ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review: a budget tablet that punches above its weight

To some extent, ASUS is a victim of its own success: it gave the budget tablet category a boost with the original Nexus 7, and it now faces a legion of competitors in that space. The company is taking a two-step approach to maintaining its relevance. The new Nexus 7 tackles the higher end, with top-tier specs that include a 1080p display and wireless charging. Right now, though, we're more interested in ASUS' low-end solution, the MeMo Pad HD 7. While it's one of the cheaper name-brand tablets at $150, it promises some of the quality we typically expect from more expensive products. But is the HD 7 good enough to fend off other entry-level tablets? And can it attract customers who'd be willing to pay the premium for a new Nexus 7'? Let's find out.

Gallery | 31 Photos

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review

Hardware

Despite its name, the MeMo Pad HD 7 bears little in common with the older 7-inch MeMo Pad. The nondescript black front and curvy profile are familiar, but ASUS has replaced the textured backing with a smooth surface that's either matte on the dark blue model, or glossy on the green, pink and white versions. Consider getting the HD 7 in white if you want to keep it pretty -- the back is prone to showing fingerprints and other smudges. ASUS' build quality is reasonably solid too, although some slight creaking under strain is enough to remind us this is an entry-level product we're dealing with.

The HD 7 is comfortable to hold, with plenty of grip and a moderate weight of 10.7 ounces (303.3g). It's also a compact device at 7.7 inches tall and 4.7 inches wide. That said, its 0.43-inch thickness makes it as chunky as the old Nexus 7 or the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. As reasonable as that is for 7-inch devices, we can't help but covet slimmer tablets like the new Nexus 7 or Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3 7.0.

A closer inspection reveals some conspicuous improvements to the MeMo Pad formula. The 1.2-megapixel front camera and left-side microSDHC slot remain in mostly familiar places, but there's now a slightly protruding 5-megapixel camera (albeit without a flash) on the back. ASUS has replaced the small mono speaker with a larger stereo unit. Curiously, ASUS has moved the micro-USB port from the bottom to the top, next to the headphone jack and microphone; accessories made for the earlier MeMo Pad may not work here. You should find a basic stand in the box, though.

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a lowcost tablet that punches above its weight

We're not big fans of the buttons. Like its sibling, the MeMo Pad HD 7 puts the power button and volume rocker on a back corner. They're easy to reach, but they're both hidden from sight and nearly flat, making them hard to identify by feel. Even now, we still occasionally have to double-check what we're about to press to avoid inadvertently putting the tablet to sleep.

You also won't find many luxuries beyond the ones we've already mentioned so far. The HD 7 covers basic wireless with dual-band 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE, but there's no NFC. There's also no hardware-based video out, whether through HDMI (as on the Sero 7 Pro), MHL or SlimPort. ASUS does offer Miracast wireless display support as a consolation prize, however, so those with suitably modern TVs can skip the wires altogether. Like the earlier MeMo Pad, there's 16GB of built-in storage in the US model, 11.8GB of which is usable.

MeMo Pad HD 7 Nexus 7 (2013)
Pricing $150 $229+
Dimensions 7.75 x 4.75 x 0.43 inches (196.8 x 120.6 x 10.8mm) 7.87 x 4.49 x 0.34 inches (200 x 114 x 8.7mm)
Weight 10.65 oz. (302g) WiFi: 10.23 oz. (290g); LTE: 10.55 oz. (299g)
Screen size 7 inches 7.02 inches
Screen resolution 1,280 x 800 (216 ppi) 1,920 x 1,200 pixels (323 ppi)
Screen type IPS LCD IPS LCD
Battery 15Whr 3,950mAh
Internal storage 16GB 16/32GB
External storage microSDHC None
Rear camera 5MP, AF 5MP, AF
Front-facing cam 1.2MP 1.2MP
Video capture 1080p/30fps 1080p/30fps
NFC No Yes
Radios N/A Varies by market; LTE/HSPA+/GSM/EDGE
Bluetooth v4.0 v4.0
SoC MediaTek MT8125 Snapdragon S4 Pro
CPU 1.2GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 1.5GHz quad-core Krait
GPU PowerVR SGX544MP Adreno 320
RAM 1GB 2GB
Wireless Charging No Yes
WiFi Dual-band, a/b/g/n Dual-band, a/b/g/n
Operating system Android 4.2.1 Android 4.3

Display and sound

DNP ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a budget tablet that punches above its weight

When tablet designers want to cut corners, display quality is frequently the first to go. Exhibit A: the lackluster screen on the HP Slate 7. Thankfully, the MeMo Pad HD 7 doesn't fall into that trap. ASUS is using an IPS 1,280 x 800 LCD that produces accurate colors and very wide viewing angles. The panel is even bright enough to use outdoors in some situations. There's no question that we'd notice the Nexus 7's higher resolution in a direct comparison, but the HD 7's display is more than crisp enough for books, games and movies.

There are a few quirks. Black levels aren't superb; you're more likely to see dark gray than black in poorer lighting. The front glass is also glossier than we're used to, which didn't help our attempts to read near a window, or outside on a sunny day. Even so, the HD 7's screen doesn't feel like a significant compromise. It's at least appropriate for the price, and it trumps the 1,024 x 600 displays in rivals like the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0.

Sound from the tablet isn't quite so impressive. The speakers are loud and largely distortion-free at high volumes, but their bass output won't compete with HTC's BoomSound. Moreover, having both speakers so close to each other negates the advantages of stereo separation; you won't hear panning effects or the virtual surround sound of the Nexus 7. It's easy to partly obscure the speakers in the middle of an enthusiastic gameplay session, for that matter. We'll still take the HD 7 over competitors with single-channel sound. It just feels like a missed opportunity, particularly when the Nexus 7's audio is so well done.

Software

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a lowcost tablet that punches above its weight

The MeMo Pad HD 7 faces an immediate problem on the software front. It's shipping with Android 4.2.1 at the very moment that another ASUS tablet -- you guessed it, the Nexus 7 -- is launching with Android 4.3. While the new OS doesn't represent a night-and-day experience, it does offer perks like guest profiles, better OS-level Bluetooth support and modular DRM that allows for 1080p Netflix streaming. ASUS tells us it will upgrade the HD 7 to Android 4.3 in the near future, but that still leaves the tablet ever-so-slightly behind the cutting edge.

Gallery | 28 Photos

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 screenshots

The HD 7 is shipping with Android 4.2.1 at the very moment that another ASUS tablet -- the Nexus 7 -- is launching with Android 4.3.

Not that we mind much. The new MeMo Pad largely echoes the PadFone Infinity's delicate balance between stock Android and useful customizations. Google's minimalist interface persists in the home screen, app tray and multitasking, but there's numerous helpful ASUS-made features hiding just underneath the surface. The notification bar includes a Quick Settings section to change display brightness, wireless options and other basics. Long-press the home button and you'll get shortcuts to both core functions and favorite apps. Pinch the home screen and there's access to home screen profiles. ASUS also has one of the better mini-app implementations we've seen; it reserves a dedicated navigation key for access to tiny tools like a browser, calendar and video player.

The HD 7's software isn't quite a one-for-one copy of what we saw in the PadFone, however. Hardware-specific features like Dynamic Display are gone, as you'd imagine, but we also noticed that Google Now's voice search has replaced the sub-par ASUS Echo. Improvements are few, and mostly come from the Android 4.2 refresh. Miracast sharing and lock screen widgets are Google's responsibility; ASUS, meanwhile, introduces both a wallpaper settings shortcut in the lock screen as well as the option to use Google's stock notification bar. Some 4.2 features are sadly missing, such as Photo Sphere or Swype-inspired typing. All the same, we're happy with the new MeMo Pad's interface, which comes across as the subtle refinement of a successful formula.

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a lowcost tablet that punches above its weight

Out of the box, the US variant of the HD 7 carries a mostly familiar first-party app layout. Among the more practical tools, AudioWizard and ASUS Splendid let users customize their sound and video profiles; ASUS Studio and ASUS Story organize photos and create photo collages; ASUS Artist offers basic drawing; MyLibrary provides a home for generic e-books; AppBackup and AppLocker keep app data safe and secure; ASUS To-Do, MyBitCast and SuperNote bring both reminders and media-enhanced notes. They're easy to use and helpful in the right situations, although we only seldomly had use for them ourselves.

We have mixed thoughts on BuddyBuzz and ASUS WebStorage, though. BuddyBuzz's social network aggregation is more reliable than the last time we tried it, but it still has less functionality than the dedicated apps for each service. Our US test unit also preserves support for services that are more popular in China, such as Plurk, Renren and Sina Weibo. As for ASUS WebStorage? We like the service's free cloud space (16GB for one year, 5GB after), backup functions and collaborative Office editing -- it's just nothing special. Alternatives like Google Drive and SkyDrive offer similar cloud functionality without being tied to one hardware vendor.

There are a few apps that haven't made the cut in the American version of the HD 7. It lacks the previously mentioned ASUS Echo as well as Birthday Reminder, PinPal (another social networking aggregator) and Watch Calendar. ASUS indirectly compensates for those titles' absences by throwing in DRM support for primarily US-oriented streaming video services such as HBO Go, Hulu Plus and Netflix. Combined with the included Amazon Kindle and Zinio apps, there's enough to get owners started without overwhelming them or chewing up too much free space.

Camera

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a lowcost tablet that punches above its weight

We're still of the opinion that many cameras on tablets are sub-par... and frankly, the MeMo Pad HD 7 doesn't do much to improve their reputation. Like the Nexus 7, the 5-megapixel, f/2.4 rear camera can produce sharp photos with vivid colors, but only if all the stars align; you'll need reasonably bright light, a low-contrast background and a slow-moving subject. Life only sometimes provides those circumstances, of course, and most of our photos fall short of those from cameras on premium-priced tablets, like the Galaxy Note 8.0 or iPad mini.

Gallery | 43 Photos

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 sample shots

We most often noticed the poor dynamic range, as the MeMo Pad tends to blow out highlights (such as bright skies) and doesn't extract much detail from shadows. The tablet has a tendency to wash out colors in these situations, too. While there is autofocus, it occasionally misses a prominent subject and requires a tap to get a proper lock. Moderately fast subjects tend to blur. And you'll want to rule out low-light photography in general: shots are noisy, and there's no flash (like on the Sero 7 Pro) to bail you out. We did get some good photos, primarily up-close, but it's clear that the rear camera is more a bonus than a selling point.

The front 1.2-megapixel, f/2.4 camera faces similar problems, although it's more forgivable given the lower standard for front cams. It's only really present for the sake of video chats and the occasional selfie, and it does an adequate job so long as you're not trying to host Google Hangouts in the dark.

ASUS' camera software partly compensates for the lackluster output. The shot-to-shot times are relatively fast in good lighting, and it's possible to shoot still photos while capturing video. While customization is largely limited to basics like exposure, ISO sensitivity and white balance, it's easy to find and change these settings on the fly. Our chief gripe is with the relatively crude approaches to special features: the high dynamic range mode overcompensates for dark subjects and produces a "burnt" look, while panoramas can appear slightly jagged.

If there's a strong point to the tablet's camera system, it's video. Known image quality issues aside, the HD 7 captures 1080p video at a 18Mbps bitrate -- much higher than the Nexus 7's 12Mbps, and enough to produce sharp footage worthy of the "HD" label. You do have to watch how quickly you pan the camera, though. The wobble of the rolling shutter effect is visible if you spin the camera too quickly, and the HD 7 doesn't always refocus properly when subject distances change.

Performance and battery life

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 Google Nexus 7 (2013) Hisense Sero 7 Pro HP Slate 7
Quadrant 3,393 6,133 4,251 N/A
Vellamo 1,460 1,597 1,692 1,426
AnTuTu 12,723 19,755 12,883 11,698
SunSpider 0.9.1 1,382 602 1,868 1,848
GFXBench 2.5 Egypt Offscreen (fps) 3.7 40 11 12
CF-Bench 11,694 15,366 11,322 6,790
SunSpider: lower scores are better

Let's get the obvious comparison out of the way: the MeMo Pad HD 7's quad-core, 1.2GHz MediaTek MT8125 processor is no match for the 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro in the Nexus 7. Paying extra for Google's official tablet gets you much better performance across the board, especially in web browsing and graphics. Although some would lump both devices into the entry-level category, they're ultimately in different leagues.

So how does the HD 7 fare against its more direct competitors, then? That's a tougher call. It's faster than the dual-core Slate 7 in most respects, but it's typically outpaced by Tegra 3-based tablets like the Sero 7 Pro. Get a load of that browsing performance in the SunSpider test, though: whether we used Chrome or the plain Browser app, the new MeMo Pad was noticeably quicker than similarly priced challengers. There weren't significant performance issues in general use, either. Although we caught the very occasional stutter during an interface transition, the device didn't feel overburdened, even when running mini-apps alongside their full-size siblings.

DNP ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a budget tablet that punches above its weight

Just don't pick up the MeMo Pad if you're a gamer. Its variant on Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX544MP graphics isn't up to snuff for the latest 3D titles. While an older game like Riptide GP runs smoothly, modern releases like Real Racing 3 barely achieve playable frame rates. Although we weren't expecting a visual powerhouse, it's clear that the similarly priced Sero 7 Pro is a better pick if you're willing to make a few sacrifices for some additional 3D prowess.

ASUS makes up for that deficiency through battery life. The company estimates 10 hours of runtime from the MeMo Pad HD 7's 15Wh battery, and indeed, our unit was almost exactly on target. Our battery rundown test, which involves looping a 1080p video with the brightness set to 50 percent, ran for nine hours and 56 minutes. That's longer than every small tablet we've tried short of the iPad mini. It's also far ahead of the new Nexus 7, but there's a necessary disclaimer here: the Nexus has a decidedly brighter LCD, so it may be using more backlight energy at the same setting.

Tablet Battery Life
ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 9:56
Apple iPad mini 12:43 (WiFi)
Apple iPad (late 2012) 11:08 (WiFi)
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Nexus 7 (2012) 9:49
Microsoft Surface for Windows RT 9:36
Apple iPad 9:33
ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700 9:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 8:56
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 8:40
Hisense Sero 7 Pro 8:28
Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 7:38
HP Slate 7 7:36
Nexus 10 7:26
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 7:18
Nexus 7 (2013) 7:15
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 6:55

Suffice to say that the real-world longevity is at least as good. We managed a full day of intensive use that included browsing, social networking, snapping a few dozen photos and recording five short movies. Less demanding owners can get away with closer to a day and a half of frequent use, and we suspect that once-a-day users could go a week between top-ups. It's just as well that the MeMo Pad lasts so long, since it takes four hours to recharge from empty.

The competition

We said earlier that the MeMo Pad HD 7 and Nexus 7 don't really exist in the same category, but we also know that some shoppers will invariably compare the two. And we'll be honest: if you can afford the $230-plus for the Nexus 7, you'll likely be happier with that in the long run. It's faster, carries an exceptional display, runs Android 4.3 and has options for both 32GB of built-in storage and LTE. Its software upgrade strategy will also appeal to some. As a Nexus device, it's likely to get updates both sooner and across a longer period of time. Despite ASUS' good reputation for upgrading its non-Nexus devices in a timely fashion, there's little doubt that Google's flagship will get those updates first.

The MeMo Pad doesn't just have a price advantage: both microSD storage and software customizations work in its favor.

It's not a clear-cut victory for the Nexus, mind you. The MeMo Pad doesn't just have a price advantage: both microSD storage and software customizations work in its favor. If you regularly swap memory cards or prefer ASUS' modifications to Android, there's no direct substitute for those features. The cheaper tablet even outperforms its counterpart in video recording, although we wouldn't buy it solely for that reason. There's also the question of the return on investment. If you don't plan to do more than read e-books, check Facebook or watch the occasional YouTube video, the Nexus 7 may be overkill.

As you may have gathered from the review so far, we see the $150 Sero 7 Pro as the most directly comparable opponent. Hisense ships it with a paltry 8GB of built-in capacity, but it's otherwise a strong contender between its faster graphics and the inclusion of perks like HDMI, microSD expansion and a camera flash. Those who would prefer to get closer to stock Android will also get their fix here. If you're not big on gaming, though, the MeMo Pad is arguably the better purchase with its increased storage and longer battery life.

If anyone walks out of this fight with a black eye, it's HP and Samsung. The Slate 7 is a tad cheaper at $140, but it's so far behind on display quality, performance and storage that we can't honestly recommend it. Meanwhile, the $200 Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 is simply too expensive. You'd have to be a dedicated fan of Samsung's TouchWiz interface to pick the Galaxy Tab over the cheaper, more powerful MeMo Pad.

Wrap-up

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 review a lowcost tablet that punches above its weight

Make no mistake: ASUS isn't working miracles. The MeMo Pad HD 7's mixed performance, mediocre cameras and minor design issues remind us that the tablet is built to reach a certain price point. If you're looking for the best that ASUS has to offer this year, you'll still want to consider the Nexus 7 or wait for the Transformer Pad Infinity.

Still, we can't help but think that the company has delivered a pleasant surprise. The HD 7's battery life, display, software and storage are all above-average in the budget realm; for $150, ASUS' tablet provides an experience that some companies can't manage in devices that cost $200 or more. There's a good chance that some will prefer the Sero 7 Pro's processor or Samsung's familiar software, but the rest of us should be well-served by what the MeMo Pad HD 7 has to offer.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.

ASUS

MeMo Pad HD 7

Pros

  • Colorful display
  • Long battery life
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Lackluster performance, especially in gaming
  • Mediocre cameras
Summary

ASUS' MeMo Pad HD 7 isn't the fastest tablet, but its quality display, battery and software raise it above other budget tablets.