Design and FeaturesThe HD 7£152.00 at Amazon has the unmistakable feel of a cheap tablet. It's clad in a fingerprint-attracting glossy plastic, and it flexes and creaks at far too many points. It's a definite step down from the original Nexus 7 and a big drop off from the new Nexus 7. At 7.7 by 4.7 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 10.7 ounces, it's average in size and weight. Asus offers the HD 7 in black, white, blue, pink, green, and gray finishes, so there's a bit more variety here than with Google's offering. Around the tablet's edges you'll find a micro USB port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and the oft-requested microSD card slot. The Volume and Power buttons are seated on the rear of the tablet, making them annoyingly difficult to locate without flipping the tablet over. There's a small hump for the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a long slit along the bottom edge for the stereo speakers.
The HD 7 is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz MediaTek MT8125 processor with 1GB RAM. It's not the same as the Tegra 3 chip powering the original Nexus 7, but it delivers performance that is largely similar in most applications. Where it does falter, however, is gaming. It only managed 14 frames per second in the Taiji graphics benchmark and intensive games like N.O.V.A. 3 really tripped the HD 7 up, with load times in excess of five minutes and barely playable frame rates. General system performance is reliable and relatively speedy, matching the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0$299.99 at Sears and besting the HP Slate 7. Web browsing scores were surprisingly solid, with a Sunspider score of 1470 milliseconds and a Browsermark score of 2191. None of these scores, however, can come close to the new Nexus 7, which absolutely dominates the MeMO Pad HD7 in the performance department. Navigating the system and launching apps didn't yield anything beyond your typical Android stutters and occasional lag. If you want the absolute best for reasonable money, that'll be the Nexus 7. If you want good enough for the least money, that'll be the HD 7.
In our battery test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi switched on, the HD 7 lasted 5 hours, 50 minutes. That's less than the Kindle Fire HD's$199.00 at Quill 7 hours, and falls well short of the Nexus 7's 10 hours, 50 minutes on the same test.
Android skins are getting better as they no longer bog devices down and add genuinely useful features. Asus's skin is among my favorites, running over Android 4.2.1 on the HD 7. Icons are a bit cartoony, but not to the extent that Samsung employs with TouchWiz. There are very useful quick settings accessible from the notification drawer, while a dedicated soft key along the bottom launches Asus's Floating Apps. It's a similar approach to real multitasking that you'll find on Sony tablets like the Xperia Tablet Z$499.99 at Sony - Official Store, but it's not quite as useful as Samsung's Multi Window feature. Apps include email, video player, browser, and a handful of others. The browser and email Floating Apps are the most useful, and you can turn any installed widget into a Floating App as well. Holding down the Home button opens up four customizable app shortcuts, as well as dedicated shortcuts for voice control, Google search, screen lock, app drawer, and settings. Asus added a number of its own apps, and while some may find them useful, it's unfortunate they cannot be uninstalled.
Multimedia and Conclusions
Asus's tablets aren't quite as multimedia focused as Samsung's Galaxy Tabs, both on the software and hardware side. For video, the HD 7 supports MPEG4, H.264, and DivX files, but not AVI or Xvid. Audio support includes MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, and WAV, but not WMA files. There's no built-in IR emitter so this tablet can't act as a universal remote for your home theater devices. The speakers along the back get relatively loud, but since they face rearward, they're easy to muffle with a hand or surface. They also lack bass and, though they're billed as stereo, can't really produce a convincing stereo image since they're so close together. But this is typical of basically all tablet speakers, save for the better-than-usual ones on the Kindle Fire HD.
There's a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. The rear-facer takes usable shots in ideal lighting scenarios, but, like pretty much any tablet, it'll struggle as the lights dim. Having the rear-facing camera is more useful on a smaller tablet like this, but I'm still not convinced anyone should be relying on their tablet's camera for anything but casual, spur of the moment shots. Video tops out at 1080p for the rear and 720p for the front, and these are even less impressive than the still images. Expect a lot of image noise and difficulty capturing fast moving objects.
Even if the Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 was simply a rebranded, repackaged first-gen Google Nexus 7 offered at a reduced price, it would be a pretty solid deal. But while these two tablets have an unmistakable shared lineage, they cater to different audiences and the HD7 is a solid tablet in its own right. Get the new Nexus 7 if you want the latest feature and the best balance of performance to price. If price is your greatest concern, the MeMO Pad HD 7 is an excellent choice. It's also worth noting that the Kindle Fire HD represents a solid alternative here, especially for the Android-averse, and Amazon has been running a number of sales that drop it into HD 7 territory; likely ahead of a new model release before the holiday season.