Huawei MediaPad M3 Review: A Good iPad Alternative?

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Huawei’s MediaPad lineup has always been Huawei’s entry to the competitive high end premium entertainment tablet, where every single contestant is trying to steal the crown away from the all-time best selling Apple iPad mini. Being the more premium offering tablet in Huawei’s own line-up, should you spend your money on this, or just go with the popular option – the iPad mini?

In Malaysia, the Huawei MediaPad M3 is available in 2 storage sizes – 32GB and 64GB. The 32GB goes for RM1699, while the latter one goes for RM1999.

Unboxing

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As a premium tablet, the packaging of the Huawei MediaPad M3 is rather classy and solid. It may not be as premium or as sophisticated as some other premium devices out there, but the all white box screams class and solid, which is a great start to the device. Lifting the top cover off you’ll find the tablet sitting in its compartment on the left. As with most tablets out there, it only comes with a USB wall adapter and a microUSB cable for data transfer and charging, along with some documentations. As an added bonus, it does come with a SIM card tray ejector and a standard screen protector.

Design

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Like its other Huawei products, the Huawei MediaPad M3 does follow Huawei’s latest design language. Choice of material is a good start – with glass front and solid metal back. That’s the standard for “premium” these days. For a large device, you get more feel of the metal finishing. It has chamfered edges, clean lines and overall nice design. You could call it a big Huawei P9, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Even though the weight is slightly on the higher side at 310-grams, but it still usable. As a tablet, its basically unusable with just 1 hand, especially when you’re viewing media in landscape mode. You’ll definitely need to spend more on some proper protection for the front glass and the whole device, as its easier to break in case of any accidents.

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76% of the front panel is taken up by an 8.4-inch display. There’s quite some bezels on both left and right sides, but its not a problem as you might likely to rest your thumb on the sides while holding it, and this doesn’t cause any accidental inputs at all. The Huawei branding is located on the top left, followed by a 8-megapixel front facing camera and a couple of hidden sensors. Yes, even though it has cellular connectivity and you can actually make calls with it, it has no earpiece, so the call has to be done either via a wired or wireless headset, or using the loudspeaker. The bottom only houses a small touchpad with a fingerprint reader built-in. It’s not a physical button, and you do not need to apply any pressure to activate it. It does feature haptic feedback where the device will buzz upon an action. Apart from unlocking the device, it will also act as different Android navigation buttons depending on how you use it. You can also opt to activate the on-screen Android navigation buttons.

There’s nothing on the left, and the right only houses the usual power button and volume rockers. It does have stereo speakers, where one lives on the top and the other lives at the bottom. It makes sense having this setup, and both speakers will be on the left and right side when holding the device in landscape mode. Should you still need private listening, a 3.5-mm headphone jack is located on the top, and you’ll need to supply your own earphones or headphones. The microUSB port lives at the bottom for charging and syncing.

The SIM tray is located at the bottom as well, and can be ejected using the supplied tray ejector tool. There’s only 2 slots on the tray – 1 takes a nano-SIM card, and the other is a dedicated slot for storage expansion, where it can take microSD cards up to 256GB. This is one of the very few Huawei devices that does not come with dual-SIM capability, and you’ll never need that.

The rear panel is really clean and nothing much going-on. The 8-megapixel rear facing camera is located at the top, and there’s not even LED flash to go along with it. Apart from the Huawei branding, there’s also Harman Kardon branding and some regulatory signs.

The MediaPad M3 is only offered in 2 colours – gold and silver. The gold colour is a better choice among the two as its more towards a champagne colour. We would love to see an all-black colour being offered.

Specs and performance

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As a Huawei product, the MediaPad M3 is powered by Huawei’s in-house developed Kirin 950 processor. It’s the same exact processor found in the Honor 8, and it goes head-to-head with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor. The Kirin 950 is an octa-core unit, and like the Honor 8, the primary cores are clocked at 2.3GHz, while the rest are clocked at 1.8GHz. Working along with the processor is 4GB of RAM.

You’d expect the MediaPad M3 to perform not as well as the Honor 8 smartphone as it has a larger screen to deal with and more tasks to handle in real life. But, that’s not really the case. In fact, I dare to say that it performs the same. It handles easy tasks well even though it comes with a heavy custom user interface. It tends to slow down when launching third-party apps very randomly for reasons we could not understand, and like the Honor 8, the problem is still there where it takes some time between app switching, even though its not a huge drawback. Running 2 apps side-by-side and interacting with both at the same time is fine.

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Using Geekbench 4 benchmark app, the results we got are pretty similar with the Honor 8, with a single-core score of 1733 and multi-core score of 4758. Both numbers are pretty average, considering that it is an octa-core setup.

The model that we get here does comes with LTE with cellular connectivity. 2 storage sizes are available – 32GB and 64GB. Other connectivity options include the latest dual-band WiFi technology, a 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac setup and Bluetooth 4.1.

Speaker performance

As the speakers are co-engineered with Harmon Kardon, they sounded really good. The stereo setup does really provide lots of feedback and deep surround-sound feel, and the sound produced is pretty accurate. It has sufficient bass and treble, although at higher volumes the bass might be reduced and created some distortion, hence slightly tempered with the audio experience. But as far as device speakers go, its definitely one of the top of the class.

Even though the MediaPad M3 does have cellular connectivity, it does not have an earpiece, as its rather stupid and impossible to hold the device up like a regular smartphone would. Normal calls can only be made using the loudspeaker or external audio devices.

Display

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As an entertainment tablet, the display is one of the most important factor, and I’m happy to report that the display of the MediaPad M3 does not disappoint. It’s an 8.4-inch display with 2K resolution (1600 X 2560). The screen density is rather average at 359 pixels-per-inch. Although its not the sharpest display out there, its adequate enough for media consumption.

The display is also backed up by IPS lighting. It’s the same panel that has been used on most of their newer devices out there. Colours are vivid with wide colour gamut and deep blacks, but it’ll never come close to a Super AMOLED panel that’s found on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. On the plus side, the display is bright and is sufficient using under bright conditions, and has a wide viewing angle.

Camera performance

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Camera, on the other hand, may not be always the most important factor of a tablet in general, and manufacturers doesn’t spend a lot of time working on its cameras. The cameras on the MediaPad M3 is one of the case. The rear facing camera is an 8-megapixel setup with f/2.0 aperture. It already doesn’t sound that exciting. There’s not much technology going on either to assist in taking good photos. But, at least it has auto-focus.

So, what’s it like? While photos taken under bright conditions are adequate and have accurate colours, it starts struggling when it’s not happy with the amount of light. Images could use a bit more details. In dark conditions it really struggles to determine what’s going on. It continuously hunts for focus and photos taken have visible noise in it. Still, its an adequate camera which won’t win any awards for being the best camera, but its still there should you need it. To be fair, lots of smartphones with lower price tag will do a better job in this department.

The MediaPad M3 will record videos at Full HD (1080 X 1920) or 720p, both at 30 frames-per-second. There’s no image stabilization to aid in keeping the video steady, and it records adequate videos. Videos are quite sharp and smooth with slightly less vivid colours.

The front facing camera is also a 8-megapixel setup with an aperture of f/2.0 as well. The quality of the images that it produces is as good as the images that the rear facing camera produces, except that it’s a fixed focus camera. You can expect good selfies from the camera, and the 8-megapixel sensor allows you to record videos or video chat at Full HD resolution. Included is also a beauty mode where digital algorithm will work hard at making you look good by wiping off any unnecessary details, even though sometimes it may not work very well.

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The camera app on the MediaPad M3 is basically the same as on their smartphones. Huawei just lifted it out of their smartphones, along with all the features and party pieces and throw straight into the MediaPad M3, so you would expect to see all the features and settings that’s found in their other products. It includes a pro mode for photos and videos where it offers controls over the shutter speed and exposure settings, amongst other settings, so you can get a shot that you exactly want. However, its not the most responsive camera app, and it does have noticeable shutter lag.

Software

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As with all other Huawei products, the MediaPad M3 comes preloaded with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which has Huawei’s own EMUI skin on it. Its heavily customized to the point where there’s no resemblance to vanilla Android. Still, almost the same experience found in other Huawei products, and if you’re used to EMUI ecosystem, this is pretty familiar as well, only in a larger screen. With that said, there’s not much difference between the tablet version of EMUI and the smartphone version, apart from a split-window function where it allows 2 apps to run side-by-side simultaneously. You could expect few future updates from Huawei on Android and its EMUI ecosystem, since the MediaPad M3 is in queue for Android Nougat update.

Battery life

A big device comes with a big battery, and the MediaPad M3 comes with a 5100mAh battery. It can take some time to fully charge the battery as it does not have Quick Charge capability. Having to deal with such a big display and processor, and the results are pretty respectable for a media consumption device, although its not remarkable. You should expect a couple of 3-hours movies on a full charge before it starts throwing a low battery warning.

Conclusion

The Huawei MediaPad M3 makes a good media-oriented device, and it’s a good Android alternative to the Apple iPad mini. The low price tag, extremely nice build quality, premium quality device and media-oriented specifications makes it a device that should be in your shopping list whenever you’re searching for a product in this market.

Recap:
8.4-inch 2K IPS display
HiSilicone Kirin 950 processor, 2.3GHz max, octa-core
4GB RAM, 32/64GB internal storage, microSD card supported up to 256GB
8-megapixel rear facing camera, f/2.0 aperture
8-megapixel front facing camera
5100mAh non-removable battery
Fingerprint reader

Pros:
Nice sharp display with vivid colours
Solid and expensive build quality
Good value for money
Blazing fast fingerprint sensor
Nice loudspeakers

Cons:
Adequate cameras
Fragile
Moderate performance
Lots of bloatwares pre-installed
Audio sounds tinny at max volume