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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.