The strongest evidence of ASUS' if-it-ain't-broken philosophy manifests on the outside. If you've used either the MeMO Pad HD 7 or HD 8, the basic layouts of their MeMO Pad 7 and 8 sequels 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 besides the company logo and the front-facing camera (0.3 megapixel on the Pad 7, two megapixels on the Pad 8). On the back, you'll spot a rear camera above (two and five megapixels, respectively), and stereo speakers below.
That's not to say that ASUS is simply recycling its hardware. Both of the new entries are a tad thinner and lighter than their predecessors. The 7-inch MeMO Pad 7 is the featherweight of the bunch, at 0.65 pound and 0.37 inch thick; its 8-inch counterpart is unsurprisingly heavier, at 0.7 pound, but it's also slimmer at 0.3 inch. The designs are narrower than last year's models too (4.4 and 4.9 inches, respectively), so they're ever so slightly easier to grab with one hand. I was happy to use either for significant stretches of time without propping them up on my lap; these are fine devices for reading on the couch or playing games that demand a two-handed grip.
That conservative design approach does mean the MeMO Pads inherit a few flaws. Those buttons may prevent unintended presses, but they're also harder to activate on purpose. Since you can't see them most of the time or quickly identify them by feel, it's all too easy to accidentally lower the volume when you meant to put the device to sleep, or vice versa. The matte finishes also have their quirks. The 7-inch slate's smooth backing tends to stay relatively pristine (at least in a red hue), but it's a bit slippery; the textured 8-inch model is more stable in my hands, but it picks up lint like nobody's business. The MeMO Pad 8'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. The Pad 7's rear shooter is in the same position as on the HD 7, though, so you won't easily smudge its glass.
Not much has changed on the inside apart from the processor, although that's not shocking given that the Pad 7 and 8 cost just $150 and $200 respectively. In US 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.
Display and sound
Although the MeMO Pad 7 and 8 are separated by an inch in screen size, you get the same basic display technology: a 1,280 x 800, IPS-based LCD. Neither tablet's screen is especially sharp (the Nexus 7 and Dell's Venue 8 have much crisper-looking 1,920 x 1,200 panels), but they're reasonably attractive for the price you're paying. Both deliver rich colors 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 Pad 8's display is a bit brighter, at a high 400 nits versus 330. Either model is easily visible indoors, but you'll definitely want the larger slab if you venture outside. I also noticed that the Pad 8 had a warmer, slightly yellowish color cast out of the box, although ASUS' Splendid screen utility makes it easy to dial that out.
Really, it all comes down to dimensions. Just how much screen real estate do you need? Having held the two MeMO Pads side by side, I can safely say that you'll want the 8-inch version if you can at all swing the extra cash. It's much easier on my eyes for long gaming and reading sessions, and it gives me more overall breathing room than I get with the cramped 7-incher. The lower pixel density isn't a problem at normal viewing distances, in my experience. The tinier hardware will do if you don't have the money or free space for the bigger hardware, but it's tougher to justify in an era when many smartphones aren't that much smaller.
There's a similar split when it comes to sound quality. While the MeMO Pad 7's stereo speakers are clear-sounding, they're a bit quiet and lack even the vaguest hint of bass. The Pad 8 isn't an audio powerhouse, but it produces louder, fuller output that's just good enough to make me forego my headphones. With that said, the stereo separation on both tablets is virtually nonexistent. I'd really like to see ASUS put the speakers on opposite ends, like it does with the larger Transformer Pad TF103C.
If you've read our review of the new Transformer Pad, you'll know what to expect software-wise. The two MeMO Pads are 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, colorful and responsive.