Review: Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0

Introduction and design

Huawei is now the third largest smartphone maker in the world behind Samsung and Apple, and the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 shows that it’s bringing that know-how to the tablet format.

What we have here is a full-sized Android tablet with a premium build and several pro-level features – all for significantly less money than the iPad Air 2.

Which is all the more remarkable when you consider that Huawei appears to be targeting the iPad Pro 9.7 with the MediaPad M2’s feature set.

It depends which model you opt for, though. The ‘Standard’ model comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage for around £250 (US$350, roughly AU$485), and feels every inch the iPad Air 2 competitor – though it’s actually £100 (US$50, AU$115) cheaper than Apple’s aging tablet.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

The ‘Premium’ model, meanwhile, comes with 3GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, an M-Pen stylus, and even a free case for £330, US$420 (roughly AU$640). There’s a definite iPad Pro 9.7 vibe to this unit, yet it’ll cost you a whopping £170 (US$180, AU$260) less than Apple’s 32GB Pro tablet.

I should note that the MediaPad M2 model I’ve been testing also comes with LTE connectivity, which will set you back a little extra. But it still doesn’t crack the £400 (US$500, AU$700) mark – if you can find it for sale in your country, that is. At the time of writing, it seems much easier to obtain the Standard model in the UK than the Premium.

Of course, Android tablets have always been a lot cheaper than their iPad equivalents. They’ve also generally been a lot worse.

So while it’s great that the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 has won the price round so comfortably, I was really more interested to learn if it could produce a true top-end tablet experience worthy of comparison with the iPad family.

On that front, it falls predictably short, but it’s a commendable effort in several respects.

Design

Fittingly enough, the design of the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 evokes the work of the two companies it’s seeking to overthrow. From the front, it’s very reminiscent of Samsung tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. It even has a slightly cheap-looking faux-metal plastic screen surround, like some of Samsung’s lesser models.

The rear three-quarters of the MediaPad M2, however, is predominantly made of the kind of shimmering aluminum (in Luxurious Gold or Moonlight Silver) that you’d expect to see on an iPad. Except, that is, for an apologetically plastic top section that clearly houses the antenna array.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

This is a slightly cheap trick that Huawei has pulled in the past with the otherwise-awesome Nexus 6P, and I wish it would come up with an alternative solution. It’s all about the little details at this level.

At 7.4mm thin and 500g, the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 is significantly thicker and heavier than the iPad Pro 9.7 and iPad Air 2 (both 6.1mm and 444g in their LTE guises). Sure enough, it feels chunky and slightly unwieldy in the hands – particularly in landscape, thanks to its elongated 16:9 aspect ratio. This is a tablet you’ll want to prop up rather than hold for any period of time.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

And make no mistake, this tablet has been designed with widescreen content in mind. The key difference between the front layout of the MediaPad M2 and that of Samsung’s tablets is that the lozenge-shaped home key is aligned for landscape rather than portrait usage.

It’s the same story with the power and volume keys, which are found on the right-hand short edge, near the top.

Just going back to that home button for a second – it’s a capacitive button rather than the clicky physical type favored by Samsung and Apple. It still works as a home shortcut, but you’ll need to hold rather than tap it. This didn’t stop me from accidentally quitting out of apps when a part of my hand rested against it, though.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

It also feels a little superfluous when the skinned Android OS retains its circular virtual home key just above it. Still, using it to wake the tablet makes up for some of its awkward nature.

Huawei’s 10.1-inch IPS LCD display is decent without scaling the crisp or vibrant delights of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 or iPad Pro 9.7. In particular, its 1920 x 1200 resolution results in a less sharp picture – 224ppi vs the 264ppi of Samsung’s and Apple’s finest.

The colors don’t exactly pop, but nor are they unnaturally garish, and the whites aren’t unnaturally tinted towards either extreme of the spectrum.

This is far from the best tablet display out there, then, but the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0’s screen does an adequate job.

Key features

It’s called the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0, and Huawei has stayed true to the name with arguably the tablet’s standout feature.

Regardless of which model you opt for, you’ll be getting an impressive media-playing machine. Despite having a merely adequate display, the MediaPad M2 excels in the audio department.

Huawei (in partnership with Harman Kardon) has packed its latest tablet with four speakers, two on the top edge and two on the bottom. It’s one of the main points of similarity with the iPad Pro 9.7.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

You might think that four speakers sounds like overkill, but Huawei isn’t simply going for raw volume here – though the MediaPad M2 certainly creates a racket when you crank it up past the halfway point.

It’s more about creating a wide sound range from intrinsically small and limited speakers. The top two speakers handle the treble, while the bottom two deal with the bass. The result is a greater sense of depth to the sound than the vast majority of tablets can provide.

You’ll still want to bring along a decent set of headphones to listen to music, but for general usage – and particularly when you want to show off videos and presentations to someone sat next to you – it offers one of the better sound outputs on the market.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Another key addition to the MediaPad M2 – at least in the Premium model that I tested – is the inclusion of a stylus. It’s called the M-Pen here, and it functions in a similar way to Samsung’s S Pen.

The M-Pen itself is a much nicer piece of kit than Samsung’s, however. It feels more like a quality rollerball pen and less like a Nintendo 3DS accessory, with a metal body and even a clip when you want to stash it away.

Indeed, the latter is far from a cosmetic touch – there’s nowhere to stash the M-Pen on the MediaPad M2.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Huawei’s stylus comes with two control buttons, which feel a little awkwardly placed. You’ll need to roll the thick, perfectly round pen around to get the buttons to fall under your forefinger or thumb, but they’re not textured or defined enough to be able to do this quickly by feel.

The process of having to click the bottom button and touch the screen to bring up a radial control menu doesn’t feel as intuitive as Samsung’s solution, either, and your actual options from this menu are a lot more limited too.

All you can do is bring up a note, draft an email, or boot up a calculator that detects and translates your scrawled sums. The fourth option is a simple help icon that’s only useful for the first few days of ownership at most.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Only the Note option is really of any use here, as it brings up the pre-installed Bamboo Paper app from noted digital pen company Wacom.

Combined with the M-Pen’s 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, Bamboo Paper’s inclusion really helps the stylus to sing. You can sketch, scribble notes, import and annotate/deface photos, and more. You’ll need to pay for additional brush heads, though, which is a bit of a shame.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Another way in which the M-Pen has been well integrated is when it comes to text entry. Bring up the keyboard for any reason whilst using the M-Pen, and the text field will automatically switch to a handwriting mode.

This will allow you to literally write out text, and Huawei’s software will turn it into digital copy. It works very well, too, barring a few instances of overzealous autocorrection.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

The M-Pen’s performance is generally good, with a natural feel that lets you write and draw fairly accurately – though there is a discernible degree of lag to it too, which can be disconcerting when you’re drawing something with lots of little strokes, for example.

Erasing your scrawlings is a matter of pressing and holding the second function button, which is less intuitive than the Apple Pencil’s dedicated eraser. This eraser function is also inconsistently applied, as it doesn’t work when you annotate a screenshot.

Like I said at the outset, it’s the little details that count when you’re taking the fight to Apple.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Another pro-level feature here is the MediaPad M2’s fingerprint sensor, which is all part of that fixed home button. In my experience, it was pretty quick and reliable. Perhaps not up to the standard of Apple’s and Samsung’s latest, but decent nonetheless.

In addition to being a fingerprint sensor, this home button can be used to mimic the Android system’s back and multitasking keys by swiping left and right accordingly. It’s neither as intuitive nor reliable as having a set button (virtual or physical) though, so I didn’t find myself using this very often.

Performance and battery

One major indicator of Huawei’s power on the smartphone scene is the fact that it’s one of the few manufacturers to be able to lean on its own chip technology. HiSilicon is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese giant, and it makes the Kirin 930 CPU that powers the Huawei MediaPad M2.

This comes with a quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex A53 and a quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex A53 set-up, which it can switch between according to the intensity of the task. It’s backed by a slightly creaky Mali-T628 MP4 GPU.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

The Kirin 930 seems to be a decent enough chip, but it won’t be giving Qualcomm, Samsung, or Apple any sleepless nights. Running the tablet through the popular Geekbench 3 benchmark test, it attained a respectable multi-core score of 3,577.

That’s comfortably slower than the iPad Air 2 (4,506), the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (4,077), and the Google Pixel C (4,449) – the first of which was launched way back in 2014.

We’re talking about a mid-range runner, then, and this bears out in general usage. General navigation through the home screens is fairly quick and smooth, if not quite stutter-free, and booting up apps doesn’t take too long. But scrolling through the Google Play store is a curiously stop-start experience.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

What’s more, having played a few games on the slate, I can confirm that it’s nowhere near the top tablets for performance. Whether it’s demanding 3D games like Dead Trigger 2 or detailed 2D games like Rayman Adventures, I noticed stutters and (in the case of the former) a lack of advanced effects when set to ‘High’.

If I were to guess, I’d attribute this to the Kirin 930’s slightly out-of-date GPU. It’s all still perfectly usable, and of course those speakers enhance the experience, but gamers in particularly might want to consider opting for something with a little more poke.

Mention should be made that the MediaPad M2 runs on Android 5.1 Lollipop, rather than the most up to date Android 6.0 Marshmallow. We’ve grown accustomed to this tardiness from manufacturers, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying – Android Marshmallow was officially released in October 2015.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Of course, the reason for this behind-the-curve OS is that Huawei slathers on its custom Emotion UI 3.1 skin, but this, sadly, isn’t a particularly good take on Android.

Emotion UI does away with the app drawer, so it’s more like Apple’s iOS. That won’t present a problem for most people, and it’s a fairly intuitive UI overall. But it’s also full of little annoyances and rough edges, like custom default app icons that change along with a range of ugly themes.

These aren’t particularly pleasant as it is, but compounding the issues is the fact that Google’s app icons seem stuck on their old versions.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

If you want a reminder of how ugly the Play Music icon used to be a year or two ago, take a MediaPad M2 for a spin. Photos, meanwhile, has a hideous browny-beige background, for some inexplicable reason.

The drop-down notification menu is another ugly touch that detracts from the experience. Its thick black design feels like you’re entering another menu rather than dropping down a light overlay, and switching between Notifications and Shortcuts feels like an unnecessary extra step.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

This is still unmistakably Android, so it’s perfectly usable day to day. But it’s a version of Android that remains wedded to some of the clunkier design flourishes of the past rather than its super-sharp present.

Battery life

There are no nasty surprises when it comes to the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0’s battery life, but nor does it particularly impress. Its 6,660mAh battery managed to carry the tablet through the standard TechRadar 90-minute video stress test, with screen brightness set to full, with 80% left in the tank.

That’s ever so slightly better than the iPad Air 2 (79%) and a little worse than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (84%). Let’s call that a respectable par, then.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Of course, with lower performance and an inferior screen resolution to both of those rival tablets, you’d perhaps have expected a birdie.

12 hours of fairly heavy usage (including several five-minute gaming sessions, some web browsing, half a dozen photos taken, and some doodling in Bamboo Paper) left the MediaPad M2 with 63%. In other words, it’ll clear at least two days of moderate to heavy usage in between charges with change to spare.

Camera

I could embark on another rant against using tablet cameras for anything other than the occasional impromptu shot, but I’ll save my breath. The simple fact is that many people use tablet cameras for a lot of their snaps, and the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 will serve such users better than most.

It’s an atypically well equipped 13MP unit with a bright f/2.0 lens aperture. The camera also benefits from a strong autofocus, LED flash, and a solid auto-HDR provision.

This results in photos that don’t completely suck in decent lighting conditions, which is quite the complement for a tablet. In fact, they’re about at the level of many solid mid-range Android phones.

The shots I took with the MediaPad M2 weren’t too noisy or washed out, and color accuracy was perfectly acceptable too. Even low-light interior shots came out reasonably clearly – though again, it’s all relative.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Huawei has adopted the Apple approach to camera software, and I don’t just mean in the way the app looks. It’s all about quick auto shots with minimal scope for manual enhancement beyond a few pre-installed filters. Sure, you can go in and tinker with the ISO and white balance, but these options are so buried in the settings menu that you probably won’t bother.

It’s a good job that Huawei’s algorithms seem up to the job, then, turning out consistently okay-to-decent results from a simple fire-and-forget approach.

The front camera is a decent 5MP number with an 88-degree ultra-wide angle lens, so you should be set for those group selfies. Though I’d advise making it quick – the MediaPad M2 is so chunky, you might struggle hold it steady with arms fully extended for too long.

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

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Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Verdict

In the MediaPad M2 10.0 Huawei has created a decent full-sized Android tablet with a number of pro features for a mid-range fee.

There are a couple of notable weak areas that betray its humble price point and detract from the experience, but the bang-per-buck quotient is strong with this one.

We liked

You’ll struggle to find an Android tablet that sounds as good as the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 at any price, courtesy of a meaty four-speaker set-up.

Those opting for the Premium model will also get a fine stylus bundled in. If you’re into digital doodling or note-taking, it’s a worthwhile option.

Regardless of the model, this is a well-built tablet for the price you’ll pay.

We disliked

There’s no getting away from it, Huawei’s Emotion UI is one of the key things holding its Android products back from true greatness – and so it proves here. If this was pure(r) Android, you could probably add another half-point to the score.

Despite the general quality of the MediaPad M2’s build for the price, it’s undeniably a heavy, unwieldy bit of kit. Next to a recent iPad, it feels monstrous, and you won’t want to hold it for long periods.

Finally, one of the main areas Huawei seems to have compromised here is one of the most important. The tablet’s display simply lacks the sharp pop of its more expensive rivals.

Verdict

If you like the thought of the iPad Pro 9.7’s stellar sound, metal build, and Apple Pencil compatibility, but don’t fancy the price, the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 is on a very short list of alternatives.

It sounds great, feels pretty good, and its M-Pen stylus has a fair amount going for it. All of this for a surprisingly low price.

But the very best tablets have at their core a slick UI, sharp display, and flawless performance – and the Huawei MediaPad M2 10.0 isn’t quite up to scratch in these vital areas.

It’s a fine cut-price option, but the best tablets from Apple, Samsung, and Google remain a class apart.

First reviewed: June 2016

Source: Tech Radar