It wasn’t that long ago that you’d have to spend $499 or more to get a tablet with a 10 inch screen and a quad-core processor. Now you can pick one up for $299.
The Asus MeMo Pad Smart ME301T is an Android 4.1 tablet with a 10.1 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel IPS display, a 1.2 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s basically what you’d get if you took a Nexus 7 tablet, gave it a bigger display, a rear camera, a microSD card slot and HDMI output.
You have to pay a bit more for those extras – the Nexus 7 starts at just $199. But while the MeMo Pad Smart offers Nexus 7-like performance, it probably makes more sense to compare it with other 10 inch tablets on the market.
This is the cheapest 10 inch model from Asus, but it packs many of the same features as the company’s higher-priced Transformer Pad tablets. The MeMo Pad Smart is also cheaper than the Acer Iconia Tab A200, while offering similar performance. And it even costs less than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1), a tablet which has a significantly slower TI OMAP 4 dual core processor.
In other words, the MeMo Pad Smart raises the bar for mid-range tablets. I’d call it an entry-level tablet, but a $299 tablet still isn’t exactly an impulse buy.
You kind of get what you pay for here though. Asus was able to keep the price relatively low by opting for a processor that’s been on the market for over a year and using an acceptable, but less-than-stellar display.
Asus has been making 10 inch tablets for a few years, and the company knows how to make a tablet that’s easy to hold and not too bad to look at. The MeMo Pad ME301T also happens to be a tiny bit thinner and lighter than most older 10 inch tablets from Asus, despite its lower cost.
Asus achieves that by stuffing the MeMo Pad ME301T with a smaller battery than you’ll find in any of the company’s Transformer Pad tablets. The Transformer Pad TF300T has a 22Whr battery for up to 10 hours of run time, while the MeMo Pad ME301T has a 19Whr battery which Asus says should be good for around 7.5 to 8.5 hours of run time.
That should still be more than enough time to watch a few videos on a cross-country airplane flight or spend a lazy weekend afternoon surfing the web or reading an eBook.
What you can’t do with the MeMO Pad Smart is attach a keyboard dock with a built-in battery to double your run time. Unlike the company’s Transformer Pad tablets, there are no special ports for that kind of dock in this tablet.
That’s not to say you can’t use any old Bluetooth or USB keyboard with the ME301T or plug in an external battery. Asus just doesn’t offer a dock that turns this particular tablet into a laptop.
So you can think of the MeMo Pad Smart as a sort of Transformer Pad that doesn’t transform, or as a Nexus 7 with a bigger screen.
On paper, the tablet shares a lot of DNA with the Transformer Pad TF300T. Both tablets have similar screens, processors, ports, memory, and storage. But Asus had to safe a few dollars somewhere, and not only does this tablet have a smaller battery than its transforming cousin, it also has a 5MP rear camera instead of 8MP and comes with 5GB of web storage instead of 8GB.
Asus also doesn’t currently offer a 32GB model of the ME301T. It tops out at half that storage.
But both tablets features 1.2 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 chips, 1GB of RAM, microHDMI and microSD card ports, and 1.2MP front-facing cameras. The tablets feature light sensors, gyroscopes, WiFi, Bluetoth, and GPS.
The front of the tablet features an edge-to-edge glass panel with a black bezel around the edges of the 10.1 inch display. There’s a front-facing 1.2MP webcam in the center of the top part of the bezel (or at least the part you’d call the top if you’re holding the tablet in landscape mode).
The tablet has an IPS display with wide viewing angles — I had no problem reading an eBook when I placed the tablet flat on a table in front of me, and colors don’t wash out when viewing pictures or movies from an angle.
While the display is rather glossy (as is the norm for touchscreen tablets), Asus says this is a 350-nit display, which means you can tweak the brightness settings to overpower the glare you might see when using the tablet outdoors or under a bright lighting source.
On the back there’s a 5MP camera with auto-focus, but no LED flash. Neither camera shoots terrific photos — especially not in low light conditions. But the front camera is good enough for making a video call over Skype, while the rear camera will do in a pinch if you want to snap a picture and happen to already be holding the tablet.
You’ll also find the tablet’s stereo speakers on the back of the ME301T. They’re reasonably loud, but the sound seems a bit muffled. Asus does include an Audio Wizard utility which lets you enable a couple of different presets for Music Mode, Movie Mode, or Gaming Mode, among others. But you’ll probably still get better sound if you plug in a pair of headphones than if you rely on the built-in speakers.
The rear panel is made of plastic, and Asus offers models with blue, white, or pink backs. The edges of the plastic curve up to meet the screen, making the tablet look a little thinner than it actually is — but it is pretty thin.
The MeMo Pad Smart measures 10.4″ x 7.1″ x 0.39″ and weighs 1.28 pounds, making it reasonably thin and light for a tablet with a 10 inch display.
Since the tablet has a widescreen display, it’s generally more comfortable to hold in landscape mode than portrait. But unlike many 10 inch widescreen tablets I’ve used, the ME301T actually feels pretty good when you use one hand to grip it in portrait mode while reading a website or an eBook — as long as you’re not holding it that way for too long. I think we can thank the relatively low weight of the tablet for that.
Asus placed the micro HDMI, microUSB, and microSD card ports all along the left edge of the tablet.
There are only a few buttons around the sides of the tablet, including a power button on the top left edge and volume up and down buttons on the right side. It’s a bit odd how far apart the power and volume buttons are, and during the first few days I had this tablet I found myself constantly forgetting where the power button was.
But that’s the sort of thing that bugs reviewers more than users — the truth is that once you’ve been using this tablet for a little while, finding that power button becomes second nature. After all, most people who don’t test these things for a living don’t have multiple tablets with different button layouts lying around the house.
Since this tablet ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean it doesn’t really need any more buttons than that. Android feature on-screen buttons for Home, Back, Recent Apps, and other basic functions, and those virtual buttons rotate along with the screen so that they’re always easy to reach, no matter how you’re holding the tablet.
Asus ships the ME301T with a pretty standard version of Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, but the company does make a few changes to Google’s software.
For instance, the quick settings panel that you pull up by swiping the bottom left corner has a blue skin and some custom icons for toggling screen rotation, WiFi, Bluetooth, and the Audio Wizard, among other things.
Asus also includes its own on-screen keyboard with a lighter color scheme than the default Android keyboard. It also crams more keys on the screen… but that means the keys are a little smaller and more difficult to hit accurately when you’re not paying attention. So after using the Asus keyboard for a few days I changed the ME301T’s default keyboard to the stock Android keyboard, which I found much easier to use.
Fortunately both keyboards come preloaded, and you can always download other third party keyboard apps from the Google Play Store if you’re not happy with either.
There are also shortcuts for Power Saving and Performance modes. If you dig into the settings, you ca also customize what happens if your battery level dips below 15 percent, but disabling WiFi and Bluetooth, dimming the screen, or making a few other changes to reduce your power consumption until you have time to recharge the battery.
Overall the ME301T is a reasonably attractive, portable, and sturdy tablet for the price. While I wouldn’t mind better speakers, that’s true of nearly every tablet I’ve tested.
The display is also pretty good… by 2011-2012 standards. But a 10.1 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel display isn’t quite as impressive once you’ve spent a lot of time using 7 inch tablets or 4.7 inch phones with the same screen resolution.
Text, pictures, and videos are clearly visible on the MeMo Mad Smart’s display — but they look a bit pixelated when you compare the tablet screen to a smaller display with the same resolution or a 10 inch tablet with a higher resolution screen like the Samsung Nexus 10 or Asus Tranformer Pad Infinity TF700T.
But you can’t have your cake and eat it too… 10 inch tablets with 1080p or higher resolution screens tend to cost at least $100 more than an ME301T.
A year ago there was almost no faster processor for Android phones and tablets than NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 quad-core chip. Today there are certainly better options… but the Tegra 3 is still a a pretty zippy option with support for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics and HD video playback as well as some CPU processing power.
That said, not all Tegra 3 chips are created equal, and the ME301T has the slowest model available, with a clock speed of just 1.2 GHz. It’s a tablet that prioritizes price over bleeding-edge performance, after all… but it still offers decent performance.
I ran a few benchmarks including Antutu, CF-Bench, and Quadrant on the tablet, and in each case it achieved scores that put it in about the same class as the Google Nexus 7, which is also built by Asus and which also features a 1.2 GHz Tegra 3 CPU.
But if you look at that green line in the chart, you’ll see that the Ramos W42 tablet came out ahead in every test. That’s a tablet featuring a Samsung Exynos 4412 quad-core processor — the same chip used in the Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone.
The difference is that the Ramos W42 is a Chinese tablet that you can only buy in the US if you go through an importer like Pandawill. The CPU is faster, but the software is a bit buggier and I feel like the Asus tablet has better build quality.
I threw in the Ramos W42 test results just to show that Tegra 3 isn’t exactly kind of the hill anymore. That will be even more true after next-generation chips from NVIDIA, Samsung, and Qualcomm, among others, hit the streets in the coming months.
But while it’s nice to have a tablet with a ridiculously fast processor, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of Android devices on the market have chips that are slower than Tegra 3… and that means that there are very few apps that need a more powerful chip to run properly. You’re unlikely to find an app that doesn’t work perfectly on the MeMo Pad ME301T.
I found that it handled everything I could throw at it, including streaming videos from Netflix, Google Play, and YouTube, reading eBooks with the Amazon Kindle app, surfing the web with the Chrome browser, streaming music from TuneIn, and playing games including Machinarium and Avadon: The Black Fortress HD).
That said, where the Tegra 3 chip (and last-generation Android 4.1 operating system) start to show their age is in general performance. Sometimes it takes a little longer than I’d expect for an app to launch after I tap an icon, or for a web page to open after I enter a URL. The tablet certainly isn’t slow, but it’s also not the most responsive Android device I’ve ever used — it’s possible that it could feel a bit faster if and when Asus updates the software to Android 4.2 or later.
While the ME301T might not have the longest battery life of any 10 inch tablet, it offers long run time and doesn’t seem to suffer the same battery drain problems I’ve seen from some low-end tablets: I charged up the ME301T and left it unplugged overnight, and the power level only dropped to 97 percent.
The MeMO Pad ME301T may not be the best tablet money can buy, but it is one of the best 10 inch Android tablets that you can buy for a very particular amount of money: $299. Normally if you wanted to find a 10 inch tablet with a Tegra 3 processor for that price you’d have to opt for a refurbished machine. But that’s the price Asus is asking for a new model.
Personally I tend to prefer 7 inch tablets to 10 inch models, because I spend a lot of time using tablets for reading — and that’s usually easier to do with a device that weighs 12 ounces and fits comfortably in one hand.
But the ME301T is light enough that I can almost use it the same way as a smaller tablet, with the added benefit of a larger screen for viewing photos or watching movies. If you’re in the market for a 10 inch tablet which offers decent performance for a decent price, the MeMo Pad ME301T is a pretty good option.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to spend a little more money on a tablet you could get a model with a faster CPU, a higher resolution screen, a pressure-sensitive pen for writing or drawing, or an optional keyboard dock.
The MeMo Pad ME301T isn’t designed to be the best tablet around — it’s designed to be one of the best available for a certain price, and it succeeds at at that. But if you can afford a $299 tablet you might able able to afford a $399 tablet… in which case you can get a whole lot more tablet for your money.