The MeMO Pad 7 was arguably the sleeper hit among small tablets last year. Given that ASUS’ device didn’t have the speed of the Apple Air range or the interface and marketing tricks of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 line, but it is superbly balanced. It runs smoothly, packs smart software and (most importantly) carried a sub-R3699 price. What’s not to like? As you’ll find out in our review, there are a few aspects that definitely need improvement, or even take steps backward — but it’s also clear that ASUS has budget-tablet design down to a science.
The strongest evidence of ASUS’ if-it-ain’t-broken philosophy manifests on the outside. If you’ve used any ASUS mobile device before, the basic layout of their MeMO Pad 7 will be very recognizable. And that’s mostly a good thing. They’re easy to hold, with rounded edges and side buttons that you’re unlikely to hit by accident. You’ll find micro-USB and headphone ports on the top, the power and volume controls on the right and a microSDXC storage slot on the left. There’s little on the front – not even the company logo – but just the front-facing camera (2 megapixel). On the back, you’ll spot a rear camera above (five megapixels, respectively), stereo speakers with SonicMaster below and the company logo staring back at you in all its glory. Strangely, the MeMO Pad reminded me of Microsoft’s 1520 phablet.
The 7-inch MeMO Pad 7 is the most featherweight device we’ve laid hands on this year, only weighing in at just under 400g and 37 inch thick, so it’s ever so slightly easier to grab with one hand. I was happy to use the MeMO for significant stretches of time without propping it up on my lap; this is a fine device for reading on the couch or playing games that demand a two-handed grip.
However, the MeMo’s matte finishes also have their quirks. Its smooth backing tends to stay relatively pristine (thanks to the gold finish) and the texture makes it more stable in my hands, but it picks up lint like nobody’s business. The MeMO Pad 7’s new camera layout also doesn’t do anyone any favors. ASUS has moved the camera from near the center to the corner, making it a little too trivial to block the lens when you’re shooting.
There isn’t really much to look forward to on the inside apart from the processor, although that’s not shocking given that the Pad 7 cost just R3699. In SA models, you’ll still see 16GB of built-in storage (11.1GB free), 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. Sadly, there’s no HDMI output, so you’ll have to lean on Miracast streaming to send video to a TV. ASUS does have an ace in the hole with its built-in GPS and GLONASS positioning, however. You can use any of these devices for navigation so long as you have offline maps; many rivals, including iPads, can’t do that unless you buy their cellular-equipped variants.
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[title type=”h2″ class=””]Display[/title]
With the MeMO Pad 7 you get the basic display technology: a 1,280 x 800, IPS-based LCD. The MeMO delivers rich colours that aren’t overdone, and you only really lose brightness when you look at them from sharp angles. There are a few practical differences beyond the raw surface area, mind you. The model is easily visible indoors, but you’ll definitely want the larger slab if you venture outside. I also noticed that it had a warmer, slightly yellowish colour cast out of the box, although ASUS’ Splendid screen utility makes it easy to dial that out.
[title type=”h2″ class=””]Software[/title]
If you’ve read our review of the new Transformer Pad, you’ll know what to expect software-wise. The MeMO Pad is running the same ZenUI interface, which spruces up Android 4.4.2 KitKat with a trendy “flat” look and a handful of customizations. ASUS strikes a careful balance between adding its own flourishes and leaving Android’s better features alone. You’ll get quick settings, some well-done media galleries and app drawer sorting, but multitasking and most other Google-made elements remain intact. Yes, that means you’ll miss out on multi-window support and other perks from heavier Android skins, like what you get on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 4 line. Still, it’s hard to object to ZenUI’s more restrained approach — it’s simple, colourful and responsive. We love.
[title type=”h2″ class=””]In Closing[/title]
This lovely 7-inch system offers superb speed for a R3699 tablet, but it’s somewhat hobbled by the downgraded cameras. I’d make the sacrifice, as I rarely snap photos with any tablet, but it isn’t as well-rounded as you’d expect it to be.
It’s a harder call when pitting ASUS against its opponents. While it should be clear by now that the MeMO Pad can take on most any task you’d expect from a mobile tablet, they’re not the best at everything; you can find nicer screens and cameras without much difficulty, especially if you’re willing to go beyond the R3999 mark. I don’t think that specs alone tell the whole story, though. ASUS makes a good case for custom Android interfaces. ZenUI is more helpful than the largely stock Android implementation on the Dell Venue 7 or 8, yet it never gets in your way. I can comfortably recommend the MeMO Pad 7, but you do have to be aware of what you’re giving up – this isn’t much of a sleeper hit as its a wisely calculated trade-off.