In much the same way that I find having a Chromebook is the perfect compliment to my laptop, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of having a cheap Android tablet to compliment my phone. If I want to mess around with Android, I want to be able to do so on something that isn’t my primary communication device. I also like the idea of having a secondary device for those times you might not want to pull out your phone. Also, as I mentioned in my review of my Note 3, a phablet isn’t quite big enough for a lot of things so I was hoping maybe a cheap 7″ tablet could actually be an improvement.
I had previously avoided buying this type of tablet because I didn’t “need one.” Then I came across this $79.99 ASUS MeMO Pad 7 on Amazon a few months back and figured at that price it was worth a shot. It couldn’t be that bad, could it? More than anything, curiosity got the best of me. How much could one really do with a cheap little device like this?
The answer: it’s a mixed bag.
The hardware is actually pretty attractive. It’s basically a rip off of the original Nexus 7, which ASUS made. The 1024 x 768 resolution leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you’re coming from a high res screen. But what really, really sucks about the hardware is the poor viewing angle. When you look at it dead-on, the screen looks surprisingly good. Angle it a few degrees while reading, and it looks like one of those early LCD monitors from 10 years ago. I almost thought I couldn’t overcome this, but after some use I realized it’s mostly bad in a well-light room. If you’re using it at night or in lower light, it’s adequate (barely).
It runs Android surprisingly well once you make a few tweaks. I disabled animations, which made the biggest impact (described in Step #4 here). I also switched to the Google Now Launcher and made sure not to use any live wallpaper or resource intensive widgets on the home screen. After those small tweaks it was pretty much smooth sailing. Web browsing is more than fast enough. Reading apps – Feedly, Twitter, Google News, Instapaper – all work well. Video plays surprisingly well, as snappy as my Note 3. Where it falls short, not surprisingly, is with games. Most casual games will run fine, I played Badland with no problem, but a more graphically demanding game like NBA 2k15 kept crashing.
Overall I use it quite a bit, more than enough to justify the $80. At night time with Twilight installed and the brightness turned all the way down, it makes for a nice little before-bed reader. Other times when my phone is charging or when I want a little more screen real estate I don’t hesitate to grab it. The battery life isn’t great, but it gets at least 3 or 4 hours of use, which is fine for a device like this.
Would I buy it again though? Probably not. I like the 7″ form factor so much I think I’d have enjoyed spending $100 more to get a new Nexus 7. But I don’t dislike it so much that I’m running out to get a Nexus 7 either. It gets the job done. For a cheap tablet to keep on the dining room table, or if you’re just looking for a reading device, or if you want to give your kids a tablet you don’t care about, it’s a solid choice that gives me hope that in a few years $99 might get you a really good tablet.