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
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.

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  • kmmatney - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Having both a 16:9 windows tablet and an iPad, IMO 4:3 is better. Who plays "immersive" games on there tablet? - that's what a computer or laptop is for. For typical things you use a tablet for - web browsing, reading emails, reading books, you tube, various other consumption, the 4:3 aspect ratio is perfect. I don't pretend to do any serious work on my tablets, but I wish my windows tablet was 4:3. There is a reason why the MS Surface tablets no longer use a 16:9 aspect ratio.
  • boeush - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    This is getting pretty stupid... Let's say your tablet is x inches long. Does it really make that much difference whether it's height gives 19:10 ot 4:3 AR? Unlike a phone, you aren't about to shove that tablet into a pocket. So is it REALLY so TERRIBLE that you have extra vertical screen space when watching a movie in landscape? Yeah, instead of that extra screen you could just have empty space I guess - but that still won't make your tablet all that more compact anyway (with the horizontal dimension being dominant.) So boo-hoo, you get top and bottom sidebars on your video. Contrast that with the use cases where you need/want that extra height in your landscape mode, or the extra width in portrait - and DON'T HAVE IT because your tablet is built oblong and that's that. Seriously, I for one would rather have extra screen space I don't need under certain circumstances, rather than at other times needing the extra space and not having it!
  • keltypack - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    I totally agree with the 4:3 aspect ratio. I don't know what people are thinking, but a tablet is a GREAT way to watch a movie on an airplane. The 16:9 ratio is much better for reading books. I don't understand the Apple fascination with 4:3. To be fair, I think 3:2 is a better aspect ratio than 16:9, but maybe that is the old-school photographer in me.
  • uhuznaa - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    16:9 sucks for websites and more compley apps though, both in portrait (too narrow) and in landscape (with some toolbars around you see only a small sliver and when typing into a form there's hardly any content left).

    But yes, if you're mainly watching movies with your tablet, 16:9 is better.
  • sonny73n - Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - link

    The only reason 16:9 is better for movies because all HD contents are in 16:9. But to me, 16:9 is just odd and stupid. I remember when the first wave of HDTV hit the market, there was a widescreen trend. So bad they even started making movies wider than 16:9 - something really odd like 1920x818 instead of the 1920x1080.

    16:9 is horrible even on phones. Keyboard in landscape mode blocks more than 50% of the screen. You can have a 4.7in 1280x768 screen looks as big as a 5in 1280x720. 16:9 sucks, movies too. I'd rather see movies in 2:3 format.
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @sonny73n: 16:10 more accurately maps to the active area of the human visual system and thus gives a more immersive experience at the appropriate screen size / viewing distance. 16:9 was just cost cutting measure by reducing the probability of defects in a screen given the statistical probability of localization. Problem is, you can't interact with your tablet when it's in your face. Most people don't sit that close to a TV either. Usability on 16:9 isn't very good. It is better at 16:10, but 4:3 or 3:2 can make more sense in a lot of cases. I personally prefer 16:10 (1280x800 in your example above), but a lot of that depends on how the tools you use are laid out.
  • R. Hunt - Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - link

    Apps look so much more natural in 4:3 IMO. Web browsing, and PDF reading are also better. I think, specially for large tablets, a squarer aspect ratio is overall the better choice. My Tab Pro 10.1 looks and feels really awkward in portrait (and unnecessarily long). I'll be getting the Tab S2 soon, no doubt.
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    @keltypack: Yes. Your 3:2 preference is the old school photographer in you. Nothin wrong with that.
  • retrospooty - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    jjj, I think you need to put the pipe down.
  • Puck85 - Thursday, September 10, 2015 - link

    serious question: what should I buy instead of this around this price range?

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