When I think of ASUS and Android, the first thing that comes to mind is their past portfolio of Android tablets. ASUS has been making Android tablets since the first wave of Android Honeycomb tablets hit the market. Back then, ASUS's point of differentiation from all the other Android tablets with essentially the same Tegra 2 hardware platform was their attachable keyboard dock. One could argue that ASUS really pioneered the 2-in-1 tablet form factor with their Transformer tablets.

While ASUS continued to release a number of additional Transformer tablets with updated specifications for some time, it has been a while since we've seen any new high end tablets from the company. Recent offerings have usually been more budget oriented devices like the MeMO Pad series, or the hard to find ASUS PadFone, with the spot for a more standard tablet being left unfilled.

Today's review takes a look at a tablet that doesn't pick up where the Transformer series left off, but instead kicks off a new line of tablets from ASUS under the ZenPad brand. There are a few different ZenPad tablets on the market, with multiple SKUs for each product creating even more versions. The tablet I'm looking at today is the ASUS ZenPad S, and more specifically, the ZenPad S Z580CA, which is ASUS's most high end tablet offering. Since the ZenPad S comes in two different versions I've laid out both of their specifications in the chart below so you can get an idea of how the two devices differ from each other.

  ASUS ZenPad S 8 (Z580C) ASUS ZenPad S 8 (Z580CA)
SoC Intel Atom Moorefield Z3530
4x Silvermont @ 1.33GHz
Intel Atom Moorefield Z3580
4x Silvermont @ 2.33GHz
GPU PowerVR G6430 @ 457MHz PowerVR G6430 @ 533MHz
RAM 2GB LPDDR3 4GB LPDDR3
NAND 32GB + microSDXC 64GB + microSDXC
Display 7.85" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Dimensions 203.2 x 134.5 x 6.6mm
Mass 298g
Camera 2MP Front-facing
5MP Rear-facing
5MP Front-facing
8MP Rear-facing
Battery 15.2Wh
OS Android 5.0 Lollipop with ASUS Zen UI
Other Connectivity 802.11b/g/n + BT 4.1, GNSS, 3.5mm audio 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, GNSS, 3.5mm audio
USB Connector Micro USB USB Type-C
Price $199 USD $299 USD

There are two versions of the ZenPad S. The less expensive model is priced at $199 USD, while the more expensive model that I am reviewing is $299 USD. This is not unlike the price split between the two versions of the ZenFone 2. However, while the two versions of the ZenFone were differentiated only by their RAM, NAND, and included charger, the two models of the ZenPad S have more differences than similarities as far as their specifications go.

What's shared between both devices is the 7.85" 2048x1536 display. ASUS advertises it as 8.0" but measurements of the display's diagonal show that there is some rounding going on. In addition to the display, both devices have a 15.2Wh battery. At $100 more, the ZenPad Z580CA doubles your RAM and storage to 4GB and 64GB respectively, increases the resolution of both cameras, bumps the max CPU clock by 1GHz and max GPU clock by 76MHz, and adds 802.11ac support.

The one thing that sets the ZenPad S Z580CA apart from most other devices is its use of the new USB Type-C connector, along with support for USB 3.0 speeds of 5Gbps (Superspeed). While we have seen USB 3.0 featured on some past devices such as the Galaxy Note 3, the large size and unsightly appearance of the USB 3.0 Micro-B connector resulted in it receiving almost no market adoption. It's important to note that just because a device uses the USB Type-C connector does not mean that it supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Superspeed+) along with all the USB alternate modes for networking or display interfaces. With the ZenPad S Z580CA only supporting USB data, you cannot do video out or use any other USB alternate modes. Such features will have to wait for future SoCs and controllers with USB 3.1 and USB alt mode support.

As for the connector, Type-C is slightly larger than your standard Micro-B port in all dimensions, but it's reversible, more durable, and maintains a much stronger connection to a device. You can insert it in two orientations, and when you push it in there's a click to let you know that it connected. Some users will see the adoption of USB Type-C as a nuisance, as it will prevent them from using existing cables to charge the tablet or transfer files. I personally recognize this as an unavoidable transition period, as there's no chance of every vendor and user in the world deciding to move to Type-C all at once. It's obviously a bit of an annoyance to be unable to use existing Micro-B cables, but I believe the advantages are worth it.

The ZenPad S uses ASUS's ZenUI skin for Android. It's basically the exact same UI as on the ZenFone 2, but with some layout and app design changes to work better on the larger display. For a look at ZenUI I recommend looking at the software section of my ZenFone 2 review, as I won't be discussing it in this review due to it being mostly redundant.

Design
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  • Shadow7037932 - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Man, that's disappointing. I was hoping more value like the Zenfone 2. Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    More value like what? Put a 16GB storage along with 1GB of RAM like the iPad mini 2 (as mentioned endlessly in this review) and don't you think it would cost less than $199? So then the Z580CA would be price around $199 or less, and the 2 year old iPad mini 2 would be $100 more. Oh yes, more value please. Afterall, let's compare apples with oranges. Zenfone 2 value? So a 8-inch display for a price similar to a 5.5-inch display device. Put stylus support into the Zenfone 2 and what would that cost? Reply
  • Kepe - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Does ASUS pay you to troll around here, praising the Zenpad and dissing everyone who finds the product a bit disappointing? Price doesn't matter at all if the product fails on too many categories that would have been rather easy to fix. This thing has too many software issues, such as artificially oversharpening everything on the display (makes small text hard to read for example), always on CABC and poor camera image processing.
    Cheap price alone isn't enough to justify the problems this thing has. You wouldn't buy a badly made and designed car even if it was 30% cheaper than the competing, well-made and thought of car.
    Of course cheap price doesn't always mean something is bad. Look at OnePlus 1 and 2 and the new Moto X. They're half the price of the competition, but you couldn't tell that by the spec sheets or how they are made and what materials are used. Those are good examples of how to make a cheap product in an intelligent and thoughtful way.
    Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Hey friend. I think it's okay to challenge people or to question logic. You don't logically compare a smartphone with a tablet. Do you? I would expect a $100,000 car to be on a level playing field as a $20,000 car. I wouldn't compare the Z380CA to an iPad mini 2 because if you removed 3GB of RAM, put in a slower processor, and removed 32GB of storage then the Z580CA would be priced around $200 don't you think? Compare apples with apples is logical. You don't own one so I would suspect you don't have any credibility on what the Z580CA has or doesn't have. With a weak review, things can and should be corrected by people who know better in the comment section. You can always always always get more bang for your buck. Apple proves that. To me the failure is partially on Asus for sending an early review unit that OBVIOUSLY needed a firmware update prior to publisher, and beyond that, one key component the Z stylus isn't even available for those reviews. I'm expressing my opinion to clear up some of the ignorance out there. Reply
  • Kepe - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    You are not making any sense at all. The iPad mini 2 and the Z580CA cost exactly the same amount of money: $299. That is why they can and should be compared. The iPad mini 2 is 2 years old, that's why it has less ram, storage, slower processor and such.

    Somewhere else in the comments you said people shouldn't compare the Z580CA to a Samsung tablet because it was $100 more expensive. Now you say people shouldn't compare devices that cost the same. What the heck are we supposed to compare, then? Two Z580CA's and look at them with a microscope to spot some differences in the surface texture and then compare them?
    Besides, I haven't been comparing a tablet to a phone. The charts in the review have phones as well because they use the same SOCs (processors, GPUs).

    The reason graphs and charts are used and detailed measurements are taken (display, performance, specs) is to remove objectivity from the results. Without them, every review would be like this:
    "The display is ok I guess. There wasn't any significant UI lag. Gaming was ok. Weight is ok, not too heavy. Battery lasted for quite a while. It's an ok tablet I guess."

    That kind of a review doesn't benefit anyone. The only way to properly decide which device is better at which thing is to measure those things, put them in a chart and compare them. As a reader, you should have the brain capacity to understand the price and other differences by yourself. We all know that the Zenpad reviewed here costs $299 and some other devices in the charts are more expensive and some are less expensive. It's up to the reader to decide what kind of price/performance he or she wants. It's the same thing with GPU reviews. The charts have old GPUs, new GPUs, cheap GPUs, expensive GPUs all in one. It isn't unfair, because everyone understands that the cheap ones won't be as fast as the new ones, and the expensive old ones won't be as fast as expensive new ones. You have to use your own brains when you're reading.
    Reply
  • MrSavage - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    I can appreciate what you're saying. I'm not trying to argue with you, only to discuss. Let me clarify. Similar price is fair, so long as the specs match up. The ipad mini 2 and Z580CA are total apples and oranges. It's not an equal value trade off at all. If you strip most of the things I mentioned, then you will have a true value comparison.

    The reason the new Samsung Tab S2 is worth comparing is because they are comparable spec wise, except for the storage and a bit of RAM. The value proposition of the Z580CA exceeds the negatives, but that's my opinion.

    Charts and graphs have some value, so I'm not disregarding those entirely. Obviously anandtech is very reliant on their data and that's fine. Perhaps the audience reading the review will figure things out on their own, but it's a false assumption to assume that people understand the technicalities. I don't disagree that people need to use their brains when analyzing data or stats. Some stats however are statistically insignificant and that's why I take issue with some of those devices listed.

    Those best review is one that looks realistically at the cost/value proposition. Everything out there sucks in the tablet category against the iPad Air 2. Beyond that, the review here of the display is sporadic and unclear. If it's software? If it was patched at some point during the review? That should not be made as an aside. It's not clear to me if the issues were resolved with the update and that essentially nullified most of the previous complaints being made about the display. Just not good enough in my books. Beyond that, it's never a good idea to trust one review and make a decision or judgement based on that.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 02, 2015 - link

    Let me try to word it a different way. For the same price you get an extra 3GB of RAM, a faster processor, and an extra 32GB of storage. If those things are of highest importance to you, then this equates to more value. However, if your personal priorities dictate that use of iOS, Apple branding, build quality, display quality, etc. are more important, then perhaps you come to a different conclusion. Reply
  • LoganPowell - Friday, November 27, 2015 - link

    Unfortunately Asus Zenpad Z580CA ranks rather poorly among top rankings (see ranking http://www.consumerrunner.com/top-10-best-tablets/ for example...) Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 02, 2015 - link

    @Kepe: It doesn't matter if the iPad Mini 2 is two years old. That doesn't make it suddenly a better value. Either the price needs to drop accordingly, or a newer updated version needs to hit the market. Of course, you may find it a better value given other characteristics, but that depends on your priorities. Reply
  • Puck85 - Thursday, September 10, 2015 - link

    serious question: what should I buy instead of this around this price range? Is there a better value out there I should consider? Reply

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