We're at a crucial time for Android tablets. The little green robot is finally starting to gain some traction in the tablet space, manufacturers are beginning to realize what users want from their devices on many different levels (price, hardware, etc.), and the newest versions of Android work as flawlessly on large devices as they do on small.
The front runner of this Android tablet "revolution" was last year's Nexus 7, the flagship tablet from Google that literally changed the entire landscape. Like other devices in the Nexus line, the N7 runs a pure, untouched version of stock Android, which is one thing that makes it appealing to some users. Since not everyone wants a stock experience, however, ASUS decided to rehash the N7's design, throw some different guts in it, customize the UI, and release a budget device with a familiar form factor but very different user experience. The end result was the MeMO Pad 7 HD, a $150 7-inch tablet that surprisingly does a fairly good job of keeping up with the rest of the 7-inch pack... for now, at least.
And with that in mind, let's dig in.
- Display: 7" 1280x800 IPS Panel
- Processor: 1.2GHz MediaTek quad-core
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 16GB as reviewed (11.82 avaialble)
- Cameras: 1.2MP front, 5MP rear
- Ports: microUSB, microSD
- Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n
- Battery: 3,950mAh
- OS: Android 4.2
- Dimensions/Weight: 7.7" x 4.7" x 0.425" / 302g
- Price: $150
- Pre-Order: Amazon, Gamestop, Newegg, TigerDirect
- It's surprisingly snappy. Despite being a $150 tablet with a budget processor, the MeMO Pad 7 HD was able to power through most tasks without a bit of hesitation. The one exception was during graphically intense gaming – a Riptide GP 2 session suffered long load times and the occasional screen glitch, which proved to be quite frustrating.
- Expandable storage. One of the "downsides" of the Nexus series is its lack of expandable storage. ASUS was able to remedy this with the 7 HD, as it features a microSD card slot.
- ASUS' customizations. I know, I know – it's a manufacturer skin. In this case, however, I think ASUS left in place most of what makes stock Android great and just added some usefulness to that. The customizations aren't nearly as overbearing as something like TouchWiz or Sense, and parts of it can even be disabled on the fly.
- Price. It's $150, and that's nothing to shake a stick at.
- Sub-par build quality. I'm not going to harp on this too much due to the tablet's affordability, but the fit-and-finish is lacking a little bit here. Both the front and back are creaky and flexible, and the unit feels pretty cheap overall.
- Lackluster gaming performance. If you're after a portable gaming machine on the cheap, the MeMO Pad 7 HD will probably leave you wanting. It can handle basic games – like Cannabalt HD – without problems, but fire up Modern Combat 4 or Riptide GP 2 and you're in for a world of lag and long load times.
When it comes to the 7 HD's hardware, there's nothing overly exciting going on. It's a budget device, with budget specs, and budget build quality. However, ASUS has made great strides lately in releasing budget devices that don't work like budget devices. The hardware inside the 7 HD works surprisingly well, and, when combined with ASUS' software modifications (more on that below), makes this an exceptional tablet for the price.
Build Quality and Design
The MeMO Pad 7 HD takes a lot of the original Nexus 7's design elements, but it's far from a carbon copy. The front of the device looks very similar to the N7, save for the ASUS logo subtly placed on the bottom bezel (in portrait); the volume rocker and power button are in the same exact spot as the N7, as is the rear speaker. The MP7HD, however, also sports a 5MP rear shooter, as well as a microSD card slot on the left side. The overall design is very understated and unoriginal. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're looking for something flashy to impress your friends with, this isn't it. On the other hand, if you're just looking for a general-use tablet that can easily fit in your pocket or purse, the 7 HD should readily fit the bill.
When it comes to build quality, it's pretty clear that you're handling a budget tablet – both the back and front have a decent amount of flex to them, the sides are slightly creaky, and the overall feel is just cheap. Considering this isn't intended to be a flagship device, but rather an affordable piece of kit that you can easily throw in a bag and take everywhere, I think the fit-and-finish – lacking as it may be – is still passable.
The 7 HD's display is what one would expect from a budget device: a slightly washed-out TFT panel. That's not to say it's awful by any standard – a 720p screen on a $150 slate is definitely nothing to scoff at. Color reproduction is pretty good for the most part – quite similar to the original N7, in fact – and the viewing angles are excellent. You shouldn't have any issue watching movies, reading book/magazines, or surfing the web on the 7 HD's display.
Where it falls short, of course, are the black and white levels. Blacks feel more like dark gray, and whites have much the same feel – instead of white, you'll see a sort-of off-white-light-gray blend. That's not a huge deal for the most part, unless you're some sort of color nut. There is, however, an ASUS app called Splendid that allows the display to be calibrated to your liking. It's pretty neat.
My primary complaint about the 7 HD's display is that it's incredibly glossy. Not only does that make it a fingerprint magnet (more than other displays), but it also makes it even harder to see in bright environments. Still, I found it easy enough to read in most situations, save for outdoor use under the bright (and hot) Texas sun. It's also lacking an ambient light sensor, so brightness is something that you'll have to manually adjust according the situation.
The speaker on the 7 HD is in the exact same spot as the OG Nexus 7's: on the back, at the bottom. Thus, the age-old complaint with ASUS tablets comes into play here, as well: why the hell is the speaker on the back, facing away from the user? After all this time, it still makes no sense.
Still, it doesn't sound terrible when using the device in portrait mode; flip to landscape, on the other hand, and you'll be covering the speaker. If you hold your hand just right, however, you can actually use it to project the sound back to you. Not ideal, but it works.
When it comes to overall sounds and volume, the HD 7's speaker will get the job done in a pinch, but at the end of the day it's still a tablet speaker. It's far from the quality on its older brother, the MeMO Pad Smart 10, but for watching YouTube videos or playing casual games, it's probably fine.
The 7 HD has a 5MP rear shooter, which is mediocre at best. ASUS has done its part by adding a rather decent camera application to the device, which makes the cam a bit more usable, if you're the type who likes to take pictures with your tablet, of course.
L to R: regular, HDR, Beautify
Storage and Wireless
Since this is a budget tablet, a large storage partition shouldn't be expected here. Surprisingly, however, ASUS bypassed the typical 8GB storage option in the US version of the 7 HD in lieu of the more reasonable 16GB option – but that's the extent of it. There is not, and will never be, a 32GB option. The device does offer a microSD card slot for added storage of local media, images, movies, and the like, so 16GB will probably suffice for most users.
In the wireless department, the 7 HD is sporting 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0. I had absolutely zero issues with either during my testing, so there isn't a lot more to add past "it just works."
Battery life is one area where I found the 7 HD to perform extremely well – especially its idle life. Unlike past ASUS tablets, this one can sit idly for days without dying. When it comes to real world use, it's nothing to scoff at either – the 3,950mAh battery is hefty enough to keep the tablet chugging along for at least a day. Of course, that depends heavily on how much you use it – if it spends much of its time with the screen off streaming music, then it's going to last a lot longer than if you decide to power through Modern Combat 4 in one sitting. In other words, the battery life is solid, but your mileage will vary. Either way, it should be able to last a full day away from the wall.
Considering all other aspects of this device, the software tweaks are easily the most discussion-worthy. In the past, ASUS has gone with a mostly-stock-Android approach – everything from the original Transformer to the more recent Infinity have been stock-ish with a slight tweak to the notification area (and even that was easily disabled in the Settings menu). The MeMO Pad 7 HD goes a slightly different direction, changing not only the notification area, but also the status bar, navigation buttons, and adding a small button for ASUS' "floating apps/widgets."
Status Bar and Notification Shade
The 7 HD's notification area leaves behind the typical black-and-blue theme of stock Android 4.0+ in exchange for a transparent status bar, white icons, and minimalist, flat green battery. While hardcore Holo Warriors shun anything that opposes the teachings of Sir Matias, I actually don't dislike the look of the modified status bar – it's clean. Perhaps not as clean as stock Android, but it looks good nonetheless.
Like other ASUS tablets, the notification shade has also undergone a makeover; the thing is, though, it doesn't really match with the rest of the device. It looks nearly identical to previous ASUS tablets, sporting weird bluish-purple (blurple?) buttons and a slightly awkward notification area, which just feel out of place to me. It's in desperate need of a makeover. You can customize which buttons are visible... to an extent. You see, there's an option in settings to toggle whether each of the buttons are shown, but it will only let you disable one before getting a warning that you must have at least six enabled. I don't even see the point of disabling the one – either go all out, or don't offer the option at all.
The modified shade also combines the dual notification pulldowns of stock Android 4.2+ for a single, centered pane, much like what was seen in Android 4.1 on small tablets. I actually dislike this design a lot, as I find it more cumbersome than helpful, and far less useful. Thankfully, ASUS includes a simple way to disable its notification customizations and switch to the stock Android UI. This is something the company has been doing for a while, and other manufacturers should take note.
Navigation Bar and Floating Apps
When I reviewed The Walking Dead: Assault – which was played primarily on this device – someone asked what the small icon is in the bottom left of the navigation bar is. That's actually something I haven't seen on any ASUS tablet before: it's a launcher for floating apps.
This is actually one of my favorite features of the device, as it not only packs several useful pop up apps, but also lets you add widgets to the list, essentially offering access to any widget at any time. Before we get into that, though, here's a look at the full list of ASUS apps offered in floating form:
- Video Player
- Unit Convertor
- Buddy Buzz
The apps are accessed by tapping the aforementioned arrow icon in the bottom-left corner of the navigation bar, and they show up in a paginated tray of sorts. They can be easily removed or sorted by tapping the pencil icon in the top right, and new apps/widgets can be added by hitting the icon just to the left of that. Any widget added to the tray will open in its own draggable window, and can be easily closed by the X in the upper-right corner. It all works exceptionally well, and adds a substantial amount of utility to the 7-inch slate. I like it.
Other Tweaks and Bundled Apps
Of course, ASUS included a number of its own apps along for the ride, as well. Some of them are surprisingly useful, and none are all that overbearing, but if you're an Android purist their inclusion will likely make you a little uncomfortable. Here's a look at what to expect out of the box:
- App Backup – Similar to Titanium Backup, without the need for root.
- App Locker – Password protect apps.
- ASUS Artist – A digital painting app.
- ASUS Splendid – Easily calibrate the display's colors to your liking. Very useful.
- ASUS Story – Create photo stories.
- ASUS Studio – A photo manager.
- ASUS To-Do – To-do list.
- AudioWizard – For easy audio profile switching.
- BuddyBuzz – Social network aggregator.
- File Manager – Um, it's a file manager.
- MyBitCast – Uses ASUS Web Storage to keep notes synced across devices.
- MyLibrary Lite – E-Book reader.
- Parental Lock – Locks apps and allows the device to be remote controlled in case of loss.
- Power Saver – Battery profiles.
- Press Reader – Newspaper reader.
- Setup Wizard – Device setup.
- Web Storage – The frontend to ASUS' Dropbox-like service.
Aside from the ASUS-branded apps, you can also expect Kindle, HBO GO, Hulu+, Mirror, and Zinio to be pre-installed, for a total of 22 out-of-the-box additions. Not the worst we've seen by any standard, but it's definitely not lacking in the bloatware department, either.
Some people prefer to gauge their device's performance with sheer numbers – if that's you, you'll find screenshots of a few popular benchmarks down below.
For everyone else, here's the gist: the 7 HD performs just fine. Its mid-range hardware isn't going to break any records and it's far from the fastest device I've used (or even currently own), but for the price, you'll be surprised at everything it's capable of. The only time I really noticed any sort of lag or slowdown was when playing graphically-intense games, like Riptide GP 2, for example. Even then, that just translated into longer load times, but not much else. Even with several Chrome tabs open and a bunch of apps running in the background, the 7 HD chugged along nicely. It is noticeable when the device is having a hard time handling the load, but it never became unresponsive during my testing.
With that said, here's what would concern me: I don't see this tablet tablet aging well. Future versions of Android are going to come (and hopefully this tablet will see them), and even more processor-heavy applications are going to hit the scene. I'll be interested to see how this device performs a year from now.
For $150, the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 HD is not only an affordable device, but also a good one. While it gets smoked by something like the new Nexus 7, it can easily hold its own within the market it competes in. The microSD card slot should fare well with those who seek additional storage, while its snappy performance makes it a great little unit for anyone looking to pick up a good sidekick device that won't break the bank. ASUS' software customizations are also useful and well thought-out, which just adds to the overall value of the device.
That said, it probably won't satisfy the most hardcore of Android users – but that's not who this device is intended for. It's for the businessman who travels frequently and wants a lightweight companion device, the soccer mom who wants a device to help her stay organized, or the kid who wants something to play Minecraft on. In other words, it's for casual users. And for them, it's really a tough one to beat.