Review unit on loan from Huawei Singapore
This is the artist review of the Huawei MatePad 11 (2023) and M Pencil 2. In addition to talking about the hardware and OS, I will also talk about the drawing experience.
By the way, listed below are the Huawei MatePad tablets I've reviewed over the years and their respective launch prices:
Here's the current Huawei MatePad tablet lineup:
- Huawei MatePad T10 (2021) - SGD 228
- Huawei MatePad SE (2022) - SGD 298 - review - Product page
- Huawei MatePad 10.4 (2022) - from SGD 328 - Review - Product page
- Huawei MatePad 11 (2021) - SGD 698 Review - Product page
- Huawei MatePad 11 (2023) - SGD 598 with keyboard case included - Product page
- Huawei MatePad Pro (2019) - Review - Product page
- Huawei MatePad Pro 10.8 (2021) - SGD 998 - Review - Product page
- Huawei MatePad Pro 12.6 (2021) - Product page
The base model with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage is almost similar to the 2021 model and it even uses the same Snapdragon 865. There are slight design difference, mostly on the big and the big difference is Huawei has removed the microSD card slot for some reason.
The pricing is quite competitive and you get good build quality, display, sound and performance. 2021 model was sold at SGD 698 and the 2023 model is $100 cheaper with a (significantly improved) keyboard case.
The tablet runs on HarmonyOS 3.1 which does not come with Google Play Store but that can be installed easily. The main issue is after installing Google Play Store, apps that require Google Play Services may not provide 100% functionality -- more on that later.
When connected to a compatible Huawei laptop, there are many useful collaboration features such as direct file transfers, access tablet files directly, extended desktop mode, ability to move the cursor across devices and more.
Drawing experience with the Huawei M Pencil 2 is pretty good but the drawing performance will vary slightly with the drawing app. If you're thinking of using this as a professional drawing tablet, the limitations will come from the OS.
These are the key specs for the review unit sold in Singapore.
- Colour: Graphite Black
- Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 865
- CPU: 1x 2.84GHz Cortex-A77, 3x 2.42GHz Cortex-A77, 4x1.80GHz Cortex-A55
- GPU: Adreno 650
- 11-inch LCD, 120Hz
- 2560 x 1600 resolution
- RAM: 6 GB
- Storage: 128GB
- MicroSD card slot: no
- Port: USB-C, USB 2 speed (28MB/s tested)
- Headphone jack: no
- Camera: 13MP rear, 8MP front
- Battery capacity: 7250 mAh
- OS: Harmony OS 3.1
The tablet is also available in other variants which are not available in Singapore:
- Colours: Blue, purple, white, black
- RAM: 6 - 8GB
- Storage: 128 - 256GB
- Processor: Snapdragon 870 (1x 3.2GHz Kryo 585, 3x 2.42GHz Kryo 585, 4x 1.80GHz Kryo 585)
I have read in this review that only the 6GB RAM model has no microSD card slot. The thing is there's no mention of the microSD card slot even on Huawei's website. I've asked two sellers on AliExpress and both said there's no microSD card slot even for the models with 8GB RAM. So I'm not sure what's the accurate information.
The Huawei MatePad 11 (2021) has a microSD card slot which is useful so I don't understand why that was removed, especially for the model with limited 128GB storage, of which 19.3 GB is already taken up by the OS.
Note that Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 is actually the processor used in the 2021 model and the 2023 base model is still using that. It's a decent performer even by today's standards but somehow I wished a more recent processor could be included.
In the box, you'll get a charger that supports 22.5W fast charger, USB-C to USB-C charging cable, quick start guide, warranty card and the tablet of course.
In Singapore, the keyboard case is bundled with the purchase. Huawei M Pencil is sold separately for SGD 148.
Design of the tablet looks beautiful with its thin bezels. The camera is located on the landscape side and is used for face unlock which is effective and fast.
he tablet is 7.2mm thin and weighs 480g which is relatively lightweight for an 11-inch tablet.
The curved sides makes this tablet comfortable to hold.
The back is matte textured with a slightly shimmering look. The back is quite susceptible to fingerprints but can be wiped clean easily.
The USB-C port only has USB 2 transfer speeds (28MB/s tested). There's no 3.5mm audio jack.
The four way speakers are loud, has good amount of clarity, bass and surround. The audio quality gets 4.5 out of 5 stars for tablet speakers. I deducted 0.5 stars because the sound is slightly hollow compared to the Huawei MatePad Pro 10.8 (2021).
There's no microSD slot unfortunately.
The 11-inch LCD display is bright and vibrant. Colours look great out of the box. Viewing angles are great with minimal colour shift when viewed from extreme angles.
Visuals look sharp with the 2560 x 1600 resolution. The 16:10 aspect ratio is good for watching shows with minimal black bars at the top and bottom.
The 120Hz refresh rate makes animation such as pan, zoom, rotate look so smooth, and make the tablet feel very responsive.
The display (right) is glossy without anti-reflective coating.
The display is laminated so there's no gap between the glass and LCD beneath. When drawing, the line looks like it's coming from beneath the pen tip.
Overall performance of the tablet is smooth and lag-free even with heavy multi-tasking. The Snapdragon 865 and Adreno 650 are able to handle graphics intensive gaming, though not at the highest of high settings.
The keyboard case included is a huge upgrade over the previous one. The keys are now bigger and easier to hit accurately and comfortably. The keys have good travel and feedback. The typing experience is good even though the keyboard is small due to the tablet size.
The keyboard is actually Bluetooth and is detachable from the stand. This means you can place the tablet on a taller stand and still use the keyboard.
The keyboard can also be placed by the side for keyboard shortcuts when using drawing apps, e.g. Krita, Clip Studio Paint. Using the keyboard this way improves productivity greatly.
Downsides would be the lack of a touchpad and the keys are not backlit.
And the keyboard shortcuts are few:
- Home - Cmd + D
- Lock screen - Cmd + L
- Notifications - Cmd + N
- Control panel - Cmd + C
- Keyboard shortcuts - Cmd + /
- Screenshot - Shift + Cmd + S
- Switch input method - Ctrl + Shift
- Go back - Cmd - Backspace
- Recent tasks - Cmd + Tab
- Files - Cmd + F
- AI search - Cmd + S
The function key shortcuts are for
- Brightness control
- Volume control
- Page up/down
Another downside is the kickstand can only be deployed at this angle. When drawing, I place the keyboard on another stand.
The last downside is the keyboard does not have a power switch. When I try to type on the tablet without the keyboard attached, I can't because the tablet is connected to the wireless keyboard. This issue is quite annoying because you will either have to turn off Bluetooth, or go type on the keyboard.
The keyboard case makes the tablet thicker and heavier. And the area around the USB-C port is thicker and some USB-C thumb drives may not fit.
Huawei M Pencil 2
The Huawei M Pencil 2 supports charging and pairing by attaching to the side of the tablet. You don't have to worry about the pen's battery life since it's attached constantly by the side.
This is the first time I'm seeing the pen in white except for the transparent pen tip (gray is available).
The pen has a hexagonal curved sides except for the one side that's used for charging. Build quality is solid. Surface texture is matte and this is very comfortable to hold.
Pen tips are replaceable and replacement pen tips can be found easily on AliExpress. The pen tip is firm and has no movement when in contact with the glass.
The transparent tip seems to have a new design. The original translucent tip was platinum coating and this feels like it has plastic over the metal parts. When tapping on the display, the tapping sound is dampened and not as sharp compared to metal tapping.
Huawei MatePad 11 (2023) runs on HarmonyOS 3.1 and the app store is Huawei AppGallery.
Huawei AppGallery has mostly Chinese apps and English ones are much fewer. When the app store hasn't not been launched recently, it will show you an ad.
HarmonyOS does not come with Google Play Store but that can be installed by installing Gspace from the Huawei AppGallery. Once you have Gspace, you will have access to apps from the Google Play Store and install them. The Gspace installed apps launch as fast as the native apps.
Here are some limitations with Gspace installed apps:
- Past purchases may not be restored, and you won't know which apps are affected in advance. In other words if you absolutely need all the features for specific paid apps, it's better to go with tablets that support Google Play Store officially.
- Gspace installed apps will not show up as recent apps in the dock, but they will still be visible when you swipe up or Alt Tab.
- Gspace installed apps, which includes drawing apps, are not backed up when you backup the Huawei tablet. This is a huge issue because if you want backups for your artworks, I recommend you use drawing apps that can save artworks directly to the cloud, or use Krita where files can save to the local storage that you can back up.
- Gspace installed apps do not update automatically. You have go upgrade from within Google Play Store
- Gspace apps cannot be added to the app drawer
- Gspace screen recording apps cannot run on top of HarmonyOS. You have to install APK versions instead. Default screen recording app records at 1280 x 800
- Gspace installed keyboards cannot run on top of HarmonyOS. You have to install APK versions instead.
External display apps such as SuperDisplay works.
HarmonyOS has Huawei Super Device, Huawei Smart Office and Super Hub which are collaborative features that integrate with other Huawei devices. Note that you will need the latest software/firmware/driver updates to get the features to work across various Huawei devices. To get the same features or functionality to work with computers from other brands, you'll need to find third party apps with those features.
I was able to pair the tablet with the Huawei Matebook D 16 laptop and was able to do the following:
- Use the tablet as an external display. Alternative is to SuperDisplay app
- Have a universal clipboard across devices. Alternative is the Clipt app
- Access files on tablet from the computer. Alternative is Airdroid
- Transfer files wirelessly with Huawei Share. Alternative is Nearby Share
- Move cursor over to tablet even when not in extended desktop mode
One issue that affects me is the default file management app does not have integration with cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. While you cannot upload files to those cloud storage services directly from the file management app, you can still open those cloud storage apps to upload your files and thankfully there's permission to access to local storage.
Having the issue above means you cannot export your artworks to those cloud storage services from the drawing app directly. You have to save the artwork to local storage, then open the cloud storage app to upload that artwork.
1. It's easy to draw thin lines even with a thick brush because the initial activation force is low. There's no noticeable slow diagonal line wobble. It is not easy to maintain consistent pressure when drawing with minimal pressure though but some drawing apps will perform better with this test.
2. Lines are able to taper smoothly.
3. Lines can transition from thin to thick and back to thick, again showing off the low initial activation force.
4. It's easy to maintain line width by maintaining consistent pressure, unless you're drawing really thin lines with minimal pressure in which case it's better to just reduce line thickness through settings.
5. Dots can be drawn easily.
6. Lines can be joined easily without overshooting or leaving gaps. Cursor tracking is accurate without misalignment regardless of how you hold the pen.
The drawing performance is fantastic.
The drawing experience is affected by how smooth the glass is so that will take some time to get used to. It is possible to apply a matte screen protector to get that tactile drawing experience but that will affect the visual quality of the display.
Drawing experience and work flow issues
Make sure the display colour mode is set to Natural not Vivid in order to get the colours on the tablet to match what you see on other computers or devices.
This was drawn with Infinite Painter, Manga Inker brush with 10% smoothening.
I had installed the APK version of Infinite Painter v7.0.1 as this app was listed as incompatible on Google Play Store (via Gspace). I could not restore my purchase even though I signed in. As such, many tools and features are locked away.
For some reason, the pen is extremely sensitive and hence it's too easy to create variance in line width due to changes in pressure. Clip Studio Paint does a much better job at maintaining consistent pressure. So it's a challenge to maintain consistent line widths sometimes, and the other challenging is the pen tip is quite smooth on the glass so it's not easy to control the lines.
While the Huawei M Pencil 2 has no problems with diagonal line wobble, I find then the lines can waver at times when drawing curves (see the tip of the shows).
This was drawn with Medibang Paint with Sumi brush.
This was much easier to draw compared to using Infinite Painter even though the pen tip is still as smooth on the glass.
It's easier to maintain consistent line width with Medibang Paint and hence the line width don't have unexpected variance due to pressure.
This was also drawn with Medibang Paint.
This was drawn with Sketchbook.
I did not have any issues drawing with this app except I'm not familiar with the Sketchbook workflow and tools.
This was drawn with Clip Studio Paint.
Drawing performance with Clip Studio Paint is fantastic. Since CSP is a desktop app so when there are many palettes on the screen, the drawing area of the canvas is reduced quite significantly. You will have to customise your workspace to get the best drawing experience.
This was drawn with Concepts apps. I was also able to get tilt sensitivity to work.
I use my tablets mostly as a digital sketchpad and this tablet is comfortable to hold with one hand while drawing, as long as the keyboard case is removed.
I think the hardware is great in all aspects, and that includes the keyboard case and the Huawei M Pencil 2.
Google Play Store can be installed easily even though it's not included with HarmonyOS. I did not have any issues with all the Google apps I installed. Note that not all apps can have the purchases restored if you have bought them previous from the Google Play Store.
HarmonyOS is stable and has many useful features, well the usual features such as split screen, floating windows, widgets. It will take sometime to learn what are all the features available. If you are using a Huawei laptop with compatible software, you can pair it with the tablet to get some really useful integration features and functionality.
For drawing purposes, the tablet and pen perform quite well. I will recommend you use drawing apps that can save directly to cloud services or to the folder system. e.g. Krita because 128GB storage is limited and there's no microSD card slot. Saving your art to cloud services, usually subscription based, means you don't have to worry much about backups. I actually use Medibang Paint often and it can save to the cloud with 3GB data free, and I can easily transfer it to my computer for local storage later.
The Huawei MatePad 11 (2023) is a good tablet. Just note the limitations with HarmonyOS especially if you are coming over from using another Android OS.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Beautiful design
+ Solid build quality with premium feel
+ Lightweight and compact
+ The bundled keyboard case is detachable, wireless and types well
+ Bright, vibrant and sharp LCD display with good viewing angles
+ Display is laminated
+ 120Hz refresh rate feels smooth
+ Smooth overall performance even with multi-tasking
+ Is able to play graphics intensive games though not at the highest settings
+ Good audio quality
+ Good battery life
+ Pricing seems reasonable for the specs and included keyboard case
+ HarmonyOS has many collaboration functionality with other Huawei devices, especially their laptops
+ Drawing performance of the tablet and pen is good
- Glossy display with no anti-reflective coating
- 128GB storage feels limiting without the microSD cart slot
- Snapdragon 865 is the same processor from the MatePad 11 (2021), but still a decent performer today
- Models with other storage options may not be available in some countries
- No desktop or PC mode with HarmonyOS
- USB 2 transfer speed for the USB-C port
- No headphone jack
- Huawei AppGallery hosts mostly Chinese apps
- Google Play Store can be installed but not all apps can restore purchases
- No direct integration with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox
- Backup does not backup data within apps