“Finally, an eight-inch Android flagship.”
We said that about the Huawei MediaPad M3 in November, even though it lacked flagship-level specs. Call it high-end by default, simply because no mainstream manufacturer has released an 8-inch Android tablet in recent years.
And that’s a shame. We’ve long considered eight inches the perfect size for a mobile tablet: big enough for productivity, small enough to remain wieldy.
We liked the Huawei MediaPad M3 then, but what do we think about it now, after spending a few weeks with the 8-inch Android tablet? Find out in this Huawei MediaPad M3 review.
Huawei MediaPad M3 Build & Design
Huawei MediaPad M3 back panel
Huawei makes great hardware. We’ve claimed it about each of its recent smartphones and the Matebook Windows tablet, and we’ll claim it again here. The MediaPad M3 has an aluminum and glass build, reminiscent of the Mate 9. With flat sides and a slightly curved back, it’s easy and pleasant to grip.
Its side display bezels are very thin, while the top and bottom are only thick enough to house the 8-megapixel front-facing camera and a fingerprint sensor, respectively. The sensor doubles as a multipurpose home key, and in a departure from the Android tablet norm, the MediaPad M3 lacks capacitive back and all-apps keys.
The back sports the 8-megapixel rear camera, contained in a white glass strip, along with Huawei and Harman/Kardon branding, as well as an antenna strip.
The right side houses a single-piece volume rocker, just above a textured power button; the top features a speaker and 3.5mm audio input; and the bottom features a speaker, pin-hole mic, microSD card tray slot, and a microUSB input.
Huawei MediaPad M3 microUSB and speaker
Huawei MediaPad M3 audio port and speaker
Outside of the unique home key situation, everything is where it should be, and we’re pleased with the dual-speaker setup. It makes the most sense for landscape media viewing (though we’d prefer front-facing speakers, it’s been years since we’ve seen them on a mainstream mobile tablet). We’re disappointed to see microUSB in favor of USB Type-C. It’s time for all devices to ship with what’s fast becoming the standard.
Huawei MediaPad M3 volume rocker and power button
Lacking an all-apps and back keys, the home key serves quadruple duty. It’s a gesture and fingerprint sensor: tap for back, tap and hold for home, swipe for recent apps.
With a slight learning curve, we grew fond of tapping the home key to go back. It’s a quick-and-easy way to access the most commonly-used command, and the setup reduces accidental key presses.
As with any tablet, a case is highly recommended. Huawei thankfully packages a plastic screen protector with the MediaPad M3, but that’ll do little to protect against drops.
Huawei MediaPad M3 Display and Speakers
Huawei MediaPad M3 display
The MediaPad M3’s 8.4-inch IPS display has a 2560 x 1600 resolution, resulting in 359 pixels per inch. It’s sharp, and provides a decent picture. Colors are accurate as well as vibrant, and contrast deep. As with other Huawei devices, display settings enable deep temperature tweaking. Also included, an eye comfort mode that filters out blue light. While we’ve never been fans of this feature, thinking it gimmicky, it’s no knock on Huawei for including it.
A max setting, the MediaPad M3 display is bright enough for comfortable viewing. It’s also very reflective. It’s near impossible to see outdoors on a sunny day.
Here’s our boilerplate: major device displays range from good to great. The Huawei MediaPad M3 display quality isn’t the best, but it’s still very good, especially combined with its ideal size.
Huawei paid special attention to the speakers. “Developed in partnership with Harman Kardon,” the speakers feature “Huawei’s own SWS 3.0 (Super Wide Sound) technology,” according to the company.
That’s marketing speak, and Huawei backs it up with great sound output. The speakers are loud and clear, with relatively robust sound. The speakers rival laptops in terms of audio volume and quality. Tablet speakers are typically the inverse of displays in terms of quality. Most are lousy, and the best are acceptable. The Huawei MediaPad M3 speakers are a step above.
Huawei MediaPad M3 Performance
The MediaPad M3 has Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 950 octa-core processor (4 x A72 @ 2.3GHz + 4 x A53 @ 1.8GHz) and 4GB LPDDR4 RAM. It’s a similar spec sheet to Huawei’s Honor 8 smartphone, and it performs just as well.
It can easily handle day-to-day mobile tablet tasks, and demanding 3D games. Only compared against the latest and greatest Android devices are its limitations noticeable. The flagships are a little smoother and a hair quicker. Still, with 4GB RAM, the MediaPad M3 should retain its zip for a few years.
Looking at the benchmarks, and the MediaPad M3 is a mixed bag. Our Huawei MediaPad M3 review unit scored well against various smartphones and tablets in the Geekbench 4 benchmark, while scoring at or near the bottom in the various AnTuTu benchmarks. It’s important to note that benchmarks are imperfect, serving to partially quantify “performance,” which can be very subjective. The Google Pixel XL is a is a “smoother” device, but its graphics performance isn’t 2x-plus better than the the M3, despite what the benchmarks show.
As with other Huawei devices, the fast and reliable fingerprint sensor is one of the best in the market.
Huawei MediaPad M3 fingerprint sensor
Our Huawei MediaPad M3 review unit shipped with 32GB onboard storage, of which, about 20GB are free with a fresh start. It has its share of bloatware and system tools. Thankfully, the former can be uninstalled, while the latter are useful enough to justify inclusion.
As of this writing, our Huawei MediaPad M3 review unit runs Android 6.0, with Huawei’s EMUI 4.1 skin. Both are out of date, as Android 7.1 Nougat is the current OS version (as of February 2017), along with EMUI 5.0.
EMUI 4.1 is a heavier skin than 5.0, and it’s polarizing. Some like its suspicious resemblance to iOS (two-paned notifications, no app drawer), while others decry it as too far a departure from stock Android. While we prefer the lighter touch of 5.0, the earlier version isn’t horrible. Besides, those pining for an app drawer can always download and install the Google Now launcher.
Inexplicably, the MediaPad doesn’t support dual-band Wi-Fi. It can only connect to 2.4GHz networks. This would be a knock against a budget device, so we’re highly disappointed the MediaPad M3 is limited.
Huawei MediaPad M3 Battery
The Huawei MediaPad M3 has a 5100mAh battery, which should last a full day with regular use. Our Huawei MediaPad M3 review unit lasted 7 hours exactly in our torture test: streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi with the screen set to max brightness. Tablets range from 4 to 12 hours in this test, while smartphones regularly hit 8 to 12 hours. Seven hours is a good result.
It’s not a very fast-charging tablet. It reached 15% from a dead battery after 15 minutes of charging, and 27% after 30.
Huawei MediaPad M3 Value
The 32GB Huawei MediaPad M3 costs around $300, and we’ve seen it available for as little as $250. Huawei offers a 64GB version for $400, which includes AKG headphones.
Avoid the 64GB version. The added capacity and headphones aren’t worth the added cost. The 32GB M3 is a good buy at $300, and a great buy at $250. The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 costs about the same, and it has inferior specs, while the Apple iPad mini 4 starts at $400. The only other mid-range Android tablet we’d consider is the $200 Nvidia Shield K1 Tablet.
Huawei MediaPad M3 Review Conclusion
The Huawei MediaPad M3 is the perfect size, with a decent screen and great speakers. Its performance is acceptable, especially considering the price, and we like Huawei’s innovative take on the home key.
It doesn’t support dual-band Wi-Fi. That’s the biggest knock against it. And though it shouldn’t be, the EMUI skin might be a dealbreaker for some.
The Huawei MediaPad M3 may not be the flagship we proclaimed it to be in late 2016, but it’s a good tablet. Given the dearth of options, we’ll take it.