The odds are stacked against the MatePad Pro (available on Amazon, Lazada and Shopee), Huawei’s latest Android tablet, which was launched in Singapore last week.
Not only is the Android tablet market in a moribund state, the MatePad Pro, like Huawei’s recent smartphones, is prohibited to use Google’s mobile apps and services due to sanctions by the United States.
Undeterred by the ban, Huawei has forged ahead with its own versions of those apps and services, dubbed Huawei Mobile Services. They include the AppGallery app store, which offers a decent selection of local apps from the likes of Singtel, DBS and FairPrice.
However, there are still major omissions. Social media junkies will have to do without Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, though WeChat, TikTok and Line users will be fine.
Similarly, couch potatoes will probably have to switch from Netflix and Amazon to Asian video streaming apps like TVB, Viu and iQiyi. YouTube, though, runs well enough on the native Huawei browser.
There are workarounds to install Android apps that are unavailable in AppGallery. For instance, you can use Huawei’s Phone Clone app to migrate apps from an existing device to the MatePad Pro or download apps from an unofficial third-party app store like APKPure.
But users may be deterred by the extra hassle as well as the drawbacks of these methods, such as the lack of app updates and potential malware.
As I use Google’s G Suite for work, the MatePad Pro is a bridge too far for me – a pity, as it is a fine tablet that lives up to its premium billing.
I tested the 4G version, which is unavailable here as Huawei is only selling the Wi-Fi model in Singapore. The two variants are identical, except for the 4G functionality. Huawei also sent me the M-Pencil stylus ($148) and the Smart Magnetic Keyboard cover ($218).
Like most recent mobile devices, the MatePad Pro is all screen, with its 10.8-inch LCD screen surrounded by slim bezels. The display gets very bright at its maximum brightness setting (540 nits), though colours are not quite as rich as an Oled screen.
The tablet feels balanced. I can hold it comfortably with one hand in landscape orientation. It weighs 460g, which is a tad lighter than the 11-inch iPad Pro.
There is no fingerprint sensor. Instead, the hole-punch front camera is used to unlock the tablet via facial recognition. This camera takes passable selfie shots, but your smartphone likely has better cameras than the MatePad Pro’s single 13-megapixel rear camera.
Also missing from the tablet is a headphone jack, though Huawei includes a dongle that does the same job using the USB-C port. Alternatively, you can listen to music and other media via the MatePad Pro’s four speakers, which are loud enough to fill a room.
The MatePad Pro supports both wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. It means that you can use the tablet – with its 7,250mAh battery – to wirelessly charge another Qi-compatible device, such as your smartphone.
The MatePad Pro will also charge the optional M-Pencil stylus when the latter is attached magnetically to the top of the tablet. This stylus feels like a real pen – you can vary the pressure for a thicker or finer line. Huawei has preloaded the powerful Nebo note-taking app that comes with useful shortcuts to organise and format your notes.
I am not impressed by the keyboard cover, which lacks a backlight and a touchpad. The magnets that attach the cover to the back of the tablet could also be stronger, while the 60- and 70-degree tilt options for its stand are too steep. The keys are smaller than I would have liked, while the spacing between them are wider than expected. I made plenty of typos using this keyboard, especially initially.
Huawei has made a decent go at optimising the Android interface for a tablet’s larger screen, though the success of this aspect is still very much in the hands of app developers.
For instance, the App Multiplier feature automatically splits the screen in a supported app and displays different content in each window. However, it currently works only for eight apps, including Lazada and Qoo10.
You can manually open two apps side-by-side or have one app in a floating window over another. There is also a desktop mode, similar to Samsung’s Dex, which turns the Android interface into a Windows desktop-like environment.
Like its recently launched MateBook laptops, the MatePad Pro supports Huawei Share, which lets you project the contents of a compatible Huawei smartphone (running EMUI 10 and higher) onto the larger screen, so that you can use the tablet’s screen and keyboard to answer messages or edit photos from the phone.
All these multi-tasking features make me more productive with the MatePad Pro. It helps that Microsoft Office is available on AppGallery, but Apple’s and Microsoft’s tablets are still better overall for work.
I do not have any complaints about the MatePad Pro’s performance. It runs smoothly even in games like Fortnite at High settings and it switches between apps promptly – thanks to its high-end hardware, which includes Huawei’s flagship Kirin 990 processor and 8GB of system memory.
Its battery life, though, was shorter than expected. The tablet lasted 7hr15min in The Straits Times video-loop battery test with the screen brightness set to maximum. This is around four hours shorter than the competing Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 tablet.
At $898, the Huawei MatePad Pro seems cheaper than the Galaxy Tab S6 ($998) at first glance. But Samsung bundles its S Pen stylus with its tablet, which evens things out.
Stylus offers good writing experience
Lacks Google apps and services
Small keys on the keyboard cover
Price: $898 (Wi-Fi)
Processor: Huawei Kirin 990 (Dual-core 2.8GHz, dual-core 2.09GHz and quad-core 1.8GHz)
Display: 10.8-inch Amoled, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, 280 ppi pixel density
Operating system: EMUI 10.0.1 (Android 10)
Memory: 256GB (Nano Memory expandable up to 256GB), 8GB RAM
Rear camera: 13MP (f/1.8)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)
Value for money: 4/5
Battery life: 3.5/5
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