The Android-powered Huawei Mediapad M3 tablet, announced at IFA, lives up to its name: It's designed for media consumption. While it doesn't appear to have the graphics chops for great gaming (that would be the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1, our Editors' Choice) or the keyboard and apps for office work, it looks like it'll be great for reading books and watching videos. Huawei let us check out the M3 in advance of its announcement, but this isn't a full review. The tablet we saw was not a U.S. model, and it had enough bugs and software incompatibilities to make it not quite ready for primetime (and so far there isn't a price or release date). But we got a pretty good idea of what Huawei is going to put out there.
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Physical Design and Features
The Mediapad M3 is a slim, light (11.3-ounce) slate with a golden matte metal back. In the hand, the materials and build feel a lot like the Apple Pad mini 4, although this is a taller, narrower design.
On the front, there's an 8.4-inch, 2,560-by-1,600-pixel IPS LCD that's clear and bright. Below the screen is a Home button/fingerprint sensor. The tablet comes with 64GB of internal storage (54.21GB of which is available after the software load) and has both SIM and microSD card slots.
The Mediapad M3's tall, narrow form begs to be held in a single hand. In the time I spent with it, that's why I kept turning to reading on the tablet. With Marvel Unlimited, Comixology, and Kindle, the screen performed beautifully. The tablet has color temperature and blue light adjustments; they're buried in the settings a bit, and it would be nice if Huawei made them easier to find.
While Huawei lists LTE among the specs, we tried the tablet with a T-Mobile SIM card and only saw EDGE-level performance. Huawei confirmed that the universal version we received doesn't have the right frequency bands for U.S. LTE networks. We had much better luck with Wi-Fi, getting good speeds even at the edges of a 5GHz Wi-Fi network. The tablet even makes phone calls, as a speakerphone. This is a popular feature on tablets in Asia, but we don't see it much here in the states. I suspect the functionality will be removed for the U.S. model.
We were able to manage 4 hours, 35 minutes of Wi-Fi video streaming at maximum screen brightness in our battery test, which isn't great, but isn't awful. As our tablet didn't have the final software, though, that could definitely change.
Android and Performance
The Mediapad M3 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Huawei's heavy EMUI skin, which rremoves the app drawer and has a more Apple-like notifications dropdown than standard Android. It also adds limited dual-window functionality, which splits the screen in half and works with built-in apps, Google apps, and Netflix.
The 2.3GHz Kirin 950 CPU, the same one used in Huawei's Honor 8 phone, fits between Qualcomm's Snapdragon 650 (as used in the Asus Zenpad Z8) and flagship tablet chipsets like the Exynos 5433 in the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2.
It was difficult to get a good bead on performance, as the unit we tested had some compatibility issues. Popular benchmarking apps such as Antutu and GFXBench simply wouldn't install, and the Asphalt 8 driving game had serious frame rate problems. But other apps did install, and Need for Speed: No Limits, for example, had no frame rate issues.
We did tease out one potential weakness of the M3 using the 3DMark benchmark: The Mali-T880 GPU just doesn't measure up to the competing Galaxy Tab S2 and Nvidia Shield K1 on gaming performance. On the 3DMark Slingshot test, we saw 697 on this tablet, as compared with 878 on the Tab S2 and 2,469 on the Shield K1. This tablet will work well for for reading and video viewing, but less so for gaming.
The tablet has dual 8-megapixel cameras, on the front and back. The front camera uses the screen to create a "selfie flash" effect in low light that really brightens things up; without it on, low-light front-facing photos can get blurry. Images taken with the main camera suffer from some color noise, but overall it's good enough for photographing receipts, playing Pokemon Go—the sort of stuff you're likely to use a tablet camera for.
There are stereo Harmon/Kardon speakers on the top and bottom of the tablet (or left and right, in landscape mode) that offer solid stereo separation, but sound a bit tinny.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Huawei hasn't announced a U.S. price or release date for the Mediapad M3, and price is going to matter a lot here. With its sharp screen and light, single-handed form factor, the M3 looks like an excellent tablet for reading comics and watching video. But this is a highly competitive market. Looking at tablets with similar high-res screens, the Asus ZenPad Z8 runs for $249 from Verizon, and the iPad mini 4 starts at $299. The M3 has a better aspect ratio than the Z8 does for reading and the iPad mini offers more apps. It's going to have to fit into that price range to be competitive. Check back soon for price and release details, as well as a full review of the final hardware.