A Snappy Budget Tablet
A Snappy Budget Tablet
Huawei has been gaining steam. Even though they’re not yet a household name in the United States, they’ve been a major player in the Eastern markets with global ambitions. Today we’re looking at the MediaPad M3 Lite, a budget tablet with the kind of snappy performance and just better features that should make entry-level tablet buyers take notice.
- MSRP: $247.93
- Size: 213.3mm (H) x 123.3 mm (W) x 7.5mm (D)
- Color: White, Gold. Space Gray
- Display:1920 x 1200 IPS
- CPU: Qualcomm MSM8940, Octa-core
- Operating System: Android 7.0/EMUI5.1
- Memory: RAM+ROM 3GB+16GB (tested), 3GB+32GB, 4 GB+64 GB
- Network: LTE CAT4/Wi-Fi 11ac 2.4 GHz & 5 GHz
- GPS:Supports GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, and BDS.
- Connectivity: USB 2.0, high-speed Features supported: charging, USB OTG, USB tethering, and MTP/PTP
- Sensors: Gravity sensor, ambient light sensor, compass, gyroscope (only CPN-L09 support, CPN-W09 does not support)
- Camera: Rear camera: 8 MP and auto focus Front camera: 8 MP and fixed focus
- Audio: 2 Speakers+2 SmartPA Super Wide Sound (SWS) 3.0 sound effects, Harman Kardon tuning and certification
- Video: Video file format: *.3gp, *.mp4, *.webm, *.mkv, .ts, .3g2, .flv, and .m4v,
- Battery: 6600 mAh
- In the Box: Charger, USB Cable, Eject tool, Quick start guide, Warranty card
The tablet arrives well-packed inside a small but sturdy box. I’ve got to say, I love the copper on white look they’ve gone with and wish they’d applied it to the tablet itself, which is white and silver. Inside the box is the tablet, charging brick with USB cable, a SIM eject tool, and warranty card. It’s a bit sparse, but at this price point is perfectly fine.
The tablet looks remarkably similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, only missing the touch controls on either side of the Home button and shifting the branding to the upper left. This isn’t a bad thing by any means but the resemblance is definitely striking. One notable difference is that the Home button isn’t actually a button at all but a touch sensor that doubles as the fingerprint sensor.
The MediaPad M3 Lite comes in at 7.5mm, or just under 0.3”, thick. Virtually all of the name brand tablets I researched prior to this review are within 0.05” of each other, so Huawei’s offering is in line with what we would expect, if ever so slightly thinner.
The tablet also features four speakers, tuned by Harmon/Kardon to deliver exceptional audio quality. I was impressed at how much better the sound was versus my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, offering much better volume and far more detailed clarity. Bass reproduction falls short but the same can be said of all tablets. For movies and music, I found it to be quite enjoyable, and the position of the speakers keeps them from being occluded when holding the tablet in landscape mode.
Along the other side, we find the opposite dual speaker grills as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. Is it wrong that I consider it a small victory every time a phone or tablet releases including a headphone jack? Because I do. And it’s sweet.
On the left side, we have our USB-mini charging/data port, as well as out dual MicroSD and SIM tray. On the right, we have our lock/power button and volume controls.
The MediaPad M3 Lite 10 is a media device, so it’d better have a good screen if it wants to impress. Thankfully, it does and is probably the single best quality of this tablet. Here, Huawei has opted for an IPS LCD running at 1920×1200 resolution. It’s bright and vibrant with excellent color reproduction. Compared to the AMOLED screens found in Samsung devices, blacks aren’t quite as deep and the viewing angles aren’t as wide, but the sharpness of the screen is just excellent and it stays looking good, even in direct sunlight.
The User Experience
For this review, we’re going to put benchmarks to the side and instead focus on the user experience. At this point in Huawei’s life in the United States, even with regular imports taking place for some time, it’s likely that this tablet could be your first interaction with the company and their take on a media tablet. Let’s look at how that shakes out.
Welcome home. After a 28 second boot sequence, you load into Emotion UI, or EMUI, 5.1. Underneath the surface, our unit was completely updated at Android 7.0. There’s no word yet on when Oreo might roll out, though I find it troubling that the last security update rolled out in June 2017. With new exploits rolling out all the time, this is a distressingly long time without an update.
Your home screen comes loaded to look like the above. The entire system is very reminiscent of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, though under the surface tends closer toward a stock Android experience. All of the functionality you might expect is present here, exactly as you would expect to find it. Swiping left or right takes you to additional pages you can customize with apps and widgets. You tap an app to select it and drag into place or onto another app to create a folder. Pinching the screen opens up the customization screen, allowing you to access widgets and transition animations. Pretty standard fare.
Every screen can support a total of 24 icons arranged in rows of six. That’s a healthy amount of apps, to be sure, but icons feel almost double spaced – landscape in columns, portrait in rows – leaving a lot of wasted space. It’s a good safeguard against fat-fingering when using the tablet half-asleep in bed but definitely feels like a limitation from not optimizing the UI for the screen size.
By contrast, have a look at a full app drawer not facing this limit:
And that’s with big blank areas on the sides.
A quick look through the app drawer reveals one very pleasant surprise: a (mostly) lack of bloatware! There are a couple of that could still go, like Lyft and the link to their Huawei website labeled as “Consumer,” but compared to many other tablets, the MediaPad M3 Lite comes clean.
With such a large screen size, EMUI 5.1 leaves Android’s “two finger swipe” up to split screen in place. This is a nice addition to multitask without losing readability.
Actually using the tablet is a pleasant experience. The glass feels great under the finger (if a little slippery to hold) and the UI is fast and responsive. Even after hours of use and a low battery, the MediaPad stays buttery smooth, which isn’t something I can say about every tablet I’ve owned over the years, even from the major players in the US market. At times, Chrome would experience slowdowns but these were the rare occurrences and were mostly isolated (outside of gaming).
Under the hood, the MediaPad M3 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 and 3 GB of RAM, giving it a nice bit of horsepower. It’s good to see Huawei opt for slightly more than the usual 1.5-2GB of RAM in this class of tablet. Two gigabytes is enough for many activities but having the extra gig for gaming or maintain lots of browser tabs gives you a nice bit of overhead without substantially affecting the price.
You’ll definitely want to pick up a microSD card, however. Even though the unit is sold as a 16GB model, the actual usable space is under 7GB, which can fill up fast, especially if you’re using Netflix’s download function or playing large games. The unit offers expandable storage up to 256GB, which should be enough to fuel even the most ardent downloader.
The remainder of the system settings offer a couple of unique additions, such as a built-in virus scanner from Avast, but for the most part keeps very close to stock Android.
The MediaPad M3 Lite 10 does its job well. For watching Netflix and Hulu on the go, that IPS screen is a winner. When it comes to music, I’ve already mentioned how impressed I was with the four stereo speakers. Their ability to articulate mids and highs is definitely a cut above the MediaPad’s class. I’ve also appreciated the additional volume boost they provide when sharing media with my students at my day job.
For games, results are a little more mixed. Most titles work very well, but more graphically demanding games have a tendency to generate heat, eventually resulting in thermal throttling. Sessions lasting less than an hour are perfect for a tablet of this capability, so if you’re not the type of gamer to sit for extended sessions and instead wants something to play on a commute, the M3 will more than suffice.
Battery life isn’t terrible but I find myself somewhat disappointed. With a video running on a loop at maximum brightness, the battery held out for just over six hours. With a rating of 6600mAh, I was hoping to break seven or even eight hours. In normal use with a reasonable brightness, there’s more than enough juice to last a day, throwing a couple shows and games in for good measure.
The MediaPad M3 Lite features dual 8MP cameras on the front and back, featuring fixed focus and autofocus respectively. By sheer megapixel count, Huawei has a definite advantage over the competition. Both cameras are also able to record video up to 1080p at 30 FPS. In video mode, there’s also a neat Time Lapse option. By the numbers, it sounds like a winner, but things aren’t so simple.
Meet Stuffy the Dragon. This picture was taken with the rear-facing camera in decent overhead fluorescent lighting. Not bad! We can see some noise in the solid colors but it’s not terrible. Passable for tablet. Now let’s see what happens when we turn off the overhead light.
Oh. That’s… a little worse. Here, Stuffy’s face looks alright but we see a dramatic increase in the amount of noise present.
Here’s another example, using my K-Type from Input Club in similar overhead lighting to Stuffy’s first glamour shot. Not bad. Not great either, but not bad.
Here’s the same keyboard in low light. As you can see, the MediaPad M3 Lite struggles to handle anything less than brightly lit scenes. If you’re outdoors, it can take quite decent photos, but as soon as that light starts to diminish, so too does the quality of the camera.
For the price, the Huawei MediaPad M3 Lite 10 is a tablet worth considering with a few caveats. In combination with EMUI 5.1, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 CPU and 3GB of flash memory make for a tablet that’s responsive, even after extended periods of use. It’s front-facing camera has a higher megapixel count than many others in the sub-$300 range, which makes this a good device for Skyping with family over a long distance. The speakers and beautiful IPS LCD screen also make consuming content easy to enjoy.
On the flip side of that, there’s been a troubling lack of security updates. Given the current state of hacks and exploits making headlines, one would think this would be a priority for a company like Huawei but instead I’m left to wonder. Likewise, a quick search of Google reveals that many users are unclear if the MediaPad M3 Lite will receive any future updates.
And, of course, we have the noisy low-light camera performance.
The MediaPad M3 Lite doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve to surprise us. It’s a relatively stock Android experience, unconcerned with bloatware or flashy features to slow down the OS. It has a purpose, to make consuming your media, whether that’s streaming or music or browsing the web, fast and easy. To that end, it succeeds and feels great to use.