You don’t find a lot of tablets that work just like smartphones. The previous tablet-phones I have reviewed were the Samsung Tab 7.7, back in 2012, and later the Samsung Note 8.0 LTE. Unlike normal tablets, smartphone tablets have a dialpad and call speaker to put against your ear. You may wonder why would someone use a tablet to make phone calls. You probably won’t, but if you are going to buy a tablet, having the option makes it a good value.
So Much for So Little
Speaking of value, the ASUS ZenPad 8.0 (Z380KL) retails at S$299. That is all it costs to own an 8-inch 1280×800 IPS tablet with LTE phone capabilities. Other noteworthy specs include 64-bit quad-core Snapdragon 410 (same processor as Zenfone Max), 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, 8MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, microSD card slot (up to 64GB SDXC). With a relatively small bezel, the tablet is 209 x 123 x 8.5 mm and weighs 350 grams.
ZenPad 8.0 also runs on the latest ZenUI, though some functions are not available due to the tablet form factor, for instance, themes.
The interesting feature about the ZenPad 8.0 is the ability to customise the look with interchangeable snap-on accessories. Apart from looking good, there are 2 accessories that extend the capability of the ZenPad. One is the Power Case which is a battery add-on. The other, which I have on review, is the Audio Cover. If LG claims the G5 is the first modular smartphone, I think ASUS should claim the ZenPad 8.0 as the first modular tablet!
Loud and Clear Audio
The Audio Cover CA81 has 4 satellite speakers, 1 centre-channel speaker, 1 subwoofer, delivering 5.1 surround sound. It comes with its own 2300mAh battery to power up the speakers, which will last 6 hours. The Cover battery cannot be shared with the tablet unlike the Power Case, but the tablet battery will charge the Cover battery intelligently. Charging the tablet will also charge the Cover battery.
When I turn off the Audio Wizard, the Audio Cover plays in normal stereo which sounds rather mono, cluttered and muffled. When I turn on the Audio Wizard and enable the surround sound, the sounds appear more spacious and with sufficient details.
Pushing the volume to the max does not strain the speakers. There are little distortion, and just a bit of volume limiter kicked in. You can tweak the sound balance using the 5 sound modes or adjusting the wideness or distance of the source. Sadly, despite having a subwoofer, there is practically no bass output.
Given the advantage of the frontal positioning of the Audio Cover speaker and the stand mode, watching videos and playing games become such satisfying experience. Soft passages remain audible, so you don’t need to constantly adjust the volume to compensate the volume differences. If you need to hold the tablet, you can fold the cover such that the speaker is facing the front and beneath the tablet, instead of flipping backwards and facing away from you.
But don’t kid yourself: the Audio Cover will not match proper speakers. However, if you just need your audio content to be loud and clear, the Audio Cover delivers brilliantly.
Display, Battery and Camera
Reviewing the other aspects of the ZenPad 8.0, the 12800×800 IPS display presents content with good contrast and tone. Battery life is about 2 days with usage pattern that do not exceed a smartphone. Otherwise, you might be looking at about 1.5 days of heavy usage. The tablet does not support quick charge, so it would take about 3 hours to fully charge the device. The 8MP rear camera quality matches the other Zenfone smartphones with good contrast and tone.
The 2MP front camera shoots decent selfies too and I am satisfied with the colour control under low light. The only drawback of these cameras is the lower pixel count resulting in more grain and less details.
Answer Your ZenPad Call
As mentioned earlier, you can make and receive calls on the ZenPad 8.0. If you don’t want to look funny speaking against the 8-incher, you can opt to pair with a Bluetooth headset. Most consumers like me might not do a lot of voice calls, so it would be a hassle to wear or carry around a Bluetooth headset. For that, you might be interested to check out Huawei Talkband B2, which is a wearable fitness band with a detachable Bluetooth headset. Do let me know if you have other suggestions under the comments.
Many a times, we are constrained by a mobile device with weak speaker output, and we wish we could play to a louder speaker, but are either too lazy to connect or too much hassle just for a brief use. ZenPad 8.0 with Audio Cover just makes it so convenient and seamless. On top of that, the ZenPad 8.0 is a decent-spec tablet which supports voice calls, so there is a viable option to do away with a separate smartphone and just use a single tablet-phone with Bluetooth headset. Finally, the ZenPad 8.0 is retailing at an affordable price of S$299 (the Audio Cover retails for S$129).