ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE (Z500KL) review — perfected visual entertainment experience

by

ASUS is better known for making affordable tablets more than premium devices. Last generation’s ASUS ZenPad 7 and ZenPad 8 stood out from the crowd with various interchangeable covers with varying functionalities, including one that has a speaker array built right into the cover. Affordability was the name of the game, so performance was understandably mediocre, with a body built nearly entirely from plastic. Well this year, ASUS has completely turned over a new leaf. As we have already seen how the ASUS Zenfone 3 and its brethren are a stark departure from yesteryear’s offerings, the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE (Z500KL) looks set to impress in a similar way.

Unboxing

The ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE definitely aims to impress, starting off strong with a very solid packaging. The name of the device is finished in silver on the deep blue package.

The box is flipped open by lifting the edge, which by the way is magnetically held in place, revealing the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE. This has been like the standard modus operandi in packaging nowadays, so not really that surprised here. I did encounter some issue lifting the tablet out of the box, but I believe retail units would have a plastic sleeve with a tab to help you get the tablet out of the box and into your hand easier.

Under the tablet we find a tray with a small piece of cardboard in the middle. This kinda caught me off guard as I am used to finding cardboard outside the box instead of inside it, so I picked it up and took a closer look.Well apparently it is to be folded into stand for the tablet! I have found a plastic stand in my sister’s ASUS tablet from some time back, but I didn’t expect ASUS to include one in the box here! Kudos to ASUS for actually being considerate and relieving my tired hands when I want to watch a movie (or two) on the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE!

A charger and an envelope containing the SIM ejector pin is found under the piece of cardboard, with the USB Type-C cable under the envelope. USB Type-C is the future, and it is good to see ASUS giving their tablet a Type-C port instead of a microUSB one. The charger also supports fast charging, Quick Charge 3.0 to be exact, with a maximum output of 18W. As you can see the tablet is also propped up here with the included stand.

Appearance

Well on the front the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is a clean glass slab, with little embellishments to speak of aside from the capacitive buttons flanking the home button. The home button here is solely a home button, with no incorporated fingerprint sensor to speak of. The bezels are pretty slim, but I wished that the glass panel had 2.5D curved edges to give an even more premium feel and look to the entire device. The front-facing camera sits at the top bezel.

While the front of the device is pretty much a glass slab, flipping it over gives you a metal sheet. The ASUS logo sits prominently in the center, with the usual regulatory information along the lower edge, and of course, the protruding camera sitting in the upper left corner. The camera is set in a glass cutout, which is probably to allow for the multitude of wireless antennae the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE sports, as metal kills wireless signal reception.

Since this is a tablet that might see a lot of use in landscape orientation, my left may not be the same with your left. So for the sake of clarity, I will refer to the sides with the tablet in portrait orientation, with the home button array closest to you. With that out of the way, on the right edge of the tablet we find the volume rocker and power button, with their signature Zen finishing. The left edge houses the nanoSIM and microSD tray. You will also notice that this tablet really has a slim profile, quite a stark departure from the more ergonomic designs the previous generation employed. For the record, it is 5.8mm thin.

At the bottom edge, the USB Type-C port is flanked by stereo speakers. A very questionable design decision since no one would watch videos with the tablet oriented vertically, and this arrangement would just diminish any little stereo separation the speakers could provide when watching videos in landscape. I have no idea why ASUS doesn’t place the speakers on opposite ends since this is quite a big tablet and does not have to work around any space constraints they might have faced when designing the ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra, which sadly also features a similarly pointless placement of stereo speakers.

At the top we have a microphone hole, and the 3.5mm jack located way off on the side. Notice the middle section is made of plastic instead of the metal through out the tablet. ASUS can make invisible antennas, they have put them in the ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra and ASUS Zenfone 3 Deluxe, where the antenna lines were little more than little seamless plastic bits along the chamfered edges, but they decided to dedicate a whole plastic edge to the antennae here? Not to mention that there is wide cutout of glass on the back which should have been enough space for all the antennae in this device.

Specifications

CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 (2x A72 @ 1.8GHz + 4x A53 @ 1.5GHz)
GPU Adreno 510 @ 600MHz
RAM 4GB LPDDR3
Display: 9.7″, QXGA (1536 x 2048) IPS display
Storage: 32GB internal (expandable with microSD up to 128GB)
Camera: 8MP with autofocus
5MP fixed focus
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ASUS ZenUI 3.0
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1
SIM: nanoSIM
Battery: 7800 mAh (non-removable)

Performance

Packing six cores in a big.LITTLE configuration, the Snapdragon 650 looks set to be quite a decent performer. While it is still based on the 28nm HPM process, it does feature two big A72 cores for better performance than octa-A53 SoCs. The GPU is an Adreno 510, which is also featured in the Snapdragon 652. Let’s see how the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE fares in our usual suite of benchmarks.

Antutu. One of the most popular benchmarking apps in the market, it gives a general idea of the overall performance of the device. For some reason the Snapdragon 650 performs better than the Snapdragon 652 devices which actually has more cores for some reason here. While it may seem quite far behind the other two devices ahead, the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is actually the third fastest device we have tested so far.

3DMark benches the GPU performance of the devices, which also places the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE right in between the two Snapdragon 652 devices we have reviewed. Since they all sport the Adreno 510, this is no surprise. Still, worth noting that despite me ranking them according to the most taxing Sling Shot Extreme benchmark run, the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE actually scores the highest in Ice Storm Unlimited among the three devices with the Adreno 510 GPU.

In Geekbench, I ranked the devices according to their single core scores, as single core performance shows the advancements for SoCs. As the Snapdragon 652, 650 and also the Kirin 950 all sport A72 cores, the single-core performance are all within range of each other. Multi-core is where we the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE gets left behind by quite a bit, due to the fact that all the other devices here pack eight cores instead of the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE’s six. The ASUS Zenfone 3 with the Snapdragon 625 scores way higher in the multi-core test too, due to it sporting eight zippy cores.

PCMark is yet another benchmark that gauges the overall performance of devices, but this time in more work-oriented tasks. Here the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE actually nearly matches the HTC 10, which actually had quite a bad time in this benchmark, to be honest. The ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra also leads by quite a bit here, as PCMark favors devices with more cores.

The battery life of the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is quite amazing. Despite the large and high resolution screen, the 7800 mAh battery keeps it powered for more than two whole days with nearly six and a half hours of screen on time in between. In case you were wondering, I used the tablet for Clash of Clans, watching a movie with MX Player and also some iFlix. Not exactly power-guzzling apps but these are what I believe will be the main usage for this tablet. Overall, I believe performance is very reasonable eventhough it only packs the Snapdragon 650 inside its metal and glass body. It doesn’t top benchmark charts, but when you think of it, this is a media-centric device, and the performance is more than sufficient for an enjoyable experience.

User Experience

Holding the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE, you will definitely notice how thin it is. At 5.8mm thin, the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE has got to be one of the thinnest tablets around. However the sleekness does come with a downside as the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE doesn’t really feature any curves to help you grip the device better. Being a 10″ tablet, grip is very important unless you have a particular interest in introducing the tablet to the floor. The smooth flat aluminium back doesn’t help in terms of grip either. Considering how pretty it looks, I would definitely invest in a case for the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE, just in case. The 490g weight is very comfortable to hold even with one hand, so no problems using it as an e-book reader or even watching dramas without employing the nifty cardboard stand. It is also rather lightweight despite the size and massive battery in it.

As mentioned above, the home button does not double as a fingerprint sensor. It is a very weird omission for a device that is going to make an appearance in 2017. Also, ASUS decided that not backlighting the buttons would be a good idea. I wonder who calls these shots in ASUS? Having hardware navigation keys does have its benefits, allowing you to make full use of the display area, but might not be nearly as convenient if you attempt to use the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE for productivity with a keyboard and mouse. The fact that you have to remove your hand from the mouse to touch the navigation keys detracts from the experience. Still I will let it pass as ASUS has never touted the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE as a tablet for productivity, instead highlighting its multimedia features more, which we will take a closer look at later.

I am no stranger to Android 6.0 Marshmallow ZenUI 3.0 by now, but still this is the first time I have ever experienced ZenUI on such a big screen. ASUS has definitely did some minor tweaks to the interface to suit a tablet better, like the two-column settings menu which makes full use of the available space and also the fact that you can actually rotate the homescreen, a feature that is of value to a tablet user, but is sure to be an absolute annoyance on smartphones. The ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE still comes with its fair share of pre-installed apps and games, but most of them can easily be uninstalled if you just want to get them out of your sight. The experience of using the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE was a very smooth one, with no stuttering or lag to speak of.

One of the highlights of the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is the 9.7″ 2048 x 1536 IPS display with Tru2Life+ and TruVivid technologies. This is definitely something you need to experience for yourself to understand, as videos look super fluid with motion-estimation and motion-compensation (MEMC) algorithms. We first experienced Tru2Life+ technology on the ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra, and it was nice to find it here again. Videos were rendered ultra smooth, even 30 fps videos looked as fluid as if it was happening right in front of my eyes. ASUS claims 95% coverage of the NTSC gamut, which means colors should be quite accurate as well. To my eyes, it was about as good as it gets, sharpness is top notch, as expected from such a high resolution display, with excellent color temperature, vivid colors and deep blacks. Not as deep as you may get with an AMOLED display, but these are pretty good for an IPS display. A niggle I have with the 4:3 aspect ratio the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE employs is the massive black bars you get when you watch content meant for 16:9 or 21:9 displays. It pains me to see so much of the great display go to waste in darkness.

SonicMaster 3.0 makes an appearance here in the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE, and it is safe to say it does not disappoint. Loud and clear, with just that slight amount of bass that you can almost discern, it definitely impressed me. While the placement of the speakers irked me, the volume and sound quality definitely did not. It is a real pity that the better stereo separation that you will have if the speakers were on opposite ends of the tablet, especially if coupled with virtual surround technologies was sacrificed for… I actually can’t think of what for. Plugging in your earphones will enable the DTS Headphone:X feature, which will simulate 7.1 surround sound with your stereo headphones. The ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is also Hi-Res Audio certified, which means it can flawlessly process 24-bit/192kHz audio and output stunning sound quality through your headphones.

If you intend to game on this device, rest assured that you will be in for a treat both visually and acoustically. The tablet may not be the easiest to hold when gaming, but the performance and the rest of the hardware is definitely perfect for gaming. That huge battery will keep you gaming for hours, and the sharp and vivid display along with the great audio will keep you immersed through those hours.

 

The cameras on tablets should be an afterthought to discourage users from using their tablets as cameras and blocking the view of everyone behind, and it seems like the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE’s cameras are really just for the sake of it. The front camera is lackluster, as is the rear camera. Noisy and just not delivering a substantial amount of detail, the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is best not used for photography. At all. Even if you did, I would kill you if you were in front of me. I am serious. Do not use your tablet as a camera. It is ethically wrong and also the image quality from the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is easily surpassed by most recent, smaller, smartphones.

The ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE is also capable of using a data connection, as you might have figured out from the name. You cannot use it to make calls though. There are no notifcations LED on the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE, which might be a problem if you intend to use it to manage your social networks. Neither does it have a vibration motor, for some reason. Haptic feedback is very important to me even if I do not want to use it for notifications, but for some reason ASUS decides to omit it from the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE.

Conclusion

Would I recommend the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE? Definitely. It is a nice, solid, premium slab of Android. Perhaps it could do with a little tweak in the design, like making it have the stereo speakers on the top and bottom ends of the device, and also some curves to help with holding the tablet more securely. Oh and a 16:9 display? Other than that, I don’t really see how else can you improve on the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE. The ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE (Z500KL) has all I want in a tablet, and more.

The ZenPad 3S 10 LTE comes with the Folio Cover.

For RM1799 inclusive of the Folio Case, it is not the most affordable tablet around, but you do get an excellent display, stellar sound, good performance, a strong battery and doesn’t weigh a ton with so much packed in its 5.8mm frame. For that, I think the ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 LTE deserves our Silver Pokdeward.