The tablet industry has been in a lull for the past couple of years. Apart from Amazon with the really affordable Fire tablets, or Apple with the iPad series, there's been very little in the way of movement - particularly those based on Google's Android operating system.

But just when you thought the Android tablet market might be completely dead, Huawei announced new MediaPad models at Mobile World Congress 2018. There's a small 8.4-inch model, as reviewed here, and a larger 10.8-inch Pro model with a stylus (no prizes for guessing which Apple products the company is directly competing with here).

  • Champagne Gold and Titanium Grey finishes available
  • Metal unibody design, U-shaped antenna bands
  • Wi-Fi & LTE/4G connectivity
  • Harman Kardon speakers

One of the great things about the MediaPad M5 is its size. Thanks to having an 8.4-inch display and relatively little in the way of screen bezel up the left and right side, Huawei has managed to make the M5 compact enough for one-handed holding and easily slipping it into a coat pocket or bag when you're done.

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The MediaPad M5's back is made entirely from a thin sheet of anodised aluminium - in this case, a rather gaudy gold - which curves towards the edges and corners. As the tablet has 4G LTE support as standard for on-the-go browsing and connectivity, that also means there are antenna bands which show in the metal's bottom edge, just as you'll find in most smartphones these days.

Looking front-on at the tablet in portrait orientation you'll see a form which looks very much like a giant smartphone. There's a pill-shaped fingerprint scanner on the bottom, too, which doubles as a navigation key (if you want). This sensor unlocks the device within the blink of an eye, which helps you know that, although small, this is one serious tablet.

One unusual visual element is the row of machined holes that runs across the tablet's top edge, where the stereo loudspeakers - tuned with the help of Harman Kardon - are tucked away. These do genuinely improve the audio experience for media; however, we did find the speakers a tiny bit tinny and treble heavy. That means the M5 performs well for dialogue in movies and TV shows, but not so much when it comes to impressive special effects or great soundtracks.

  • 8.4-inch LCD IPS panel
  • 2560 x 1600 resolution (359ppi)

One of the most pleasing elements about this tablet is its display. The aspect ratio is unusual, at 16:10, but that does ensure that it's not just good for watching TV shows and movies on, it's also wide enough in portrait mode to be a good eBook reader.

With its 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution, this 8.4-inch display is super crisp, while offering lovely clean whites, vibrant colours and - considering it's an LCD panel - great contrast.

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The display is perhaps a little cool by default, but with Huawei that's not really an issue. As has become customary for Huawei's Android devices, there's an option within the display settings to adapt the colour temperature of the display so that it suits you. There's also an "eye comfort" option that you can toggle on or off to filter out blue light, making it more yellow/warm for night-time reading.

Despite the specs reading so well, we did find some software issues that held the screen back. The Android Netflix app - no matter how long we left it to stream for - wouldn't kick into a high enough resolution on the tablet. That meant many of our favourite shows that we have watched in full HD or 4K elsewhere looked rough around the edges and a little pixelated. Our review unit is a pre-release model, so this may be part of the reason as to why.

  • Google Android 8.0 Oreo operating system, running Huawei EMUI 8.0 
  • 4G/LTE Cellular model has phone dialler/SMS

Although Huawei uses Google's Android operating system as its backbone, it re-skins it with its own "EMUI" software over the top. This has split opinions in the past, but with each iteration of EMUI we think it's improving.

For the most part, the software is identical to the software you'll find on all of the latest Huawei smartphones - like the Mate 10 Pro - except elements are expanded to better fit a larger display. If you're used to Huawei phones, you'll notice a few subtle differences. As an example, the main settings menu now has a dual-panel view permanently, whether in landscape or portrait mode, so you can always see which main setting you're currently in. 

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It's mostly clean and colourful by default, which is great, but like so many Android tablets it's loaded with tonnes of bloatware out of the box. There's the Dialler, Contacts, Messaging, Themes, Files, Notepad and Calendar, which you might expect and want to have.

But that's just a small slice of the pre-loaded programs: in a pre-bundled Tools folder you'll find 14 more apps - some useful, some not. Things like HiCare, Phone Clone, Downloads, Mirror and Backup could easily be included in the Settings, Files or Camera app. 

And that's not all, there's also a Games folder pre-loaded with five mostly terrible titles; a Microsoft folder with three Office apps and Outlook for email; a Top Apps folder with eBay, Booking.com and Instagram; and a Kids folder with two Kids apps/interfaces in. 

Including all the usual Google apps, there's a total of 55 apps (yep, fifty five) that come preinstalled on the MediaPad 5. We think that's just a tad excessive. It also means there's only 48GB free of the 64GB, before you've even downloaded your own apps. Ouch.

There's also the case of Android tablet optimised apps. It's not that there's a shortage of apps in the Play Store, but there are still a few that feel they could be better designed for working on bigger screens. Rather than just being big, giant versions of the phone apps, better use could be made of space. 

  • HiSilicon Kirin 960 processor
  • 4GB RAM, 32/64/128GB storage

We're used to Android tablets stuttering and faltering, but inside this Huawei tablet you'll find an octa-core Kirin 960S, which is essentially a tweaked version of the chip that powered most of Huawei's flagship phones in 2017.

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The performance is therefore just as a high-end tablet should be. Each game - whether it be Injustice 2, Hitman Sniper or less intense games - loaded without any complaining or noticeable delay.

It's not without its foibles, though. Each time when rotating from landscape to portrait orientation on the homescreen, the bottom third of the screen's wallpaper would go black for a split second, before loading the rest of the background. So there are some software bugs to iron out yet.

  • 5,100mAh battery capacity
  • USB-C for fast-charging

On area Apple's iPad range has always delivered is in their standby battery longevity. Their Android counterparts, not so much. Until now.

Huawei's latest MediaPad has incredible standby time, which is useful in a device you don't pick up every five minutes and might even leave for days between uses. We left it unused for three days, and it had only dropped 13 per cent battery life in that time. 

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For more intense use, after roughly an hour of the screen being on, playing games and streaming videos, the battery loses just over 15 per cent of its capacity. During our testing we found the tablet can last between six and a half to eight hours - depending on what it's used for. That's fairly good innings.

  • 13MP rear camera, 8MP front camera
  • 1080p video recording

The M5 features a 13 megapixel camera on its back, which is, let's say, "comfortably good enough" in quality terms. Compared to high-end smartphones, however, the tablet's results lack detail, nor is it great at dealing with contrasting light conditions.

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Immediately after taking most pictures, the tablet takes a second or two to sharpen the image, requiring you to hold it steady. That means end results can be pretty sharp, although most of the time the image is spongy, colours are often washed out, and overexposure isn't uncommon.

Yes, it's a tablet, and we don't like taking photos with tablets, but the M5's camera will serve those video calls and allow for the odd document photo. And that, ultimately, is where this feature will come in handy.

Price when reviewed:
~£350

Verdict

There aren't that many great small-scale Android tablets out there. The 8.4-inch Huawei MediaPad M5, therefore, is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnating market.

Apart from a few odd quirks here and there - we'd like to see more on-screen time from the battery and less pre-installed bloatware - the M5 is a brilliant little tablet. The screen is sharp, colorful and dominates the front panel, while the design and build quality are up there with the best of them.

Indeed, this represents the Android competition that the iPad mini hasn't had to worry about for some time. 

Pocket-lintapple ipad mini 4 review image 1

Yes, we know, we know, it's an Apple product with iOS, not an Android operating system at its core. But that's the thing about small tablets: Apple has really dominated this space. The Huawei is a great competitor if you're a keen Android fan, with a similar price point and slimmer bezel design to boot.

Read the full article: iPad Mini review