Friday, January 8, 2016

ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review

ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Since 2012 I've been using the first generation Nexus 7 tablet. Well, I'm not much of a tablet guy. I tend to manage all "on the go" stuffs in my phablet itself, and for rest of the things which demand extensive reading/writing works, like what I'm doing now, only a laptop can be of help. So, however orthodox it sounds I am yet to figure out how exactly a tablet can watch my back. This justifies why I'm still stuck with a four years old tablet! Back then Google had collaborated with Asus to manufacture the beautiful Nexus 7 series. Performance of my Nexus 7 had outdid its on-paper specifications. Despite its 1 GB RAM (low as per present standard, right?), resource leech games like Asphalt 8 could be played without slightest lag. In a nutshell, Asus had succeeded in impressing the potential gadget lover in me, except with their poor after-sales service. Couple of months back Asus released three new models of tablet in India, marketing them under the series name 'ZenPad'- ZenPad 8.0, ZenPad 7.0 and ZenPad C 7.0. I got hold of a review piece of ZenPad 7.0 (Here I'm talking of ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG and not its lower variant- ZenPad 7.0 Z170CG). As of now yours truly doesn't seek salvation in reviewing gadget unless it got something to do with photography or traveling. But the catch is, apart from myriad other features, ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG has got two cameras: Primary 8 MP (f/2.0 Aperture) and Secondary 2 MP respectively, with 'PixelMaster' technology that Asus had introduced earlier in ZenFone series. Neither I'll be mentioning the spec-sheet of ZenPad 7.0, nor shall I be rhyming out its special features as highlighted by Asus. This review shall solely encompass my four days' experience of fiddling with this android slate.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Out of the box you get- A tablet, 7 W Adapter, USB Cable, Warranty Card and User Manual
Key Features of ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG as Highlighted by Asus:
* True2Life Independence IC producing ultra realistic images with accurate contrast and sharpness details.
* dts-HD premium sound for virtual 5.1 surround through its world-first interchangeable functional rear Asus audio cover (Optional accessory though).
* HD display with 72% view area and Corning Gorilla glass.
* Dual camera option for extensive still and video editing and effects.
* All new ZEN UI redesigned for greater personalization and customization.
* 8 hours battery life, plus the chance to extend this to 14 hours in total using the protective Asus power case (again, an optional accessory).     

After using the ZenPad 7.0 for four days I found out:-
 
The PROS:
* Minimalistic yet posh design, with robust build.
* Decent primary/rear camera.
* Lack of excess bloatwares.
* Perfect ergonomics to receive voice calls like you'd do with a chunky phone.
* Clear display with good tactile response.

The CONS:
* Poor battery backup.
* Unexpected lags while moderate multitasking.
* Supplied micro-USB cum charging cable is too short for practical usage.
* Inbuilt speaker volume is clearly inadequate.
* Lack of an earphone in the box does hurt, especially when our tablet is multimedia focused.

VERDICT: Hold on buddy, just few pros and cons aren't sufficient to draw a decision. Moreover, I don't want to push my judgment into your prudent head! So, please bear with me and read the full review to decide for yourself if Asus has equipped ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG with enough mettle to challenge your new year android tablet hunt.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Various shooting modes in ZenPad's stock camera App
Cameras:
Ah I know, camera is not the primary lookout in a tablet. But what else could you expect from a photo-freak? Yes, it was due to its low light capable cameras I had gladly agreed to review the ZenPad 7.0 and you believe it or not, camera was the first thing I had explored after unboxing the device. ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG sports two PixelMaster cameras- a 8 MP rear camera with auto-focus and a 2 MP fixed-focus front camera. The rear camera has has 15 shooting modes (as you can see in the image above) whereas the front cam has 8. The auto-focus on ZenPad's rear cam takes its own sweet time to focus the object of our interest but, finally when it does it is seldom inaccurate.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
The 8 MP rear camera of ZenPad 7.0 focuses quite accurately and capable of producing bokeh!
The camera could even focus close objects producing cool close-up shots (definitely not Macro) which many mobile phone cameras would surely struggle to capture. Shutter speeds in daylight and well lit indoor conditions are fast enough for a tablet's standard. But owing to its slow auto-focusing you won't be in a position to exploit the decent shutter speed. Using the "Depth of Field" mode you can get some good shots with fine bokeh effects. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that ZenPad's "Depth of Field" mode produced much better bokeh shots than those usual 18-55 mm kit lens of low end DSLRs!
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Shots in low light conditions are not bad at all. If you find it too noisy, just lower the ISO.
Shots captured in low light were quite acceptable too which made me appreciate its lens with f/2.0 aperture and the vital role of PixelMaster technology. In low lighting conditions images are bound to come grainy (noise) and I would recommend you to try using a lower ISO value from the camera setting. Colors are little over saturated but that makes our images more vibrant. Details are moderately preserved but that can be graded 'good' when such details are obtained from a tablet camera. I had previously tested the camera capability of iPad Air and thus I can clearly make out how ZenPad rear camera fares better in low lights.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Panorama shot clearly lacks in details.
Panorama mode in ZenPad 7.0 is easy to use and the stock camera software does fine stitching. Unfortunately, it gives you very low resolution images which obviously means that our panorama photos would lack in details, making them fit for only social media sharing. If you have to ignore one single functionality in ZenPad's camera it should be nothing other than the 'HDR' mode. HDR mode is simply non functional and produces similar images like that of 'Auto' mode.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
My headless selfie is certainly over-processed!
The 2 MP font shooter is not quarter as worthy as its rear counterpart. The front cam of ZenPad 7.0 opens default in 'Beautification' mode (which you can't even change to the normal 'Auto' mode) that kills image details aggressively in an attempt to smoothen the skin tone/contour. If you look at my selfie (albeit, beheaded) above, you'll see that all beard details are lost and color of the tee looks damn unnatural. People with too many dents or acne over their face might dig this front camera but others would hate seeing their mannequin-like skin. 140 degrees panorama mode of the selfie camera is a welcome addition though.

The rear camera (not the front one) can capture videos up to 1280 x 720 resolution (i.e. HD). Asus seemed too reluctant to endow any decent videography potential to this tablet. The test HD video shot in good lighting condition looked completely useless as if coming from an era when mobile phones had just started recording low quality videos (remember the 3gp format?). Liberal loss of visual details and sound details justified the minuscule file size of my 30 seconds HD recording!

Everything critical said about the photography unit of ZenPad 7.0, I must admit that there are only very few tablets available at this particular price point which have equally potent, if not better cameras. 
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Design:
At around 272 g, the 189 x 110.9 x 8.7 mm ZenPad 7.0 with its rounded corners is fairly easy on medium to large sized palms. Although I was eying for the Aurora metallic color variant, I was sent an Obsidian black piece. Nonetheless, my black ZenPad 7.0 with its leather-like textured back looks like a premium device. The shiny engraved brand name at back in landscape orientation syncs perfectly with its posh look (strictly speaking, only from the back). When viewed from front, ZenPad 7.0 looks simple like most other 7 inches tablet. You'll surely wonder what made Asus add such a thick bezel around the screen in a time (this is 2016 dude!) when every manufacture is trying hard to make gadgets slimmer and compact. Top bezel houses the front cam, speaker (cum earphone for voice calling) grill and various sensors while bottom is like a barren land wasted on a single logo. The 3.5 mm audio jack rests on the right top edge, microphone and microUSB at the bottom, and the most important two keys- power button and the volume rocker are located at right side of its polycarbonate frame. Somehow I couldn't like the placement of the above said buttons. They have been placed lower than where they best fit and consequently, the user of ZenPad 7.0 would surely end up pressing them accidentally now and then nurturing his own irritation. Although the battery of ZenPad 7.0 is non-removable, the back cover can still be opened to get access to its micro SIM slot (supports 3G) and the memory card slot (supports microSD, microSDHC and microSDXC cards up to 64 GB). Despite the provided dent at right bottom edge, opening the back cover tested real stamina of my nails and I had to use the handle of a spoon to lift it up. All in all, ZenPad 7.0 has got a classic design and robust build.

Display:
The ZenPad 7.0's modest 7 inch 1280 x 800 HD IPS display with a pixel density of 189 PPI is okay for media consumption but certainly not great. Asus True2Life and Asus TruVivid features which were supposed to enhance practicality, clarity and brightness seemed more like a manufacturer's vain gimmick. I'll tell you why. Whenever the "automatic brightness" is set, the screen looks quite dull and perhaps only suitable for text reading (unless you're in a dark room). For viewing photos and watching videos in normal indoor condition every time I had to drag the brightness level to its maximum so as not to miss the entertainment. Putting the blue light filter 'on' makes the screen look weird. Thankfully ZenPad's display has beautiful viewing angle from all four sides (178 degrees) and good tactile feedback. I could read a web-page under direct sunlight (keeping the screen brightness at maximum level though) without feeling the necessity to search for a shadow. In spite of its low pixel density and straight forward mediocrity I couldn't spot any pixelation throughout my movie viewing, reading and average zooming experiences. There is added protection of corning gorilla glass but being an apprehensive soul I'd rather put a screen guard over my ZenPad's display to further minimize the risk of getting scratched or traumatized.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Multimedia and Gaming:
As I mentioned above, the display (with maximum brightness) of ZenPad 7.0 is adequate for viewing videos. Just when the stock video player refused to play multiple video formats I gladly download the VLC and MX Player (my personal favorites) from Google Play Store. I noted few hiccups while playing on VLC and till now I've no idea on whom to blame. So, I tested various video formats and resolutions in the other player. ZenPad 7.0 could easily play qHD videos without  any noticeable glitch. Audio, be it from mp3 files or videos were clear but too timid to break the silence of my semi-furnished rooms. Either an earphone or an external speaker is something you should look forward to especially if you're a movie buff. ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG also has DTS-HD premium sound built into the device itself. Inbuilt speaker is hardly capable of demonstrating this but once you plug a good quality earphone/headphone to the audio jack you'll distinctly feel the audio magic. It is really good man! Now some gaming talks. Being an old fan of Subway Surf game I couldn't resist downloading the app in my new tablet. Intel Quad core 64 bit processor along with the 2 GB RAM and Mali-450 GPU (and of course, ample free internal memory) handled less resource consuming games like- Subway Surf, City Racing 3D, Stick Cricket 2, Horse Racing, Chhota Bheem Himalayan etc pretty neatly and neither there were any lag nor perceivable heat emission. But the scenario changed when I installed Need for Speed No Limits. Right from the beginning of the race (even if I ignore the long start up time) my poor baby stuttered. There were continuous frame drops and my eyes felt at peace only after I quited the game in less than thirty minutes. I don't know why exactly but I could run the Asphalt 8 much easily (I mean I could actually drive the car!). But again, at times controls were getting jerky making me lose precious lap time (Grrr...). Playing these two games for slightly over an hour heated the device considerably. Here I'm not complaining. Heating in any android device while playing graphics rich games is a normal phenomenon. I'm sad that my gaming experience in ZenPad 7.0 was not cheese smooth but glad at the same time, because my ZenPad didn't heat up like an iron press. Believe me, here's no hidden sarcasm.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Apps and Software:
Being a fan of MIUI and present user of Lenovo Vibe UI, it's needless to say that I'm not too fond of stock android interface. Asus has refrained from over customization of the Android OS by their proprietary ZenUI and hence, ZenPad 7.0 runs near-stock Android 5.0 Lollipop (please correct me if I'm wrong here). ZenUI looks tidy and minimalistic but it's crooked enough to force feed your device with few dozens of less useful to totally useless apps which we lovingly call bloatwares. The first time I had booted my ZenPad 7.0, it had free space of around 11.07 GB (out of 16 GB internal memory) and 455 MB was occupied by apps. It may not be such a big deal in a tablet with 16 GB internal memory which is further expandable to 64 GB, but my point is- why would I entertain commercial apps in my private device and that too after paying twelve grand for it? Now here is the silver lining with ZenUI- you can mop out (uninstall) those preloaded apps and keep your Zen floor clean! ZenUI also lets you install new apps into the SD card. On the first day itself my ZenPad 7.0 received a system update OTA (of around 119 MB) and I believe it must have done some good to the tablet behind my ignorance.

Performance:
The ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG runs on an Intel Atom x3-c3230 64 bit 1.2 GHz Quad-core processor and 2 GB LPDDR3 RAM. Yet simple functions like- rotation of screen by the orientation sensor or, switching between tabs when multiple apps are running at background often take more than a second and give you the frustrating feeling of 'lagging' in a new device. More basic stuffs like swiping the screen, pinching to zoom, loading web-pages, streaming videos in Youtube or, opening documents are fast enough not to let you grumble. Yet, on continuous usage you'll always wish for a "little faster" speed from the ZenPad 7.0! After I encountered lags and program restart at several occasions I web-searched and checked various benchmark scores of this device in a number of technology blogs, and you know what? ZenPad 7.0 has fared poorly in most of the benchmarks when compared to tablets at similar price bracket. 

Battery Life:
ZenPad 7.0 Z370CG packs a non-removable 3450 mAh Lithium polymer battery which according to the manufacturer should give 8 hours of battery life. I remember, my old Nexus 7 used to give more than 8-9 hours of continuous video playback on a single charge. I faced considerable disappointment when my ZenPad ran out of juice after playing videos slightly less than 6 hours. I had used earphone, fixed the brightness of the screen at its maximum level and kept the tablet at 'airplane mode' throughout this battery testing journey. So, imagine how fast your ZenPad 7.0 shall run out of battery if the 3G network is activated or the tablet speaker is made to shout out real loud! The same battery takes well over two hours in getting fully charged from its discharged state.
ASUS ZenPad 7 tablet Review
Asus Audio Cover has inbuilt DTS-HD premium sound speaker system, i.e. four main speakers and a subwoofer.
Asus Audio Cover:
Audio cover is an accessory to your ZenPad 7.0 which comes at an extra premium of approx three thousand bucks. It is simple to mount onto your device. Just remove the stock back cover (yea, I know that might hurt your nail) and there'll be an exact replica of ZenPad's back cover on one side of this audio cover which you need to fix onto the bare back of ZenPad 7.0, the same way you would have done with the actual cover. Although it's hard to believe, Asus audio cover has inbuilt DTS-HD premium sound speaker system, i.e. four main speakers and a subwoofer (5.1 surround sound). The audio case has an independent battery unit of its own which lasts for six hours "on paper". Apart from the enhanced musical experience it also protects the ZenPad from accidental trauma and dust. Asus Audio Cover is definitely a big improvement over ZenPad's inbuilt speaker and it actually lets you enjoy movies without needing anything to stuff into your ears. Sound quality from such a compact music unit can't be as heavenly as you might expect from a 3K sound system but compactness has its own merit, right? Personally I would prefer to invest this money on a bluetooth speaker and show off my naked beauty rather than keeping it wrapped in a faux leather petticoat. One thing I must add here- this Asus Audio Cover beautifies ZenPad 7.0 and leaves a mark of aristocracy. This cover can also act like a stand and let you watch videos on your Zenpad in landscape orientation. I so wish this cover was thousand rupees cheaper!

Final Verdict:
If you're not a tablet-gamer or a frequent traveler you can give ZenPad 7.0 a serious ride. 

Ratings (Out of 5):

Design - 3
Build - 4
Display - 3
Multimedia - 3.5
Gaming - 2
Apps and Software - 3
Performance - 2.5
Battery Life - 2.5
Audio Cover - 3

Overall Rating - 3 / 5

4 comments:

  1. So...finally :-D

    The capability of producing bokeh is good enough with a 8MP camera...:-)

    A headless selfie (kobondho jaake bole)...not fair... :-P

    However, overall, looks like a decent one... though the battery life sounds terrible!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading the marathon post :-P
      Well, it's never about the 'MP' but the optics in the camera. ZenPad 7.0 rear camera has good potential :-)
      At the end, you judge a gadget by: Is it value for money? There lies all confusions and review-hunt :-)))

      Delete
  2. seems to be a good looking and capable device.. with so many devices in the market it is a real struggle to find one toooo ...

    you have done a in depth analysis ..

    Bikram's

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Truly said. Every other day you'll find a new launch. Mostly, unique-features projected by the manufacturer are useless to practical users. Hence one needs to make a checklist of what he needs in a gadget, shortlist 2-4 gadgets meeting those requirements and then compare them review-wise from dependable websites/blogs :-)

      Delete

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