We don’t see high-end Android tablets all that often any more. With the $329 iPad and low-cost Windows 2-in-1s out there, tablets like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 have ended up largely unloved. Huawei’s powerful Mediapad M5 could shake things up, if the price is right. We got some hands on time with the tablet in advance of Huawei’s press conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, and have some first impressions.
Design and Details
The Mediapad M5 comes in three models: There’s a 10.8-inch size, a 10.8-inch “pro” version that comes with a Wacom pen, and an 8.4-inch model. The 10.8-inch ones measure 10.2 by 6.8 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weigh 17.6 ounces, and the 8.4-inch one measures 8.4 by 4.9 by by 0.3 inches and weighs 11.1 ounces. Both have last year’s Kirin 960 processors, and 2,560-by-1,600 screens—the smaller one is just denser. They come in gray and gold. They’re both metal unibodies, with a camera protrusion on the back. The main camera is 13MP, and the front camera is 8MP. Both models have 4GB of RAM, 32/64/128GB of storage, and a microSD card slot. The smaller model has a 5,100mAh battery, and the bigger ones have 7,500mAh batteries.
The M5 absolutely excels with multimedia, including video playback and reading comics. The IPS LCD screen almost looks like an OLED, the colors are so saturated. It’s super sharp, and gorgeously bright. The only criticism I’d throw out is that it’s a bit reflective—the viewing angles are excellent, but they’re compromised a little by the reflectivity.
Sound is also top-notch. The larger tablet has four speakers, and the smaller one has two (on the top and bottom, not front-facing, but still very good). They may even be competitive with the iPad Pro, although we’ll need to do some testing to be sure.
There’s also an LTE modem in here, which Huawei says is the same one as in the Mate 10 Pro. If that’s the case, that’s great news: The Mate 10 Pro supports full gigabit speeds on AT&T, and is very broadly compatible with T-Mobile, too. You’ll have to supply your own SIM card.
The pro model includes an additional Huawei-sold Wacom pen with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Between that and the razor-sharp display, the Mediapads look like great creativity tools.
Huawei’s software, as always with all of the company’s products, will be the most controversial aspect of the tablet. Huawei’s EMUI defaults to having no app drawer, and all the icons are different than standard Google Android. Many Americans will want to install an alternative launcher.
The 10.8-inch version has pogo pins on the back to snap into a keyboard dock. Things get a little weird at that point. Huawei says it won’t offer its own keyboard dock, and disclaimed the performance of the keyboard docks we tried in the demo room. That’s for the best, because the dock we used didn’t work well—it dropped a lot of key presses. Hopefully that can be fixed in firmware.
When you drop the “Pro” version of the tablet into a dock, it goes into desktop mode, an exclusive Huawei interface that’s similar to Samsung’s Android desktop DeX. Like DeX, it gives you a desktop with application icons that feels a lot more like a laptop than a tablet.
The desktop mode has multiple resizable windows, but only for some applications. We got the video player, email, and WPS Office all running in resizable windows, But for some reason, neither we nor our Huawei presenter could make Chrome work in a resizable window – it had to take over the whole screen.
The Price Has to Be Right
The bulk of Android tablets sold in the US are either cheap, like Amazon’s Fire lineup, or sold by wireless carriers. Huawei will need to offer a better sales pitch than Apple’s $329 iPad, or the not-bad $299 Asus Zenpad 3S 10 to succeed here. Unfortunately, it looks like the M5 will be more expensive than those competitors.
At the launch event, Huawei announced Euro prices between 349-499 for the 8.4-inch model, depending on storage and LTE modem, Euro prices between 399-549 for the 10.8-inch model, and prices between 499-599 euros for the 10.8-inch “Pro” model. With products like this, U.S. prices often mirror the Euro prices, because the Euro is worth about $1.20, but the Euro prices include around 20% sales tax. Huawei has not announced the U.S. prices.
If we’re using the Euro prices, the Mediapad will cost $399-599, which starts at $70 above the current fifth-gen iPad and jumps up into iPad Pro range. Samsung hasn’t had a lot of success with the Galaxy Tab S3 up there at that price level, so it’s hard to see these prices as anything other than a missed opportunity.