Update: The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 still sits in our best tablet of the year rankings but it's no longer as desirable as it once was. The price has dropped but not vastly, the software has been updated since launch but only to Android Nougat, and there's new competition from the likes of the iPad 9.7.
While Apple's iPad range has been a big seller since its inception in 2010, Android tablets have failed to achieve the same commercial success, despite Google's early enthusiasm for the concept.
Asus is clearly of the opinion that if you can't beat 'em you should join 'em, because its latest slate is a dead ringer for the iPad Pro 9.7 and the iPad 9.7. It boasts a 9.7-inch 1536 x 2048 screen and a design language which is straight out of Apple's Cupertino offices.
It’s also got fairly beefy specs on the inside, with power supplied by a MediaTek hexa-core chipset and 4GB of RAM, while a 5,900mAh battery is on hand to keep things ticking over.
Asus ZenPad 3S 10 price
- The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 launched at £300/$300
- Now dropped to around $270/£270
- Not available in Australia
The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 landed with a mid-range launch price of $300 (£300, around AU$515), which is well under what you’d pay for a recent Apple slate.
That was a great price, but that was back in 2016 and while it has since dropped it hasn't done so by much, with stores still charging around $270/£270. It's also nowhere near as widely available as it once was.
That puts it in a slightly tricky position, because the new iPad 9.7 isn't vastly more expensive, and there are also alternatives like the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 competing for your cash, so the ZenPad 3S 10 needs to be more than just a cheap imitation to stand out.
Design and display
- Thinner than an iPad at 5.8mm thick
- Premium, Apple-inspired design
- Slightly creaky build
There's no getting around it - the ZenPad 3S 10 really does look an awful lot like an iPad.
The ZenPad 3S 10 ignores the widescreen aspect ratio so beloved by Android tablet makers – as Samsung also did with the similarly old Galaxy Tab S2 – and follows Apple's lead by adopting a 4:3 display, which naturally makes the 3S 10 stand out from many of its Google-based rivals.
If you can overlook the cheeky way Asus has copied Apple's concept, there's a lot to like here from a purely physical perspective – this is one handsome tablet. The metal casing has elegant, diamond-cut bezels on the corners, while the edges have a gentle curve to them which makes it comfortable to hold.
The volume and power buttons are located on the top-right corner of the device (assuming you're holding it in portrait orientation) and the only other physical input is the home button, which also doubles as a surprisingly fast and accurate fingerprint scanner.
This is flanked by two capacitive buttons for back and multitasking, which illuminate briefly when you interact with the screen or any of the buttons.
On the top edge, there's a 3.5mm headphone socket, which can output audio in Hi-Res, while the bottom is home to a USB Type-C port and two "NXP Amp powered speakers".
Like so much else, the positioning of these speakers calls to mind an iPad – but in this case we wish Asus had revised things a little, as it's far too easy to cover one of the speaker grilles with your palm when you're holding the device.
Front-facing speakers – one at each end of the device – would have been better, although that may have prevented Asus from achieving a thickness of just 5.8mm, which makes it thinner than the iPad Pro 9.7 or even the newer iPad Pro 11. The ZenPad 3S 10 is also incredibly lightweight for a tablet of these proportions, tipping the scales at around 430g.
One element of Apple's design which Asus sadly hasn't been able to replicate is overall build quality; while the ZenPad 3S 10 looks and feels like a premium device – and, to be fair, it is – there's a notable flex on the back panel when you apply pressure with a finger.
You can even hear the panel moving and pushing against the internal frame, which gives the impression that it's slightly hollow inside. The microSD card slot – which is found on the top-left edge and lets you expand beyond the tablet's 32GB of memory – rattled quite noticeably on our review unit, too.
The tablet's IPS screen is perhaps its crowning glory, delivering pin-sharp definition, superb color replication and striking contrast – thanks in part to Asus' own VisualMaster technology.
It's still possible to pick out individual pixels despite the QHD resolution, but that's not unusual on tablets of this size and doesn't impact the visual spectacle.
Viewing angles are rock-solid and you can tinker with how the screen looks via the preinstalled "Splendid" application, which offers a blue light filter option not entirely dissimilar to Apple's Night Shift mode. This reduces the display's blue light emission by up to 30%, which supposedly stops it keeping you awake when used late at night.