Review: IFA 2016: Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0

Introduction

The Huawei MediaPad M3 is a small tablet. It’s slim, it’s light, and it’s handy – and the 4G version can even double as a gigantic phone, as long as you don’t mind all your calls coming out at speakerphone volume.

For years the MediaPad series has pootled along in the background, never winning the acclaim, or the sales figures, of a Samsung tablet or an iPad.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

This is comfortably the sleekest MediaPad to date; however, by matching an ultra high-res screen with a so-so processor, Huawei has ensured that the M3 can’t keep up the demands of the prettiest games that well.

So is this just another also-ran from Huawei’s tablet department, or something more impressive that could make potential buyers – and the competition – sit up and take notice?

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Etbzh6hBSmU

Design and features

Build is one of the Huawei MediaPad M3’s strongest elements. A very slim, low-flex aluminium casing makes the tablet feel expensive and strong. It’s like an iPad mini in this sense, but the shape is a little different – a widescreen aspect ratio makes the M3 a bit less stubby-looking than the 4:3 iPad.

It’s a good design, once again proving that 8-inch tablets like this are a great size for most people: big enough to offer a much larger display than any phone, but still light and small enough to take with you everywhere.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

The MediaPad M3 is also light enough to hold in one hand, perhaps for reading an article or two on the way to work, to make your work commute that bit more bearable. Our review model weighs just 322g.

The fingerprint scanner is the clue that tells you the MediaPad M3 is a tablet of 2016 rather than, say, 2014. Looking quite a lot like the one used on the Samsung Galaxy S7, this sits below the screen as part of a button.

It’s not a clicky button, though, just a touch-sensitive pad. Used while the MediaPad M3 is awake, it’s a back button; when the device is asleep, of course, it wakes the little guy up.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

This isn’t the fastest fingerprint scanner Huawei has ever produced, taking around a second to turn the tablet on from sleep, but it’s reliable.

There are just a couple of bits to the Huawei MediaPad M3 that are a little less high-end than similar-looking features you might see in a top-end Huawei phone. For example, the band that holds the rear camera seems to be topped with plastic rather than Gorilla Glass. Crucially, though, the M3 still gives off the whiff of a top-end tablet.

Huawei sent us the 4G version of the MediaPad M3, which has a SIM tray on the bottom edge that also takes a memory card, enabling you to add to the 32GB of built-in storage.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

With a SIM inserted you can almost treat the M3 like a phone – the only thing holding you back is the lack of a proper call speaker.

The MediaPad M3 does have good tablet speakers, though. On the top and bottom edges are little 7-pip grilles that let the stereo Harman Kardon drivers sing.

Getting an audio brand involved is no guarantee of good sound quality, but here you get some of the loudest speakers we’ve heard in a tablet. It’s the kind of volume you’d expect from something much larger, like a laptop. The case vibrates a bit at higher volumes, which is hardly surprising.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

At the highest volumes the upper mid-range can become a little searing with some material too, but the sound is relatively thick and full; it’s impressive stuff for a small, slim tablet. And as the grilles are set to one side, rather than slap-bang in the middle of the top and bottom edges, they’re not too easy to block with your hands.

That’s your lot in terms of extra hardware, though. There’s no IR transmitter, which has featured in some previous Huawei devices – one of these would enable the MediaPad M3 to be used as a universal remote.

Screen

The big change compared to the 8-inch MediaPad M2 is that the Huawei MediaPad M3 has a true high-res screen. It’s an 8-inch 2560 x 1600-pixel screen, with an IPS LCD panel. The upshot is that pixel density and sharpness are both excellent, and even up close the screen looks sharp.

Brightness is also very good, and there’s an ambient light-sensing Auto mode, a feature that’s sometimes omitted from tablets. Viewing angles are strong, with minimal brightness loss when you view the screen from an angle.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

Huawei has plugged loads of customisation into the MediaPad M3’s screen too. First, there are two colour modes. Normal is a classic sRGB mode that looks quite natural, while Vivid mode amps up the colours for a little more energy at the expense of colour accuracy.

As on most of Huawei’s phones you can also fiddle with the colour temperature, which changes the character of the M3’s screen quite a bit. There’s an Eye Comfort mode as well, which, like the iPhone’s Night Shift mode, makes the screen more yellow in order to cut down the amount of blue light emitted.

Contrast isn’t as good as that of the OLED Samsung Galaxy Tab S2’s display, but this is a good screen.

Software and performance

The Huawei MediaPad M3 runs Android 6.0 behind Huawei’s Emotion UI interface, which is used in just about every Huawei and Honor mobile device – Android 7.0 Nougat was released right before the M3 was announced, so we wouldn’t have expected Huawei to have been able to include it.

And, as it happens, EmotionUI actually adds one of the main features of Android 7.0: multi-window app multitasking. Long-press the square soft key and you can boot up two apps at once. Not every app can be launched like this, but Netflix, for example, can – so you could watch a movie while keeping one eye on your Facebook feed.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

It works in portrait or landscape orientation too – the landscape option is particularly useful for taking notes while you read something.

The rest of the Huawei MediaPad M3’s software is standard Huawei fare. That means you don’t get a separate apps menu, just a bunch of home screens onto which all your apps drop. If you want to keep organised, you can lump apps into folders. It’s really the only way to avoid using loads of home screens, unless you don’t use that many apps.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

Some people end up really disliking Emotion UI in phones, but we find it a bit less contentious in a tablet. We tend to flick between apps a bit less rapidly than when using a phone.

Despite Emotion UI altering the look of Android quite a bit, the Huawei MediaPad M3 isn’t weighed down by lots of superfluous apps. There’s a set of ‘Tools’ apps including a voice recorder, virtual mirror and compass, but they’re filed away in a separate folder, designed to be more-or-less ignored unless you need them.

The WPS office suite is installed too. This isn’t something Huawei has created, just one of the more popular Android office suites.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

The other more Huawei-specific element of the MediaPad M3’s software is themes. This is an important feature of Emotion UI, but on this tablet you only get two choices, a black theme and a blue one; more may become available to download through the Themes app after a software update, but right now you can only use these locally-stored ones.

Performance

Some versions of Emotion UI can make a phone or tablet feel pretty slow to use, but the Huawei MediaPad M3 is pretty fast in day-to-day operation. It packs a generous 4GB RAM, and uses the HiSilicon Kirin 950 CPU.

The Kirin 950 is a fairly high-end member of the HiSilicon CPU family, with four Cortex-A53 everyday cores and four Cortex-A72 performance cores, which are matched with a Mali T880 GPU.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

We found the Huawei MediaPad M3 nippy enough when using everyday apps and just flicking through the Android interface. However, things started to come apart when we tried playing high-end games.

Despite the impressive-sounding specs, the Kirin 950 just doesn’t seem powerful enough to keep up with serious polygon-flinging given the demands of the high-res 2560 x 1600 screen.

At the default High graphics setting Asphalt 8 is painfully slow, and choppy enough to make the game much less fun to play. Even at the Very Low setting there’s the occasional frame rate dip.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

As one of Android’s prettiest games, Asphalt 8 is a pretty reliable way to test a tablet’s limits; however, there are signs of slow-down in less demanding titles too.

Gameloft’s Modern Combat 5 suffers from some juddery moments during intense action scenes, and even Dead Trigger 2’s frame rate is less than optimal – and Dead Trigger 2 tends to scale very well to different devices.

The Huawei MediaPad M3 should be a great tablet for gamers, but it isn’t.

Camera and battery life

Camera

These days some tablets have cameras as good as those in phones – the iPad Pro 9.7 is a good example. However, the Huawei MediaPad M3’s rear camera is rather pedestrian.

It’s an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2 lens: fine for a tablet, but probably not as good as your phone camera, unless you have a fairly old mobile.

In bright sunlight you can get some decent pictures, but images become quite noisy in lower light – and there’s no flash to help out.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

The Huawei MediaPad M3’s camera is also pretty prone to chromatic aberration, or colour fringing – this is where high-contrast edges are outlined in colour, in this case purple. If you shoot into the sun lens flare can cause discolouration in large areas of images too.

You can minimise these issues by avoiding very high-contrast subjects and direct sunlight, but we’ve been using the Huawei MediaPad M3 alongside the Honor 5C phone (Honor is basically a Huawei sub-brand), and its 13-megapixel camera is a significant step up.

The M3’s camera can be fun to use, though. There’s a half-second shutter lag, but the camera app features loads of extra modes to play with.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

You may only ever touch half of them, but there are a few interesting options. All Focus lets you select the focus point after shooting by taking several shots in rapid succession at different focus ranges, Pro mode offers manual control over settings such as shutter speed, and Light Painting lets you take those shots in which the lights of moving vehicles become colourful trails.

All these features would be more effective in a slightly higher-quality phone camera, but they’ve nice to have anyway.

The Huawei MediaPad M3’s front camera is very similar to the rear one, but where the sensor makes a so-so rear camera, it’s a pretty good selfie one. Self portraits have lots of detail, and fairly lifelike colours.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

Focusing is the big difference between the two cameras. The back camera has standard autofocus, while the front one has a fixed-focus lens.

Having a higher-res front camera also lets you video chat at 1080p resolution, rather than just VGA or 720p, not to mention making your Snapchats look a bit better. There’s no 4K video capture with either camera, though.

Battery life

Thanks to its ultra high-resolution screen the Huawei MediaPad M3 was always unlikely to have amazing battery life – it’s not one of those low-end 1280 x 800 tablets that can play the whole Lord of the Rings movie trilogy off a single charge.

The TechRadar battery test, which involves playing a 90-minute video at maximum brightness with accounts syncing over Wi-Fi in the background, drained 19% from the M3’s battery. This suggests you should be able to enjoy between seven-and-a-half and eight hours of video off a full charge.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

This sort of test is low-drain on the CPU side, but maxing-out the brightness means the screen sucks a decent amount of juice. To switch things around, we tried Real Racing 3 using Auto brightness rather than maximum brightness; 20 minutes of play took 6% off the battery, suggesting around five and a half hours of gaming off a full battery.

Neither of these results is remarkable, but the gaming numbers in particular show that the Huawei MediaPad M3 lasts a respectably long time under strain.

Verdict

Huawei has nailed a few elements in the MediaPad M3, but the tablet falls short when it comes to gaming performance, making a few other tablets out there better options for gamers.

Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 review

We liked

One of the best things about the Huawei MediaPad M3 is its build. The slim, light aluminium frame looks and feels good while being seriously practical.

The screen is good too. It’s sharp, and has colour modes that provide both more natural and saturated tones. The speakers are another high point, delivering impressive volume for a tablet this slim.

We disliked

The big problem with the Huawei MediaPad M3 is that its chipset doesn’t seem to be able to make Android’s fanciest games run well. Many run much slower than they should.

Its rear camera is nothing special either. We’re not huge fans of tablet photography when most phone have better sensors, but some users will demand better phone performance than this from their slates.

Verdict

The Huawei MediaPad M3 is a tablet with lots of admirable qualities. High screen resolution, ultra-low weight and speakers that go loud enough to become an anti-social menace in some situations earn a big thumbs-up.

It’s a pity, then, that the M3 is thrown off balance quite so dramatically by oddly poor gaming performance with high-end titles. The casual games everyone gets obsessed with for weeks at a time run fine, but those with console-like graphics tend to struggle to an extent that’s quite rare for a tablet of this quality.

You’ll need to think carefully about whether this is going to be an issue for you before choosing the Huawei MediaPad M3 over an iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 or cheaper ASUS ZenPad Z580C.

Source: Tech Radar