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ASUS ZenPad 10 Z300M, First Take: Well-judged compromises deliver an affordable Android tablet

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ASUS has revamped its ZenPad tablet range with two models, the 8-inch Z380M and the 10.1-inch Z300M. I was sent both for review, but am concentrating on the 10-inch model here: the two Android tablets share a similar design ethic, and many of the specifications are similar. Both run on a quad-core MediaTek MT8163 processor, for example.

With a price of £149 (inc. VAT), the Z300M isn't going to sport any bleeding-edge features, so the question has to be how well it performs for the money.

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Images: ASUS
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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

One place where corners have clearly been cut is the use of plastic for the body. Still, the tablet feels sturdy and didn't flex under what I'd call average duress. The back's textured finish assists with grip, while the silver edging looks like metal even if it isn't. Weighing in at 490g, I found one-handed operation a bit of a strain for longer periods, but it's a comfortable two-handed hold.

The screen is another victim of cost cutting: a resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels delivers just 149ppi (pixels per inch), although the IPS panel delivers good viewing angles. The screen's very reflective surface is a bit irritating, but that's hardly an ASUS-specific criticism.

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Web pages render well enough to read without worrying about pixelated text, and streamed YouTube video is perfectly watchable. The now-familiar ASUS Splendid app lets you fiddle with colour temperature to get things just so, which is something I appreciate.

Sound quality is reasonably good even at its top -- quite loud -- volume. ASUS has positioned the stereo speakers cleverly: they sit under a panel along what is the top edge when working in landscape mode, pumping the sound outwards towards the listener. In portrait mode, although the speakers are not left and right of the screen to deliver the same stereo effect, it's difficult to cover the speakers completely with a hand. Nice job, ASUS.

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Back to the negatives again with the two cameras. Neither the 5-megapixel rear camera nor the 2-megapixel front camera are up to much in terms of quality. Forget taking photos of anything that's moving, as the shutter speed is quite slow. I finished up with a lot of blurry cat photos.

There is 16GB of internal storage, reduced to 10.2GB thanks to the installed operating system (Android 6.0), ASUS overlay and various ASUS apps. ASUS provides 5GB of web storage for life with an additional 11GB for two years, and there's an additional 100GB of Google Drive for two years. If you prefer local storage, there's a MicroSD card slot, while the Micro-USB slot will read from and write to Micro-USB storage cards.

There's a dock on the bottom long edge but I couldn't find any accessories online.

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The ASUS apps are a mixed bag.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Considering there's only 2GB of RAM, the MediaTek MT8163 processor performs well. During the test period I ran a range of mainstream workloads -- including streaming, multi-tab browsing, browser-based document creation/editing and TV catchup -- without any notable problems. Battery life was also pretty good: ASUS quotes 11 hours, and I managed between six and seven hours of mixed use off a full charge, including streaming.

Overall, the compromises ASUS has made with this tablet seem reasonably well judged. The plastic build looks OK and is sturdy, the screen resolution doesn't cause any serious problems, and battery life is adequate. The cameras are the only real disappointment, but as most people usually have a smartphone to hand, that shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

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