ASUS Memo Pad HD7 ME173X 16GB
You instantly notice the smooth plastic casing as soon as you pick up the Memo Pad HD7 - we have to admit we prefer a textured finish, as it helps create extra grip, but the tablet didn´t feel slippery. THe white and black colour choices will probably appeal to the majority, but we can see a few people liking the bright yellow and hot pink colours too. Its dimensions are almost identical in size to the Nexus 7 - ever so slightly thicker, but with a somewhat thinner screen bezel - but we noticed the difference in weight. The Memo Pad is around 40g lighter than the nexus, making it more comfortable to hold in one hand for long periods.
We couldn´t spot any signs of flex or give in the plastic backing, suggesting Asus has left very little empty space inside. Even the connectivity ports, often a weak point in budget tablets, showed no signs of weakness. Micro USB should be taken for granted, but the inclusion of a MicroSD card slot is a huge bonus - the Nexus 7 has no expandable storage, but you could add up to 64GB of extra space to the Memo Pad HD7 for very little money. We aren´t surprised there´s no HDMI output, as this would have made it difficult for Asus to reach such a low selling price.
The 7in, 1,280x800 resolution display is most likely the same as the one found in the Nexus, albeit without an LED backlight - up close, images and text looked sharp, with bright, vibrant colours. Because Asus is running its own version of Android, you need to enable outdoor mode to get the maximum brightness from the backlight, but it was easily bright enough the harsh show floor lighting. The glossy screen finish made these something of an issue, as they reflect a lot of light. Until we put it side by side with the Nexus it´s impossible to call which is superior, but it looks to be a very close run thing at this early stage.
It was impossible to test the down-firing stereo speakers on the noisy show floor, but their location at the bottom rear of the tablet means you´ll have to be careful how you hold it - grip the bottom edge too tightly and you risk muffling the sound. It did at least seem fairly loud when we turned it up to its maximum volume, but we´ll have to wait until it arrives in the UK to judge quality.
The main camera sensor is also on the rear of the tablet - it´s a five-megapixel model with autofocus that can also capture 720p video, but there´s no flash module. We took a few test snaps on the brightly-lit show floor, which you can see resized below. There appears to be plenty of detail for a tablet camera, but we´ll have to run our tests on it back in the lab to truly judge its worth.
Asus has always taken a minimal approach to its Android customisations, and the Memo Pad HD7 is no different - apart from a few pre-installed apps, including the Splendid colour enhancer, Audio Wizard equaliser, Artist drawing app and Studio photo manager, the interface looks almost identical to the default Android UI. The main addition is a set of small apps, which sit on top of any full-screen app. The most useful are likely to be the calculator, notepad and web browser, but there are plenty to choose from using the hot key built into the on-screen menu bar. It´s running the latest 4.2 edition of Android, but naturally won´t get the same immediate updates as a Nexus tablet.
Based on what we´ve seen so far, the Memo Pad HD7 looks like a serious contender to dethrone the Nexus 7 as one of the best budget tablets. It might not use the latest 4.2 version of Android, but the expandable storage, superb build quality and low price are all great counter-arguments. We´ll have to wait to see what Asus sells it for in the UK, but at $129 for an 8GB model in the US, quality Android devices are set to get a whole lot cheaper in the next few months.
Tablet with no support for GSM voice communication, SMS, and MMS
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