Asus Zenpad 3 8.0 Review
A little more than a month back, I got an offer from Asus to review what seems to be something that’s meant more for casual media use.
Y’see, the Zen series of Android devices are typically multi-purpose oriented rather than pure performance gaming oriented. Yet when I mentioned that we target gamers with jobs - emphasis on “gamers” - Asus didn’t seem to mind that it meant we’d be dealing with this as if it were, say, an Nvidia Shield. In fact, they sounded pretty confident.
At first I was skeptical - it doesn’t bear the Republic of Gamers branding.
*glances left and right* ...What?
Anyway, the good news is that mobile chipsets are so good these days that they rival anything you’d find in, say, a 3DS or Playstation Vita; so perhaps this device could indeed be a match, despite not actually being a part of Asus’s gaming brand.
Look & Feel
The Zenpad 3.8.0 has a design consistent with the rest of the Zenpad/Zenfone series - and frankly, it’s… very businesslike. Contrast with the Acer Predator Tablet and the Nvidia shield, which screams “I am a handheld console”.
The first thing that catches me here is that the Zenpad 3 is an entry into a particular market that seems saturated, but in reality… it isn’t.
It’s a phablet, yes, there’s tons of those out there.
However, it has a screen real estate of ~7.9-8.0 inches diagonal. In a world where the influence of Steve Jobs still somewhat remains, it’s one of the handful of units entering the void between 6.9-7.0 inches, which is more pocketable but too small for some - and 10 inches or more, which can get heavy and bulky.
Yes, I know people who think 10 inch android tablets are bulky, and 7 inch android tablets are too small. Lets leave it at that.
Most Android tablet builds eschew all front hardware buttons, and the Zenpad 3 is no exception - not even flushed ones with no tactile feedback that some smartphone manufacturers, such as Xiaomi and Asus themselves, use. Instead, they opt for the tablet style - home, back and menu buttons as part of the software interface.
You swipe up from relative bottom to bring up the back, home and menu.
Mind you, this is a good thing. Your tablet will technically never be upside down if you have auto-rotate on.
There are still volume rockers and a power button on the right side (assuming you’re holding it upright).
The back cover uses a rubberized material that should not slip off your hands in the middle of use.
Nope, you can’t replace the battery on this on your own, as it doesn’t seem that there’s a battery door.
CPU and GPU
A Snapdragon 650 processor powers this device. It’s advertised as a hexacore (6 processors), but the layout that it uses (2 more powerful A72 cores and 4 less powerful A53 cores) meaning that this is more of a multitask setup that can handle lots of things running in the background without having the foreground hiccup. Mind you, this is very useful for a multipurpose device.
Still, its paired with the Adreno 510 GPU - which supports full OpenGL 3.1+, not just cut down OpenGLES. With 4GB of RAM, the hardware is more than enough for any contemporary Android games in the 2K resolution that the screen supports.
Read: this is a device that keeps on par with anything with a Tegra K1, and beats it by virtue of simply having a 64bit chipset instead of a 32bit one. At this point, although there exists a better version of the Snapdragon chipset, you’d need a Tegra X to notice the difference.
Heck, it hardly heats up even under an hour of load from all the games I’ve played on this. 2016 was a good year for Qualcomm.
Android these days won’t let you keep games in the background for too long, but rest assured that you’ll never have any trouble tasking out of a game whenever you receive a message or a call.
The touchscreen used is fairly responsive, and it’s slippy enough that drag actions are a cinch.
It’s advertised as 10 points, and while I don’t really have the means to test it to this extent, the software keyboard is usable as if it were the real thing, albeit one with no tactile feedback.
The screen unfortunately isn’t glare resistant - so you’ll have to maximize your screen brightness outdoors - but the color reproduction is pretty good otherwise, and viewing angles are generous up roughly 15 degrees from the surface.
Oh, and this screen’s not just scaling up 720p to its width and height either, because it’s not 2013 anymore. At 2048x1538 pixels, the Zenpad 3 8.0’s resolution is something akin to a 4th generation iPad Mini.
This is a 2K tablet with the processing power to back it up.
The speakers on this are actually decent, somewhat better than gaming laptop onboard speakers in fact. Good thing tablets have less motherboard interference, eh? But to get the most out of these, you need to place it flush on a surface.
Still, even with the Asus trusound Its got nothing on the Acer Predator Tablet still, but if you don’t want to break out the earbuds, you can get a decent experience. (Of course, as every gear geek knows, a good set of earbuds are still the best way to enjoy in game music and SFX. Yahda yahda.)
Asus advertises 11 hours of battery life for the Zenpad 3 8.0. I’m inclined to believe them in my own experience in normal commuter use - this is the second device I’ve used where I didn’t feel the need to break out the portable battery pack on an extended trip from home - the first being my Redmi 4A.
You’ll pretty much have to keep a game on foreground, the device on wakelock and the screen on full-bright to have any chance in hell of running out of power… and even then running out takes around 7 hours or so.
Do note that I cannot test battery capacity degradation over time - that takes more than a year to deal with. Barring manufacturing problems, tho, I’m pretty confident it’ll be around 2 years before there’s a chance it can’t do a full day.
Not really saying much about this, you have about 32GB internal. Trust me, it still won’t be enough if one is going to install all the things and keep it there without cleaning out your trash regularly. It is, however, at least twice the more common (as of this review) standard internal memory of 8GB-16GB.
There’s an SD card slot on this device that will take a micro SDXC card and supports SDXC up to 128GB. Now that Google is going to readily let people store app data on SD cards (a feature that begun to be restricted in Lollipop, but re-implemented with new permission measures in Marshmallow and later), the presence of memory expansion is once again a plus for future proofing.
It’s quite a pity that I don’t have the setup to test this properly since my home isn’t wired up for AC, but I’ll say this.
This tablet. Has. Wireless AC.
Granted, it’s nowhere near the level of that gaming laptop I tested last December-January. According to some docs I’ve found, its max bandwidth is 433Mbps - more than the best speeds provided by Wireless N, but is quite low by AC standard.
Nevertheless, even on my N network, I’ve not once been disconnected once from the router whilst playing World of Tanks or Valiant Force, during my casual testing.
Bluetooth functionality is present - 4.1 standard with low energy improvements. While most Android games make heavy use of the touchscreen, and I much prefer wired audio to bluetooth audio, bluetooth functionality is a bonus - especially with all the old arcade game ports in the Google Play store.
Nothing wrong with having an ability to connect a bluetooth console-style controller, such as the ones from 8bitdo, for playing these - the “bluetooth lag” is minimal. It kind of makes me wish that bluetooth controller clip-ons were made in larger sizes, so that I can actually get some retro gaming in on bus rides.
If you’re looking for a new cellphone and don’t mind holding a brick up to your ear, yes it does take a 4G sim - at local LTE bandwidths and speeds too. The SIM slot is right next to the SD card expansion slot, and if you don’t mind using up your ISP’s data bandwidth, it’s a good enough substitute for when you don’t have a wifi connection handy.
Unlike most contemporary models, the old pre-2012 plastic cover with rubber connector is used to keep the card instead of a SIM tray. This cover is the only thing I don’t like about this device, really. Everyone else, even Sony for chrissakes, has switched to trays because these covers tend to wear down or break off within a year.
Despite being part of an all-in-one line of devices, the Zenpad 3 8.0 does have pretty good gaming chops for a midrange device. In fact, the hardware itself is an excellent reason why it’s just a little bit more expensive (at an RRP of $499) than competing contemporaries from the likes of Acer, Huawei and Xiaomi, at least for now.
You’d have to use a weaker processor and GPU, or have less internal store, or less screen real estate, or less system RAM, to get a cheaper equivalent. What Asus has here is a sweet spot for anyone looking for something a bit bigger than a standard smartphone.
The only titles it definitely can’t handle? The ones that are meant for playing with a virtual reality headset, which seems to be all the rage these days. Like any tablet computer, the device is simply too large to fit into any Google Cardboard clone, let alone the new-fangled Daydream rigs.
Other than that, I say that as long as Asus keeps the OS up to date with developments from Google, the Zenpad 3 8.0 will remain relevant for newer game titles up to 3 years or so.
PS: While Asus can’t confirm whether the Zenpad 3 8.0 will be receiving Android N, I hope this OS upgrade is implemented in the future.. Android N supports that brand spanking new graphics backend, Vulkan. Derived from the very same one that’s already in use with certain games on desktop PCs, Vulkan is less resource intensive than OpenGL. This will definitely be a gaming and media benefit to a device with a midrange chipset.