Toward the end of Huawei's Mobile World Congress press event this past February, company executives made a brief mention of an upcoming 10-inch, quad-core tablet. For the media in attendance, it was a coup d'oeil at best and a dangling hardware carrot, for sure. At the time, the company kept curious journalists at bay, but did confirm some high-end specs: a 1,920 x 1,200 IPS display, 8-megapixel rear camera, LTE (Cat 4) / DC-HSPA+ radios and a proprietary, quad-core K3V2 CPU buffered by 2GB of RAM. It wouldn't be until CTIA in New Orleans three months later when we'd actually get some hands-on time with device.
Now that we're at the tail-end of the year and the MediaPad 10 is on sale in Europe, much of the buzz has evaporated in the wake of some high-profile product launches (think: Google's Retina-searing Nexus 10, or the recently refreshed iPad). But is there a reason to give the MediaPad 10 a second look anyway? Will a price of 424 euros and limited regional availability mar its chances in the marketplace? Answers to those questions and more after the break.
Last November, Huawei brought its 7-inch MediaPad to the states, where it went by the alias, T-Mobile Springboard. Ultimately, it was a tablet we were quite fond of -- not least because of the well-made hardware. Now, as it brings its first 10-inch tablet to market, Huawei is borrowing a few key design elements -- namely, that mix of white plastic and chrome. The MediaPad 10 doesn't replicate the backplate of the original entirely, opting instead for a sole strip of white that stretches across the metal back. Sitting in the middle of that strip is the 8-megapixel camera, as well as a covered slot for microSD and SIM cards (SIM access is blocked on this WiFi-only model). Beneath those two slots you'll find the dual speaker setup, with one speaker on the right and the other on the left. The rest is a master class in restraint, making for one understated piece of kit. Even Huawei's own logo fades into the monochromatic plating.
Flip it over to the front and it looks like nearly every other 10-inch tablet, save for anything Sony has put out. Framing the Gorilla Glass screen is a generous bezel housing the front-facing camera up top and Huawei's company logo at the bottom. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the left edge, while buttons for power and volume are located on the opposite side. Down at the base, you'll find a proprietary charging port between two notches for the optional keyboard dock. Under the hood, the MediaPad 10 packs a 6,600mAh battery and 16GB of storage, though it's also available in 8GB and 32GB flavors. Whichever model you choose, the microSD slot supports cards as large as 32GB.
Where other tablet makers have misfired with bulky designs, Huawei's scores a direct hit with the MediaPad 10. At just 8.8mm thick, the 257 x 176mm tablet is thinner than high-end rivals like the iPad and Nexus 10 -- and at 580 grams, it weighs less, too. This is definitely something you'll notice upon first handling. Does that make for a completely pleasant in-hand experience? Almost, but not quite, since the wrap-around chrome frame tapers off abruptly, leaving you with sharp, uncomfortable edges. If you can avoid gripping the corners, you'll generally be able to escape scraping your palm on those razor-like edges.
In handling the device closely, we couldn't help but notice a slight gap between the 1,920 x 1,200 IPS display and neighboring bezel. It's a minor flaw, but it's also difficult to un-see once you notice it. Then there's a more practical problem: the amount of glare the screen gives off. With overhead lighting or a strong background source, you'll have to squint past reflections to make out the screen, even at full brightness. Contrast, at least, shouldn't be an issue -- there's little to no wash-out here.
The MediaPad 10 features Dolby 5.1 for "theatre-quality audio" and while it should be obvious that a 10-inch tablet can't compete with your local cinema's setup, it does produce impressively loud sound. With the dual speakers blaring from the back of the tablet (thus, misdirecting the sound), overall clarity and volume take a minor hit; something that could've been remedied by situating these speakers on the front face.
There's something slightly amiss in Huawei's skinning of Ice Cream Sandwich -- there's no app drawer, no ability to go beneath the home screens. For someone unaccustomed to Android tablets or, better yet, folks who are better-acquainted with iOS, this UX "tweak" (really, an omission) might go unnoticed. In fact, we get the sense Huawei specifically made this change to target that particular demographic: people who don't yet know their way around Android 4.0. Why do we say that? Well, with OS actions, installed apps and menu settings relegated to the home screens, the user experience is more akin to iOS on the iPad, the world's best-selling tablet. For the rest of you dead-set on vanilla Android, this modification is likely to be frustrating. It just feels unnatural for those of us accustomed to Google's homegrown UI. If you're not in the mood to re-learn Android, stay far away.
Out of the box, the MediaPad 10 has three home screens populated with assorted applications. On the primary screen there's a clock / weather widget and icons for apps like Email, Browser, Camera and Calendar. This is also where you'll find a folder for Google's suite of native apps, although take note, it's not comprehensive. Huawei's hidden three of Google's map-based applications (Local, Maps and Navigation) on a third home screen, all by their lonesome. In between those panes you'll find all of the pre-loaded apps. For once, happily, the number of bloatware apps number in the single digits. That's right, only five of these come pre-loaded and they're all -- wait for it -- uninstallable. This tablet, then, is yours for the making.
Remember the app drawer icon -- you know, the one that Google's always parked on the screen's upper-right corner? Well, it's been replaced by a plus icon for widget customization. But that's not the only UI quirk on display here. A long-press on the main home screen will trigger a dialog box allowing you to adjust wallpaper, widget, pane and system settings. This won't work if you bear down on the portion of the screen just above the bezel. That's because Huawei's reserved this space for the menu bar, which can be enabled with a quick swipe up from the bezel, and hidden by tapping the onscreen down arrow.
Adding custom shortcuts to the lock screen on ICS tablets is nothing new -- that's a stock Android feature. But the ability to effect a slideshow from that very same screen is something different. When you first wake the MediaPad 10 -- provided you choose this lock screen in the security settings -- you'll see that familiar shortcut circle to the right, next to a widget for date / time and music player controls. Shift your attention to the upper-left corner and that's where you'll find the slideshow icon. It's more or less a screensaver for your tablet, so we question its utility.
Eschewing the Tegra 3 SoC found on many other Android tablets, Huawei instead went with a homegrown chipset, the K3V2. It's a custom CPU that was first announced back at Mobile World Congress, and subsequently put to use in the Ascend D Quad In practice, four Cortex-A9 cores clocked at 1.4GHz should run without a hitch. It doesn't. If there's one major con working against the MediaPad 10, it would be its tendency towards "slowness." This sluggishness sometimes comes in the form of a two- to three-second delay when switching between open apps or even merely attempting to launch one. It can also pop up when navigating through the homescreens. Thankfully, we haven't found these hiccups to be all-pervasive, just minute flare ups.
MediaPad 10 owners get two browser options: Google Chrome and Huawei's own solution. Neither appears to be faster than the other: on both, load times for full desktop sites ring in around 30 seconds. Scrolling and pinch-to-zoom feel smooth, but the tablet lacks the ability to keep pace with that agility, often taking a second to re-render content amidst white spaces.
Our benchmark results, however, paint a rosier picture. As you can see in the table below, the MediaPad 10's custom chip holds up nicely against Tegra 3-powered competitors such as the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity and Acer Iconia Tab A700. It also fares well compared to the Nexus 10, which has a dual-core A15 processor. The MediaPad 10's scores were more or less on par with these devices, save for the frame rates recorded by GLBenchmark 2.5. It's clear there's untapped horsepower lying dormant beneath the MediaPad 10's frame -- if only Huawei could optimize its OS tweaks to take true advantage of it.Huawei MediaPad 10 (US pricing TBD)Nexus 10 ($399)ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 ($499)Acer Iconia Tab A700GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt Offscreen (fps)SunSpider: lower scores are better
Since we were unable to evaluate LTE on our review unit, we can't attest to how the 6,600mAh battery would fare under the stress of a network connection. Tethered to WiFi, you can expect the integrated cell to span a couple of days with moderate use. In our formal battery rundown test, the MediaPad 10 delivered seven hours and 20 minutes of use, placing it in the bottom three in our running battery life table, and just below Google's Nexus 10. Seven hours may not be anything to scoff out, but plenty of tablets this size can last longer.ASUS Eee Pad Transformer PrimeMicrosoft Surface for Windows RTASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700
We'd skip past camera performance on tablets if it weren't for those pesky few consumers that just insist on using them. As we've repeated ad nauseam in past reviews, there's just no real need for imaging on a device of this size. It's awkward to wield and less-than-ideal for impromptu shots. Yet, so long as OEMs include camera modules, we'll test them out. And here, Huawei's chosen to embed an 8-megapixel shooter capable of 1080p video capture and a 720p-capable, 1.3-megapixel front-facer.
The rear camera takes decent photos. Colors and contrast are mostly accurate, but objects that lie outside the narrow focal point look blurry. Tapping the screen allows you to set the focus, with capture handled via software button and zoom controlled solely by the volume rocker. The UI itself is a bit of a mess with settings strewn about unintuitively. That's not to say it isn't feature-rich. There are loads of included scene and shooting modes (including HDR, Panorama and Burst shot), image and FX filters, as well as the ability to toggle ISO, exposure and white balance.
Our 1080p video was also blurry in parts. In addition, it suffered from an extremely choppy framerate and poor image stabilization. Audio playback is much better -- even when we did some recording near a loud construction project, the tablet was able to pick up this editor's voice, and also minimize background noise.
Huawei hasn't announced plans to bring the MediaPad 10 to the states just yet, but it is currently available in Europe for 424 euros (roughly $540). For that price, you get the 8GB WiFi-only model with its expandable storage. Compare that with the Acer Iconia Tab A700, which packs a Tegra 3, full HD display and 32GB of storage for $399, or ASUS' similarly specced Transformer Pad Infinity which goes for about $470 on Amazon and it's clear the MediaPad 10 is the least compelling package for its price. Google's second reference tab, the Nexus 10, also rings in at $399, but that's for the 16GB configuration. Double that slate's memory and you're looking at $499 at which point you may as well consider Apple's latest 16GB, WiFi-only Retina iPad refresh if you're not tied to Android.
When it was teased earlier this year, Huawei's MediaPad 10 was shaping up to be a screamer. But in the slow crawl to market, its cutting-edge specs became commonplace for the Android tablet space. Sure, the combination of a quad-core proprietary CPU, full HD 1,920 x 1,200 IPS display, Android 4.0, a 6,600mAh battery and up to 32GB of storage means this has the makings of a stellar slate. Still, it's the pricing and limited regional availability that really kill it. With an exorbitant price tag that's over $100 more than its 32GB competition, the 8GB (!!!) WiFi-only model's pretty much excluded from any savvy consumer's tech shopping list. Factor in the processor's uneven real-world performance and there's just no reason we'd ever recommend this device over cheaper, more dependable offerings.