Huawei MediaPad M5 Review

Posted on June 18, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware with 19 Comments

I remember the last truly-great Android tablet well. The second-generation Nexus 7 was an excellent upgrade to its also-excellent predecessor. It delivered great performance, a terrific high-resolution display, and reasonable pricing. And it positioned Android as the heir-apparent to Apple’s iPad.

That was 2013.

In the five years that have since elapsed, Android has surpassed iPad in the tablet market, overall, if not to the same degree that Google’s platform has won the smartphone market. And while this isn’t necessarily the place for a lengthy discussion on this topic, it may be helpful to reflect on how the smartphone and tablet markets are different.

First, there isn’t a single Android hardware vendor that dominates in tablets as Samsung does in smartphones. Instead, Apple’s entry retains nearly 30 percent marketshare, as of the end of 2017, in a slightly declining market.

Second, there isn’t a single high-quality Android tablet that comes to mind these days. Meanwhile, Apple’s success with the iPad is understandable: It makes great products backed by excellent apps and content ecosystems. And cutting prices on the entry-level iPad last year didn’t hurt either. You no longer have to pay a huge premium to get into an iPad anymore.

And third, tablets simply haven’t caught on in the same way that smartphones have. Indeed, tablet sales never surpassed those of PCs as was widely expected in the wake of the first iPad.

Indeed, this diminished market has since split into two somewhat unrelated sub-markets, what I’ll call media tablets—devices for reading, watching video, and consuming other content—and hybrid tablets with keyboards that are sort-of morphing into PCs. This change has further fragmented the tablet market, leading to two even smaller markets of device types.

Anyway, hybrid Chromebooks that can run both Chrome web apps and Android mobile apps seem to be the future of the productivity tablet market, at least from a Google perspective. But that leaves the media tablet market wide open.

And that’s where Huawei steps in with the MediaPad M5 family of tablets, which are now available for purchase in the United States (as well as worldwide).

Huawei makes two MediaPad M5 models, with 8.4- and 10.8-inch displays, and you won’t be surprised to see that they line up perfectly with Apple’s consumer offerings, the iPad mini and the iPad (2018). I’ve been testing both for over two weeks here at home, using them in place of the iPad mini I normally use. (I also have a 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which I realize doesn’t match up fairly to the 10.8-inch MediaPad M5. But I don’t have a full-sized base iPad.)

Let’s start with the pricing. After all, this conversation is a non-starter is the MediaPad M5 isn’t competitively priced, given the strength of Apple’s hardware designs and its excellent app and content ecosystems.

The 8.4-inch MediaPad M5 costs $320 at Amazon.com, whereas Apple charges $400 for the increasingly out-of-date iPad mini 4. The mini ships with 128 GB of storage, double what’s available on the M5. But you can expand the M5’s storage, whereas doing so on any iPad is impossible. And the iPad mini 4 is literally four years old. It’s getting pokey. Which I know all too well, thanks to my daily usage.

The 10.8-inch MediaPad M5 costs $360 at Amazon. By comparison, the 2018 iPad starts at $330, but that comes with just 32 GB of storage, which is unacceptable for a media tablet. A 128 GB version is $430, and unlike the M5, its storage cannot be expanded.

Put simply, these prices are both reasonable and competitive. So the question must shift to other concerns. The specs. The quality of the hardware. And the quality of the supporting app and content ecosystems.

Looking at the things Huawei can control, I’ve come away mostly impressed by the MediaPad M5 hardware. There’s not much one can do with a tablet from a design perspective—it’s a flat-ish slab with a display that takes up most of the front—but Huawei rises to the quality challenge: The tablets both feature a high-quality metal unibody with a premium look and feel.

The displays are 16:9, which I think is ideal for a media tablet where you will be reading in portrait mode and watching videos in landscape mode. By comparison, the iPad’s 4:3 displays are squatter and are more ideal for the productivity tasks that few perform on these devices.

The displays specs are solid, too: Both tablets feature the same IPS technology and the same 2560 x 1600 resolution. Yes, that means that the larger tablet has a lower PPI count, at 280 PPI vs. the 8.4-incher’s 359 PPI—but I like the consistency, and both displays offer razor-sharp text and graphics and deeply rich colors.

Both displays also provide some unique Huawei touches, too. A technology called ClariVu claims to improve video playback by smoothing out unclear and dropped frames. And an Eye Comfort Mode, which I appreciated, helps block blue light for more comfortable nighttime viewing.

As impressive, both tablets also feature Hi-Res audio support and Harmon Kardon audio, and the results were quite noticeable. The 8.4-inch unit’s stereo speakers delivered clear, loud, and nicely-separated audio in the Google Movies & TV content I watched. And the 10.8-inch M5 tablet provides four speakers, similar to my iPad Pro, for a shockingly-loud aural experience that is devoid of noise.

Inside, both tablets are powered by Huawei’s octa-core Kirin 960 chipset instead of a Qualcomm Snapdragon part. To put this in perspective, I did run the Geekbench 4 CPU benchmark and compare the results to some Snapdragon-based handsets I also have.

It doesn’t seem impressive on paper: In this test, the M5 delivered scores of 1187 for single core and 3928 for multi-core. By comparison, my 2017-era and Snapdragon 835-powered Google Pixel 2 XL delivered better scores: 1886 for single core and 6218 for multi-core. And the newer Snapdragon 845-based OnePlus 6 hit even headier scores of 2463 and 9015 across single- and multi-core, respectively.

But I never noticed any performance hitches of any kind, which is an issue I have routinely with my iPad mini 4. (But not with my iPad Pro, which performs at a very high level.)

Beyond the core chipset, each M5 is also powered by 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage, and a microSD slot provides for additional storage up to 256 GB. Wireless connectivity is modern, as expected, with Wi-Fi AC at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz and Bluetooth 4.2. There is no SIM slot for cellular broadband capabilities, which is an (expensive) option on iPad. There are two cameras, an 8 MP front-facing unit and a 13 MP rear-facing unit, which I didn’t test.

I don’t have a formal way to test battery life on tablets, but the 8.4-inch MediaPad M5 provides 5100 mAh battery while the larger 10.8-inch utilizes a 7500 mAh unit. These are roughly comparable to the batteries in the iPad mini 4 (5,124 mAh) and 2018 iPad (8827 mAh), and Huawei claims up to 11 hours of battery life. My anecdotal observation is that the MediaPad M5 performs similarly, from a battery life perspective, to my iPad mini 4 (which is rated at 10 hours).

From a hardware perspective, I have three complaints, all of which are minor.

Neither tablet provides a built-in kickstand, something that I feel is especially necessary on the 10.8-inch version (but would be useful on any tablet).

There’s no headphone jack on either tablet, which seems like an odd omission. Even Apple still provides such a port on its iPads. (Huawei does provide a USB-C to 3.5 mm headset jack adapter cable in the box, however.)

And Huawei places the ports and buttons on the 10.8 in odd locations. On the 8.4-version, the USB-C port and Home button are centered on the bottom of the device when viewed in portrait mode, which I consider normal, and the Volume Up/Down rocker and Power button are on the upper-right. But on the 10.8-inch version, the USB-C port is on the lower right when viewed in landscape mode, and the Home button is centered on the right. And the Volume Up/Down rocker and Power button are on the upper-right, again in landscape mode. This is a concession to the Pogo-Pin connectivity on its bottom (again, in landscape mode) so you can attach a keyboard. Given the device’s consumption orientation, such functionaltiy seems a bit superfluous.

(Huawei also sells a Pro version of its MediaPad M5 that likewise supports keyboards, mice, and, unique to that device, an M-Pen smartpen. I did not test that version.)

From a software perspective, Huawei provides the same EMUI skin over Android 8.0 that I first experienced with the Mate 10 Pro smartphone. As I noted then, EMUI mostly looks and feels like stock Android, but there are some dated elements—like the onscreen real estate-stealing “Apps” button in the dock—that I find odd. Fortunately, it does provide access to the Google app’s feed off of the leftmost Home screen rather than its own less-useful feed.

There are some interesting Huawei-specific additions that are worth exploring, including an optional gesture system.

But Huawei bundles a lot of apps on these tablets, and while some are certainly useful enough, others—like Amazon Shopping, Booking.com, Bing Videos, and more—are unwelcome crap. Fortunately, most of them can be uninstalled. And they were.

The bigger issue here is beyond Huawei’s control: The Android app ecosystem, while certainly voluminous enough, is just not up to the level of quality I see on iPad. Some apps that are available on both work similarly, like Amazon Kindle, Smart News, and Pocket. But others do not, and I don’t have a single example where the Android version of a reading or media app is better than the equivalent iPad app.

Take The New York Times app. Please. It’s pretty terrible in all of its forms, but on the iPad, it at least provides newspaper-like multi-columnar navigation through each section. On Android, however, The New York Times app is just a single-column smartphone app, even on these bigger devices. It’s also a lot less customizable, making it impossible for me to easily access all of the sections I want to read each day, something the iPad version handles seamlessly.

Most people will never notice these issues: Few can compare the same apps side-by-side across two devices like I have. And Android does, of course, provide virtually everything you can get on iOS, or least reasonable alternatives. But there’s no doubt that iOS provides the better experience overall. And that many will—and should—choose an iPad for that reason alone.

The Huawei MediaPad M5 is recommended. It is a solid competitor to the iPad and the first truly great Android tablet that I’ve used in years. But it still falls short of the bar set by Apple in some key areas, and it is thus of most interest to those who simply can’t stomach owning an iPad.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Premium quality and design
  • Excellent display
  • Excellent audio
  • Reasonable pricing
  • Expandable storage

Cons

  • Some Android apps are lackluster compared to those on iOS
  • Comes with crapware
  • No kickstand
  • No headphone jack

 

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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Huawei MediaPad M5 Review”

  1. skborders

    These look interesting, but I stay with the iPad because of iBooks. It is the best ePub reading app I have used. All the ones I have tried on Windows and Android look like they were done back in the 90s.

  2. jrickel96

    16:9 is not great for a tablet. 3:2 is really the best overall aspect ratio, though 4:3 is much better than 16:9 for a larger device. It does have negatives in landscape mode, but reading on an iPad or even internet browsing is much better. I usually use it in portrait for those things.


    Android is also very weak when it comes to apps optimized for tablets. Most are just phone apps that do not use the extra space on the screen. So you get big buttons and a UI designed for a smaller devices. Even on an 8" device, these are overly large and not a good look.


    The 10"+ looks nice, but that 16:9 aspect ratio is clunky for a tablet that size. But this is where Android hits a major snag - there aren't any apps optimized for 4:3 or 16:9 and Android tablet sales are not strong enough to warrant many devs to develop anything different.


    Tablets are also a very tiny market. Statcounter says that tablets accounted for just under 4% of all internet access in May 2018. This is not going to factor in other uses that may not be centered on browsing. For instance, a lot of retail and restaurant have moved to POS systems centered on the iPad and these work very well. There's no market for Android tablets here and security is so poor on Android that no POS system will use them for transactions (outside of more personal deployments, but not a full POS).


    Frankly, Windows is a much better tablet platform because it can scale up to do desktop things and iPad is the best platform due to security and apps truly designed for the tablet. With Movies Anywhere, VUDU, Netflix, Hulu, and MS possibly joining Movies Anywhere soon, the Windows tablet is a viable alternative that DOES have apps that can easily adapt to a 3:2 size, as seen on the Surface.


    If that lower end Surface comes in at $400 or less then it's a more than viable option compared to the Android tablets. Here's hoping MS can deliver it for around $350 on the base price.


    Reality is Android is very successful on the phone end, but Google's platforms for Desktop and Tablet are failures. Most tablets for Android are cheap models on older versions of the OS or inexpensive Kindle tablets. Apple sells roughly 40 million tablets a year. Android sells less than half that and likely commands under 20% of the revenue for the market.


    Go with iPad for a tablet or find a decent Windows tablet. You'll be better off.

    • maethorechannen

      In reply to jrickel96:

      16:9 is not great for a tablet.


      Depends on what you're using it for. If 90% of the time it's going to be watching videos on the commute to/from work then 16:9 is ideal.


      Go with iPad for a tablet or find a decent Windows tablet. You'll be better off.


      Again, it depends on what you're using it for. If it's primarily media consumption and you're in the UK then a Windows tablet is a useless pile of junk. An iPad might be a better overall experience, but an Android/Fire tablet is often adequate and a lot cheaper.

  3. wocowboy

    "Android has surpassed iPad in the tablet market". I read that and just had to laugh. I am really looking forward to the discussion on just exactly how this has happened, as the effort to justify that statement should be a good one to watch. Simply said, the tablet versions of Android apps are nowhere near the quality, functionality, and utility of iPad apps. Most are just blown-up versions of phone apps as developers see no reason to reprogram their work for a platform and devices no one is buying or wants.

  4. wright_is

    O2 are bundling a Hauwei P20 and the MediaPad M5 8.5" tablet together for 1€ on new contracts in Germany at the moment.

  5. Samr

    Are you sure this is true?


    "In the five years that have since elapsed, Android has surpassed iPad in the tablet market, overall, if not to the same degree that Google’s platform has won the smartphone market."


    The iPad is the king of tablets, I never see Android ones in the wild if they are they are cheap rubbish, "everyone" has an iPad.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Samr:

      As a single manufacturer, yes, Apple is king of the tablets, for market share, no. There are a lot of Android tablets used in verticals, for instance.

      Several local sushi restaurants, for example, use Samsung Tabs for taking orders. Some factories I've visited have fleets of Android tablets, which inspectors use to take quality or production audits as they go around the factory floor.

      I've also seen fleets of iPads used for similar tasks, but Android tablets are often cheaper, so they are used more often, especially if they are in areas where they could be easily damaged, as they are easier to replace. They are also easier to side-load custom apps onto, for example, you don't need to set up your own Apple Corporate Store.

      • dot19408

        In reply to wright_is:

        I have to agree, I see 5 to 1 Android tablets to iPads deployed to field technicians and inspectors (City, State, and contractors)


        However, the android tablets are slow, low-res, and usually 2x as thick as the iPads. Comparing Apples to.. um.. apples, most of the time they are running the same app because they are working on the same project (Civil engineering, design/build) The iPad apps are quick, smooth, and just freaking work. The Android version is stutters, is slow to update, and when uploading photos to the server, may take 20 seconds, may take 20 minutes. The iPad uploads photos immediately every time.

      • jrickel96

        In reply to wright_is:

        For marketshare, the iPad is at roughly 67% of the tablet market. iPad is king of unit sales and revenue. I rarely ever see Android tablets deployed in commercial or industrial space. It's happened occasionally, but Android tablets sell less than 20 million units a year. Small market and most of it is from cheaper tablets, including Amazon's Fire tablets.


        Know someone that also built and deployed a temperature and date control system for restaurants that runs on Windows tablets and now has over 1,000 deployments because Android could not handle the load.

  6. HellcatM

    Whats up with companies copying the bad things apple does like no headphone jack and no replacement battery, glass back? apple copies the good ideas while other tablet makers copy the bad...maybe because apple only comes out with bad ideas? you know next apple will steal the rounded off screen like the Samsung Galaxy series.

  7. Silversee

    "The displays are 16:9, which I think is ideal for a media tablet where you will be reading in portrait mode and watching videos in landscape mode."


    Simple math will tell you that those displays are actually 16:10, which has been the canonical display aspect ratio for most Android tablets. 16:9 was the aspect ratio used on early Windows tablets such as the Surface RT, and made using those devices in portrait mode nearly impossible.

  8. roger

    It should be noted this tablet doesnt support hd netflix as far as i can tell, which is a serious omission from a media tablet.

  9. wolters

    I'm glad this is a solid entry. I have a Samsung Tab S3 but retired it when I picked up the Pixelbook when it went on sale here recently. While not perfect (but close), the Pixelbook has become my "Android Tablet." The Samsung Tab S3 was a beautiful device with an amazing screen, but it truly suffered from lag issues and I've reached a point where I need a Pixel or Android One Device. No more skinned Android for me.

  10. Xatom

    The iPad vs Android debate will go on forever. The Android tablet app ecosystem is strong. This device is exceptional and rivals any IPad. No lag and a solid screen just not a screen of Samsung’s quality. But every Tab S suffers from serious lag, the Mediapad doesn’t. Where this device trumps IPad is the ability to plug in a USB hard drive while traveling. I carry my many many TBs of content with me in 4Tb 2.5 inch drives. If ios allowed this I would gladly use IPad for all my tablet needs.

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