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Asus ZenPad Z8s review: An affordable iPad Mini 4 alternative with LTE

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MSRP: $249.99

The Good The Asus ZenPad Z8s is a small tablet with built-in cellular service and a stylish aluminum design. It has great battery life and a sharp screen.

The Bad It's only available through Verizon. Capacitive buttons don't light up. Data service has a monthly ongoing cost.

The Bottom Line The ZenPad Z8S is a solid little LTE tablet with a fantastic screen, premium design and long-lasting battery life.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

The small tablet isn't completely dead, at least not yet. The Asus ZenPad Z8s is an excellent little tablet that's, unfortunately, a Verizon exclusive, meaning it's not officially available in the UK or Australia, which sucks because anyone shopping for a small tablet with LTE doesn't have a great variety of choices to begin with.

To be fair, many people looking for a device like that have already bitten the bullet and migrated to a big-screen phablet like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 ($258 at Back Market).

The 8-inch tablet costs $249 off contract or $149 with a two-year contract, making it $10.41 a month for 24 months. LTE service is sold separately and cost depends on your plan. If it ever finds a carrier in other territories, that off-contract price would be roughly £190 or AU$320.

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The LTE tablet is sold exclusively through Verizon Wireless.

Josh Miller/CNET

Small, but mighty

The tablet's most impressive feature is its long-lasting battery. After catching up on the two latest episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and checking out the pilot of "The Deuce" on Amazon Video, then streaming a handful of different Chicago Art Ensemble performances on YouTube -- all on LTE -- I found the battery remained at 100 percent. 

Unlike with most tablets, I really had to try to drain the ZenPad Z8s' battery. In streaming video battery testing it lasted an impressive 13 hours.

The Z8s's trim aluminum design is also a highlight. It's casually sleek and portable, with an aluminum back and metal sides with matching buttons. It feels and looks like a premium tablet, even though it's on the affordable side of the tablet spectrum.

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The power button and volume rocker are textured. 

Josh Miller/CNET

One design pet peeve is the lack of a backlight on the capacitive buttons. Located on the tablet's bottom edge, the capacitive buttons do not light up when touched, making them difficult to see in the dark. Additionally, though it charges via USB-C, it doesn't support any type of fast charging.

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The capacitive buttons are hard to see without a backlight.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Asus tablet has an excellent sharp screen with wide viewing angles. It's colorful and vibrant when streaming HD video; however, its 4:3 aspect ratio (like the iPad Mini 4 ($249 at Back Market)'s) adds a bit of extra letter blocking, that is, the big black bars that frame HD videos. This aspect ratio works better for browsing the web and reading than for watching HD video, but the crisp screen works wonderfully for both.

While this may look and feel a bit like the low-end iPad Mini 4, don't confuse the two. The $400 iPad Mini 4 runs iOS, which makes for a very different tablet experience. If you have an iPhone ($234 at Back Market), it syncs your favorite apps, text messages and photos seamlessly. There's a bit more fragmentation in the Android ecosystem.

Screen specs

  • 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution
  • IPS screen
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A small and spectacular screen.

Josh Miller/CNET

The ZenPad Z8s is fast enough for everyday use. The tablet runs Asus' Zen UI skin and comes preloaded with Verizon apps to manage your account and Google's suite of apps, including Gmail and Google Docs. Apps launch swiftly and switching between them is fast. Performance slows down when downloading files or apps; however, that's normal and to be expected.

Specs

  • Android 7.0
  • 1.8GHz Snapdragon 652
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage
  • MicroSD card reader, up to 128GB SDXC
  • Micro SIM card slot

An affordable alternative

If you're a Verizon customer looking for a small tablet with LTE connectivity, the Z8s is a great choice. However, that is a very specific boat to be in.

If you're not a Verizon customer, the tablet is available at retail price. While buying it outright means you don't get Verizon cellular service, its retail price means it's still cheaper than the iPad Mini 4 and Huawei MediaPad M3, making it a solid and affordable alternative.

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