If I were to imagine what makes a good tablet, I'd think along two lines: affordable 7- and 8-inch models, and more fully featured 10-inchers. Can there be a middle ground? The Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10 is a tablet that, really, is like a supersize version of Asus' Nexus 7 (formerly the MeMo, too). It costs more -- $299 -- and it's larger, too. But underneath, its specs are less than impressive: its Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 1,280x800-pixel display match what's in the Nexus 7. What you're getting here, for an extra $100, really amounts to a larger screen, extra camera, and a few more ports like Micro-HDMI and microSD. Those are sought after and not always easy to find on Android tablets, but you have to ask yourself whether those ports, essentially, are worth the price to be paid.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 has a higher-resolution screen and a lower price. On the other hand, for just $100 more, you could also get the higher-res Google Nexus 10. Not far off from the MeMoPad's cost is a refurbished iPad, or a new iPad Mini ($30 more). That's what I don't get: who would find this tablet really helpful? It's in the middle zone.
The Asus MeMo Pad Smart TF301T feels lightweight, but at 1.3 pounds it's really only a tad lighter than a Retina Display iPad. A plastic back doesn't lend it the most premium in-hand feel, but it's reminiscent of the case design of the Asus Transformer Pad TF300. It's the same thickness, and nearly the same weight, and has the same plastic overall feel.
The extra bezel space around the edges makes for easy gripping, but it also makes the MeMo Pad Smart 10 feel old-fashioned. This is not a forward-thinking design. But it does come in colors: "crystal white," "fuschia pink," and "midnight blue." The blue model I reviewed has an almost black sheen to it.
The sleep/power button is tucked along the top left edge, and a volume rocker sits on the top of the right-side edge, below a headphone jack. Both a Micro-USB charging port and Micro-HDMI are on the left edge, clustered together. It all makes sense if the tablet's sitting in landscape mode with the "Asus" logo upright.
Display and speakers: Good, but hardly great
The 10.1-inch IPS display looks good at wide viewing angles, but the maximum resolution, 1,280x800 pixels, is the same screen resolution as the little 7-inch Nexus 7's. It's a decided step below the current higher-res expectation mark on larger tablets that the Nexus 10, third- and fourth-gen iPad, and Kindle Fire HD 8.9 all set. Granted, you won't notice a "low-res" effect, unless you're doing a lot of text reading.
It all looks better than the average laptop screen. But the idea of investing in a 10-inch tablet with a screen resolution that's not ultra-high-definition doesn't seem wise to me unless you're saving tons of money. It probably depends on the person.
Stereo SonicMaster speakers situated on the back edges pump out some decent sound, although the maximum volume still feels a little soft. Stereo effects come through, especially when holding the tablet a little closer than arm's length.
Hardware: A familiar feel
A quad-core 1.2 GHz Nvidia Tegra3 processor along with 1GB of RAM sit inside the MeMo Pad Smart 10. Sound familiar? That's because it's what the Nexus 7 has, too. That's a $199 tablet that came out last summer.
The MeMo Pad Smart 10 also has 16GB of onboard storage, Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, a microSD card slot for memory expansion (SDHC and SDXC), plus 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, a G-sensor, gyroscope, e-compass, ambient light sensor, and aGPS. Even though the tablet itself doesn't support the resolution on its display, it can play back 1080p video via HDMI 1.4.
There are two cameras: the front-facing (1.2 megapixels) and rear (5 megapixels). Camera quality is fine, but nothing particularly spectacular.
There are faster processors out there than the Nvidia Tegra3, a processor that wasn't spectacular before and is now showing its age. The general performance and experience running Android 4.1.1 wasn't silky smooth. Apps like HBO Go sometimes experienced hiccups. Zen Pinball played well enough, but playing a graphically demanding game like Real Racing 3 produced results inferior to those from an iPad Mini, with general framerate choppiness (albeit, playable).
Nvidia's Tegra4 processor is around the corner, and you have to wonder what having that in this tablet would feel like. I couldn't shake the continuing feeling that this is all a decidedly last-gen hardware and software experience. The MeMo Pad Smart 10 can only be currently upgraded to Android 4.1.2; 4.2 and its extra features aren't on the table yet, but will eventually make their way over (Update: according to Asus, 4.2 will arrive in "Q2 2013."). That's a little frustrating, especially since other tablets are already offering 4.2 -- including the Nexus 7 and Transformer Pad TF300, which have practically the same hardware, and are made by Asus.
I did experience one oddity with overheating when traveling to work, and the tablet got so hot I had to let it cool off before recharging. But it worked perfectly fine afterward. Otherwise, in everyday use, the tablet didn't feel very warm at all.
We ran the battery through our CNET video playback test, using a local continuous video loop, and found that the MeMo Pad Smart 10 lasted 542 minutes, or 9 hours and 2 minutes. That's good, but the Wi-Fi Nexus 7 fared even better, at 10.3 hours.
What bothers me the most about the MemoPad is that it's forgettable. It's not all that smooth or fun to use. It only currently runs Jelly Bean 4.1.2. This isn't the most up-to-date hardware or software in the Android universe, and the price isn't all that rock-bottom. It all adds up to a product released with an odd sense of timing, as if it might disappear sooner than later to be replaced with a better version.
If you're really looking for an Asus tablet right now, consider the keyboard-included Transformer Pad, instead. Or, spend up and get a Nexus 10. Or spend down and get a Nexus 7. Anyway, you get the picture.