With high-end specs to challenge the best tablets around, but a price that seriously undercut them, the original Nexus 7 was a superb gadget, well deserving of its praise and popularity -- and a major feather in the cap of its maker, Asus. With the Memo Pad HD 7, Asus has essentially taken the Nexus and given it a spit and polish.
The 7-inch, 720p display and quad-core processor remain the same, but it now has a colourful back, a rear camera and expandable storage. It comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with some Asus additions, unlike the Nexus 7, which showcases vanilla versions of Google's operating system.
It's going on sale on 1 September and will be available from Currys, PC World and Dixons, for the ludicrously reasonable price of £130.
Should I buy the Asus Memo Pad HD 7?
The Memo Pad is superb: a dirt-cheap tablet that'll let you tackle most everyday stuff without any trouble. It takes the already brilliant Nexus 7 tablet, makes some welcome improvements and lowers the price.
Its screen is bright and sharp enough to be used as an ebook reader. Its processor won't keep pace with high-end devices, but has enough power for typical tablet tasks. At 7 inches across the screen, it's small enough to easily carry around.
There's little at this price that comes close to rivalling it. The Nexus 7 is still an option, at least until September, when a new £200 model comes out. Its rubberised back feels a little sturdier, it comes in a 3G-enabled variant (for more money) and uses stock Android, meaning you'll get updates sooner. Bear in mind the Memo Pad HD 7 doesn't have a 3G version, so you're reliant on Wi-Fi for the Internet.
The upcoming updated version of the Nexus 7 will have a better Full HD screen and an upgraded processor, but at £200, it's significantly more expensive. If you're keen on high-definition movies and gaming, it could be worth waiting for it to hit the UK and taking a closer look.
Design and build qualityIf you've ever been lucky enough to wrap your mitts around the Nexus 7, there will be absolutely no surprises with the Memo Pad. It's 121mm wide, 197mm long and 10.8mm thick, which is basically the same dimensions as the Nexus 7. At 302g though, it's almost 40g lighter.
I found the Nexus 7 very comfortable to hold, even for long periods when using it as an ebook reader. Thankfully, the Memo Pad is similarly comfy. Its plastic back panel is glossy however, rather than the matte, rubberised finish of the Nexus, making it a little slippier, but I doubt you'll find that a problem.
The plastic, rather than rubber, back does mean the Memo Pad can be had in a variety of colours. My review model came in a retina-searing lime green colour. It won't be to everyone's taste, but I was rather keen on the garish hue, and it certainly makes a refreshing change from the swathe of black and grey slates flooding the market.
The plastic panel doesn't seem to be quite as sturdy as the Nexus, however. Even on my review unit I noticed a tiny crack in the plastic where it curves around the camera. I worry that it's brittle and won't put up with drops well. It certainly doesn't have the same solid, luxurious build quality as the aluminium iPad mini, but it does cost considerably less. I'd recommend grabbing a case for it if you're clumsy.
On the right-hand edge is a power button and volume rocker, while the micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack both sit on the top. On the left-hand side is a slot into which you can pop a microSD card to expand the 16GB built-in storage. You're not able to install apps to the SD card, so you'll need to be mindful of how many glossy games you're downloading. You can pop all your music and videos on there though, to keep the internal memory free for apps.
The 7-inch screen packs a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, which is the same number of pixels as the Nexus 7's screen. I'm fairly certain, in fact, that it's exactly the same panel Asus puts inside the Nexus. That's not a bad decision -- the Nexus' screen was satisfyingly crisp and pretty bright, and so is this.
Small text is easily readable, making it a good choice for those of you after a tablet for tackling ebooks. Bear in mind, though, it's very reflective -- it's bright enough to counter the CNET UK office lights, but reading in dazzling sunlight on the beach won't be easy.
It handles colours pretty well, but it's not as rich and vivid as some of Samsung's Super AMOLED displays. Photos and videos don't have quite the same impact, but they're still perfectly enjoyable. Netflix and YouTube clips looked fine, and you can always boost the saturation a little with the Asus Splendid app -- although I recommend keeping it on default settings for everyday tasks.
Software and performance
While the Nexus 7 was designed to launch the latest version of Google's Android operating system, the Memo Pad comes with Android 4.1.2 -- two versions behind the most recent release. With the exception of a few updates to Google Now -- the live information service -- there's not a massive amount of difference though. Given the cheap price, I'm happy to forgive a less than cutting-edge version of Android.
You'll have up to five homescreens to fill with apps and live widgets, with six app icons remaing static along the bottom to give quick access to essential tools. Apps not on the homescreen will be popped into an app list. Both the app list and homescreens will rotate into landscape mode when you turn the tablet over -- something that won't happen with an Android phone.
Asus has made a few tweaks to Android too. You'll find a host of Asus apps lying around, including its cloud storage service, a password protection tool for files and folders and photo gallery tools.
There's not much to get too excited about, but one neat addition is the ability to launch mini apps that hover over the top of the interface. Tools like the calculator, the memo pad (I see what they've done there), the Web browser and the calendar can do this, providing a handy way to jot down info from a website without needing to switch apps.
It's powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. The Nexus 7 also boasts a quad-core chip, although it has a slightly faster clock speed. Unsurprisingly then, the Memo Pad didn't perform quite as well on my benchmark tests. It scored 1,331 on the Geekbench test, falling slightly short of the Nexus 7's 1,536.
It's far from sluggish in everyday use though. The screen is responsive, delivering smooth page transitions and nippy experience when loading menus and pulling down the notifications bar. It handled photo editing in Snapseed without any trouble and didn't bat an eye at playing back HD video or streaming movies over Netflix.
Water racer Riptide GP played with enjoyably high frame rates, as did Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The more demanding N.O.V.A 3 wasn't handled quite as well though, with very long loading times and low frame rates that at times bordered on unplayable. It has more than enough power to satisfy casual gamers wanting a little Angry Birds or Plants Vs Zombies, but if 3D gaming is your chief concern, you might want to shop elsewhere.
Asus reckons you can squeeze around 10 hours of battery life (involving constant video playback) from the slate, which is the same as it claims you can get from the Nexus 7. I found the Nexus 7's battery life quote was pretty on the money and the Memo Pad seems roughly comparable too.
Unless you really tax it with constant video streaming at full brightness, you shouldn't struggle to get a day of use out of it. If you tend to just dip in and out of using it -- a quick Netflix episode here, a Web search there -- you'll find it'll still have power over a few days as it holds its charge when not in use.
As always, if you want to get the best battery life possible when you're away from a plug for a while, keep the screen brightness turned to a minimum, use the Asus power-saving tool to limit certain functions and avoid streaming over Wi-Fi until you're within dashing distance of a socket.
Around the back is a 5-megapixel camera -- something you won't find on the Nexus 7 (although its new version will have a similar snapper). Results from it were about what I'd expect to see from a budget shooter.
On my test shot of the CNET office, the Memo Pad did a fairly decent job of exposing for the scene -- only blowing out the highlights with the bright window at the back. Colours were fair too and it's perfectly detailed enough for Facebook shots -- although the low megapixel count is noticeable when you view it in full screen.
There's quite a lot of image noise in the shadowy areas of the scene, so it's unlikely to do too well in low light conditions, but so long as there's plenty of sun around, you should be able to get some half decent snaps. I can promise you the next Ansel Adams won't be carrying one of these around, but it's perfectly reasonable, given the low price.
On the front you'll find a 1.2-megapixel camera -- perfect for video calling over Skype or taking those vain Myspace-style self shots.
The Memo Pad HD 7 makes various improvements over the already excellent Nexus 7 by adding a camera and expandable storage. Importantly, it's cheaper than the original Nexus 7 too. While it doesn't compete with the new Nexus in specs terms, it does knock a healthy chunk off the price, making it a super choice if you're looking to make your first steps into the Android world.