Intel’s Atom Z3745 Bay Trail SoC finally has a home with an Android partner. How does the marriage work out?
In many ways, the Google Nexus 7 has long been the standard of near perfection for an Android tablet. With a modest 7-inch screen, solid performance and low cost, the ASUS-built hardware has stood through one major revision as our top selection. Today though, a new contender in the field makes its way to the front of the pack in the form of the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 (ME176C). At $150, this new 7-inch tablet has almost all the hallmarks to really make an impact in the Android ecosystem. Finally.
The MeMO Pad 7 is not a new product family, though. It has existed with Mediatek processors for quite some time with essentially the same form factor. This new ME176C model makes some decisions that help it break into a new level of performance while maintaining the budget pricing required to really take on the likes of Google. By coupling the MeMO Pad brand with the Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, the two companies firmly believe they have a winner; but do they?
I have to admit that my time with the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 (ME176C) has been short; shorter than I would have liked to offer a truly definitive take on this mobile platform. I prefer to take the time to work the tablet into my daily work and home routines. Reading, browsing, email, etc. This allows me to filter though any software intricacies that might make or break a purchasing decision. Still, I think the ASUS design is going to live up to my expectations and is worth every penny of the $150 price tag.
The ASUS MeMO Pad 7 has a 1280×800 resolution IPS screen. This 7-inch device is powered by the new Intel Atom Z3745 quad-core SoC with 1GB of memory and 16GB of on-board storage. The front facing camera is of the 2MP variety while the rear facing camera is 5MP – but you will likely be as disappointed in the image quality of the photos as I was. Connectivity options include the microUSB port for charging and data transfer along with 802.11b/g/n 2.4 GHz WiFi (sorry, no 5.0 GHz option here). Bluetooth 4.0 allows for low power data sync with other devices you might have and our model shipped with Android 4.4.2 already pre-installed.
The rear of the ASUS MeMO Pad is a pseudo rubber/plastic type material that is easy to grip while not leaving fingerprints behind – a solid combination. The center mounted camera lens takes decent pictures – but I can't put any more praise on it than that. It was easy to find image quality issues with photos even in full daylight. It's hard to know how disappointed to be considering the price, but the Nexus 7 has better optical hardware.
The single speaker on the MeMO Pad 7 is decent and gets the job done for watching movies or getting the gist of music you might be listening to. I would put it on par with the speaker of the Nexus 7 but I still prefer the stereo configuration found on NVIDIA's Tegra Note 7.
The only buttons on the unit are the sleep/power button and the volume adjustments. I constantly get mixed up with the various tablets in use as to whether the sleep button is above or below the audio volume, but I don't consider that a mainstream consumer problem.
An micro SD Card slot allows for expansion should the included 16GB of storage not be enough for your use. Keep in mind that you really only get about ~10GB of usable space with a brand new 16GB unit.
ASUS MeMO Pad 7 right, Google Nexus 7 left
From a physical size comparison, the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 and the Google Nexus 7 are pretty damn close. The Nexus 7 is taller than this new tablet but has the edge on thickness by a narrow margin. Both weight the same though (290g vs 295g) and I think you would be hard pressed to tell the difference in your bag or even while holding it.
Here are, in my opinion, the three major contenders in the 7-in Android tablet market. The ASUS MeMO Pad 7 with the Intel Atom Z3745 is interesting and solid enough to compare with the Google Nexus 7 and the NVIDIA Tegra Note 7.
The Intel Atom Z3745 SoC
If the idea of an x86 processor running Android in a tablet is still somewhat foreign to you, you aren't alone. Intel has been working diligently for years to attempt to shore up its power consumption and aid in the software development of Android to make this jump into the market. Intel had modest success with Clover Trail+ as an Android-ready piece of silicon, but Bay Trail becomes the SoC really designed for both Windows and Android from the ground up.
We slowly started learning about the architecture behind what would become Bay Trail back in May of 2013, code named Silvermont. Then in September we saw Bay Trail in its production form for both Windows and Android, with a lot of details about the specific implementation of Silvermont across an entire product stack. If you don't already understand the technology behind Bay Trail / Silvermont then I would highly recommend you read up on it to learn about the many important changes Intel has made to its silicon in preparation for today's release.
You might remember our first hands-on with Android and Bay Trail coming back in September of 2013 when I was in Intel's offices in Santa Clara. Back then, we were assured that Android tablets using the technology would be right around the corner but clearly it took longer than Intel expected to get the software and performance to acceptable levels. In that test we were look at the Intel Atom Z3770, the top end SKU (at the time at least). The ASUS MeMO Pad 7 takes a small step down in order to meet power and battery life requirements for the form factor.
The Atom Z3745 still runs on a true quad-core out of order design with a base clock speed of 1.33 GHz and the capability to Turbo as high as 1.86 GHz. The dual 64-bit memory channels can run at DDR3-1067 speeds in low power mode to provide 17.1 GB/s of memory bandwidth – more than double what Clover Trail+ could produce.
It's also important to note that this marks Intel's move away from PowerVR graphics for the Android tablet market. Though we are still going to see PowerVR graphics technology in the Intel Merrifield SoCs (mainly for phones), the Intel HD graphics implementation allows the Bay Trail part to really improve performance in gaming and other GPGPU compute workloads. If there was an area where Intel was behind before, it was definitely in the graphics domain and as you'll see in our benchmarks on the following page, the Atom Z3745 is more than capable.