The ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 is a competent Android-based seven-inch tablet for the surprisingly low price of $160. Sadly, there's not a lot else to be excited about here.
Why aren't I more jazzed about this blow-away deal? Because the device is bulky and cheap-feeling with pops and creaks as you hold and manipulate it. The touchscreen performance is adequate, if a little sluggish when cycling between menus and apps, and it chugs on graphics-rich software. And, as usual, its version of Android 4.2 is loaded down with Asus's homemade bloatware.
The MeMO's app menus are loaded with a more than a dozen of the usual OEM junk. Things like Audio Wizard, Asus Splendid (to be fair, these display and speaker controls added on top of the typical Android controls aren't bad) and the social notification service "BuddyBuzz" are deemed more important than the stuff it pushed to the second page: such obscure features as Google's Play Music, Play Store, YouTube and even Voice Search.
Even the somewhat helpful "Mirror" (it uses the front facing camera to, well, mirror your image) and the "My BitCast" Evernote clone are deemed more important than things like, say, the main Android settings launcher.
For the longest time I couldn't figure out why it kept burping out a warbling chime (it sounded like a broken chiptuned blip from a Super Mario clone) until I realized it was the system identifying a Wi-Fi network. It kept finding the network because it would drop its existing Internet connection fairly quickly, and I'd have to re-connect from the Wi-Fi settings. Did I mention that it doesn't support LTE or even 3G wireless Internet?
The lack of an easy to find "wake-up" button remains my biggest peeve with some of the latest iterations of Android hardware, and the MeMO is no different. Hiding the shut-down and wake-up button on the rear edge of the bezel is A) not child friendly, and B) the cause of much groping and smearing of the screen as you attempt to find the on switch.
Asus also makes the Nexus 7 for Google, both the brand new one and the original 2012 models. One would expect the MeMO to be basically as good as those devices. But the nuts and bolts (solder and glue?) of that year-old Nexus 7 is still equal to or better than the MeMO: They share the same screen resolution, the MeMO is thicker but lighter, it's got a quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz (same specs as 2012's 7), but some versions of the 7 supported 3G. Some have raved about the IPS screen blowing away the colours on the older Nexus, but I didn't see an appreciable difference.
The MeMO Pad's only clear upgrade over the old Nexus is the addition of a mid-range rear-facing 5 megapixel camera (with a decent menu of camera controls, equal to a typical upper range point-and-shoot digital camera). No rear-facing camera on the old Nexus was a major flaw, and the MemoPad also has some decent photo collecting and video editing software pre-loaded. It has the same 16 GB memory though, so that optional SD card bay will come in handy if you plan to make this a media device.
But elephant on the store shelves (Staples, Best Buy, Future Shop) is the brand new Nexus 7 for $249. That's only $90 more (for the Wi-Fi-only version) – and its CPU, RAM, GPU, screen, and operating system are all new and improved. Not to mention it's significantly thinner and lighter. For a another $100, you could get a wireless LTE version (though not right away, those are "coming soon").
So, the question is: How tight is your tablet-buying budget? The MeMO Pad HD 7 hits stores August 12, and for $160 (in the U.S., it's only $130) it is one of the cheapest decent tablets out there. But for less than $100 more you can get a significantly better same-sized Android tablet. What will it be?