Presidential powers might have changed hands in the US recently but Huawei remains unable to use the officially-supported version of Android with its newest smartphone and tablet releases, and there’s no sign that this is likely to change anytime soon.
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With that in mind, it’s critical Huawei’s own Harmony OS is a success and the 12.6in MatePad Pro (2021) is the first chance we’ve had to use it on a commercially available device. Does it stand a chance against the might of Android and iPad OS?
If success were gauged purely on hardware, you’d think it might well do, because this year’s MatePad Pro is among the best in the business. It comes with a super sharp 12.6in 2K (2,560 x 1,600) resolution OLED display, it’s powered by Huawei’s flagship Kirin 9000 chipset, and it comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage to go with it, expandable via Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory card format. It also comes with 5G connectivity and you can double the storage to 256GB if you’re prepared to pay a bit extra.
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This year’s MatePad Pro launches with Harmony OS 2 which is still Android based but incorporates Huawei’s own spin on things. I’ll dig deeper into what this means later in this review but, in short, Harmony OS seems to be a hodgepodge of Android and iPad OS features with the big caveat that you’re restricted to using the Huawei App Gallery for new apps and games.
Critically, this means you can’t access Google’s core suite of applications, such as Drive, YouTube, Chrome and Maps and, generally speaking, the full list of available apps isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as the selection you’ll find on either the Play Store or Apple App Store.
On another disappointing note, we don’t currently have any price or availability information for the MatePad Pro (2021) outside China. A quick currency conversion suggests the 12.6in MatePad Pro should cost around ￡550 (￥4,999) for the 128GB Wi-Fi only model when it does eventually arrive on UK shores, with the 256GB 5G variant coming in at around ￡880 (￥7,999).
Since that’s all I’ve got to work with at the moment, let’s compare these vague prices with the MatePad Pro’s main competition. The newest M1-powered iPad Pro starts at ￡999 for the 12.9in model, which for that price gets you 128GB of storage – if you want 256GB of space you’re looking at a hefty sum of ￡1,099. If my currency conversion calculations eventually hold up, then this wide price difference paints the MatePad Pro in an exceptionally positive light.
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There’s also the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus to consider. Samsung’s 12.4in tablet is slightly more affordable, starting at ￡799, which is still more expensive than the MatePad, but it has a Super AMOLED 120Hz display and comes bundled with an S Pen stylus at no extra cost.
Before I continue, it’s also worth mentioning that Huawei launched a 10.8in MatePad Pro alongside the 12.6in tablet. Prices start at a cheaper ￡420 (￥3,799) and the differences between the two include a weaker Snapdragon 870 chipset, an LCD screen instead of the 12.6in’s OLED panel, a smaller battery and only a single 13MP rear camera. Oddly enough, the display on the 10.8in model has a higher maximum refresh of 120Hz, while the 12.6in version only has 60Hz.
Design-wise, the MatePad Pro is an attractive slab of plastic and glass that feels great to handle. The mere mention of a plastic design might be enough to put you off, but the MatePad’s chassis looks a lot nicer in the flesh and it also has skinny 7mm bezels that run around the entire circumference of the screen as well as slightly rounded corners and edges that help with one-handed use.
One thing to note is that not only has the screen increased in size over the previous MatePad Pro (10.8in to 12.6in) but the obtrusive hole-punch camera is no more. The single 8MP (f/2.0) selfie camera is instead neatly hidden inside the bezel of one of the tablet’s long edges.
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There’s a rectangular camera module on the back, which looks a bit like the one on Huawei’s P40 smartphone and blends nicely into the rest of the tablet with its slightly ramped sides; it houses a primary 13MP (f/1.8) camera, an 8MP (f/2.4) ultrawide and a depth sensor. The MatePad’s plastic chassis also has the added benefit of keeping the overall weight down to 609g. Although it is heavier than last year’s 10.8in MatePad Pro, this year’s model is lighter than iPad Pro, which weighs 682g.
The tablet uses a USB-C port for charging, which supports wired charging speeds up to 40W, and it also has 27W wireless and 10W reverse wireless charging as well. You can unlock the MatePad Pro using face recognition, in addition to the usual PIN and password methods but it doesn’t include a fingerprint sensor.
As for audio, the MatePad Pro has a total of eight speakers, with four each situated on either side when the tablet is placed in horizontal orientation. In testing, the MatePad Pro delivered full-bodied audio with effective stereo separation and it sounded pretty close to the audio experience of the tablet I was using for comparison – the iPad Air 4.
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The tablet also has four microphones, capable of picking up speech from up to five metres away, and Huawei’s AI noise cancellation tech did a decent job at eliminating background noise (the spin of my washing machine and noisy car traffic) during test calls.
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There’s really nothing wrong with the MatePad Pro’s display, either. Measuring 12.6in across the diagonal, the tablet’s 2K (2,560 x 1,600) resolution OLED panel delivers a pin-sharp pixel density of 240ppi with a 16:10 aspect ratio and support for HDR 10+ content. One thing it doesn’t support is higher refresh rates; the MatePad Pro is stuck at up to 60Hz, while the iPad Pro is capable of displaying content at up to 120Hz.
That being said, there’s no questioning the quality of the MatePad Pro’s screen. With two display modes to choose from in the tablet’s settings, I found the ‘Normal’ colour profile to be the most colour accurate, delivering 94.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, with a total coverage of 95.1% and an average Delta E of 0.75, which is pretty much as good as tablet displays get. The MatePad Pro also reached a maximum peak brightness of 382cd/m2.
This year’s MatePad Pro is powered by Huawei’s homegrown Kirin 9000 chipset, which can also be found inside Huawei’s recent flagship phone, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. This is an octa-core processor that’s built using a 5nm fabrication process and has a maximum clock speed of 3.13GHz. It also has an integrated 5G modem, although LTE connectivity is limited to the more expensive model.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most Huawei review units we receive, the MatePad Pro wasn’t able to run our usual selection of performance benchmarks. Geekbench 4/5, GFXBench and CPU-Z all failed to install, even after downloading the relevant APKs using Huawei’s Aptoide search tool, which suggests APK download sources if the app isn’t already available in the App Gallery.
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Anecdotally speaking, however, the MatePad Pro’s performance is a bit of a triumph. It boots in the blink of an eye, rapidly switches between multiple applications and I never once noticed any performance hiccups during testing. It’s a bit of a shame the app lineup is as limited as it is, since there’s no other reason why the MatePad Pro couldn’t serve as a decent laptop replacement, especially where overall performance is concerned.
Gaming-wise, it’s a similar story. There’s not much in the way of top-shelf titles available to install – although there are plenty of copyright-infringing Counter Strike and Fall Guys knockoffs as well as a mix of casino gambling apps – but the MatePad Pro’s embedded Mali-G78 GPU shouldn’t have any trouble running whatever game you care to throw at it.
It’s also good that the screen size increase hasn’t led to much of a reduction in overall battery life. In our video rundown test, the MatePad Pro lasted 11hrs 31mins before battery levels dropped to zero; that’s similar to the 12.9in M1 iPad Pro and the previous MatePad Pro.
Normally, as I approach the closing point of a review, any tablet that’s received similarly high praise finds itself on track to receiving a well-earned recommendation. However, since this is a Huawei device, there’s usually something holding it back, and yet again that comes in the form of software.
If you had any hope that Harmony OS 2 would bring Huawei’s reputation firmly back on track, then be prepared to be slightly disappointed. As I’ve mentioned throughout this review, Huawei’s App Gallery is still poor and, while you might be able to find a few popular applications such as TikTok and Snapchat, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s plenty missing, too. Not to mention that the App Gallery is insistent on throwing five-second adverts at you at almost every turn.
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Still, Harmony OS 2’s UI is miles better than last year’s tablet, which didn’t really have a lot going for it in terms of software. Harmony OS 2 is still very much Android-like in operation, which isn’t surprising given Android still forms its underpinnings. However, it has also borrowed a few bits and bobs from Apple’s iPad OS. This includes an app dock at the bottom of the home screen, which displays recent and frequently used apps, and the control panel – accessed with a swipe down from the top-right corner.
And, just like Apple, there’s a big focus on multitasking and multi-device pairing. This year’s MatePad Pro has the option to run two tasks simultaneously within one app, such as replying to instant messages on the left of the screen and writing an email on the right. Using two apps in split-screen mode also works well, and I particularly like the floating app window integration as well.
If you own another Huawei device, such as a smartphone, MateBook laptop or one of the firm’s new range of monitors, you can also mirror or extend your screen, which works in a similar way to Apple’s Sidecar functionality. You can even control your Huawei phone directly from the tablet should you wish.
It should come as no surprise that my final verdict on the Huawei MatePad Pro (2021) is pretty much the same as any other Huawei device I’ve reviewed over the last couple of years.
The United States’ foreign policy isn’t Huawei’s fault, of course, but the consequence is still the same. No matter how great the hardware is, the lack of Google Play means it remains an infuriatingly tough sell outside of China.
Sure the price is tempting and it’s absolutely up to snuff in every other area but the MatePad Pro’s current software will leave you wanting more.