The market for tablets was once a booming one, growing faster year-over-year than almost any other technology segment, and once thought to eventually overtake laptops as the primary means of mobile productivity. Over a short period of just a few years, however, tablets became less of a productivity device and much more of a media consumption device, often times used exclusively to watch movies and play games while on vacation, on long road trips and plane rides, or just while lounging on the couch on a Saturday morning. Huawei seems to have recognized these qualities in tablets with its MediaPad line, and 2016 is bringing us the third in the series, with specs and a price more convincing for a casual device than ever before.
Debuting at around $400 for the 32GB version and $500 for the 64GB version, the Huawei MediaPad M3 is among the slim list of tablets debuting this Fall. Sporting an 8.4-inch IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1600 x 2560 pixels on the front, the MediaPad M3 is powered by Huawei's own in-house Kirin 950 SoC. This octo-core processor is made up of 8 Cortex-A72 cores, built upon ARM's latest 64-bit architecture for mobile chipsets, as well as a Mali-T880 GPU. Inside you'll also find 4GB of RAM as well as 32GB of internal storage with microSD card support for expandable storage.
On the front sits an 8-megapixel camera, while the back of the device sports a 13-megapixel one, but neither camera has a flash. Inside that all metal chassis is a non-removable 5,100mAh battery, and this is charged via the microUSB port on the bottom of the tablet. This 8.4-inch tablet has rather slim bezels all around the display, leaving the body to be measured at 215mm tall by 124mm wide by 7.3mm thin, and weighing 320 grams.
In The Box
Huawei's boxes are nothing short of elegant looking, and the all white box with gold lettering on the MediaPad M3 is nothing short of gorgeous looking right off the bat. Inside you'll find the tablet front-facing along with a screen protector hidden in a small pouch on the top flap of the box. Inside a covered portion to the right of the tablet is a microUSB to USB Type-A cable, as well as a 5v/2a 10W QuickCharge 2.0 wall charger. Underneath the tablet you'll find the SIM/microSD card tray eject tool and nothing much else inside this fairly minimal packaging.
At 8.4-inches and a resolution of 1600 x 2560, this is a nice sharp panel that definitely won't see any complaints in the resolution or clarity departments. This IPS LCD display is fairly typical of IPS panels in general, including great brightness range and very easy usage in sunlight and other outdoor conditions, as well as great viewing angles. Color balance here trends toward the cool side of the spectrum, making whites ever so slightly blue instead of true white. This is slight enough to where you likely won't notice it while watching videos or playing games, but overly white screens will definitely make it apparent. The color temperature of the panel can be completely customized, with a warm or cold preset, but the option to select any color on a color wheel is possible. There's even the option to filter out blue light for better low light use and less strain on the eyes. Adjusting the size of on-screen elements and font sizes is simple in the display settings section on the phone, and text can be modified from super large for folks that have more difficulty seeing, to small and ultra productive for those wanting to use this more as a writing device.
Black levels are not great, even for an IPS panel. In addition to this the higher the brightness goes the worse these black levels will inherently get thanks to the way an LCD panel's backlight works. Contrast levels are equally poor, and watching darker movies is more of a washed out experience than I would have hoped for given that the name here implies it's more of a media consumption device than anything. Refresh rate of the pixels could use a bit of work too, as there's very obvious trailing behind elements on screen while moving. These negatives seem to be less noticeable when playing bright and colorful games or in brighter areas, but using the tablet in darker rooms or playing any content with a higher contrast will immediately bring this issue out. Touch response of the digitizer was excellent though and didn't show any signs of grounding issues or having a cheaper digitizer, delivering fantastic multi-touch performance and fast, accurate swipes and other motions. There's even a glove mode too, giving users the ability to touch the screen while still keeping their gloves on, a feature that's a must-have in any colder climate.
Hardware and Build
For some time now Huawei's build and styling have been similar across device lines. You'll find a similar unibody metal design here that you'll see on phones like the Mate 8, Mate S or even the Nexus 6p. The back is flat for most of the surface until you get to the left and right edges, which swoop inward ever so slightly to make the tablet easier to hold. As this is an 8-inch tablet it's a little easier to handle than a larger one, and these types of curved designs help quite a bit in that regard too. You'll find familiar chamfered edges all around the edge of the device, helping to bring the edge more smoothly into the front and back of the device, all while still retaining a defined straight edge instead of a round one. The left and right sides do taper in a bit toward the front and give some additional space for your fingers to grip onto the tablet.
Bezels around the front are quite small on the sides, but thankfully the ones on the top and bottom give just enough leverage to hold the tablet in either portrait or landscape directions. A lack of capacitive keys on the bottom also helps this, as you'll only find the centered elongated fingerprint scanner here, which features multiple gestures that we'll cover later. Both power button and volume rocker are on the right side of the device, while on the top you'll find a speaker and a 3.5mm headset jack. The bottom of the tablet holds the second speaker, completing the pair of stereo speakers on the chassis of the device, along with a centered microUSB port, with a microphone to the left and a SIM/microSD card try all the way to the right. A centered front-facing camera sits above the screen, while the back of the tablet holds a camera on the top-left of the device, located within the style bar up top.
Performance and Memory
Huawei generally uses their own in-house Kirin chipsets to power their devices, and following suit with that the MediaPad M3 utilizes a Kirin 950 System-on-a-Chip (SoC). This is an extremely powerful chipset that goes toe-to-toe with the Snapdragon 820 and Exynos 8890 on almost every front, especially when it comes to raw CPU performance. Gaming performance will take a hit in some titles though, as that GPU isn't quite up to the same grade as the CPU, resulting in 3D performance that can be touchy in more graphically intensive titles. 4GB of RAM is plenty of space to operate within the confines of the resolution of the panel, and since this is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow it also features some great behind the scenes task management that we don't always see with Chinese Android skins, which often times focus on keeping background tasks to a minimum to reduce data and battery usage to an extreme. By default Huawei enables a more aggressive memory management system than stock Android has, but this can be quickly turned off in the battery management section of the phone.
Unlike some previous EmotionUI powered devices from Huawei I never had an issue with apps closing too quickly in the background or not delivering notifications for important apps like Google's Hangouts or Inbox for instance. Thanks to the dedicated overview button on the software button bar at the bottom of the screen, multi-tasking is a single button press away, although the interface will remind you a lot more of an iOS7 style UI than an Android one. Thumbnails of each app sit within a horizontally scrolling row of recent apps, where swiping up on these thumbnails will immediately close the app and remove it from memory, while swiping down will attempt to lock it into memory. There's also a clear all button for closing everything if you so choose, but in general I found the switching speed between apps and multi-tasking in general to be a fantastic experience. Long pressing on any of these tiles will bring up the app info for each app, allowing you to manage its storage, permissions and other commonly used tasks in app management, but there's no native split screen for this tablet.
Huawei's Kirin 950 chipset is one fantastic performer that goes toe-to-toe with the best out there in CPU performance, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and Samsung Exynos 8890 SoC's. Where it doesn't quite match up is in the 3D graphics performance, which you'll see on the graphics-intensive 3DMark benchmark below.
Many tablets feature a specific model that comes with a SIM card slot, but many of these tablets don't feature the ability to actually use the device as a phone out of the box. Huawei not only provides a dialer here, but also contacts sync and all the necessary means of using this as a phone every day, although of course it'll be pretty awkward since it's an 8.4-inch tablet. Still I was able to use the MediaPad M3 as a phone for a whole day with minimal issue, as the speakers on the body of the device give some incredible sound levels and clarity to calls, although it's worth noting that these will only act as a speakerphone, so everyone around you will be able to hear your conversation. LTE on T-Mobile US's network was even supported too and delivered some incredibly clear calls with great, reliable data that's as fast as you could likely ask for with a modern wireless network, and should also work on AT&T's US network and many other global GSM networks as well.
When being used as a dedicated tablet, you'll find you can likely stretch the battery life of the MediaPad M3 out to just shy of a full week without issue. Standby time is killer, with effectively 0% drained from the battery while left on overnight for an 8-hour or longer period too, and screen on time should regularly reach well over 10 hours without issue too, even with heavy media consumption. For reference I streamed an entire 1 hour and 33 minute movie from Netflix and the battery only drained about 4% using the tablet at about 30% brightness. Some users may be able to get more depending on what they're doing on the device, but in general this is an excellent media consumption device when it comes to lasting for days on end. Qualcomm Quick Charge technology is supported here, but because of the size of the battery it'll still take between 2 and 3 hours, or longer depending on the charger you use, to charge this one from empty to full.
Boasting the Harman/Kardon namesake right on the back of the device and prominently placed on the box, Huawei is clearly proud of the sound reproduction quality of the MediaPad M3, and with good reason. Sitting on the metal body with beautifully machined speaker grilles are a pair of 1 Watt stereo speakers that deliver some of the cleanest, clearest and most full sound you'll probably hear from any tablet on the market. Huawei clearly anticipates that most users will listen to audio through these speakers, and it's taken some considerable time and effort in crafting an amazing experience here. Very palpable bass can be heard and felt, highs are crystal clear and the spread of the audio throughout the room is incredibly pleasing to the ears. Movies and games were nothing short of astounding on this tablet because of these speakers, although I didn't find myself enjoying music on them quite as much as I would just plugging it into a good pair of headphones or sound system. Thankfully if you want to do that you'll be treated to audio that's equally as good as what comes out of the speakers, or better depending on your sound system of course. There is no built-in equalizer though, so if the sound output doesn't quite meet your expectations there's no way to adjust it on the tablet itself.
Huawei's EmotionUI 4.1 (EMUI) skin can be found atop Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and in general delivers a pleasant experience for a tablet. As most people won't use tablets like phones, the design tends to focus more on the fact that this is a bigger, clunkier device and has plenty of room to fit elements on screen that can be more slowly pressed. When using EMUI on a phone I generally find myself getting frustrated at the more clunky UI design presented here, as it plays a lot more like iOS than Android in many aspects. This slower design works better on a tablet though, as it requires less swipes and precision presses, and as a whole I found the software experience here to be pretty enjoyable, aside from the wasted space in the quick toggles section.
There's a ton of features here too, some tablet exclusive and some just fit in with the later builds of EMUI and can be found on Huawei's phones as well. First off is the new multi-function fingerprint reader found underneath the screen. A single press will act as a back button when the screen is on, while a long press will function as a normal home button. Swiping left or right on it will bring up the multi-tasking overview menu, and swiping up will bring up Google Now (or your preferred voice assistant). This excellent design follows much in the footsteps of Meizu's multi-function button below the screen, and gives plenty of flexibility to users who prefer to use this more physical home key, or can be turned off completely and just used as a fingerprint scanner instead, bringing software buttons back on screen.
Lots of gestures and motions have been packed into the MediaPad M3, but not all of them are the most useful things in the world simply because of the size of the device. Easily the most useful is the shifting keyboard when using Huawei's stock keyboard, which brings the keyboard more to the left or right side of the device to allow you to better one-hand this tablet. There's also a floating dock which places a floating bubble on screen that can be moved to any place and adds conveniently accessible home, back, overview and screen lock buttons, although that fifth "one-touch optimization" button is a little silly to have as a quick use button and would have been better served as almost anything else.
Huawei packs a handful of tools and apps into the tablet too, including your normal things like calculator, weather, compass, etc. In addition to this a full version of WPS Office is included, and the Huawei Cares app gives easy one-click support for issues that users may have in dozens of countries across the world. his is a feature-packed experience but one that's not overwhelming and doesn't take up a lot of space from the get-go either.
Fingerprint, Security and Data Management
Huawei's fingerprint scanners are among the most advanced in the industry, and the one on the MediaPad M3 is no exception. Lightning fast, instant response to your fingerprint pressing against the capacitive reader on the front is the norm, and as mentioned earlier it also performs multiple functions as well. As this is Android 6.0 Marshmallow you'll find official API support for fingerprint recognition, meaning apps like Paypal and others that now have built-in fingerprint recognition will work as well. Android Pay and other NFC payment methods will not work since there's no NFC on this tablet, but that's the only missing function in regards to fingerprint security.
As is the case with many Chinese OEM skins of Android, data management takes front stage on the MediaPad M3, giving users complete granular control over how each app uses data. This includes both WiFi and cell data, with breakdowns for each app and the ability to sort by data usage per day, week and month to keep track of data hogging apps over time. In addition to this you can also restrict apps to only WiFi data, cell data, both or none at all if you want to keep specific apps from using any kind of data. There are also built-in harassment controls here too, allowing you to add any phone number to the blacklist so that they can't text or call you.
Huawei's camera software has remained largely unchanged for the past few years with one very pleasant exception; there is now a quick switch button on the bottom right of the interface to move between picture and video mode. Having a dedicated button that would just begin recording instead of just switching between modes would be even better, but this is a great step in the right direction when compared to many other of the homogeneous smartphone and tablet camera UIs. Much else is the same here, including swiping to the right to bring up all 16 camera modes supported by the tablet, and swiping left brings up all the options. Swiping upward brings up the gallery and allows you to actually halve the screen, splitting it between the gallery and the live viewfinder, while swiping down flips between front and rear cameras.
Huawei's manual camera controls have become some of the absolute best in the industry over the past few iterations, and the MediaPad M3 actually has manual photo and manual video split between two separate modes. Pro photo mode provides the most options, with the ability to change exposure methods, ISO, shutter speed, Exposure value, manual focus and white balance. Pro video mode gives options for exposure method, exposure value, manual focus and white balance, but no shutter or ISO selections. Other notable modes include Light Painting, timelapse and all focus mode, some of which are more usable than others in daily situations. Light Painting will require a tripod or stand of some sort since the tablet will need to be held still, and timelapse is likely best used this way too. All Focus allows you to refocus the shot after taking it, but it takes a few seconds to grab the image, so this is best used on non-moving subjects. Automatic HDR would have been nice here too, as it's a separate mode that needs to be switched to and takes an additional second or two to switch to because there's no quick button or automatic mode.
Camera Performance and Results
Huawei's camera software is masterful on many levels, and this includes performance as well. The camera will launch in 1-2 seconds at the most from a cold start, an impressive number for any phone, let alone a tablet. On top of this focusing is lightning fast and takes milliseconds, with high levels of accuracy too. I never had to click to refocus on the right object during the test, something that many devices out there can't say. Picture taking is absolutely instantaneous, and even HDR mode is near instant too, with just an ever-so-slight pause to grab those extra exposure brackets.
Quality is another thing entirely, but honestly as a tablet this should not be your primary picture taking tool by any means, if for no other reason than the sheer size of the device itself. This 13-megapixel sensor produces some decent imagery at best, but most of the time the color accuracy is just so far off that the pictures end up feeling "cheap" in a way. There's also a high amount of noise, and therefore noise reduction going on, and it produces an image that's full of unpleasant little details rather than the ones you meant to grab. Contrast is pretty poor, white balance isn't great and dynamic range is low, even in HDR mode. Overall this one will get the job done of posting pictures to social media in most cases, but the pictures certainly won't be good. This also extends to video mode using the rear camera, which allows for up to 1080p 30fps quality video, but overall is soft looking and really only comes across as decent at best.
The front facing camera is definitely a winner though, with a nice sharp 8-megapixel resolution and a good sensor that produces excellent images. Everything about this camera seems to be the total opposite of the rear-facing camera, which honestly given the fact that this is a tablet is perfectly fine. Video calls using Skype, Duo or whatever other service you prefer will look nothing short of excellent here, and those ever important selfies will definitely have a fantastic quality to them in any light. When darker lighting situations happen, the MediaPad M3 will light up the screen bright white to act as a pseudo flash, illuminating everything in the foreground thanks to that large screen. Video for the front-facing camera is just as good as pictures too, producing sharp 1080p content that's likely to have your Snapchat followers gawking at the quality. Check our gallery below for all the pictures taken during the review period.
Solid, quality build
Top-notch sound output quality
Stunning stereo speakers
Speedy and responsive
Some great software features
Fantastic front-facing camera
Fast, well designed camera software
SIM Card support
microSD card support
Phenomenal battery life
Awful screen for a media consumption device, especially in lower light where the poor contrast and black levels are most noticeable
EMUI may trouble some users because of its design
Gaming performance is hit or miss
The only incredibly obvious negative to the Huawei MediaPad M3 is the screen, which is unfortunately a pretty important part of the experience on any mobile device, especially a tablet. While the screen isn't horrible by any means and does have plenty of good qualities, folks that regularly watch movies in darker rooms will likely find this to be a less than favorable experience, as the contrast and black levels of the display really leave a lot to be desired. Outside of these sorts of scenarios the Huawei MediaPad M3 is one fantastic tablet without a doubt, and one that represents some of the best the industry has to offer right now. Huawei's software feels mostly great on a tablet, although it doesn't support split screen functionality, so it's productivity possibilities might be a little lower than some other tablets out there. Still with fast app switching via that ingenious multi-touch fingerprint scanner and some great RAM management, you'll be moving between apps with little effort. It's no secret that the tablet market has shrunk considerably from just a few years ago, but we're still getting quality, affordable devices from companies like Huawei, and if you're looking for something that'll get the job done in more situations than not, this is a great tablet to consider.