Huawei MatePad Pro Review: In the iPad’s shadow

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Huawei MatePad Pro

“A great display and convenient features like wireless charging make the MatePad Pro desirable, but it can't defeat the iPad.”
  • Colorful 16:10 aspect ratio screen
  • Wireless charging is welcome
  • Great audio performance
  • Good multi-tasking/Desktop software
  • Limited app availability
  • Mediocre camera
MSRP $610.00

I’ve recently reviewed the Apple iPad Pro 2020 and the Magic Keyboard. This superb tablet and its excellent keyboard have become mainstays in my daily tech routine, replacing my MacBook Air and my phone for extended use when I’m on the couch.

Huawei’s alternative, the MatePad Pro tablet (with keyboard case), is a challenger to Apple’s experience, and I was eager to see how it would compare with the all-conquering iPad Pro. There’s a lot to like about the MatePad Pro, but Apple’s iPad Pro sets a high bar to clear.

Design

The Huawei MatePad Pro has a 10.8-inch screen, is 7.2mm thick, and weighs 460 grams. The overall footprint, due to the wider aspect ratio of the screen, is different to the squarer iPad, making it appear more cinematic.

This isn’t a heavy device, but it does feel substantial. Each corner is neatly rounded and the chassis itself is curved, while weight is centrally balanced. I found this was a disadvantage when holding it with one hand in portrait orientation, as the top of the tablet quickly felt heavy when gravity took over. The screen is surrounded by bezels that still provide enough of a buffer for your palms when holding it in landscape orientation.

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Huawei uses a hole-punch selfie camera on the MatePad Pro, just as we’ve seen on some smartphones. It’s positioned in the top corner of the screen, and is very well placed for face unlock, as it doesn’t get covered by your palm. It quickly disappears when you watch video, just like it does on a phone. It’s also a great visual clue as to which end is up.

Turn the tablet over, and it’s all very simple in design. There’s a dual-lens camera, some Huawei and Harmon Kardon (which powers the speaker system) branding, and that’s all. My review tablet was a muted steel gray color, but brighter orange and green models are also available. Take a look at the top and bottom, and all you see are speaker grills and the USB Type-C charging port.

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The dimensions of the MatePad Pro make it easy to carry around. I took it out in a small bag when I took a few photos, and it never felt cumbersome and didn’t add an uncomfortable amount of weight either. Even when you wrap it in the keyboard case, it remains this way. The thin screen bezels give it the same modern look I loved about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e, and aside from the slightly awkward weight balance, the MatePad Pro is a real looker.

The keyboard case

Huawei will sell you a keyboard case for the MatePad Pro, in the event you want to do some light work, but it’s no Magic Keyboard. Instead, think of it as Huawei’s equivalent of Apple’s Smart Keyboard. It’s a wraparound case that covers the tablet’s body and screen, and then opens out to reveal a keyboard and offer a handy way to prop the tablet up for easy viewing and typing.

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The case magnetically attaches to the MatePad Pro, but the connection isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. When I “opened” the case to use the keyboard, I often used the edge of the case to do so, and it usually separated from the body, which became frustrating. It also doesn’t feel very nice. It’s a hard textured plastic rather than leather or another soft material.

There are two preset angles for the screen. The base of the tablet magnetically snaps into precut grooves on the case, and in a far more secure fashion than the back of the case. It’s definitely not going to come loose. I found the two angles covered most eventualities, whether typing on a desk or watching video on my lap.

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How about the typing? It depends. The keyboard is not suitable for working on your lap because the footprint is quite small, so the whole thing wobbles about. Put it on a desk, and the experience is far more stable. The feel is pleasing, and the keys have plenty of travel. The recessed keyboard is small, however, and the keys are noisy.

There’s no direct support for Google’s G Suite, and Huawei’s browser isn’t supported by the web-based version. However, it works without a problem in Firefox — provided you activate the desktop view. Huawei preinstalls WPS Office, and Microsoft Office Mobile is available through the Huawei App Gallery. Both scale to the MatePad Pro’s screen, but Office requires a subscription to save and share documents.

I like how light the keyboard case is. It adds very little bulk to the MatePad Pro, and is quite portable. This isn’t a great keyboard case for all-day use, but if you want to type on a plane or whip out the tablet at a cafe, it’s fine.

Huawei sells the keyboard case separately for 129 British pounds, which is about $160, and it’s also available with the tablet as a package.

Display quality

The 10.8-inch LCD screen has a 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio, making it great for watching movies. The slim 4.9mm bezels give it an excellent full-screen look with a whopping 90% screen-to-body ratio.

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Amazon’s Prime Video is available through the App Gallery, as is the UKTV Play app, but YouTube can only be accessed through a browser.

Quality varies, frustratingly. The screen isn’t high enough resolution to play 4K content through Amazon Prime, and instead it downgrades it to an unpleasant quality level. Compare The Grand Tour on the MatePad Pro to the iPad Pro 2020, and there’s a gulf between them. The MatePad Pro looks underwhelming.

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Switch to YouTube, and things couldn’t be more different. Watching 2K resolution versions of Carfection’s stunning videos is sublime, with many episodes exploiting the majority of the 16:10 ratio screen and showing off wonderful color balance and dynamic range.

The screen is more reflective than I’d like though, and often prompted me to draw the curtains so I could see the screen better. That’s not something I have to do with the iPad Pro.

Audio comes from four speakers. Stereo separation in landscape orientation is really good, with speech coming through very clearly. There’s plenty of bass rumbling through the tablet’s chassis, too.

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Netflix is a no-go, and its the same with Disney+ and NowTV, which will put subscribers of these services off buying a MatePad Pro. Crunchyroll can be watched through the browser, though.

I also found the lack of Kindle or Comixology apps frustrating, as it required effort to find or create compatible files so I could read on the MatePad. This cut down on my enjoyment of the MatePad Pro. If watching shows and movies or reading books through these services is high on your list of things to do, this isn’t the tablet for you.

Software

Just like the Huawei P40 Pro, the MatePad Pro uses Android 10, but without Google services onboard. The open-source version of Android is covered with Huawei’s EMUI interface and uses Huawei Mobile Services instead of Google Mobile Services. This means no Google Play Store or Google apps, and various internal changes that make it impossible to sideload them. Instead, you must use Huawei’s growing App Gallery store, or the Amazon App Store, for your apps.

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The situation regarding app availability has not changed since I reviewed the Huawei P40 Pro, and only a little since my experience using the Mate Xs folding smartphone.

Many apps people may consider essential are missing or difficult to install. It’s possible to use APK files, but there are always security concerns over these, and it may be unwise to use them with apps that contain payment or other personal information.

While it’s not as important for a tablet to have messaging apps — which is a good thing, as notifications remain intermittent at best on the MatePad, which is a similar problem to the P40 Pro — enjoyment comes from media and games instead. The MatePad Pro is hobbled when it comes to streaming apps, so what about games?

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It’s a similar story, sadly. Yes, the App Gallery has some big names including Asphalt 9 and World of Tanks, but I can’t find my other mainstays like DariusBurst, Hill Climb Racer, Reckless Racing 3, or Riptide GP in the App Gallery.

Riptide GP is available in the Amazon App Store, if I want to pay for it again after having purchased it through Google Play in the past. Asphalt 9 Legends is enormous fun to play, and it looks stunning on the massive screen, while the audio shines in the same way it did when watching video. It makes me really miss the ability to test out the other games I really enjoy.

How about optimizations for the tablet? There’s multitasking, whoch works identically to iOS 13 on the iPad. You slide in a dedicated launcher and then tap and drag icons to open two screens at once, or tap to make them appear as a floating window over the top. Not every app supports split-screen viewing, including Firefox if you decide to use that as your browser. Office, WPS Office, and the Gallery, plus Facebook and Twitter (both installed through an APK), are fine.

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EMUI Desktop mode is interesting. Activated with a shortcut in the notification shade, EMUI  looks a lot like Windows 10. The floating windows are handy and far more customizable than when in tablet mode, and I did find it easier to focus on work when using it, as it feels more mature to use than the tablet layout. It’s quick to exit too, and works well with the keyboard — but not all apps work. Even WPS Office warns some features may not be available when using it in Desktop mode.

There’s also a preinstalled app for children, called Kids Corner. It has a variety of safeguards, from daily limits to blue light filters and a master password. Once inside there is a painting area, a voice recorder app, and a kid-friendly camera app. Apps have to be manually added to Kids Corner. You have to dig into the App Gallery’s section for kid-orientated apps, and although the list is long, many are localized and there were no major brands I recognized.

My requirements for a tablet are different from that of a smartphone, but the same issues that affect the P40 Pro, Mate Xs, and even the Honor 9X Pro exist. Just as I can’t get Line or access my WhatsApp chat backups on my P40 Pro, I can’t watch Netflix or play DariusBurst on the MatePad Pro. That diminishes my enjoyment of an otherwise perfectly capable and well-performing tablet.

Camera

Huawei knows a thing or two about cameras. The Huawei P40 Pro has just about the best Android camera available, after all. Tablets don’t require such robust camera systems, however, as they are primarily used indoors. The MatePad Pro has a single 13-megapixel camera on the back with an f/1.8 aperture, autofocus, and a flash. On the front is a single 8-megapixel fixed-focus camera.

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It’s not great. Huawei has tried to inject some interest with a highly optimized zoom slider control on the viewfinder, but this is purely digital, so quality is poor. Photos taken on a sunny day capture the blue sky, but struggle with overall contrast, leaving shaded areas too dark. Photos in the early evening are affected in the same way.

The front camera is acceptable enough for selfies and video calls, but the placement makes a natural angle hard to find.

Overall, there really isn’t anything to get excited about here. It’s a shame, considering what Huawei can do with its cameras.

Performance and battery life

At its heart, the MatePad Pro is the same as the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and P40 Pro smartphone. It uses the Kirin 990 chipset. It’s matched to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage space, with room for a proprietary Huawei memory card. MicroSD cards do not fit inside. Huawei has announced a 5G version, but my review model is Wi-Fi only. The battery has a 7,250mAh capacity and is charged using a USB Type-C wired connection or wireless charging.

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Benchmark apps must be downloaded as APK files, but Geekbench 5 refused to install through the APKPure store, leaving me with 3DMark only.

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 4,785 Vulkan

This is comparable to the score reached by the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset inside. I never experienced any performance problems with the MatePad Pro, with apps opening quickly and no lag in the operating system.

Battery performance is decent. It lasted a full day and a half during my in-depth testing, involving hours of watching video, some gaming, general browsing and light work, plus some photography. Used more normally, the battery will last for four or five days before needing a recharge.

However, I have not used it like this. With wireless charging, it’s easy to just place it on a charging plinth when it’s not in use, keeping the battery constantly topped up. This is a real benefit. It means the tablet was always on hand, always charged, and I didn’t need to remember to plug it in overnight.

Price, warranty, and availability

The Wi-Fi Huawei MatePad Pro costs 499 British pounds, which is around $610. It comes with a two-year warranty if purchased in the U.K., and can be found through Huawei’s own online store and in some retail stores including Currys. The MatePad Pro is not officially available in the U.S., but could be purchased as an import. The keyboard case costs 129 pounds, or about $158, and an M Pen stylus is yours for 100 pounds/$122. Huawei also sells the tablet, case, and stylus for 610 pounds, or about $745.

Our Take

The Huawei MatePad Pro’s biggest problem is the Apple iPad. While the MatePad Pro is a good tablet for video, games, and light productivity, there is no compelling reason to choose it over an iPad Air or 11-inch iPad Pro.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. The Apple iPad is the best tablet you can buy today, and it almost doesn’t matter which model you buy.

Yes, the iPad Pro 2020 is the very best, but it is also very expensive, and if you want the 11-inch model and the Smart Keyboard to match the MatePad Pro and keyboard in our review, it’ll cost you $799 for the tablet and $179 for the Smart Keyboard, for a total of $978.

Instead, we recommend you pick up the Wi-Fi iPad Air with its 10.5-inch screen for $499 or 479 British pounds, and the Smart Keyboard for $179 or 159 pounds. This recommendation applies whether you’re in the U.S. or the U.K..

If you’d prefer to stick with an Android tablet, the $649 Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is recommended due to the greater app availability. It’ll cost another $179 for the keyboard case.

Want more options? Check out our favorite tablets of 2020.

How long will it last?

This isn’t a water-resistant or rugged tablet, so look after it. Do this and it’ll last for many years in terms of performance, screen quality, and potential to serve as a general work machine if you buy the keyboard case too. Huawei is confident the App Gallery will become better stocked over time, so app availability may improve too.

My review MatePad Pro has Android 10 with the April security update, and while EMUI will receive updates from Huawei, it’s unknown whether the core version of Android will change in a timely fashion.

Should you buy it?

No. The MatePad Pro struggles to compete with the Apple iPad Air, which is about the same price when purchased with the Smart Keyboard. It has better access to apps, an excellent software experience with frequent updates, and a similarly stunning screen.

Editors' Recommendations