Here’s a question. Why would you buy a tablet that is not an iPad? And why would you buy a tablet that does not even come with many of the essential apps and services you probably are using every single day?
Those are the things that immediately come to my mind as I attempt to review the Huawei MatePad Pro, and those are the things that may very well be on your mind too when you’re looking at it. Huawei clearly fashioned this tablet to take on Apple’s iPad Pro, but it already stumbles at the starting line with a few compromises, which is not necessary faults of their own.
Android tablets face a losing battle when they are up against Apple’s unrivalled slates. The iPads have been the gold standard since the beginning of time, and the gap between them and their Android counterparts has only widen over the years. While Apple has introduced thing like iPadOS and trackpad support to strengthen the case for iPads as viable laptop-replacement, Android tablets have not had any meaningful evolution during the same period to say the least.
Adding to that, the MatePad Pro arrives with another big stumbling block – no google. You already know the implication to that very well, so buy at your own discretion. Hence the big question here is not so much whether the MatePad Pro is a great tablet, rather it is whether MatePad Pro is even a usable tablet to begin with.
First let’s talk about what’s on the outside. The MatePad Pro has a 10.8-inch 2K 16:10 display which is easily the best thing about this tablet. The screen is just great. It is sharp, vibrant and gets plenty bright. It is surrounded by bezels that are neither too thick nor thin. It is similar-looking to the current gen iPad Pro, which Huawei clearly is basing the overall design off. The hole-punch at the top corner which houses the front camera shouldn’t pose a major distraction for the majority of users. We have learned to live it on smartphones, what more on a tablet with a much larger surface area.
The tablet weighs around 460g, which is actually lighter (but not slimmer) than the current gen iPad Pro 11-inch model. It feels good and solid on the hand with the smooth aluminium back finish. I can hold the device fairly comfortably for long periods of time while reading and watching stuffs on it. It has four speakers in total which are evenly distributed on either side and they sound fantastic. One of the best I’ve heard on a tablet device.
To use the MatePad Pro as a “pro” device in its earnest form, you will need to pair it with the smart magnetic keyboard and M-Pencil, which are sold separately. The stylus attaches magnetically to the side of the tablet and it also charges that way. It works great in the few times I found myself using it with smooth, accurate strokes. You would mostly use it on the Notepad app, though the tablet comes pre-installed with another note-taking app and a calculator app that are optimised for stylus use. You can quickly jot down or draw something by tapping the screen with the M-Pen while the screen is off. Doing so will immediately brings up an empty canvas for you to work on, which is a neat feature.
Meanwhile, the smart magnetic keyboard is a lot like Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio for their latest iPad Pro, but made up of a different material. The keys on the smart magnetic keyboard are a lot more clicky than the mushy-feeling of Apple’s accessory, and that translates to a better typing experience more akin to a laptop. They are well spaced out and there is some considerable key travel. I have used the MatePad Pro as my primary workstation and that involved a lot of typing actions. I have to say the overall experience has been a satisfying one.
The smart magnetic keyboard allows you to prop the tablet up at two different angles, and it also doubles up as a case to cover the front and back of the device. However, it is not without its limitations. I wish it employs the iPad’s smart connector system for instantaneous and hassle-free pairing. As it is, you will need to turn on Bluetooth every time you want to use the smart magnetic keyboard. Small inconvenience for most people, but a big one for those like me who have experienced how things are like on the other side.
Battery life on the MatePad Pro is solid. I have gotten an average of 6 hours screen-on time between charges. You can turn on the wireless reverse charging feature in the settings which lets you wirelessly charge a compatible device by placing in on the back of the tablet. The MatePad Pro is in fact the first-ever tablet to bring this useful feature over from flagship smartphones.
Huawei makes quality hardware, and the MatePad Pro is another evidence of that. But without a good software to back it up, it is always going to be a tough sell. The MatePad Pro unfortunately finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place in that regard. As mentioned at the very beginning, Android tablets are in a unfavourable state. As iPadOS continues to propel iPad into displacing laptops, Android on tablets is still stuck being an overblown version of Android on smartphones.
Making matters harder, there is no Google services on this device. Much has been said about the state of Google-less phones since the Mate30 Series phones arrived to the scene. Yes you can survive without the Google Play Store, but some big compromises will have to be made. Using the MatePad Pro (or any other recent Huawei devices for that matter) is about how you manage and live with those compromises, and that means jumping through lots of hoops.
Without Google Play Store, you will have to rely on Huawei AppGallery for all your app needs. The not-so-good news is that Huawei’s own app store is still not very well-stocked with the regular apps most of us use on a daily basis. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix are some of the apps you won’t find on the AppGallery, plus all Google-owned apps which include YouTube. All is not doomed though as there are workarounds to it.
Basically, there are two ways to circumvent the issue. You can either get the apps’ apk installation file from third-party sources or rely on their mobile site counterpart. After some tinkering and using a combination of those two methods, I was able to get the MatePad Pro working as closely as I can to a regular tablet. Sure, the experience is not nearly as enjoyable as an all-app setting and there are a lot of work to do and hoops to jump through, but it is certainly workable.
On the performance side, the MatePad Pro does all right. It is powered by Huawei’s flagship Kirin 990 chipset after all and there are no major complaints, though I did run into some stuttering issues few and far between. As a portable productivity tool, it gets the job done, which for me involves a lot of simultaneous web-browsing and composing articles (I have the smart magnetic keyboard and the split-screen feature to thank for).
The tablet comes shipped with a few nifty tools in the software. One of them is Desktop Mode, which lets you work in a desktop-like interface. It is good for multitasking and working with multiple open applications at the same time. You can even pair a Bluetooth mouse to mimic the PC experience. Then there’s the Multi-Screen Collaboration feature which gives you direct access to an Android smartphone by having the phone interface projected onto the tablet screen. Besides seamless drag-and-drop file transfer between the two devices, you will also be able to make calls and send text messages to your phone contacts without having to pick up your phone. In essence, it is like having your phone living inside your tablet.
To answer the earlier question, yes – the MatePad Pro is a usable tablet despite missing a big chunk of a crucial software element, but only if you are willing to go the extra mile to set everything up. It is a case of compromised software undercutting a great hardware. Even so, a great hardware is not nearly enough to recommend it in an iPad-dominated tablet market.
If what you want is the safest option with assured quality and guaranteed software support for years, go for the iPad. If for whatever reason you are averse to anything Apple, the MatePad Pro is probably the closest thing that can offer a semblance of the iPad Pro hardware experience.