If you're reading this, the chances are that you're in the market for a new tablet but don't want to pay through the nose for the latest poser-friendly iPad. We don't blame you. The price of Apple's tablets has got way out of hand, with the costs of extra memory being particularly shocking.
You're off to a good start looking at an Asus tablet. This is after all the company behind the first truly great budget tablet, the 2012 Google Nexus 7, aka the benchmark. But today the competition is pretty damn strong in this area, with even Tesco releasing an impressive tablet in the form of the Hudl 2. So, let's see how the ZenPad 8.0 Z380C measures up.
Looks and design
Looks wise, this does not feel like a budget tablet. The screen stretches a good distance around the eight-inch tablet (none of the 2013 Nexus' odd ratios here) and the faux metal edging is a nice touch. On the back of the tablet, diamond-shaped etchings in the plastic give the device a slightly leathered texture. This etched area stops short just over a centimetre from the bottom when holding the device horizontally, providing a very slight ridge where your little fingers on each hand will naturally catch, making for a comfortable resting place when watching video content. The backplates are interchangeable with different colours if you fancy changing the tablet's look.
On-screen you have your usual trilogy of Android buttons. The only outward physical buttons are the volume switch and the power/sleep button. They stick out a little too much to be honest, making it easy to tap them when handling the device. With 16GB of storage, I didn't need to take advantage of micro SD card support. If you need it though, you'll find the slot underneath the backplate inside the tablet, so get ready to pry it open with your fingernails.
The micro-USB port for charging sits on top (in portrait view). I would have preferred it on the bottom, for that little bit of extra room when charging. Let's face it, the default charging cable length on most mobile devices nowadays is pretty damn awful, so every inch counts. The charging plug itself deserves a mention as the top pin (UK plug) can be pushed down a little, making it a bit less chunky if you're packing it into your bag on a regular basis.
Charging can take a few hours if you run the battery down and there's no LED indicator to tell you when it's fully charged. It's a little thing, but after being used to having one on a Hudl 2, its absence here is particularly annoying. Depending on what you're using the tablet for and how bright the screen is, you'll get between five and eight hours of battery. Hogging multiple apps or running graphically intense games are the biggest power suckers, but if you're looking to use this for Netflix with headphones, you're looking at plenty of viewing hours.
I'm awful for leaving tablets in sleep mode rather than properly turning them off and it's tough going treating the ZenPad this way as it seems to chew through the battery surprisingly quick if you leave it asleep for a day or two. The long boot time is quite off-putting too.
If you're going to be away from a power source for a while, you may want to consider purchasing a Power Case. This is essentially a backplate with a built in battery that will double your charge time. It even introduces a secondary battery charge indicator in the corner of your screen. It does make the tablet a bit heavier and slightly chunkier though.
Despite only having one speaker on the top/left side of the tablet, the ZenPad has a surprising oomph to the sound. While lacking the monster impact of the rear dual speakers of the Hudl 2, the sound quality is noticeably improved, making it ideal for everything from cat videos on YouTube, to lengthy sit-ins with Netflix. Naturally, there's a standard-sized 3.5mm headphone jack for additional privacy.
I found the Zen Pad's eight-inch screen to provide an enjoyable viewing experience, although the 1280px800p display isn't can't quite match the full HD display on the similarly-priced Hudl 2. But for day-to-day usage browsing the net or an episode or two of something on Netflix, the quality is more than adequate.
With just 1GB of RAM, you can expect a few lengthy load times on the more graphically intense games like Need for Speed, or the mobile wonder that is Modern Combat 5, but once they're up and running, you're laughing. Modern Combat 5 is a good example of the ZenPad's ability to handle ambitious FPS titles as the eight-inch screen gives you plenty of room for the movement controls, fire/reload buttons, grenades and so on.
The screen is capable of outputting some very sharp and bright images too for animated titles like Family Guy: The quest for Stuff or classics like Angry Birds 2. Or fill it with every free jigsaw app on the Play store if you leave it unattended with your other half for a few minutes. Apparently it's great for those too. Naturally, Fallout Shelter should be on your mobile gaming lists instead, but with Fallout 4 being so close now, it's perhaps not wise to crack on with a fresh crippling addiction right now.
As with any tablet or mobile, you'll find plenty of clutter apps preinstalled, but you're free to delete them. There are some cloud storage offers that may be of interest, but chances are you've already got accounts elsewhere for that sort of thing if you need them.
Your apps are grouped into categories like Communication (messenger, Skype), Media, Games, Social (Snapchat, Facebook), Tools, Travel (Trainline, bus times) and so on. It's an automatic process that will sort out your existing apps if you sync the device with your Google account from another tablet or mobile. A few groupings won't quite make sense, but you can fully edit a group's apps or rename the group. Thankfully, you can opt to group some and have others sitting alongside the group boxes for faster access. Once you've tweaked it, you'll have a great set of folders.
As with any new tablet, you're looking at a fair few updates before you're finally playing the most recent version of the tablet and then there's the inevitable queue of updates for your Android apps. Be sure to take advantage of the one-click system boost button and simple rubbish/cache emptying tool in order to keep things running smoothly.
At any one time, I may have four or five apps open and Chrome will have 10-20 tabs opens at once. Chrome managed to keep track of these well enough, even if I put the phone into sleep mode. Although, some pages did occasionally end up reloading from scratch if I revisited Chrome after messing around with some other apps for a while.
Switching between apps does lack a bit of zip too, but again, we're only looking at 1GB of RAM trying to accommodate my gnat-like attention span. The tablet can get quite warm on one side too, which I always find a little off-putting, but it never got too hot as I've found with other tablets and phones over the years.
All in all, for £99 this is a fantastic tablet that does everything you'd expect from a modern day screen and comes with that familiar Android structure and Play store support you enjoy with your mobile phone. Initially, this would have been a close call with Tesco's Hudl 2. However, with Tesco recently saying they're no longer stocking their own tablet (for reasons unknown), the Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C tablet is looking like the prime candidate for tablet buyers on a budget looking for a brand they can rely on.
- Great screen
- Capable of handling any game or app you can throw at it
- A bargain at £99
- Gets a bit warm
- 1GB of RAM means it's not the fastest tablet
- Sleep mode uses more battery than you'd expect
The Short Version: £99 for an eight-inch tablet of this quality is a fantastic deal. Despite the modest processing power, the ZenPad 8.0 Z380C excels at not just at web browsing, but media streaming and gaming too thanks to the quality sound and an impressive screen.
We do not score technology reviews.