After using an Nvidia Shield tablet for a year or so, and dealing with a battery recall and then an RMA because it would no longer hold a charge after only 3 months, I decided to try something different. The Shield is an impressive tablet, and the original version even more so. I would still recommend it for anyone who is serious about mobile gaming, but the average battery life and weight of the tablet itself made me want to find something more suited to my usage patterns. So I started looking…
I was after something Android based, medium sized, fairly fast, had a high pixel density screen, average or better battery life and was light weight. Additionally, after using the Shield, I wanted it to have front facing speakers. I looked at tablets from Lenovo, Sony, Samsung, Asus, LG and more. The one that I kept coming back to was the Asus ZenPad S 8. It ticked all the right boxes:
- An 8″ 4:3 aspect ratio screen with a high pixel density with a resolution of 2048×1536
- Large internal storage, 32 or 64GB and can be expanded with a 128GB microSD card
- Quad core processor at 2.3GHz
- USB Type-C port for charging and connecting other devices
- Dual band wireless (A/B/G/N/AC)
- Fairly Light, only about 300 grams (about 11 ounces)
- Price, its under $200 price tag for the 32G model is very reasonable
There are a few negatives, too:
- The processor is an Atom processor, not well known for speed or power consumption
- Android 5.0 – Unless its a Nexus device, a lot of manufacturers tend not to update
- Bloatware – A huge number of useless apps that can’t be uninstalled
After weighing the pros and cons for a while, I decided to purchase the 64GB model and I added a 128GB Samsung microSD card. After using it for a couple weeks, I was fairly disappointed. The negatives I listed above really overshadowed the pros. Then I noticed on a forum somewhere that Asus had released an update to Android 6 (Lollipop). It wasn’t going to be an over the air (OTA) upgrade, though, so you had to load it yourself. So I downloaded it in the hopes it would take advantage of the better battery management in Android 6 and eliminate some of the bloatware.
It was actually pretty easy to load and the whole process was done in under an hour. What a difference this upgrade made. Most of the bloatware was gone, the tablet was really responsive, and my battery life was seemingly doubled.
I primarily use it for accessing my media server, accessing my music and photos, email, and the occasional game. The high quality screen and front facing speakers make it excellent for watching videos, playing games, or even listening to a bit of music. If you’re going to listen to music on any mobile device, I would really recommend using headphones or a high quality bluetooth speaker. I haven’t yet found a mobile device that was really acceptable for listening to music for a long period of time, but as long as you don’t crank up the volume too much, the ZenPad S 8.0 is passable.
After the upgrade, battery life went from a horrid 4 hours or so of life to almost 8 for web browsing, email, Facebook, card games, etc. If my son plays Minecraft on it, the battery drains much faster of course, but its still very acceptable for a tablet as light as it is.
If you’re going to be reading a lot on it, it does have a nice feature that is in all of the latest Asus tablets – a blue light filter. This greatly reduces the color range on the tablet, but it makes it much easier on the eyes when reading a book. It can easily be toggled via the drop down notification bar. If you’re going to spend a lot of time reading, though, I still recommend a Kindle Paperwhite as they are far superior for reading books.
If I can find an acceptable method of restricting apps for my kids, I’m even considering replacing my oldest son’s Kindle Fire with this. Adding a Bobj Rugged case and its almost as well protected as the FreeTime case that comes with the Fire. The buttons are much easier to access on the Asus with the Bobj case as well, and the reversible USB type C connector is perfect for kids since they can’t force it in upside down and damage it when trying to charge it. The cost of this tablet is considerably higher than a Fire tablet, though – almost twice the price.
I wouldn’t consider one for my 3 year old, but my 6 year old seems to be out-growing his Fire tablet, especially with the mess of FreeTime. FreeTime is difficult for parents to manage, and the choices it offers are actually overwhelming.
I will make one other point with regard to the design of the 8″ tablet. Asus has really stepped up their design game with their most recent tablets. They are well made, have curves in all the right places and feel nice in the hand. The back has a fairly slick aluminum surface, but switches to a softer rubbery plastic on the left side in portrait mode or the bottom in landscape mode — where the majority of people will be holding it. It offers a good grip on the tablet and it does not feel like its going to slide right out of your hand. It also feels very solid and not flimsy at all like all of the Samsung tablets I’ve held in the last few years do.
Overall I can recommend the Asus ZenPad S 8.0 as a solid tablet for general use and perhaps even some light gaming. The size is good and it feels good in the hand. The front facing speakers have fairly decent sound and are something I wish all tablets had. Both the 32 and 64G versions have ample storage for apps and can be extended with up to a 128GB SD card, plenty for thousands of songs or dozens of full HD videos. The screen is good and has plenty of brightness making it quite readable in everything but direct sunlight. With the Android 6.0 update it is very responsive and has good battery life.