ASUS ZenPad 3S 10, First Take: A premium 9.7-inch Android tablet at an affordable price Review | ZDNet

It’s not easy being a tablet maker if Android is your operating system of choice and the premium end of the market are your target, because Apple controls so much of that tablet business. But there is a market, and ASUS, which has produced some very good tablets in the past, is prepared to stick with it. That’s good news, as the ZenPad 3S 10 has a lot going for it.

The temptation is to compare this latest ASUS tablet with Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The two devices do share some characteristics, such as a 9.7-inch 1,536-by-2,048-pixel screen, but they’re a long way apart in other aspects outside of the obvious OS difference. Take the price, for example: the ZenPad 3S 10 costs £299 (inc. VAT) in its 32GB guise, while a 32GB iPad Pro 9.7 will cost you £549. (Incidentally, $299 buys you a 64GB ZenPad 3S 10 in the US).

So let’s leave the iPad comparison aside, and concentrate on how the ZenPad 3S 10 fares as an Android tablet, where the key competition is the likes of the Google Pixel C or Samsung Galaxy Tab S2.

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The 9.7-inch ZenPad 3S 10 has a distinct iPad look about it, but is considerably cheaper than Apple’s tablet.

Images: ASUS

Design and build are very good. There is a small amount of flex in the chassis, but not enough to cause any concern, and the shiny silver trim on both front and back edges makes a neat segue between the white front and the matte-silver metal sides and back (on our review unit). The slight outward curve to the edges is a nice design feature.

Top and bottom screen bezels are reasonably sized and make it easy to avoid touching the screen while holding the ZenPad 3S 10 in landscape mode. The bezel along the long edges is, as is usual, narrower.

ASUS has kept the ZenPad 3S 10 under 500g, citing its weight as 466g (1.44lbs). It’s comfortable to hold in one hand, and measuring 240.5mm by 163.7mm by 7.15mm it stands up well against the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (237.3mm x 169.0mm x 5.6mm and 386g) and the Google Pixel C (242mm x 179mm x 7mm and 517g).

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While the ZenPad 3S 10’s IPS screen matches the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 for pixel count and size, it lags behind the Pixel C’s 10.2-inch, 1,800-by-2,560 display. Still, ASUS has done a good job here, producing a crisp and colourful display that can be tweaked using the ASUS Splendid app, which lets you apply preset or customised colour settings. This useful app includes a blue light filter (Eye Care mode), for those who use their tablets way into the night.

Video watching is particularly enjoyable, and is boosted by a pair of speakers that deliver high-quality audio.

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Volume and power buttons are on the right side, while the main camera at the back is an 8-megapixel unit capable of 1080p video capture.

Image: ASUS

There’s nothing too surprising about buttons and connectors. Volume and power are on the long right edge, there’s a MicroSD card caddy on the long left edge and a 3.5mm audio jack on top. Twin speaker grilles sit on the bottom edge, flanking a USB-C charging/PC connection port. On the bezel beneath the screen there’s a physical home button with an integrated fingerprint scanner — a nice security feature to see in a tablet, which I found worked flawlessly. To its left and right are the usual Android multitasking and back buttons. On the back there’s an 8-megapixel camera, while the front camera is at 5-megapixel unit. Both are capable of shooting 1080p video.

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The bottom edge carries a USB-C port, flanked by a pair of speaker grilles.

Image: ASUS

ASUS can’t help fiddling with the Android experience, and here we have Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ASUS’s own ZenUI on top. It’s a mixed bag, but there are some real plus points. For example, press and hold on the home screen away from a widget and up pops a manager screen with masses of options for customising the look and feel.

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ASUS’s ZenUI provides plenty of opportunities to customise the Android 6.0 experience.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Tinkerers will likely really appreciate this and other features like Mobile Manager, which gives details on data usage, releases RAM, lets you block particular notifications and more. Others may find this a relatively heavy-handed approach to skinning that can get in the way as much as it enables.

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Mobile Manager lets you save power and boost memory, apply various battery modes, manage auto-starting apps, control apps’ data usage, block certain notifications and scan for malware.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There’s even an ASUS folder on the Home screen containing 11 apps that have been preinstalled ready for users to enjoy. These, and the ZenUI, consume some of the 32GB of available storage, leaving 23.7GB available for users.

While testing the ZenPad 3S 10 I was unable to trouble its MediaTek MT8176 processor whose dual-core 2.1GHz and quad-core 1.7GHz processor array works alongside a 650MHz IMG GX6250 GPU and 4GB of RAM. However, ASUS’s ten-hour battery life claim for the 22Wh battery seems optimistic. Under heavy workloads, including media streaming and gaming, I got around 7 hours from a full charge. Unfortunately ASUS doesn’t bundle the charger that can administer power quickly via Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.

There’s a lot to like about the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10, not least its excellent IPS screen and capable processor. In combination they make this a great tablet for gaming, YouTube, catch-up TV and other visual-rich activities. Battery life lets things down a bit, but it’s not a deal-breaker by any means.

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