t have to worry about plugging the cable in “the wrong way” when attempting to charge the device.
The ASUS ZenPad Z8 features dual front-facing speakers, which is something that we all love to see, especially on tablets. In terms of actual audio quality, they sound pretty good with some minor distortion and tinniness at full volume. But for the price, it’s really difficult to complain here.
Battery life with the Z8 was good, thanks to the tablet’s large non-removable 4680mAh battery. I was able to consistently achieve over five hours of screen on time with a minimum of twelve hours of standby. Although there are tablets out there offering better battery life, this should be more than enough for almost all users. ASUS’ power saving profiles can also help squeeze just a bit more juice when you are running low on battery.
ASUS has implemented an 8 MP rear camera on the ZenPad Z8, but you should really avoid using it whenever possible. Although it certainly is nice to have and may come in handy in some situations, the images it produces are soft, noisy, and lack detail.
Camera samples from the ZenPad Z8:
With that said, color reproduction is excellent, saturation seems to be good, and autofocus is reliable and fairly fast. Low-light performance is poor, although ASUS’ Owl mode does help bring up the brightness by reducing the image quality. Chances are, however, that the camera on your smartphone is simply better in most conditions.
Shipping with ASUS’ ZenUI skin over Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, the ZenPad Z8 provides a great software experience. The user interface does feel a bit cartoonish, but the overall mechanics are very similar to stock Android. Overall, there’s nothing terribly out of the ordinary if you’ve used Android in the past.
There are some nice software additions, however. The screen color settings and audio equalizer are very nice to have, apps like Do It Later and Quick Memo can be helpful, and the included Help app could come in handy, especially for those who are not yet comfortable with Android. Thankfully, bloatware is also kept to a minimum, with only a few Verizon apps and four Amazon apps.
Sadly, the selection of tablet apps available on the Google Play Store is still very limited compared to Apple’s App Store. Many of the apps available on Android are simply not optimized for tablets, which is certainly a bummer. You’ll still have a wide selection of apps, but do be aware that not all will run as smoothly as they do on the iPad.
Price & Conclusion
The ASUS ZenPad Z8 is now available through Verizon Wireless for $250 off contract (or $10.41/mo. for 24 months). That’s a very competitive price, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a comparable cellular connected tablet.
You can also purchase the Z8 for $150 with a two year contract. You should, however, consider how you’d like to use the tablet before agreeing. Although there are certainly use cases where paying for data makes sense, you may end up mostly relying on Wi-Fi, especially if you don’t plan on taking the tablet outside of your home often. By paying an extra $100 up front (or by financing the device), you can avoid any headaches down the road.
There is little complaining that can be done once you factor in the Z8’s affordable pricing. Although the display could be less reflective, there could be more RAM, and the camera could produce better images, there’s a lot to love about this tablet. With its dual front-facing speakers, excellent high-resolution display, and very good performance, the ZenPad Z8 is yet another home run for ASUS.
What do you think of the ASUS ZenPad Z8? Will you be picking one up? Let us know in the comment section below!