Huawei’s MediaPad M3 is one of the only premium tablets we’ve seen in 2016-2017, offering relatively high-end performance in a well-designed form factor. With the Galaxy Tab S3 from Samsung missing in action at the moment and no one else stepping forward to produce big-name Android tablets, Huawei could make moves to become the best option.
There’s a lot to love with the MediaPad M3, but is it enough to convince someone to purchase an Android tablet when everyone is buying bigger phones and foregoing tablets altogether? Let’s find out.
Huawei isn’t usually high on my list when I’m looking for devices with extremely high-end devices, but the MediaPad M3 is phenomenal. It’s arguably the nicest feeling Android tablet I’ve ever used thanks to a slim, sleek aluminum unibody design, and it’s the perfect size for one-handed use. It’s a bit bigger than the old 7-inch tablets popularized by the Nexus 7 (RIP) but the tiny bezels help to keep the size down.
The right side of the device houses the power button and volume buttons, both of which are firm, solid buttons that are distinguished from the body of the tablet.
You’ll find a headphone jack and one of two speakers on the top of the tablet, and a charging port, second speaker, and SIM card tray on the bottom.
The two speakers are high-end Harmon Kardon speakers, and they’re easily some of the loudest speakers on any device. Huawei wants you to use the tablet as a media consumption device, and they did everything they could to make that a great experience. The speakers aren’t necessarily the best you’ll hear, and I still think some of HTC’s phones take the crown, but you can’t argue with the volume here.
On the face of the device, you’ll find a Samsung-esque home button below the screen. Except, it’s only kind of a home button.
Huawei did something weird with their fingerprint scanner. They left off any capacitive buttons on the tablet, so this single button is very multifunctional. It’s a fingerprint scanner, but it’s also all three of your navigation keys. If that sounds awful, that’s because it is.
Tapping the button acts as a back button, holding down the button acts as a home button, and swiping left or right on the button will bring up recent apps. It’s incredibly unintuitive and unlike any other Android device, although it feels like an homage to Apple’s single button. The only problem is that Android is not designed to only have one button. If you’re like me, you’ll turn on the software navigation keys within five minutes then avoid the single button entirely while you’re using the tablet.
The MediaPad M3 uses Huawei’s own Kirin 950, which is their answer to the highest tier processors from the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung. I don’t know that Huawei is in a position to dethrone either of those companies, but they make a workhouse out of the Kirin 950.
There’s no nice way to say that most Android tablets tend to have not-so-great performance thanks to cheaper processors to keep the price tag down. That’s not at all the case with the MediaPad M3, which can handle pretty much everything you can throw at it. Paired with 4GB of RAM you’ll breeze through multitasking and even the most performance intensive apps, and it’ll chew through demanding games with the best flagship smartphones.
For whatever reason, though, Huawei insists on turning power saving mode on right out of the box and never prompts to turn it off. The power saving tricks will help squeeze some extra battery life out of the tablet, and it doesn’t hamper performance too much, but it does make animations choppy and makes things feel a bit sluggish, even if the tablet is running as well as ever.
Battery life on a tablet shouldn’t ever be a concern, but that’s not always the case. Fortunately, Huawei didn’t drop the ball here.
The MediaPad M3 has a 5100mAh battery and makes the most of it, lasting pretty much all day if you’re constantly working on it and several days if you prefer to leave it on the coffee table. Android’s Doze helps significantly with standby battery drain, which seemed to be the biggest culprit of poor battery life on older tablets.
It’s not going to outperform some of the chunkier tablets with bigger screens and batteries, but for its size the MediaPad M3 is fantastic. The only drawback is that it charges with a micro-USB plug, not the faster USB-C charger that we’re all getting used to.
You’re either going to love or hate Emotion UI that Huawei uses for the MediaPad M3. If you’ve ever played with MIUI (or an Apple device), you’ll understand the general idea of how the overlay works. There’s no app drawer, opting instead to dump all of your apps on a constantly growing home screen. You can still have as many screens as you want, plus folders and customization, but it’s fundamentally different from how most other Android devices work. There’s no option for an app drawer, either.
The rest of the software also feels pretty Apple-y, although with some extra tweaks. Menus all have a bright white background, the notification shade is split into two panes that closely mimics Apple’s Notification Center, and app icons are all squared off, similar to, yep, iOS.
That’s not to say that Huawei completely cloned iOS. It’s definitely very inspired by Apple’s design aesthetic, but it does a good job of blending some of the better visual parts or iOS with the functionality of Android. As someone who frequently uses and enjoys both Apple and Android phones and tablets, I don’t mind Huawei’s decisions. If you’re an Android enthusiast, you’re probably gonna want to slap a third party launcher on this tablet and make some tweaks.
The settings menu, for example, trims down the amount of options available to users and hides some of the more complex stuff behind an “Advanced” entry. It’s not perfect, but it does try to make the software more accessible to an inexperienced user.
The apps all stick to the bright white, minimalist aesthetic that doesn’t perfectly mesh with Material Design but still looks pretty decent on its own. There are also some really cool software tricks, like a power saving feature that lowers the resolution of the screen to make the battery last a bit longer. Huawei also offers a split-screen mode for the tablet currently running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is based on EMUI’s, not Google’s from Android 7.0 Nougat.
Love it or hate it, Huawei’s software will definitely stand out in a crowd of LGs and Samsungs. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you.
If you’re in the market for a tablet, you’re probably looking at an iPad or a Surface tablet. It’s generally really hard to recommend an Android tablet against either of those options, simply because no one makes an Android tablet worth recommending. Huawei turned that on its head.
If you want a small, sleek tablet with top-notch performance and battery life that’s not an iPad Mini, the MediaPad M3 is your tablet. It’s every bit as attractive, can go toe-to-toe with the Mini in gaming and everyday performance, and gives you access to all of your content through Google Play. Google’s hands-off approach to Android tablet software is the only potential drawback, but we can’t fault Huawei for that.
On top of everything, the MediaPad M3 is only $299. It’s insane that you can get this much performance and quality out of a device that seems like it should cost twice as much, but Huawei pulled it off. If more manufacturers can release tablets anywhere close to the MediaPad M3, 2017 will be a fantastic year for Android tablets.