In my mind, I think of the ZenPad S Z580CA as a companion to the ZenFone 2. Both devices have an affordable price, and you can really buy both of them and still end up spending less than you would on a flagship smartphone. While they definitely share a UI and many internal hardware components, there isn't much similarity between the external design and construction of the two devices.

The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the ZenPad S isn't how the materials feel, but how incredibly thin and light the entire device feels. It's 6.6mm thick at its thinnest point, and the thickest point is only a small fraction of a millimeter thicker than that. Its mass is only 298g, which makes it the lightest tablet I've looked at to date. While it's not as thin as the iPad Air 2 or the Dell Venue 8 7840, the thickness and mass work together to give a feeling of lightness and portability that I've only ever experienced with one other device, which was the original iPad Mini.

There's not much to say about the front of the ZenPad S. Like all tablets, it's just a big display. ASUS has made space for two front-facing stereo speakers, which is something you won't get on an iPad or on the Galaxy Tab S2. As for the quality of the speakers, my highly subjective evaluation is that they are better than the iPad Air 2, and much better than the Nexus 9. They also don't cause significant chassis vibration despite the tablet's small thickness, which is something the iPad Air 2 suffers from.

Surrounding the edge of the ZenPad's front bezels is a metallic looking silver edge. This is really made of plastic, and like the plastic construction of the ZenFone 2 I'm a bit concerned about its durability. Readers may remember that a single fall from an extremely short height ended up scuffing up the back cover of our ZenFone 2 pretty badly. With the ZenPad S I have made sure to be quite careful, and haven't dropped it or hit it off anything to the best of my knowledge. Even so, there are some small dents in the silver edge. Pressing on it confirms that it's a fairly soft plastic, and I feel like it's going to be a magnet for these types of small dents and marks. In contrast, the Nexus 9 and iPad Air 2 testing units I have could probably be packaged and sold as brand new despite having them in my possession for significantly longer than the ZenPad S. If someone intends to use the ZenPad S as a tablet they can throw into their bag with other objects I would definitely be aware of the potential for damage to the edge.

The back of the ZenPad S is split into two sections. The smaller section has a soft touch feeling, and almost feels a bit like the pleather some phone cases are made of as it has a texture to it. This section is slightly thinner than the rest of the back cover, and it houses the tablet's MicroSD slot. What's interesting is that this part blends smoothly into the sides of the tablet, even though the sides have a distinctly different feeling due to their lack of texture. The soft touch part of the tablet also has the tablet's name and the Intel logo on it. However, it rubs off fairly easily as you can see in the image above, and at the time of writing this paragraph the logos have come off entirely.

The second part of the ZenPad back cover is a large plastic panel. In my review of the ZenFone 2 I said that the back cover of the phone did a good job of mimicking the appearance of aluminum, but felt entirely like plastic. The plastic segment of the ZenPad's back cover could actually convince you that it's made of metal unless you have the urge to tap on it. Like the ZenFone 2, the ZenPad's back cover has a shine to it that looks very much like the reflections made by brushed aluminum, although in the ZenPad's case the back cover has a pattern of overlapping diagonal lines rather than the straight lines of the ZenFone 2. Unfortunately, the hard plastic part of the back cover doesn't give any illusion of the tablet itself being made of metal, as you'll always be touching the soft touch plastic of the sides and the smaller segment of the back.

Right out of the box, my ZenPad S review unit did seem to have some issues with the hard plastic segment of the back cover that I think should have been picked up during QA. As you can see in the images above, there are areas on the edge of the plastic that are warped in such a way that they are no longer smooth like the other sections. It looks like these areas weren't finished properly, and when you look at the tablet from the side you can see that the entire edge around the power button and volume rocker is improperly formed and doesn't have the same color as the rest.

Ultimately I think the ZenPad S does a good job at being what it is, which is a tablet with a plastic chassis. My big concern is that the iPad Mini 2 sits at exactly the same price, and offers a completely aluminum chassis that feels much higher quality and will likely not incur the damage I've seen on the ZenPad's edge and back cover. The iPad is obviously heavier and thicker though, and the only way to achieve the low mass that the ZenPad S has is with plastic.

Personally, I think if I was given the choice I would opt for a slightly thicker and heavier device made of aluminum or a more durable plastic than a thinner and more easily damaged plastic one. The thicker device also has the benefit of storing a larger battery. Other people may value the thinness and the lightness more, particularly with 8" tablets which are more likely to be kept on someone's person than larger tablets. In the end everything is a series of trade-offs, and it's important to think about what aspects of design and build quality matter most to you when considering which tablets to buy.

Introduction System Performance
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  • System Optimizer - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    I contacted Asus to ask a few questions since I'm contemplating getting a ZenPad S (Z580CA).

    I asked if the wifi issue Brandon had reported, that he wrote in the article Asus said they were looking into, had been fixed. (I linked the article). The rep wrote back that they had no reports of any such issue. Don't know if that means they fixed it a while back and it can no longer be reproduced/no one is having the problem any longer, if the rep was clueless and the problem is still there and they didn't bother to read your article, or I wasn't taken seriously and the question wasn't passed down the line to the people in the know. Anyone with a Z580CA (or a C for that matter) able to confirm if the issue still exists?

    I asked if the enhancement features Brandon mentioned as being annoyances (brightness adjustment, sharpness enhancement, etc) could be disabled, as I'd read a few other reviewers say they could (at least some of them). The rep replied back that they could all be disabled. Before I came home from work and saw that I had a message from the rep I had stopped by Best Buy and taken a look at the Z580C (not the CA) that they had on display, and I went exploring in the settings area. I can confirm that at least the CABC can be turned off in settings.

    I asked if there were any plans for them to update the OS to Marshmallow at some point, or how long Asus (in general) tends to keep putting out patches and updates for their Android system (in other words what their company policy is). The rep said they contacted their Taiwan, and said they had no schedule for the next update. Don't know if that means they have an update in the works, and they have no idea when they are going to have it complete, or if it means they don't plan on working on or releasing any updates in the foreseeable future.
  • Sunburn74 - Thursday, November 26, 2015 - link

    Just received a zenpad ca. Upgraded from a nexus 7 2013. Performance difference is night and day. You can install Google launcher to avoid the stupid zen launcher that comes with the tablet. This essentially makes the tablet feel like stock Android. Also whilst not all the bloat can be uninstalled it can all be disabled permanently. The performance really is very impressive. I received simultaneously a Google nexus 6p and the tablet seems to be smoother in performance overall despite the 6p having marshmallow. I think going with the Google stock launcher really makes this tablet much more pleasant to use. Also the side buttons are a little too firm for my taste and require you to use two hands to push the , one hand to hold the device stably and the other to actually push the button.
  • jh20001 - Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - link

    I was back in the market for shopping for a tablet as the one I just recently bought into (Lenovo) decided it needed a broken LCD by barely applying pressure to the screen (it was in my cargo pocket, screen facing my leg….and I leaned forward and it applied enough pressure to crack the glass and turn the LCD into all sorts of colors). So after TONS of research and reviews (ie, ), I decided to give this one (ASUS) a chance. So far I love it. The screen looks nicer (they claim it is 2K resolution, but it doesn’t look much better than any other awesome tablet…it just simply looks awesome lol but not 4K like the TVs). It’s faster than my other one, has more space than it + has a card slot for more space and hasn’t given me any troubles yet.
  • zero ozer - Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - link

    I just bought my zenpad s last was awesome but the only fall is the battery.3.5 to 4 hours in gaming,but I dont mind it for i am in my private practice.but what is odd is the 3 hours charging?why so long?

    I choose this because i think i was more practical than buying Samsung a with s pen.i wanted a tablet for gaming so I wont need a pen.I dont need a sim card.and choose this than ipad mini 2 cause the ipad mini 2 has may about just 2 more years before it will be outdated.I own iphone 4 thats why i have an idea about apple.with android you can just share it if your unit cannot download the latest apps.I think the unit can last upto 5 years or more with replacement of's a good's just a little pricey for the battery issues.but in gaming and screen,awesome.

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