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.

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  • kmmatney - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Having both a 16:9 windows tablet and an iPad, IMO 4:3 is better. Who plays "immersive" games on there tablet? - that's what a computer or laptop is for. For typical things you use a tablet for - web browsing, reading emails, reading books, you tube, various other consumption, the 4:3 aspect ratio is perfect. I don't pretend to do any serious work on my tablets, but I wish my windows tablet was 4:3. There is a reason why the MS Surface tablets no longer use a 16:9 aspect ratio.
  • boeush - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    This is getting pretty stupid... Let's say your tablet is x inches long. Does it really make that much difference whether it's height gives 19:10 ot 4:3 AR? Unlike a phone, you aren't about to shove that tablet into a pocket. So is it REALLY so TERRIBLE that you have extra vertical screen space when watching a movie in landscape? Yeah, instead of that extra screen you could just have empty space I guess - but that still won't make your tablet all that more compact anyway (with the horizontal dimension being dominant.) So boo-hoo, you get top and bottom sidebars on your video. Contrast that with the use cases where you need/want that extra height in your landscape mode, or the extra width in portrait - and DON'T HAVE IT because your tablet is built oblong and that's that. Seriously, I for one would rather have extra screen space I don't need under certain circumstances, rather than at other times needing the extra space and not having it!
  • keltypack - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    I totally agree with the 4:3 aspect ratio. I don't know what people are thinking, but a tablet is a GREAT way to watch a movie on an airplane. The 16:9 ratio is much better for reading books. I don't understand the Apple fascination with 4:3. To be fair, I think 3:2 is a better aspect ratio than 16:9, but maybe that is the old-school photographer in me.
  • uhuznaa - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    16:9 sucks for websites and more compley apps though, both in portrait (too narrow) and in landscape (with some toolbars around you see only a small sliver and when typing into a form there's hardly any content left).

    But yes, if you're mainly watching movies with your tablet, 16:9 is better.
  • sonny73n - Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - link

    The only reason 16:9 is better for movies because all HD contents are in 16:9. But to me, 16:9 is just odd and stupid. I remember when the first wave of HDTV hit the market, there was a widescreen trend. So bad they even started making movies wider than 16:9 - something really odd like 1920x818 instead of the 1920x1080.

    16:9 is horrible even on phones. Keyboard in landscape mode blocks more than 50% of the screen. You can have a 4.7in 1280x768 screen looks as big as a 5in 1280x720. 16:9 sucks, movies too. I'd rather see movies in 2:3 format.
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @sonny73n: 16:10 more accurately maps to the active area of the human visual system and thus gives a more immersive experience at the appropriate screen size / viewing distance. 16:9 was just cost cutting measure by reducing the probability of defects in a screen given the statistical probability of localization. Problem is, you can't interact with your tablet when it's in your face. Most people don't sit that close to a TV either. Usability on 16:9 isn't very good. It is better at 16:10, but 4:3 or 3:2 can make more sense in a lot of cases. I personally prefer 16:10 (1280x800 in your example above), but a lot of that depends on how the tools you use are laid out.
  • R. Hunt - Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - link

    Apps look so much more natural in 4:3 IMO. Web browsing, and PDF reading are also better. I think, specially for large tablets, a squarer aspect ratio is overall the better choice. My Tab Pro 10.1 looks and feels really awkward in portrait (and unnecessarily long). I'll be getting the Tab S2 soon, no doubt.
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @keltypack: Yes. Your 3:2 preference is the old school photographer in you. Nothin wrong with that.
  • retrospooty - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    jjj, I think you need to put the pipe down.
  • Puck85 - Thursday, September 10, 2015 - link

    serious question: what should I buy instead of this around this price range?

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