Artist Review: Huawei MatePad Pro 5G with M-Pencil

This is the Huawei MatePad Pro, the top of the line tablet that competes with the Apple iPad Air 3 and Samsung Tab S6.

My review is from the perspective of an artist.

Here are the key specifications

  • Display type: LCD
  • Size: 10.8-inches
  • Resolution: 2560 x 1600
  • Colour support: 16.7 million colours, DCI-P3 wide colour gamut
  • Chip: Kirin 990 - Octa-core (2x2.86 GHz Cortex-A76 & 2x2.09 GHz Cortex-A76 & 4x1.86 GHz Cortex-A55)
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB
  • External storage: NM memory card
  • OS: EMUI 10.1 (based Android 10)
  • Connection: USB-C
  • Battery: 7250 mAh
  • Weight: 492g

Visit Huawei's page for full specifications.

I bought this in Singapore for S$898 and it came bundled with the Huawei M-Pencil and magnetic keyboard case.

Huawei products are difficult to find in USA and Amazon does not sell them. Price is around US $510 on Aliexpress. Just for comparison purposes, Samsung Tab S6 is US $649, iPad Air 3 64GB is US $499, and iPad Pro 11-inch 128GB is US $799.

Design and hardware


This is a beautiful 10.8-inch LCD tablet with thin bezels and solid build quality.

Even though this is not an AMOLED display, the colours are still vibrant and look great. Colours here are noticeably better compared to the LCD display on the Samsung Tab S6 Lite, and almost comparable to the Samsung Tab S6.

Brightness can reach up to 500 nits and it's definitely good enough for use outdoors.


The resolution is 2560 x 1600 pixels, 16:10 ratio, ~280 ppi density. That's a good resolution for a 10.8-inch size that makes everything looks sharp. Pixelation is not noticeable.

Visual quality of the display is impressive and very satisfactory.


While this is a laminated display, there is still a tiny gap between the glass and LCD beneath. I'm not sure if that gap is due to the thickness of the glass or something else.


When you press hard on the display with the pen tip, there's some ripple effect. It's not visible in the photo above as it's difficult for my camera to capture. The colour effect you see in the photo above is due to glass refraction at an angle.

I consider myself to write or draw with light or medium pressure and while drawing normally, I'm able to see the ripple effect.


The tablet has rounded corners and sides are curved out. Bezels are even thinner than the iPad Pro. You have to make a conscious effort to hold it in such a way that your fingers don't touch the screen. It's quick to get used to.


The camera bump for the 13MP f/1.8 camera is huge. The nice matte textured back can also be used for charging a phone wirelessly with 7.5W power delivery.


The selfie camera cutout is located at the top right when the tablet is held vertical.


Not all user interface elements will move out of the space taken by the camera cutout. However you can rotate the tablet so that the camera is at the bottom and out of the way. By the way, touch still works even with the camera there.


The Huawei MatePad Pro is powered by the Kirin 990 chip which is almost as fast as the Snapdragon 855 found in the Samsung Tab S6. The unit I have comes with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.

Overall performance is snappy. Operation and animation feels smooth.


Expandable storage is with NM memory card which is the exact size of a nano SIM card. Huawei claims the new card is 45% smaller than microSD but I just don't see it.

Having their own proprietary memory card means you won't be able to use your existing microSD card. And in the future if you want to get a tablet from another brand, you won't be able to reuse the NM card unless it's another Huawei product.

The proprietary expandable storage a minor issue though because the tablet comes with 256GB storage which is more than enough for general usage and lots of drawing.


The Huawei M-Pencil is not included and is sold separately. Price is around US $75. In Singapore, official retail price S$148 which is significantly more expensive than what I can find online from overseas seller.



M-Pencil supports tilt sensitivity and up to 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity.


The M-Pencil may look like the Apple Pencil but it's not an exact copy.

The body is gray with a semi-gloss surface. It weighs 14g, noticeably lighter compared to 20g Apple Pencil. Build quality is good but it doesn't not feel as solid or dense compared to the Apple Pencil due to the material and lighter weight. Anyway, some prefer heavier stylus, some prefer lighter.


M-Pencil is hexagonal in design with the edges smoothed out. One of the sides is concave and that snaps magnetically to the side of the tablet for charging. Battery life is rated to be 10 hours.

When you snap the M-Pencil to the side of the tablet, pairing process will start. This is a Bluetooth stylus and will require Bluetooth. It's also an active stylus in the sense that with some apps, you can hover the pen tip and there may be some interaction. But there's no visible cursor.

The pen tip is made of plastic and has the typical smoothness of plastic on glass. Thankfully this is not as slippery compared to the Huawei MediaPad M5 which is extremely slippery, like ice-skating rink type of slippery.


Replacement tips can be found on AliExpress and at the time of this review, it around US $10 for one. That's twice as expensive compared to Apple Pencil tips.

The tip is not completely firm when installed. There seems to be some spring like mechanism holding the pen tip. The pen tip doesn't exactly retract or move when writing or drawing, but you can definitely feel a tiny bit of movement.

Well, at least this is not US $99 or $129 like the Apple Pencil 1st and 2nd gen.

Drawing performance

The drawing apps that I've tested are Ibis Paint, Medibang Paint Pro and Concepts.

Concepts is currently my favourite drawing app on Android. So when I saw that it's available on in the Huawei AppGallery, I was ecstatic. It's the same Android version that I have on the Samsung tablet.


This is Ibis Paint. Pressure sensitivity works fine.


If you have paid for unlocked version of Ibis Paint, well, you won't be able to restore the purchase here because there's no Google Play Services to link to the version you paid elsewhere.


And even if you want to pay to unlock Ibis Paint here, you can't because it seems the developers did a 100% port without making it possible for transaction through Huawei's payment service.


This version of Medibang Paint Pro is ad-supported, thankfully only on the homepage. I was able to sign in to my Medibang account and all the cloud saves managed to sync. In short, I have all the files I have created on other devices that run Medibang.


Here's a sketch I drew in Concepts. Pressure and tilt works fine.

Drawing experience is good except for the occasional glitches. There are a few of times where I would use double finger tap to undo and it doesn't work. It works most of the time but sometimes it doesn't. Also when I'm tapping to switch to Color Picker, sometimes it's like either the tablet or the app doesn't register my finger tap. These are small issues though.

I wasn't able to restore the brush and tool purchases that I bought on my Samsung tablet though. That's the issue you have to deal with when there's no Google Play Services. It means you may have to spend money again to buy the same things that you've already bought elsewhere.

Having said that, Wacom Bamboo Paper was actually able to recognise my past purchases. My guess would be Wacom Bamboo Paper actually doesn't use Google Play Services to authenticate past purchases.


Palm rejection works quite well. Stray strokes are rare. Shown above is Wacom Bamboo Paper.

Certain apps have strict palm rejection and only detect pen input. Some examples are the default NotePad app on Huawei, Nebo (note taking), Medibang Paint Pro, Concepts.

Palm rejection still works quite well even for apps that don't have strict palm rejection, e.g. Wacom Bamboo Paper.


When drawing diagonal lines slowly, there is some wobble. Shown above are lines drawn on Wacom Bamboo Paper.

Strange thing is when you hold the M-Pencil vertically (B), there's no wobble. But no one holds their pen like that except for Chinese brush painters.

How much wobble there is will also depend on the app you use, and how slow you draw.


With Concepts app, I did not notice the wobble while drawing. You can click the image above for a larger view.


Here's another Concepts sketch.

Lack of Google Play Store

The most important thing you need to know is the OS used on the Huawei MatePad Pro is the Huawei EMUI 10.1 which is based off Android 10. There is no Google Play Store, so the variety of apps will be limited as the Huawei app store aka Huawei AppGallery is still relatively new. And There's also no Google Play Services which means some of the apps ported over from Android may not work well, especially those that require Google services, e.g. Google cloud syncing, Google account sign in within apps, restoring past purchases paid through Google Play Store.

Using this tablet feels like using a tablet back when the Google Play Store was in its infancy when quality apps were limited.

My recommendation when it comes to buying tablets and computers is to buy for the software you are using. In this case, you should not buy for features that Huawei has promised they will be adding because who knows when that will be. Remember the Windows Phone and their app store?

I'm optimistic that the Huawei AppGallery will be populated with more quality apps in the future because the Chinese market is huge. There is demand for Chinese apps but I'm not sure about demand for English apps. It's difficult to say if developers will create English apps or port current Android ones over.

Despite the lack of Google Play Store, the Huawei AppGallery does have many apps. When it comes to quality drawing apps, there aren't many. The ones that I'm using in this review are Medibang Paint Pro, Ibis Paint and Concepts. Some of the popular Android drawing apps that are missing are ArtFlow, Autodesk Sketchbook, Infinite Painter, Adobe Illustrator Draw, Adobe Photoshop Sketch.

Other issues

Here are some other non-art related issues I noticed.

Microsoft Swiftkey keyboard doesn't work. I can type on the keyboard but letters won't appear. What I'm trying to say here is with Android apps ported over to Huawei's EMUI Android, sometimes there will be glitches.

All the Google apps are not available. E.g. Gmail, Drive, Maps, Keep. This means you'll need to access the web versions of all those apps. You can easily create bookmarks for all the webpages on the home page.

Facebook, Instagram, Youtube apps are also not available. Web versions do not have the same functionality of apps. For example, with web version of Instagram, you're not allowed to upload photos.

Technically speaking you can install Google Play Store and Google Play Services but it can be very challenging. I tried to do that for a few hours and wasn't successful. And even when I did install Google Play Services, it caused some of the apps I already have to not work properly.

If you do want Google Play Store, buy from resellers on AliExpress that have pre-installed it on the tablet. That's the easily way and the tablet is not any more expensive compared to one without.

Conclusion

The Huawei MatePad Pro has terrific design, build quality, display, specifications and performance.

The drawing experience with M-Pencil is good but I can only say that when used with Concepts. Pressure and tilt sensitivity works. And palm rejection works well too.

The only major downside is the lack of the Google Play Store and Google Play Services. That really limits the variety of apps available. It will take time for quality of apps in the Huawei AppGallery to reach the standard of those in the Google Play Store or even the Apple App Store.

If you are switching from another Android tablet, note that you may not be able to restore your past purchases. The most important thing you should check is whether the drawing app you want to use is available in the Huawei AppGallery.

Having said that, there are resellers on AliExpress that sells the Huawei tablet pre-installed with Google Play Services, and the prices are not too different from tablets that do not come with the Google Play Store. So if you're thinking of getting the Huawei MatePad Pro, I definitely recommend getting one that's already pre-loaded with the Google Play Store.

When you consider the price of US $510 and the $75 Huawei M-Pencil the total is not too far from the Samsung Tab S6 which comes with the S Pen and official Google Play Store. If you want to save some money, you can go with the Huawei. If you want the AMOLED display, then the Samsung.

My final recommendation is this: Buy for the software you want to use.

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