Huawei MatePad Pro review – Pocket ribbon

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(Pocket Ribbon) – Android tablets are a bit hit and miss, there's no denying it. Apple has completely dominated the market with its iPad models, while Amazon has nailed the budget sector by selling Fire tablets. The space for premium tablets without the Apple logo on the back seems to be getting slimmer – to the point that not many manufacturers even try.

For Huawei, this has been an industry where the company has done well in the past. Its tablets, like the 2018 MediaPad Pro, are among the better ones powered by Google's operating system.

But this is 2020, which means there's a problem: Google Play services are not allowed due to a trade ban in the US, so the MatePad Pro reviewed here can't offer a Google Play Store – so you may not be able to access some of your most wanted apps. Sure, Huawei's App Gallery store will be in place, so not all is lost. But is that enough to deliver enough across the board for this otherwise versatile touchscreen powerhouse?

Skinny picture frame dream

Dimensions: 146 x 159 x 7.2 mm / Weight: 460 g Punch-hole camera 4.9 mm bezels

If there's one element that Huawei has done absolutely right with the MatePad Pro, it's the design. You could accuse it of being a bit of an iPad-Pro-a-ish, but – and just like we've seen in the smartphone market – there's a general movement toward screens with thin bezels all around no matter which manufacturer you choose. choose. watching.

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Huawei's MatePad Pro has some of the thinnest bezels we've seen in a tablet, and this slim frame is evenly spaced on all four sides, with just a very thin black gap between the actual screen and the bezel itself.

Rather than hiding the camera in the frame, Huawei has opted to place the front-facing camera in the display itself, in a small recess in the corner. It's unobtrusive enough, so usually easy to ignore. Or at least it's when it doesn't half cover a game / app's back button, which can happen from time to time.

The rounded corners of the MatePad Pro provide a comfortable grip. There are no really hard corners anywhere. The back is also completely flat, with our test unit's soft-touch white plastic feeling soft to the touch. That pearlescent finish might feel great, but it doesn't scream premium. Likewise, those rounded edges are also plastic, finished with a metallic silver color.

We could complain about this extensive use of plastic in a Pro tablet, but in reality it's not really something that really bothered us during our use of the MatePad Pro. Plus, it's not a metal back – like, say, an iPad is – because that wouldn't work with the wireless charging coils for the wireless charging feature.

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Buttons are sensibly placed, with the power button up at the top of the left edge (if horizontal) and the volume rocker at the top. The power button is joined by two speaker grilles on that edge, with two more on the opposite side where the Type-C port lives. It helps add a bit of symmetry, but more importantly, it makes for a pretty epic sound.

Believe us when we say, the audio output from this tablet can be loud. For small tablet speakers they are of decent quality, with a good balance between mids and highs. On the negative side, they sound a bit flat and have no bass so not the most amazing thing for listening to music, but for watching video it's great.

Keyboard and stylus

Keyboard cover uses magnets and NFC M-pencil connects magnetically and charges at the edge of the tablet

It's 2020, so you can't have a Pro tablet that doesn't have a keyboard and pen. So with the MatePad Pro, that's what you get. There's a stylus called the M-pencil that connects magnetically to the top of the tablet (or the right edge in portrait mode), and – similar to the iPad Pro and Pencil – charges the stylus's internal battery while attached so you never have to plug it in.

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This magnet built into the side is also quite powerful. Even when you carry the tablet without much care, the stylus will remain in place. The tip is also pressure sensitive so that when you are drawing, drawing or noting down, it shows a thicker / darker line when you press harder. It also feels natural to use, thanks in part to the fact that the MatePad ignores your palm when resting on the screen to jot down your note.

The resulting on-screen animation while writing is almost instant and quite smooth, which also adds to that natural feel. We like that you can start writing even with the screen off. As soon as you tap the screen with the tip of the M-pencil – even if the screen is dark in standby mode – the tablet wakes up and the Notes app opens.

There isn't a lot of apps well optimized for the pen in the App Gallery, but the tablet comes with Notes pre-installed with a mode specifically designed for use with the stylus. And that's not all. There is Nebo – a notepad / journal app – that can automatically understand your handwriting and convert it into text. It works well even with our (admittedly awful) handwriting. There is also the MyScript Calculator app, which allows you to write math sums and formulas, convert your written numbers and give you the answers.

Then there is the keyboard cover, which – like the M-pencil – must be purchased separately. It is a very thin cover that snaps onto the back of the tablet magnetically and uses NFC to communicate with the tablet. That means there are no physical contact points. It also has two shallow grooves along the top of the keyboard that serve as resting points for the MatePad.

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The keyboard is so thin that when closed over the tablet like a cover, it doesn't add too much bulk, keeping the profile slim and portable. That also means that there are not many trips in the keys. Still, it's nice to keep typing and easy going, even if you're a blind typist. It's quite compact and feels a little cramped compared to a full keyboard, and it's not sturdy enough to use on your lap. Typing with it on a table or desk is the best option here.

If you need physical keys because you think you can use the tablet for work, it's worth considering one. It's also worth considering a wireless keyboard. Huawei's desktop mode – which we'll get into later – allows for a more PC-like interface and means you can use a keyboard and mouse.

Screen

10.8-inch IPS LCD screen 2560 x 1600 resolution 16:10 aspect ratio

The MatePad Pro has a 10.8-inch panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio. That ratio is important because it keeps the screen from feeling like it's only good for video and nothing else.

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The panel is completely flat from edge to edge and despite being an LCD panel (not OLED), it is surprisingly vibrant and full of contrast. That means that pretty much any content looks good. Whether you like the crisp white background and text search in an ebook app, or enjoy the saturated colors offered by digital comics, movies and games, it looks great.

Part of that, of course, is the sharpness. The pixel-full resolution – it has a density of about 280 pixels per inch (ppi) – is quite high for a tablet. You have to get very close to distinguish between pixels. Used at arm's length, everything looks sharp and detailed. Viewing angles are also good, with no major color shifts or noticeable differences in brightness when shifting the angle of the tablet.

Performance

Kirin 990 processor, 6 GB RAM Battery capacity of 7,250 mAh 20W wired charging Wireless charging 4G or 5G models 13 MP camera

In terms of internal components, Huawei's latest tablet has enough power to keep even the most demanding tablet user happy. It starts with the Kirin 990 processor – the same powerful processor found in the Huawei P40 Pro phone. That together with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB storage, which makes for a smooth and fast experience.

During our testing it didn't seem to really matter what we were trying to do with the tablet, it did so effortlessly with no noticeable lag or lag. Apps load quickly, games are responsive, and the tablet feels smooth even when apps are running on top of other apps in tiny pop-up windows.

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Battery life is good too. Huawei says it can get you through 12 hours of use, which seems about right from our usage. Recharging is simple and versatile too. You can use a wired 20W connection or a wireless charger. If you put it on a wireless charging pad it can take quite a long time to fully charge it if you don't have a compatible 15W charger, no thanks to the battery capacity, but given the more casual usage scenarios for tablets compared to smartphones isn't that particularly a problem.

Plus, with its wireless charging hardware, Huawei has enabled reverse wireless charging, so you can place your smartphone on the back or even put in an earphone (if you have some with a wireless charging case) and charge it with power. of the MatePad.

Little needs to be said about the camera on the back. It's a fairly basic 13-megapixel that takes plenty of photos in good light. It's there when you need it, but you're better off just using your smartphone when you have it close at hand.

Software shenanigans

EMUI 10, based on Google Android 10 (AOSP) Screen-in-screen Huawei phone control Desktop mode

We cannot talk about Huawei without talking about software, ecosystem and services. Huawei's forced separation from Google has prompted the company to accelerate its plans to launch its own ecosystem. The progress made during that time has been impressive, but there are still some gaps to close for Western markets.

However, let's start with the good stuff first. As tablet interfaces go, there is a lot of versatility in Huawei's latest version of EMUI 10. There is too much to go into, but there are a few highlights.

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One of them is the PC / desktop user interface. With a quick press of a button in the quick settings drop-down list, you turn the usual Android-esque smartphone user interface into a user interface much more like a real computer.

That means you get shortcuts on the desktop, plus a taskbar at the bottom of the screen and access to the app drawer. It is more like Windows on PC in some ways. It also means that you can have multiple apps in floating windows on the screen, just like on a PC. It makes sense in some ways, especially for those who want to be able to do work in a way that feels familiar.

A quick press of another screen button and you can switch back to normal tablet mode. Even in this mode, Huawei has enabled a number of multi-tasking options. You can drag across a small floating app window on top of any full-screen app you're working on, or you can have a split screen with two apps side by side.

If you have a Huawei phone, there is also a built-in option to control your smartphone from a window-in-window screen on the tablet. It's a cool feature to have especially if you want to easily access files / images to drag and drop onto the MatePad. This collaboration workspace is nearly lag-free and easy to set up and use – no additional apps are required.

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The software side isn't all rainbows and cupcakes, of course. Despite all its efforts, time and money, Huawei's app offering in App Gallery is not yet competitive with Google Play or iOS. At least not from a European perspective.

That is no surprise. Nobody expected Huawei to catch up to a 12-year lead within 12 months. So the collection of popular apps from Facebook, such as Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, you will not find here.

For some others it is not impossible to get them on the tablet. You can use Huawei's Phone Clone service – which can transfer apps from your Android phone to the tablet – so you don't miss that much. For that process, you need to install the Huawei clone app on your phone and then choose what to move.

Some apps won't transfer, others still won't work properly because they need Google Play services, which Huawei device doesn't have. Some games – especially those that require more files to download after launch – don't work at all even after being copied.

Strangely enough, there were even some apps downloaded from Huawei's App Gallery that kept showing a message saying they wouldn't work without Google Play Services. Tidal's music streaming app behaved like this, to the point where we had to block notifications as it kept informing us that it couldn't work, and still it worked perfectly.

The positive twist to this might be that Android apps aren't as well optimized for tablets anyway, and so absence isn't as important here as on a smartphone. Using the built-in browser for many of the services (especially Facebook and Google Docs) is a workaround, and when you're on a big screen it's not too much of a hassle. However, specifically for Google Docs, we had to put the tablet in desktop mode to use it, but it works.

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For a few others, we were able to manually download APKs – Huawei offers Petal Search to help with this – and so we ended up having many of the apps we wanted. We had Kindle and Comixology for reading, Telegram and Slack for messages, Tidal for music, BBC iPlayer for video, Netflix in the browser, and Amazon shopping.

It must be said that the ones that have not been downloaded from the App Gallery will not be automatically updated, and so if you follow the method of cloning apps and / or download APKs you may be stuck with old versions for a while unless you stick manually check for and download new versions. And that's not something we recommend.

Had it not been for the app situation, Huawei's EMUI would be an immediate recommendation as one of the most versatile ways to use a tablet. You get both the traditional mobile tablet interface and a lightweight desktop experience, all in the same package. But the app situation is as it is, which is a clear shortcoming.

Conclusion

The Huawei MatePad is a great looking tablet with a lot of power, a strong feature set and sleek screen bezels.

But you don't get Google Play on this Android tablet – it's the Huawei App Gallery instead – meaning you can't access some of your most wanted apps. Sure there are some workarounds – APK downloads with Petal Search, Phone Clone from an existing Huawei device with Google Services – but if you need WhatsApp with the ability to back up messages (for which Google's services needed), this isn't the right tablet for you.

Despite that obvious hurdle, we've found using the MatePad Pro to be enjoyable when tablets go. Since it's somewhere between a phone and a laptop, many of those important services can be accessed through the browser, and on a device so large that it doesn't feel as clunky and counter-intuitive as on a phone. Especially with a connected keyboard. You wouldn't complain that they had to open, say, Facebook or Twitter from the browser on a laptop.

If Google Play Store were on the MatePad Pro, it would probably be one of the best Android tablets on the market. As it is, though, it's a bit of a risk, despite how great we love it.

Alternatives to consider

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Apple iPad Air

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Apple's latest 10.5-inch iPad Air is a fantastic tablet for the money. In all respects, it's essentially the old 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and it'll cost you a lot less than the modern iPad Pro.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

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Samsung's Tab S series is the easiest comparison here. Just like the Huawei MatePad Pro, it even has edges all around and a great screen. There is also the even newer Tab S7 + model, with its OLED screen, but that's quite a bit of money.

Written by Cam Bunton. Editing by Mike Lowe.

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