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Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C review – best tablet under £120

asus zenpad 8.0 reviewFinding a tablet these days isn’t a problem – chosing the right one, however, gets more difficult each year it seems as there’s just so many out there. One major factor for most is price. Of course you can do little about your budget but you will still be expecting your tablet to be able to do everything you want it to do as well as packing some neat features to set it apart from the crowd. The new ZenPad 8.0 tablet range from Asus is affordable and also have the added bonus of interchangeable back plates that don’t just let you change how the tablet looks but add extra features. Is that enough though?

Asus is not scared of bringing their sometimes weird and wonderful ideas to market (Transformers anyone?) and I can dig that. I can also get behind their ideas of being able to customise how your tablet looks, and functions. But, in this ever-competitive market, these are just gravy. What everyone actually wants is a top-performing tablet for bargain basement money. Can the Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C deliver this?

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C design

Budget tablets are either dull to look at or feel flimsy when in the hand – inevitably both.

asus zenpad 8.0 promoThis was the first thing that struck me when unpacking the ZenPad 8.0 Z380C from its rather nice packaging. Asus have obviously spent some time in order to ensure this isn’t the case with their ZenPad slate.

It isn’t breathtaking, few tablets are, but the ZenPad 8.0 doesn’t look nor feel cheap either.

The 8-inch LED backlit IPS panel (1280×800) is protected by a Gorilla Glass screen and even though the chunky bezel might look a bit on the large side Asus still states that the ZenPad 8.0 has a 76.5% screen-to-body ratio.

There’s a metallic ring around the edge of the tablet’s polycarbonate 209 x 123 x 8.5mm body which lends a bit of flare.

Whilst the glossy white facia is silky smooth the rear is coated in an “elegant leather pattern” which is available in Black, White or Aurora Metallic – the latter of which mine is sporting. I quite like it if I’m honest.

asus zenpad 8.0 metallic backThis coloured and textured backplate covers all but the tip of the tablet’s long left side.

Down the right-hand edge lives the volume rocker and on/off button. At the top edge is the micro USB and 2-in-1 headphone/mic in ports.

Asus has loaded the ZenPad 8.0 with a single front speaker with DTS HD Premium Sound and to the right of this you’ll find the tablet’s front 2 MP camera.

As well as the nifty backplate, there’s the ZenPad’s main 5 MP snapper which is equipped with auto focus.

The ZenPad 8.0 has a reassuring weight and tips the scales at 350 g.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C covers

asus zenpad backplates coversThat slightly raised backplate not only gives the ZenPad just about enough character to separate it from the crowd but also hides its super-powers. Kinda.

One back plate adds an extra battery, giving you a total of 14 hours worth of juice and another, called the Audio Cover, adds six speakers to your tablet. With the audio cover snapped on, you’ll get DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound, according to the press bumf.

Just like Clark Kent taking off his specs, the ZenPad can pop off that cover and replace it with one of the many colour varieties available at a cost of £14.99 each. The rather eye-catching orange one drew me in so that’s the one Asus kindly sent me.

asus zenpad 8.0 orange backAnyone that has had a smartphone in the 90s/early 00s will be aware that interchangable covers are nothing new. But, while it is a nice touch, it’s not exactly a super-power is it? Well, quicker than you can say “Ka-POW!” you can add to the ZenPad’s stamina by way of an additional Power Case or hand it better sound via the Audio Cover.

asus zenpad 8.0 backlessRemoving the backplate also gives you access to the ZenPad’s microSD card slot which allows you to boost its storage to the tune of 64GB from its default 16GB.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C sound quality

This was the area that intrigued me when I read the specs.

Upon receiving my Asus ZenPad 8.0 I rolled it around in my hand eagerly seeking out hidden speakers or, at least, a dedicated woofer, for this tablet brags about its DTS-HD “premium sound” skills. Surely not everything is going to be pushed through that little single speaker?

Yup. It is. It does.

Thankfully this little noise-maker isn’t totally terrible. My girlfriend has used the ZenPad to watch things on iPlayer and I’ve given it a spin on Netflix and the speaker was reasonably loud and clear. It did not fare too well when I slung on Motorhead’s new album, Bad Magic, via TIDAL though. Everything louder than everything else is Lemmy and gang’s motto and all of that pushed through one tiny speaker that favours mids and highs soon got it out of its depth. It could really do with something to take the low mids and bass duties.

Asus also includes an AudioWizard app that lets you tweak the speaker’s settings. The feature comes with preset Movie, Music, Gaming and Vocal modes that are designed to optimise the speaker’s settings for specific types of audio. There’s also Smart mode which, I am guessing, automagically detects what’s playing and then selects the best setting.

Asus ZenPad AudioThere’s an Advanced setting that lets you manually control the speaker’s volume, bass, treble and EQ.

Turning the switch off at the top left of the screen turns the speaker in to an angry wasp-in-a-tin-can. Flicking it back on does make you appreciate the improved audio skills. Whether it’s a switch that makes the sound awful or the AudioWizard does that good a job is up to you to decide.

I was able to improve the audio through the speaker by tweaking things in the Advanced Effect menu to the point where I thought I was doing a good job. Then I A/B’d it with my little HTC One M9 which, without any fancy EQ tweaking, sounded much more well-rounded through the speakers. Is it because there’s two speakers on my phone? Could be. My NVIDIA SHIELD tablet also does a better job than the ZenPad, again it packs a pair of speakers.

How, do you reckon, could you improve the ZenPad’s audio output then? Add a speaker? How about adding four speakers for that quadraphonic vibe? Well, dear gadgety people, Asus is offering an Audio Cover that adds no less than six speakers to the ZenPad 8.0 for £69.99. Does it make a difference in a positive way? No idea – one of these wasn’t in my Asus gift bundle but I am fairly sure it has to improve things.

Audio through headphones (PM-3 and HP50) is great and the Z380C goes plenty loud enough and remains fairly surefooted across the range, so it does appear that the speaker is the weak link in this chain.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C performance

The ZenPad is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom X3 quad code 64bit processor doing the heavy lifting with an ARM Mali-450 giving the graphics grunt. The latter is pushed through a 1280×800 resolution display (at a 16:10 aspect ratio). There’s either 1 or 2 gigabytes of RAM along with either 8 or 16 gigabytes of storage, depending on the model. My one appears to be 1GB RAM with 16GB of on-board space.

If the 4,000 mAh battery isn’t enough for your use, adding that Power Case I mentioned earlier will hand you up to 14 hours of total use – that’s with both cells.

asus zenpad 8.0 powercaseAs you can see in the photo above, the Power Case does add some more junk in the trunk and a little more weight but at least it will get you through a couple of days of regular use before needing another charge.

Even though the specs might not be promising hard-core processing power, the ZenPad still runs smoothly.

I’ve not had any lag during my time with the ZenPad 8.0 and switching back-and-forth between apps doesn’t seem to tax the tablet unduly. Video plays nicely as does TIDAL on Hi-Fi streaming over WiFi.

Even playing Pool with randoms over the interwebs went seamlessly enough for me to actually win games – naturally, the more beer I drank the better I became at playing, just like in real life 😉

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C display

On paper the ZenPad 8.0s 8-inch, IPS, 1280 x 800 display isn’t going to set your world aflame as HD displays these days are expected, even on budget tablets.

What Asus has done well is calibrating the ZenPad 8.0’s screen so that the colours on the display pop, as the kids say. To everyone else, the hues are nicely vibrant, without being oversaturated and are faithful to real life – or should that be Tru2Life, as Asus has coined the phrase?

asus visual masterThanks to the Asus Visual Master suite, whites are white and blacks are pretty much black rather than being muddy versions of those.

Asus even gives you some control here too. The controls are in the display submenu of Android’s settings menu and lets you adjust the display’s colour saturation using a colour temperature slider.

Nice.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C camera

Let me get this out of the way – taking pictures with tablets has never been something I enjoy seeing people do. Add to that, taking in to consideration a very few exceptions, cameras on tablets aren’t usually that great and budget tablets even less so.

The ZenPad 8.0 features a 5-megapixel rear and 2-megapixel front camera. The resulting shots aren’t going to trouble any smartphone cameras let alone compacts.

Asus ZenPad photoShooting stuff using the ZenPad 8.0’s rear camera can prove to be a tad frustrating to say the least. The tablet’s autofocus is a little hit and miss and even when attempting to snap a static object (my desktop ain’t moving anywhere quickly), the camera would occasionally choose not to focus on my intended target no matter how vigorously I tapped at the screen. Apparently swearing doesn’t help either.

Asus ZenPad photo mouseShots, when you take them, are fairly average. I write most of my reviews during the evening and the lighting in most of my home is quite subdued which, for a lot of smart device cameras, borders on low light. The Z3280C did not enjoy these lighting conditions at all. Contrast and colour balance can be tantamount to rolling dice. I gave the 2-megapixel front camera a spin for a video chat and it was ok, in good light.

You can get some reasonable shots but these will require patience and probably some tweaking in an app.

I am not necessarily singling out Asus on this lackluster snapper problem. As I said earlier, this is an issue rampant on most tablets but, unfortunately, this little Asus doesn’t buck the trend.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C software

The display and audio controls I have mentioned earlier are only a couple of the many additions Asus has made to the ZenPad 8.0’s software.

The ZenPad 8.0 runs using Android 5.0.2 Lollipop operating system (OS) which is then wrapped up in the Asus custom ZenUI skin.

Asus ZenUIThe ZenUI isn’t at all bad. In fact it’s quite nice and feels well sorted. Touches seem to register fairly swiftly so the user interface appears smooth and responsive.

Of course, Asus has taken the opportunity to add some custom services. This is usually the point of the review I start to rant about bloatware but some of these little additions are darned near useful.

Special mentions to ZenMotion and Autostart Manager.

Asus ZenMotionZenMotion lets users add custom gesture and motion commands to the ZenPad 8.0. For example, you can double tap the ZenPad 8.0’s screen to put it to sleep, take a screenshot when you shake it or shortcut to the web when the Z380C is asleep by drawing a ‘W’ in the screen with your finger.

After a while I got so at home with these shortcuts. particularly the double tap sleep and ‘W’ commands I found myself wanting my SHIELD to learn these neat tricks.

The Auto-start Manager is a useful feature that lets you approve which applications can launch and run in the background when you turn the ZenPad 8.0 on.

That’s not a real big deal, you might think. Remember, I have the 1GB RAM version and this can soon get gobbled up by hungry apps chugging away in the background.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C battery

The ZenPad 8.0 is powered by a non-removable 15.2 Wh Li-Po battery which Asus says is capable of eight hours of multimedia use.

asus zenpad 8.0 LotRWatching videos on the commute with the screen on mid setting I could get the ZenPad 8.0 to get through 4 days so that kind of matches the spec sheet projection.

I think that this will be fine for most users who will be attracted to the ZenPad 8.0 – I reckon my Mum would love it to play her Scrabble games on and my girlfriend is enjoying watching box sets from Netflix and iPlayer. Even on my commute it does what it should for those hour trips either side of the day. For heavier users then I could see the limited charge becoming an issue and this is where that clever Power Case comes in to its own.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C review conclusion

The ZenPad 8.0 Z380C is ideal for streaming video, music, web browsing, casual gaming and updating your socials.

I have no doubts that the ZenPad 8.0 will meet most user’s needs and has everything you’d expect from a tablet in this price range. Where the ZenPad 8.0 does set itself apart from the rest at this level is with its build quality and feel, not to mention the swappable backplates which can either just give the tablet a new look or imbue it with extra stamina or audio skills.

If you have £120 and want a half-way decent tablet then I advise you to at least take a look at the Asus ZenPad 8.0.

You can buy the Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C now in white

or in black from Amazon.co.uk for just £119.
Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C specs at a glance
  • Display 8-inch IPS at 1280x800
  • Operating system Android 5.0
  • Processor Intel Atom X3 (SoFIA) C3200 series Quad-core
  • GPU Mali 450MP4 GPU
  • RAM 1GB/2GB ram
  • Storage 8GB or 16GB eMMC
  • Connectivity 802.11b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Cameras 2MP front, 5MP rear
  • microUSB, microSD
  • Battery 4000 mAh battery (nonremovable)
  • Dimensions 209 x 123 x 8.5mm

Thanks to Asus for sending me the ZenPad 8.0, Power Case and extra backplate which they have allowed me to keep. It’s much appreciated.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C review – best tablet under £120

by Jay Garrett time to read: 10 min
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