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Asus ZenPad Z8 review: Here's your new favorite budget Android tablet

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The Good The Asus Zen Pad Z8 starts at only $149 with 4G LTE. It's slim and lightweight with a sharp, bright screen and smooth performance. The battery lasts longer than the vast majority of tablets and charges quickly via USB-C.

The Bad The front-facing speaker and camera quality leave a lot to be desired.

The Bottom Line While it's not fit for writing your next term paper on, the Asus ZenPad Z8 is our favorite budget Android tablet and is perfect for casual use.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

You know the type of love song where the singer basically just lists a bunch of generic things about the person they're enamored with? Like hair and eyes? That's kind of how I feel about the Asus Zen Pad Z8. There isn't just one specific, unique thing about it; it's everything -- the whole package -- that makes it special.

While I don't plan to write a ditty about the Z8 anytime soon, I'm not above rattling off a list to justify my infatuation. Its sharp, bright colorful screen make it great for catching up on episodes of UnReal; its perfectly portable size reminds me of carrying around a paperback book; it has 4G LTE so you can play Hearthstone while relaxing at the park and it packs a long-lasting battery. The best part? It's totally affordable.

The catch is that it's only available through Verizon. It costs $249 off contract or $149 with a two-year agreement. Verizon also offers qualified customers with a 25-month payment plan that makes it less than $11 per month.

Satisfyingly smooth

  • Android 6.0.1
  • Snapdragon 650 CPU
  • Adreno 510 GPU
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB of internal storage
  • MicroSD card slot expandable up to 128GB
  • USB-C

A tablet is a glorified toy. Any parent who frequently hands theirs over to their kids knows this. Though some tablets -- like your Surfaces and iPad Pros of the world -- make great laptop replacements, most are like the Asus ZenPad Z8 -- meant for casual tasks, like streaming video, playing games, checking email and browsing the web.

Because of its $149 to $249 retail price (depending on whether you get it under contract or not), the Asus ZenPad Z8 could be considered cheap, (for comparison's sake, the newest Samsung and Apple tablets in the same size category will cost you a cool $400) however it doesn't feel, look or act cheap; apps launched swiftly, web pages and videos loaded in seconds, and it charges fast via USB-C.

It has a USB-C connector on the bottom edge.

Josh Miller/CNET

It averaged 12 hours of life in our battery test, which is really good for an Android tablet; iPads usually hit that number or above.

On separate occasions, I streamed a few episodes of "Supernatural" (catching up) and "Gilmore Girls" (re-watching) on the 4G LTE network with the screen brightness and volume cranked all the way up, and I never had to worry about the battery dying. Wish I could say the same thing about my laptop.

Benchmarks

Asus ZenPad Z8
17,856
3,638
1,536
Asus ZenPad S 8.0
13,468
2,927
919
Apple iPad Mini 2
15,015
2,465
1,374

Legend:

3DMark score (Ice Storm Unlimited)
Geekbench 3 score (Multi-core)
Geekbench 3 score (Single-core)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Netflix and Zen

  • 7.9-inch
  • 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution IPS screen

The ZenPad Z8 has a more saturated screen than the iPad Mini 2.

Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The Asus ZenPad Z8 has a sharp, colorful, bright screen that's perfect for streaming video and playing games. In side-by-side comparisons with the Apple iPad Mini 2 and the Asus ZenPad S 8.0 (more on those later), my eyes kept gravitating to the ZenPad Z8.

The Apple iPad Mini 2 displays accurate, lifelike colors, but I prefer the slightly more saturated green and blue hues on the screen of the ZenPad Z8 -- it gives colorful cartoons like Rick and Morty a more vibrant punch in the face. Color range-wise, the two Asus tablets are comparable, however the ZenPad Z8 quite literally outshines the ZenPad S 8.0 with a brighter display.

Like comparing Apples and Asus

If you're in the market for a tablet with 4G LTE, the Apple iPad Mini 2 is an obvious choice. It's the cheapest iPad you can get your hands on (brand new, that is) and with a two-year cellular contract you can get it through Verizon for the same price as the ZenPad Z8 ($149). However, at retail price it's a lot more expensive (it's $400) than the Asus.

Apple iPads usually look better than other tablets thanks to their trademark sleek designs, but I think the ZenPad Z8 holds its own against the Mini 2. It's just as compact and petite but lighter, and the plastic back has a comfortable, matte, leather-like texture that feels as nice as the smooth aluminum an iPad has.

Between the two, the biggest differentiating factor is the most obvious; one runs iOS and the other Android. Due to the nature of my job (tablet reviewer) I use and like both, however if you have a preference, this might be the easy tie-breaker you need to decide between the two.

The ZenPad Z8 suffers from shortcomings that all tablets fall prey to; underwhelming speaker and grainy photo quality. Considering I can make the same harsh critique of every tablet, it's forgivable. And it won't perform as well as pricier models, like the Google Pixel C and Sony Xperia Z4, but it's the fastest among the $150-to-$250 models.

At $250, it's affordable for a tablet with 4G LTE capabilities.

Josh Miller/CNET

Wi-Fi with a side of LTE

Since tablets with Wi-Fi are standard fare, tablets with LTE tend to cost a little extra. However, off-contract, the ZenPad Z8 only costs $50 more than the comparable Wi-Fi-only model mentioned earlier, the ZenPad S 8.0. Both are similar in size and performance, yet the ZenPad Z8 has the edge with cellular capabilities.

The Asus ZenPad Z8's practical features, portable design, smooth performance and affordable price make it one of the most tempting small tablets to buy since the Google Nexus 7. If you're a Verizon customer (or don't mind becoming one), the ZenPad Z8 is a great choice for casual use that won't break the bank.

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