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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  • uhuznaa - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Things are strange right now: You can get an 8" (retina) iPad Mini 2 for $299 and at the same time Android tablets are either a little bit cheaper and really crappy or more expensive and not really much better.

    If even Apple is struggling now to sell iPads I somewhat doubt that such Android tablets are selling great now...
  • retrospooty - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    I dont know about that. I got the $199 Asus Zenpad S 8 a month ago and am loving it. Like all Androids from OEM's, you really need to spend a bit of time to root it and debloat it to make it shine. Debloated this thing flies. For $199 you get an 8 inch 2048x1536 screen, 32gb storage + SD, great build quality, thin, light, great battery life, fingerprint resistant on all surfaces and the CPU is great as well. I was worried about using an Atom chip, but in actual use, it runs perfectly smooth and cool as well. In fact cooler than any Snapdragon device I have ever used. It doesnt get hot at all, ever and I live in Arizona and it's summer. EASILY the best "bang for your buck" available in a tablet right now from any vendor.
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    @retrospooty, I agree with you. People who review a product at a certain price point who want to compare that to products that are about 1/3 more expensive? Or they simply omit the good features like the 64GB onboard storage in this situation, or the front facing speakers, the stylus support or the microSD slot? As if the $299, 2-year old iPad mini 2 with 16GB storage is a wiser choice. If the reviewer wants big battery life, best this, and best that? Then add another $100 to the price of the Tab S2 8.0 for all the features it's lacking that the Z580CA has.
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    I agree and disagree. You are welcome to compare it to a product that is 1/3 more expensive, so long as you make it known that that product is 1/3 more expensive. If you stress the comparison against a disparate competitor, then you need to stress the price differential as well. I agree it is disingenuous to point out things that may bring value on one side (display quality, build, aspect ratio, etc.) while ignoring the value adds on the other (SD slot, Storage, Stylus, etc,).

    Note: My comparison is between two imaginary products and has no bearing on products explicitly or implicitly called out in this article or thread. Comparison was made only to illustrate the point that talking about value distinctions without all of the data is impossible. You may not value the items you left out, but the party you are talking to might.
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @retrospooty: Given what I've read about the new Atoms, I would probably consider it a boon to a tablet rather than a point of worry. A lot of people seem to be on an ARM or nothing kick. While I was pretty enthusiastic about ARM processors (still am) and I love the competition and what it has done for Intel's low end, I now find there is a lot to like about the Atoms in this form factor as well. Atom got a bad name from its netbook days when it was, frankly atrocious for the application. Now it has matured significantly from a performance / watt standpoint and is running an OS that doesn't run like dirt on low end processors. Of course another nicety of the Atom is its ability to support alternate x86 operating systems if you really want to, but then you have to question whether it is capable of giving you the experience you want. ARM will probably move ahead with its A72 in the near future, but that's a good thing. A little back and forth is good for keeping things moving.
  • BugblatterIII - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Do not trust Asus to fix issues!

    I had (and still have) a Transformer Prime. They never managed to get that working acceptably.

    Base your buying decision on how it is at launch, and if they do manage to fix the issues then count that as a bonus.
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Did you not get the dongle they created? The Prime was a design flaw. They couldn't software fix their way out of it. If you didn't or don't have the dongle, then I suppose blame yourself.
  • invinciblegod - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    oh REALLY, an external GPS dongle to do what it should have done in the first place? No, no one should blame themselves, they should blame asus for making a bad product.
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    A design flaw is a design flaw. You can hold onto that issue for the rest of your life if you so choose. You want to miss out of price friendly Asus products because of a design flaw on a second even generation, ground breaking device, then be my guest. I bet you didn't even know about the dongle. The fact is the issue was resolved, albeit a lousy solution. Again, you hold that against them for the rest of your life. That's your odd choice, and if you're okay with it, then so am I.
  • 3DoubleD - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    The dongle fiasco was far from the worst of it though - missing GPS on a 10" tablet was really not a big deal. The Transformer Prime was a complete failure in the end due to the TERRIBLE eMMC that was used. Storage performance just plummeted after a time and while the occasional TRIM helped a bit, it was (and still is) painful to use. Once you are in an app... not so bad. Navigating Android was like watching grass grow... very choppy, laggy grass.

    It was very sad what happened to the Prime... I remember when I first got it, it blew away any Android device I'd ever used. It is one of two electronic device or computer component purchases I've completely regretted buying. (The other was an AGP Radeon x850XT... that was just outright stupidity on my part)

    So that experience colors my view of all ASUS products now. They make some nice looking devices that sometimes have great value... but I just can't help think that they are not fully tested. (As for their PC components, I've had nothing but good experiences)

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