The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML is an affordable tablet, which may tell you much of what you need to know about it, as mainstream iPads have barely changed over the past three years, and neither have tablets like this.
Asus even made a very similar model with the same ‘Asus ZenPad 10’ name in 2016. Aside from an altered finish and USB-C charge port, this one is hardly different.
If you have a cheap tablet that is aging, the Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML may not get you the upgrade you are looking for. However, it works well enough and at £159.99 (around $210 / AU$285) costs much less than even an entry-level iPad, so is it worth considering?
Low resolution screen
Acceptable performance but shown up by some budget slates
Cheaper tablets like the ZenPad 10 Z301ML continually disappoint in one aspect: screen resolution. It has a large 10.1-inch screen, but only 1280 x 800 pixels, which may well be fewer than your phone uses.
Obvious pixelation is the result. Text and images look a lot less clear and sharp than the best sub-£200/$250 tablets, or even the 2013 Nexus 7, which was also a budget model.
Other features are similarly low-end, but less distracting. The Asus ZenPad 10 has a humble MediaTek chipset, 16GB of storage, fairly poor 5/2MP cameras and a plastic casing.
This is not a flashy tablet, but it handles most apps and games well enough. However, it is shown up by the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017), which has more storage and power, and a sharper screen.
Plastic shell with textured finish
251.77 x 172.17 x 8.95mm, 490g
16GB of storage
Like all 10.1-inch widescreen tablets, the Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML is designed to be held landscape. It’s worth considering if you want something to use on the journey home from work. It’s not what this tablet is about.
Asus used a similar design in its last ZenPad 10. This tablet is plastic aside from the glass on the front of the screen. It is, however, pretty tactile among its entry-level peers, though.
The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML’s back feels almost like fabric. It’s textured plastic, but a sea of dense, fine nobbles tricks your fingers into thinking it’s something else. Similarly, the front edges are made to look like metal, but are actually just metallic plastic.
We’d rather have aluminum, but it is better than the plain, lightly textured plastic of Amazon’s cheaper tablets.
There’s nothing quite so dynamic elsewhere, though. The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML weighs an unremarkable 490g, is an unremarkable 8.95mm thick, and thanks to fairly wide screen borders is no more portable or easier to handle than an older 10-inch tablet.
Using it in landscape orientation is most comfortable, preferably with a hand at each end. You can of course also hold it upright, which works well for reading articles or digital comics.
To keep the price low, Asus has left out most hardware extras in the ZenPad 10. There’s no fingerprint reader and the front camera can’t be used to ‘face unlock’ the tablet. You get just 16GB of storage too. However, this will probably be enough for many users, particularly as most of us don’t take as many photos with a tablet as a phone.
There’s enough room for a few data-hungry games and countless smaller apps. The ZenPad 10 Z301ML also has a microSD slot on its bottom, should you want to fill the tablet up with more movies than the internal storage will hold.
10.1-inch IPS LCD screen with 1280 x 800 resolution
The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML has a large 10.1-inch screen. This kind of display really highlights the difference between phones and tablets.
However, it has a significant problem. Screen resolution and pixel density are low, so the Android interface and text in articles will not look as sharp as they do on your phone.
At this size we like to see a resolution of at least 1920 x 1200 pixels, but the Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML only has 1200 x 800. Text looks scratchy rather than smooth, and sprite-based games appear compromised.
Other aspects of the display are a bit better. Contrast is perfectly solid, and while the image appears slightly recessed, it’s less recessed than the new iPad (2018). Not bad.
Color performance is just okay. The standard color mode is relaxed and natural-looking, which we quite like, but not as rich as premium tablets look.
You can add some energy to the color using the Asus ZenPad 10’s Vivid mode, but it tends to make tones look brighter rather than deeper.
Slow USB-C charging
‘Up to 10 hour’ stamina
The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML has a 4,680mAh battery, which Asus says should last for 13 hours of video. However, it doesn’t quite play out in reality.
90 minutes of 720p video at maximum brightness takes 20% off the charge level, suggesting you’ll only get around 7.5 hours use off a charge. 10 hours of use and 13 hours of video playback are Asus’s own claims.
Using maximum brightness will obviously have an impact here, but we’re still quite a way off the official figures.
Despite having a USB-C port the Asus ZenPad 10 is also slow to charge. It takes several hours because there’s no ‘fast charging’ tech on offer. This isn’t just a side-effect of the 4,680mAh cell being much larger than that of most phones.
Poor image quality
Not all extra modes work properly
Responsive app is fun enough to use
The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML has very basic cameras. There’s a 5MP sensor on the back and a 2MP one on the front.
Most of the advancements we’ve seen in phone cameras are absent here. There’s no Auto HDR, just a separate HDR mode that sits alongside other extras like ‘depth of field’. This attempts to blur out the background using multiple exposures to tell near objects from far-away ones. However, it doesn’t actually seem to work at all.
Normal photos often seem blotchy and low on detail too. Use your phone instead. You’ll get better results. The selfie camera is remedial too, delivering unnatural-looking skin tones and limited detail.
However, it’s not a nightmare to use and we did coax one or two okay shots out. The app preview image isn’t jerky and there’s minimal shutter lag. Some low-end cameras feel slow and shaky. The Asus ZenPad 10’s doesn’t.
You can shoot video at up to Full HD resolution with the tablet, but the hardware is so low-end footage it's only stabilized if you drop down to 720p. Stabilization makes handheld footage look smoother. You’ll want it unless you’re going for a lo-fi look.
The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML isn’t great at taking photos or video, then, but dual cameras are a prerequisite for a complete-feeling tablet. Asus couldn’t afford to leave them out.
Interface and reliability
Dated core software and interface
The Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML runs Android 7.0 with Asus’s ZenUI on top. This is a double dose of datedness.
Android 7.0 is now well past its prime, and this version of ZenUI also seems stiff. It is caused in part by the screen resolution too: pixelation makes even the most slick software look old.
Asus claims the ZenPad 10 has ‘1,000 features’ not present in standard Android, but this ZenUI build is actually simpler and less bloat-filled than some earlier versions.
It used to be packed with Asus-made apps that were often not particularly useful. Now you just get a MobileManager app, which lets you check on things like security and power use, and Asus’s cloud storage service.
The extra features are found under the surface.
For example, you can choose how large app icons are, what font the system uses and the color of text on the home screen. ZenUI supports themes too, which offer a complete visual overhaul in just a few taps.
To keep the look as tasteful as possible, you’d probably only want to alter the wallpaper. But if you want to give the tablet a look the kids will like, there are plenty of cartoony themes on offer.
The ZenPad 10’s general performance is acceptable, but consistent with a budget device. App loads are slower than a powerhouse Android and you’ll see some judder as you flick quickly through websites loaded with more complicated objects.
We’ve noticed the odd bug too. Wi-Fi is a little spotty at times. It has a habit of disconnecting when your home broadband’s bandwidth is congested.
And a few times it has claimed an ‘authentication problem’ even with the right Wi-Fi password in place.
Movies and games
Games run well enough, but don’t look great
Solid stereo speakers lack bass
The Asus ZenPad 10 is not ideal for movies and games because of its low-res screen, but for all its faults it is still a decent tablet for media.
Properly produced 720p content looks great on this tablet, despite the lesser pixel density and color depth.
Its speakers are solid enough too. There are two drivers in a thin band above the screen, for stereo sound. They are fairly loud and the effect is much better than that of a single driver.
There’s no real bass, though. The sound is predictably not close to the iPad Pro 10.5’s.
All the games we tried ran well. In titles like PUBG and Asphalt 8 you need to use one graphics setting below max to get the smoothest results, but you don’t miss out on the ability to play high-end titles just because this is a low-end tablet.
This is, in part, thanks to the lower screen resolution. The ZenPad 10 Z301ML might well struggle if it had to render dense 3D graphics at 1200p, the ‘step up’ resolution beyond the 800p used here.
There’s a visual compromise too, though. Lower screen resolution leaves more ‘jaggies’ in 3D games. Switching between Asphalt 8 on an iPad and the ZenPad 10 feels a little like playing the game on two different console generations, the Asus obviously representing the older one.
We notice this effect less when watching movies, as a well-mastered 720p video still looks good. There are no advanced video player apps pre-loaded, but there are plenty on Google Play, and the system media player can handle a fairly wide array of file types anyway.
Performance and benchmarks
Slow, dated MediaTek chipset
Around a third the power of an iPad
The ZenPad 10 Z301ML has a MediaTek MT8163 chipset. This is a relatively low-end quad-core one, originally announced way back in 2015.
It uses Cortex-A53 cores and a dual-core Mali T720 GPU. It’s only a little more powerful than the Snapdragon 410 chipset used in popular phones back in 2015, such as the Moto G (2015).
Asus has packed in just enough power to let the ZenPad 10 get by, but no more.
In Geekbench 4 the tablet scores 1,786 points. The new iPad (2018) scores roughly 5,900 thanks to its Apple A10 Fusion chipset: three times as much.
The ZenPad 10 has 2015 power in 2018. But as it also has an at-best 2015 display and core 2016 software, in Android 7.0, it doesn’t totally derail day-to-day performance.
While we’re glad new, cheaper alternatives to the iPad exist, the ZenPad 10 Z301ML is only superficially different to the 2016 model it replaces. We hoped for a bit more.
As before, screen quality is the biggest issue. The ZenPad 10 just doesn’t have the pixel density needed to make images and text look sharp and clean.
Its Wi-Fi is flaky too. This is disappointing when the tablet is not brand new at the time of review. It’s an also-ran, and there are better choices out there for most people.
Who's this for?
Those who can’t afford an iPad will be attracted to the Asus ZenPad 10 Z301ML. It’s also an obvious alternative to the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017), for those not keen on the overbearing way Amazon changes Android.
Should you buy it?
In short, probably not. If you want the most accomplished tech for your money, the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017) is a better option. Its screen is much sharper, it has more storage and is more powerful.
However, check out our full review first to make sure the software won’t get on your nerves. It pushes Amazon’s content services quite heavily.
There are much better tablets around, such as the following three:
New iPad (2018)
At twice the price, the new iPad (2018) isn’t exactly a direct rival for this tablet. However, it’s better in every respect. The screen’s sharper, the entry-level model has twice the storage, it’s far more powerful and the aluminum casing is nicer.
Samsung’s closest current tablet is a little more expensive than Asus’s. However, it also offers a higher screen resolution, a much larger battery, more power and a better rear camera. If you’re planning on using a tablet quite a bit, this looks like a worthwhile upgrade if you can afford the extra investment.
Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)
Not everyone loves Amazon’s take on Android. Fire tablets don’t feel quite like normal Android tablets, with a big push towards Amazon’s services.
However, you do get quite a lot of hardware for your money. That includes a sharper screen, a better CPU and more storage for slightly less money. Amazon’s gadgets are hard to beat for sheer value.