Asus ZenPad 3S 10 Z500M

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS - Henry Bur­rell

Even if sales don’t tell the same story, An­droid tablets strug­gle to keep up with the mar­ket­ing clout of Ap­ple’s iPad. The lat­ter are ex­cel­lent tablets, some of the best out there, and ben­e­fit from their closed com­bi­na­tion of hard­ware and soft­ware. An­droid tablets, on the other hand, are an of­ten-pon­der­ous prod­uct.

They re­main more seg­mented and con­fused in their form and func­tion than their smart­phone coun­ter­parts. The com­bi­na­tion of Google-based soft­ware and man­u­fac­turer-spe­cific hard­ware means they are a var­ied mar­ket. For ev­ery ex­cel­lent iPad con­tender, there is a gen­uine stinker. Asus is hop­ing it’s made the for­mer.

The ZenPad 3S 10 is sim­i­lar to an iPad in name and looks, but is quite dif­fer­ent in use. On the face of things, it is a stun­ningly thin, well-built 9.7in tablet that bor­rows a lot of de­sign lan­guage from Ap­ple’s iPad Air 2. Much Like Sam­sung’s Galaxy Tab S se­ries, it’s try­ing to present An­droid tablets as a vi­able high-end op­tion. Does it suc­ceed?

De­sign

Asus has done well in the de­sign depart­ment. As an ob­ject, the 3S is one of the most ridicu­lously thin 9.7in tablets we’ve ever come across, thin­ner even than Ap­ple’s iPad Air 2. Much like that tablet, it has a glass front and alu­minium body, weighs lit­tle and means the bold, vivid dis­play is the main at­trac­tion.

The black and grey model we tested is even de­bat­ably too plain on the back; an Asus logo and cam­era are the only things that break the grey. There is an ob­long fin­ger­print sen­sor at the bot­tom of the screen as it’s held por­trait, with back and re­cent app ca­pac­i­tive but­tons ei­ther side of it on the bezel. This is of­ten prefer­able to on-screen but­tons in An­droid that in­evitably take up some of the pre­cious dis­play space.

Other than that, the left edge is clean save for the Mi­cro-SIM slot, a 3.5mm head­phone jack on the top, vol­ume rocker and power/ lock but­tons on the right and a cen­tral USB-C port on the bot­tom in be­tween the twin stereo speak­ers.

We can’t shake the uni­for­mity of it though, de­spite the thin­ness. This is tablet de­sign 101, done well, ad­mit­tedly, but with noth­ing out of the or­di­nary. Sure, it’s hard to truly stand out with tablet de­sign, but slates such as the Huawei Me­di­aPad M3 and Sony Xpe­ria Z4 are bolder. Then again, those two tablets are very hard to find in the UK.

The ZenPad 3S is pleas­ingly premium build for some­thing in its price bracket, but de­spite all that it’s not go­ing to turn heads when you take it out on the bus.

Fea­tures

Pro­ces­sor The ZenPad is pow­ered by the Me­di­atek MT8176 chip, a hexa-core, 64-bit tablet spe­cific pro­ces­sor. It’s pretty ef­fi­cient, though cu­ri­ously re­fused to run the GFX Bench bench­mark­ing app; it com­pletely crashed the tablet. Not ev­ery user will be bench­mark­ing, but it’s odd and worth not­ing. It ran Geek­bench 4 with­out any prob­lems though, and we benched it next to the iPad Air 2 (see left). Re­mem­ber Ap­ple’s tablet came out in 2014.

Stor­age and RAM You have the op­tion of 32- or 64GB stor­age with mi­croSD ex­pan­sion up to 256GB. That should be more than

enough to load up with films, TV pro­grammes and mu­sic.

Dis­play and di­men­sions Back to the thin­ness, then. It mea­sures 240.5x163.7x7.2mm, and is 5.8mm at its thinnest point, where the frame is rounded. There’s no doubt it’s great look­ing. It houses a crisp, clear IPS LCD dis­play with a res­o­lu­tion of 2048x1536 and 264ppi.

Asus calls it Tru2Life tech­nol­ogy, but it’s just gen­er­ally very good at re­pro­duc­ing images and video. Streaming con­tent on the ZenPad 3S Z500M is very en­joy­able.

Cam­eras The cam­eras are noth­ing to write home about, but then again they are hardly the mar­quee fea­ture of a tablet (and it should re­main that way). With a rear-fac­ing 8Mp lens and a 5Mp front-fac­ing cam­era, the lat­ter is ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing at 1080p – good news for video call­ing.

Bat­tery The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 has a gen­er­ous 5900mAh bat­tery that keeps it go­ing for around three- or four days with light use, but ob­vi­ously drops down if you ham­mer it with gam­ing, streaming and a few apps for work.

One thing we did no­tice was that it’s very bad at charg­ing from dead. On the few oc­ca­sions it ran the whole way down, the in­cluded Quick Charge 3.0 charger took an ab­so­lute age to wake it up. This isn’t rare for tablets, but here it was ab­so­lutely in­fu­ri­at­ing; blank screens, ran­dom bat­tery icons and not turn­ing on for at least 15 min­utes.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and ex­tras The ZenPad has all the ex­tras you’d ex­pect, even with­out the 4G SIM card tray that ours did in­clude. Opt for the Wi-Fi ver­sion and you’ll still get 802.11ac, Blue­tooth 4.2, the fin­ger­print sen­sor, but not NFC. Not that you should ever try to use a tablet for con­tact­less pay­ments.

Soft­ware

Frankly, the soft­ware lets this tablet down. For all the hard­ware ef­fort, Asus’s An­droid skin is ugly and not fun to use. And don’t get us started on the bloat­ware.

If you are adept with op­er­at­ing sys­tems it’s pos­si­ble, if a slog, to get this tablet run­ning plain An­droid Marsh­mal­low 6.0. Google’s apps and ser­vices are far su­pe­rior to Asus’s and will make it us­able. It’s not that its own soft­ware or apps are com­pletely un­us­able, they just make ex­tremely well de­signed hard­ware feel cheap, buggy and down­right bor­ing to use. The joy of tablets, de­bat­ably even more im­por­tant here than for smart­phones, lies in the way they draw you into the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and make it as easy to use and in­tu­itive as pos­si­ble.

When you first boot it up, the ZenPad is a mud­dle of badly de­signed wid­gets, need­less bloat­ware and an An­droid skin that twists Google’s stock op­tion to break­ing point with neon greens, blues and or­anges. It’s not well thought out at all. That said, if all you need a tablet for is Net­flix, email and web brows­ing you prob­a­bly won’t mind, at this price. But for Asus to put so much ef­fort into the beauty of the prod­uct when it’s switched off, it’s a real shame that we felt all that magic dis­si­pate when we turned it on. We couldn’t shake the dis­ap­point­ment.

Ver­dict

The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 Z500M is one of the best-de­signed pieces of tablet hard­ware we’ve yet seen. But the soft­ware made my time with it a chore, and we ac­tively sought to not use it. That isn’t good.

If you take the time to change the theme, delete a lot of apps and re­mem­ber to keep it charged, then it could work for you. But you’ll be put off by in­tru­sive bloat­ware and an ugly op­er­at­ing sys­tem. Spend a bit more and get some­thing bet­ter.

Geek­bench 4

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