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Huawei MediaPad review

A seven-inch tablet with excellent build quality, an impressive screen and some welcome software additions. Is this enough to take on the tablet world’s big guns?

Huawei may not be a well known name at the moment, but the company has serious plans to build brand recognition over the next few years. The Chinese manufacturer’s strategy revolves around well-specced devices with good build quality and very competitively priced. As the first part of that strategy does the MediaPad represent the arrival of a major new name in mobile?

Visually the MediaPad might represent the closest thing we ever get to a seven inch iPad. From the front and the sides it is virtually indistinguishable from the iPad 1.

From the rear it seems to take a few cues from the HTC Flyer, with its unibody aluminium chassis broken up only by plastic sections at the top – to house the camera module, and the bottom, with a removable panel where you can insert your microSD and SIM cards (there is also a non-SIM version of the device available, while the device will also be available in the guise of the Orange Tahiti).

There are no buttons on the front and only volume and power buttons on the top horizontal edge. Along the right edge, in landscape mode, are ports for HDMI, microUSB and charging. The latter is important; the MediaPad will not charge via microUSB.

Along the opposite edge are twin speakers. We found these to be awkwardly placed as it is almost impossible not to obscure one of them with your palm when holding the device to watch a video.

The screen on the MediaPad is very impressive. The resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels gives it a pixel density of 215ppi, higher than pretty much any tablet of any size on any platform. By default, though, it is set to run in standard resolution, 1024 x 600, and you need to switch to the higher res mode in the settings. This makes the icons and text smaller, and there was a small hit on the device’s speed as well.

The IPS display has wide viewing angles, and the images it produced were bright and crisp.

The MediaPad was responsive throughout, with the only issues coming from the idiosyncrasies of the Honeycomb OS itself, such as the peculiar UI design that sees the back and home buttons in the bottom left corner of the screen, and the apps button in the top right corner when logic states they should be alongside each other at the very least. Huawei has now confirmed that the MediaPad will be updated to Ice Cream Sandwich.

Similarly the main performance concern came with the browser, which is slow when scrolling large pages, and tended to be very laggy when using the keyboard. This is not uncommon on Honeycomb devices, and the far superior performance of both Opera and Firefox on the MediaPad showed that it was indeed a Honeycomb issue here as well, rather than a problem with the hardware.

There are dual cameras on board. The rear one, with shoots five megapixel stills, was slow and produced mediocre output – we’re still far from convinced that tablets even need cameras, especially at this quality. More useful was the front camera for video chat.

The MediaPad runs an unskinned version of Honeycomb, which Huawei has chosen to supplement with some additional software. This includes a useful office suite for editing Microsoft Office-compatible documents, as well as some games.

The ubiquitous Angry Birds is here, along with a couple of Gameloft offerings, including the Asphalt 6 racing game that needs a near 600MB download before you can actually start playing. The Aldiko ebook reader is also pre-installed, and the Kindle app is only a download away if you prefer. At the size of a paperback book the MediaPad makes for a fantastic eReader.

A good range of video formats is supported in the video player as well, and while we did encounter some audio sync issues with a couple of our test videos the tablet also served well in this area. Google services apart, however, there is no on-board content store.

As a device with few design features in the hardware, and a plain version of its OS for the software the MediaPad suffers from the same problem that a lot of Honeycomb tablets do: it lacks its own identity. And as a result it feels expensive, even as its mid-range price point. Even so, it is among the best seven-inch Android tablets we’ve seen to date, and has plenty to offer anyone looking for a more compact but well built device.