PC Advisor

Asus ZenPad 3S 10 Z500M

- 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.

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