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Asus Memo Pad HD 7 review: Vivid screen barely outshines slow performance

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The Good The Asus Memo Pad HD 7 rocks an impressively colorful screen, features a bevy of useful customization options, and comes in at a budget price.

The Bad Its performance is mediocre and the touch screen is sometimes unresponsive. The plastic build gives it a toy-like feel and it isn't very comfortable to hold. The dull design lacks panache.

The Bottom Line For those looking to save a buck, for its low price, the Asus Memo Pad HD 7 has a bevy of useful features, though there are better performing options out there.

6.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

With the Asus Memo Pad HD 7, you really get what you pay for. The HD 7 earns its low price with a lackluster design and sluggish performance. It's not very comfortable to hold for long periods of time, and aside from being offered in a variety of different colors, lacks a coolness other tablets try hard to aspire to.

Its performance is meekly mediocre, and consistent lagging combined with a sometimes unresponsive touch screen make the tablet best suited for simple tasks like browsing and reading.

That said, the HD 7 is a refreshing upgrade from its predecessor and its best feature is the 7-inch IPS screen that displays an impressively wide range of colors which facilitate a visually richer experience than the original Nexus 7.

The 7-inch tablet also comes loaded with screen calibration and audio enhancement apps that actually turn out to be quite useful.

If you're on a strict budget, the Asus Memo Pad is an inexpensive and functional small tablet, but if you can spare the change, a new Nexus 7 is the better choice.


Editors' note: Our version of the Asus Memo Pad HD 7 ran with Android 4.1.2. Asus says an OTA update to 4.2.2 will be available for the tablet by its release in early August. If the update improves performance, we will adjust its subrating accordingly.

Design
Even though the tablet shares similar dimensions with the Nexus 7, it's nowhere near as sleek or comfortable in design. The tablet fits fine in one hand, even for people with smaller hands like me, yet, despite its light weight, the design doesn't lend itself to comfortable holding over lengthy periods of time.

The back panel protrudes slightly, and the corners slightly dig into your palms when holding it in both hands, instead of the flush, smoothly curved edges of the original Nexus 7. I often found myself wanting to put the device down after using it for awhile -- not because I was done using it -- but because holding it became tiresome.

The white version's back is so reflective you can't see the Asus logo.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Asus Memo Pad HD 7 comes in navy blue, white, hot pink, and lime green. The navy blue version is the only one that has a back with a matte finish. The dark shade of blue attracts a minimal amount of fingerprints that are only highly visible from certain angles. The back panel is smooth and comfortable to the touch but can be a bit slippery without a tight grip.

In comparison, the reflective plastic back sides of the other colors look less chic, but the texture helps one grip the device significantly better than the matte finish does. I personally prefer a back panel with a grippier texture, like the one on the Nexus 7 (2012), because it enhances my comfort level in a way that extends the amount of time I can hold the device.

The volume rocker's function doesn't change when orientations switch.

Josh Miller/CNET

Since they're both made by Asus, the Memo Pad HD 7 and the Nexus 7 (2012) share similar design elements. The power button and volume rocker on the right edge look almost identical in shape, while the rear speakers are similarly located toward the bottom edge of the tablet.

Tested specAsus Memo Pad HD 7Google Nexus 7 (2012)Apple iPad MiniAmazon Kindle Fire HD
Weight in pounds0.660.740.680.86
Width in inches (landscape)7.87.87.97.7
Height in inches4.74.75.35.4
Depth in inches0.40.40.30.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape)0.90.80.80.9

The front of the tablet is typically simple, with an Asus logo on the bottom bezel and a front-facing camera on the top. There is no ambient light sensor, therefore no automatic brightness setting.

All of the ports are located on the top half of the tablet.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Memo Pad HD 7's headphone jack, microphone pinhole, and Micro-USB port are all located on the top edge, with the microSD expansion slot -- which is expandable up to 32GB -- around the corner on the left edge. There are no ports on the bottom edge, but the speaker sits on the bottom of the tablet's back, keeping the 5-megapixel rear camera on top company.

Asus Application Suite
The tablet comes loaded with the Asus Application Suite and features apps that range from useful to creative. The simple additions include a calendar, to-do list, and file manager, and it comes with 16GB of Asus WebStorage cloud service for one year.

The Asus Application Suite comes preorganized.

Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Some of the apps that are geared towards family use include App Locker, which allows you to put passwords on specific apps; Asus Artists, where you can create "paintings" or greeting cards; and Asus Story, which helps you organize your photos into albums, or as they call them, "stories."

The tablet comes with Power Saver, a battery-saving feature that comes in handy if you're trying to squeeze the most out of a low battery.

The Power Saver app has a useful custom option.

Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The custom mode lets you pick the specific functions that the power-saving option affects. For example, you can set a low screen brightness for listening to music, a higher one for watching video, and no power-saving function for reading books. When enabled, it significantly helped extend the battery life when it was low.

Floating apps
One of the most interesting and useful features on the tablet is the floating menu. On the Android navigation bar, there's a button to the left of the back button that activates the floating menu.

When activated, a small menu pops up above the navigation bar that contains a selection of floating apps that you can quickly access without having to close whatever app you're currently using. Since the apps "float" on the screen, on top of whatever is already open, it's almost like a multiwindow option, but they can only perform simple tasks and can't compare to the multiwindow functions that the Microsoft Surface or some of the Samsung Galaxy tablets provide.

Using the floating apps, I was able to procrastinate and be productive at the same time!

Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Floating apps are an easy way to multitask, and I liked the ability to use the browser while watching video, but not all streaming video services continue to play while a floating app is open. With the exception of a few floating apps, including the calculator and compass, Netflix did not let me use most of the floating apps while simultaneously watching video, although YouTube did.

Despite providing an easy way to multitask, the floating apps don't have the same functionality as the full-screen app and are limited in their capabilities; the YouTube app only shows recommended videos -- you can't search -- and the Twitter app displays only one tweet at a time. There is a limited amount of floating apps, and although the floating menu is customizable, not all downloaded apps have the ability to be floating ones.

Speaker features
The Memo Pad HD 7 houses stereo speakers with Asus SonicMaster audio technology and Audio Wizard software. Although the speakers aren't great, the number of specific audio settings are. The tablet allows you to manually adjust separate volume settings for app audio, notifications, and alarms.

The ability to easily control different volume settings was very useful.

Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

In addition, using the Audio Wizard feature is an almost essential tool for a multimedia experience, if using the speakers (the Audio Wizard doesn't work with wired or Bluetooth headsets); it has five settings: music, movie, gaming, speech, and recording. These settings not only enhance the audio for their specific purposes but they also generally increase the volume of the speakers.

When the Audio Wizard function is not in use, it switches to power-saving mode and, like most tablet speakers, audio is tinny at its loudest volume. The natural cupping of the speaker that happens when holding the tablet in two hands helps provide some fullness to the audio -- or muffling, depending on how you're gripping it.

The back speaker resonates when on a flat surface.

Josh Miller/CNET

Movie mode makes the audio rich with subtleties. Soundscape noises like street traffic, footsteps, and the jingling of keys were all more pronounced using the movie mode. When the setting is off, most soundscape noises are almost muted and too quiet to notice.

The music setting works best with vocal-centered music that isn't overproduced. Music mode significantly enhances and highlights vocals. Without the setting, music sounded overall flat and comparable to FM radio. For certain genres the vocals overpowered the instrumentation.

In some cases, where the vocals were already at the forefront of the song, the enhancement was too much and made well-produced songs sound like amateur GarageBand demos. This was especially true for any lo-fi music.

Audio Wizard came in handy as a floating app.

Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Certain instruments such as screeching guitars or crashing cymbals were unpleasant to listen to at full volume on a flat surface, but bearable from a distance and at low volumes. Bass heavy music sadly lacked oomph, and I found the recording mode to provide a better, fuller sound for that type of music.

Hardware
The Memo Pad HD 7 houses a 1.2GHz quad-core Mediatek MT8125 CPU, a single-core PowerVR SGX 544MP GPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage, with about 11GB of free space. The tablet also features an accelerometer and Bluetooth 4.0.

The tablet has a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera with a rear 5-megapixel shooter on the back. The front-facing photos were washed out but relatively clear.

Neither of the cameras were impressive.

Josh Miller/CNET

The rear camera has many built-in features like HDR, panorama, and color filters, but they don't cover up the camera's poor photo quality. It didn't take very sharp photos and often had a hard time focusing on a subject.

Screen
The Memo Pad HD 7 dons the same 1,280x800-pixel resolution as the first Nexus 7, at 216 ppi, and, in comparison to both Nexus 7s, its viewing angles aren't as good, but its accurate color portrayal, even without using Asus Splendid calibration software, blows the Google tablets out of the water.

When it comes to screen quality between the original Nexus 7 and the Memo Pad HD 7, the difference is in the details. Its screen is just as sharp as the original Nexus 7, but due to the wide range of color, bright spots that are too bright and blown-out on the Nexus 7 are accurately portrayed with detail on the Memo HD Pad 7. Color richness and accuracy provides more nuanced detail in photos and videos that is only greatly noticeable when viewed side-by-side.

Tested specAsus Memo Pad HD 7Google Nexus 7 (2012)Apple iPad MiniAmazon Kindle Fire HD
Maximum brightness353 cd/m2288 cd/m2399 cd/m2394 cd/m2
Maximum black level0.57 cd/m20.28 cd/m20.49 cd/m20.41 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio619:11,028:1814:1960:1

The new Nexus 7 has a 30 percent wider range of colors than the first model, but it still doesn't compare to the wide range that the Memo Pad HD 7 produces. The colors are vibrant but not oversaturated, and the detail in video and images due to the wide range of colors is dramatic and impressive for such an inexpensive tablet.

The screen's responsiveness to touch wasn't always on point. It sometimes didn't recognize my swipe or gesture, especially if the screen had any type of oily substance on it. Don't get me wrong -- it's not like I was eating chicken wings while using the tablet; any type of slippery residue on your fingertips transferred onto the screen and caused a significant decrease in responsiveness.

Most of the downsides to the Memo Pad HD 7 are due to its cheap build, and its best feature is no exception. Smudges tend to be very visible on the screen and become distracting when combined with glare. It's easy to acquire a hazy layer of fingerprints, which makes the screen appear noticeably more dull, and in comparison with the screens of other tablets, it takes a little more elbow grease to clean it well.

Performance
The Memo Pad HD 7 ships with Android Jelly Bean 4.2.1, although Asus states that an OTA update will be available by its early August U.S. release date. The update is supposed to significantly improve swiping, which is a much needed fix.

The tablet's performance is functional for most simple tasks but lacks speed. It usually lags, especially when switching orientations, and performance dramatically slows if many apps are open at one time.

The tablet functioned best when doing simple tasks like browsing and checking e-mail.

Josh Miller/CNET

Aside from occasional unresponsiveness to swipes and gestures, it sometimes lagged for so long that it appeared as if a tap was unrecognized, resulting in accidentally double-tapping the same area and unintentionally activating another app or option.

3DMark (Normal)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Google Nexus 7 (2012)
3,545

Asus MeMO Pad HD 7

3,108

Riptide GP ran smoothly, however, the accelerometer lacked precision and playing the game required more tilting and exaggerated movement than with the Nexus 7 tablets. The tablet is geared toward more casual gaming, and this was evident when running N.O.V.A 3. The first level was extremely sluggish to load -- it took over four minutes each time I tried-- and frame rates were consistently choppy.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.


Video battery life (in hours)
Asus Memo Pad HD 7 (Performance mode)9.7

Conclusion
The Asus Memo Pad HD 7 is a good, but not great, small tablet option if you're on a budget. In typical "you get what you pay for" fashion, its build looks and feels inexpensive, and its performance is mediocre at best. If you can get past that, the screen's impressive range of color and the abilities to customize and enhance your multimedia experience while maximizing your battery life make it a worthy, inexpensive buy.

Your next best option in the 7-inch tablet category, the new Nexus 7, is $80 more -- almost half again the cost of the Memo Pad HD 7-- although it is a significant upgrade. If you're limited by a budget, the tablet is a good option for casual use and multimedia viewing, but if you're not, treat yourself and go with the Nexus 7 for faster performance and a slimmer build.

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