If you stop and think about it, the slide in tablet prices over the last year has been almost unbelievable. Google’s original Nexus 7 set the pace by dropping the cost of a 7in Android tablet to under £160, and since then we’ve seen devices like the HP Slate 7, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Archos 80 Titanium move the frontier down even further to below the £130 mark.
The big problem, of course, is that this price cutting has always involved some degree of compromise. The Slate 7 was just a bad-to-mediocre tablet while the Kindle Fire has the usual Kindle limitations and not exactly the finest screen. The Nook HD is great, but its bargain basement pricing is the result of a fire sale, while the Archos 80 Titanium struggled in terms of performance and battery life. These compromises don’t arise with the Asus MeMO Pad HD7. It’s a belter of a budget tablet, and if you can’t get a Nook HD or stretch to the new Nexus 7, it’s the new Android 7in slate to buy.
That’s because the MeMO Pad doesn’t look, feel or behave like a bargain basement model. The moulded white rear might be plastic rather than brushed aluminium, but it has a nice gloss surface and feels very sturdy. It doesn’t creak or flex unnervingly at the slightest bit of pressure, and it actually feels good in the hand. At 121 x 12 x 195mm (WxDxH) it’s as compact as the outgoing Nexus 7 and only just over 1.5mm thicker, and at 308 grams you can hold it in one hand for long periods without any trouble.
It’s a very simple design, with only the headphone socket and microUSB port, microSD card slot and speaker outlet breaking up the clean lines. There’s a slight protuberance where the 5 megapixel rear-facing camera looks out at the back, but even the volume rocker and power switch are almost subsumed within the rear of the body. This doesn’t just feel like a decent budget tablet, but like a decent tablet full-stop. It even comes in a range of colours.
Screen and sound
The next surprise is the screen. With a Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD-matching 1280 x 800 resolution, the display scores well for clarity and definition, but it’s also very bright, dishing out clean whites, dark blacks and rich colour tones without any problems at all. It’s a great screen for watching video, sharing photos or browsing the web, and easily the equal of screens on many more expensive tablets.
The display’s only faults are that it’s almost impossible to view in sunlight – a common tablet issue – and that somebody at Asus seems to have ordered an oleophilic rather than oleophobic coating. This one seems to love oily fingermarks, and can’t wait to build up a decent collection of them across the whole surface of the screen.
Sound is more disappointing. The built-in speaker is very quiet and very tinny. High notes are muffled and low ones are practically non-existent. Luckily, the headphone output puts out decent volume levels, so you can easily plug in some headphones if you need to watch video, listen to music or make a Skype or Google+ Hangouts call.
The MeMO Pad HD7 comes running Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean, which means you get a nice, slick Android experience with most of the latest features and tweaks (though obviously not those introduced with the latest version, Android 4.3). With Asus rather than Google at the helm you don’t get an entirely stock Android feel, but it’s pretty close, with just a few extra widgets installed by default, a toolbar full of applets, and Asus’ own fairly awful touch keyboard. The latter suffers from small keys and laggy input, but install SwiftKey or Google’s own free keyboard and it’s a thing of the past.
Otherwise, software is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of Asus’ power management and screen adjustment apps – particularly the Asus Splendid app – are genuinely useful, and I also like the Asus Studio photo gallery, the Asus To Do app and SuperNote Lite. The email app isn’t quite so brilliant, and I could also do without the MyLibraryLite eBook reader, the Artist painting app and a few of the other apps cluttering up the device. Better options are available, either for free or at a miniscule cost, and with the Kindle and Kobo apps out on Android there’s really very little reason to use anything else to read eBooks.
The tablet ships with 16GB of storage, but this can easily be boosted by up to 32GB using the flapless microSD card slot on the side. That should be enough room for plenty of apps and a whole lot of media.
I don’t expect much from tablet cameras in general, and that goes double for those found on budget 7in models. Amazingly, then, the MeMO Pad HD7’s 5-megapixel rear and 1-megapixel front cameras aren’t that bad. They struggle in low light and have a slight tendency to over-expose, but they’re reasonably good at capturing colour and detail and – using Jelly Bean’s HDR feature – you can even get some half-decent indoor shots.
The MeMO Pad HD 7 uses the same MediaTek MT8124T SoC as the Acer Iconia A1-810 running at the same 1.2GHz speed, and performance is accordingly very similar. It has four ARM Cortex A7 cores and a Power VR Series 5 GPU, and it delivered a Geekbench 2 score of 1300, which is above budget tablets powered by the Rockchip RK3066, but below Tegra 3 tablets like the Nexus 7.
The same applies to 3D performance. The MeMO Pad HD7 can reach 2.5 frames per second (fps) off-screen and 4.5 fps onscreen in the challenging T-Rex HD test of GFXBench 2.7, so it has enough power to run basic 3D games, but not enough to deliver in the latest cutting-edge titles.
In practice that doesn’t really matter. If you want an Android tablet for gaming, then you really need to be looking at something with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro or bide your time for a tablet with Tegra 4 or the Snapdragon S800. If you just want a tablet that feels slick in everyday use, that will play HD video without a hitch and that can run multiple apps without collapsing, then the MeMO Pad HD7 will suffice.
Battery Life has been another major problem for budget tablets, but once again the MeMO Pad HD7 surprises. We’ve had around 10 to 11 hours of mixed use from a single charge, including HD video streaming, web browsing, email and gaming, which is an excellent result for a budget 7in tablet, beating rivals like the HP Slate 7 and Acer Iconia A1-810 by a considerable margin.
So far we’ve struggled to find a tablet for under £150 that we could wholeheartedly recommend, but the Asus MeMO Pad HD7 is the real deal. It’s solidly built, has a great screen and feels slick, fast and responsive. Battery life puts many pricier rivals to shame, and it even has features like GPS and a rear-facing camera that some other cheap slates miss out.
If you can afford a more expensive tablet then the new Nexus 7, the Iconia A1-810, the Asus FonePad or the iPad mini should still go above this on your shortlist – but if your budget is tight or you’re looking for a second tablet for the family to use, then the MeMO Pad HD7 is the one to buy.
Manufacturer and Product
Asus MeMO Pad HD7
1.2GHz MediaTek MT8125T
microSD memory card
7in 1280 x 800 IPS
Micro USB, headphones
15Wh Lithium Polymer
Size and weight
120 x 197 x 11mm, 302g