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Huawei MediaPad M3 review: The best Android alternative to the Apple iPad Mini 4

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The Good The Huawei MediaPad M3 has a stylish and sturdy aluminum design. The HD screen is sharp and the fingerprint sensor is fast. It has dual Harman-Kardon speakers that are crazy-loud.

The Bad Audio sounds tinny at maximum volume.

The Bottom Line The Huawei MediaPad M3 is the best small and stylish Android alternative to the Apple iPad Mini 4.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

The Huawei MediaPad M3 is like a louder, more affordable Apple iPad Mini 4, that runs Android.

The stylish, aluminum-clad tablet bears a striking resemblance to the iPad Mini 4 ($285 at Back Market) in design, and its performance is just as powerful, however the Huawei tablet has better speakers and cheaper pricing -- for both Wi-Fi only and LTE models. The Wi-Fi only model will hit the US in December for $299. AU and UK pricing and availability have yet to be announced.

Sight and sound

  • 8.4-inch screen
  • 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution IPS screen
  • 359 ppi
  • Harman Kardon speakers

There's a speaker on its left and right edge.

Josh Miller/CNET

Tablets are great for media consumption (aka watching hella amounts of Netflix), so it's no surprise that the very literally named MediaPad M3 is one of the best binge-watch-friendly models around. Its got a satisfyingly sharp screen (so streaming HD content looks great) and houses Harman Kardon-tuned speakers on its top and bottom edges (or left and right, if holding horizontally).

The speakers are surprisingly loud, crisp and clear; dialogue in movies was always at the forefront and vocals in music sounded appropriately accentuated. Additionally, with the speakers on each end of the Huawei MediaPad M3, it makes for a more immersive listening experience (even though the iPad Mini 4 also has two speakers, they're both located on the same side of the tablet). The downsides to the Huawei tablet's speakers are the same ones that plague all tablets: audio is tinny at maximum volume and seriously, where's the bass?

Supremely sleek

Let's be real: all tablets kind of look the same and how one feels in your hands can many times be the deciding factor. (I mean, it's meant to be a handheld device after all.)

Dimensions compared

Huawei MediaPad M3 Apple iPad Mini 4 Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
Weight 0.7 pound (318 grams) 0.65-pound (298.8g) .58-pound (265g)
Width (landscape) 8.5-inches (215.mm) 8-inches (203.2mm) 7.8-inches (198.6mm)
Height 4.9-inches (124.2mm) 5.3-inches (134.8mm) 5.3-inches (134.8mm)
Depth .29-inch (7.3mm) .24-inch (6.1mm) .22-inch (5.6mm)

Small and sleek.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Huawei tablet's sleek, aluminum design manages to feel solid and lightweight at the same time. With respect to the Google Pixel C ($239 at Amazon), it's one of the most posh Android models available. In comparison to the iPad Mini 4, the difference in dimensions are slight. In my opinion, both successfully balance the sleek and solid sweet spot that all tablets should aspire to.

Smooth operator

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • Huawei HiSilicon Kirin octa-core processor
  • 32GB, 64GB internal storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • Nano-SIM card slot
  • MicroSD card slot, with up to 128GB card support

The Huawei MediaPad M3 isn't all beauty and no brains; its performance is as graceful as its design (yes, I equate brains with performance when it comes to tablets). The tablet outperformed the iPad Mini 4 and Samsung Galaxy S2 8.0 in 3DMark, making it one of the fastest Android tablets for gaming.

A comfortable aluminum backside.

Josh Miller/CNET

Big games like Hearthstone launch quickly, however loading times for levels in games like N.O.V.A. 3 and Dead Trigger 2 take around 20 to 30 seconds.

This is average for a tablet with the Huawei's specs and despite the small wait, it's a perfectly playable tablet. To find a model with faster loading speeds, you'll have to upgrade to a speed demon like the iPad Pro 9.7.

3DMark Score (Ice Storm Unlimited)

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
11877
Asus ZenPad Z8
17856
Apple iPad Mini 4
18909
Huawei MediaPad M3
19420

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3 Score (Single-Core)

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
1441
Asus ZenPad Z8
1536
Apple iPad Mini 4
1722
Huawei MediaPad M3
1747

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3 Score (Multi-Core)

Apple iPad Mini 4
3122
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
3609
Asus ZenPad Z8
3638
Huawei MediaPad M3
5032

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

The Huawei MediaPad M3 is one of the best small tablets for watching video.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Huawei MediaPad M3 features a split-screen mode that's activated by long-pressing the recent apps button. It works with many apps, including Google apps (Chrome, YouTube, Drive, Maps, and so on). Netflix, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well its native apps, like email, videos, calendar and calculator apps.

Split-screen functionality is something that comes native in Android 7.0 Nougat, yet the Huawei runs on Android 6.1 Marshmallow. The split-screen mode is courtesy of Huawei's own EMUI user-interface. Tablets 8-inches or smaller aren't typically used for multitasking, making the split-screen feature more of a novelty than a necessity, but since Huawei has yet to share when or if the tablet will upgrade to Android 7.0 Nougat, it's a welcome addition to the tablet's feature set.

Like all high-end tablets these days, the Huawei MediaPad M3 has a fingerprint reader for extra security, which recognized my fingerprint quickly and consistently. Battery life should extend through an entire work day as it lasted an average of 10 hours while continuously running a downloaded movie. It's not the longest tablet battery life I've come across (though it is a bit longer than the iPad Mini 4's), but that's pretty good for its size.

On the LTE model, you can take a SIM from any carrier (including Google Fi), pop it in, and use it like a phone. Obnoxious? Yes, but also useful. The LTE model's price varies by country, however in comparison to LTE versions of the iPad Mini 4 (which doesn't work with Google Fi), the Huawei tablet is still more affordable. At the time this was published, Huawei has yet to share full pricing details. We'll update the review as soon as we have that information.

To iPad, or not to iPad?

A worthy iPad Mini 4 alternative.

Josh Miller/CNET

Aside from the Harman Kardon speakers, the biggest difference between the Huawei MediaPad M3 and the Apple iPad Mini 4 is their operating systems. Android gets a bad rep for its perceived inferiority to iOS (thanks to a smaller app store and the unfortunate fact that apps sometimes debut on iOS before Android), but the availability gap in apps is closing and the Google Play Store is still full of more great apps than you'll ever have time to use.

Increasingly, the real reason to pick one operating system over another is more preference -- as well as how much you've invested in iOS apps along with iTunes music and movies. If the media content you want to consume is tied to iTunes, stick with the iPad. If not, the small and solid Huawei MediaPad M3 is one of the best Android alternatives to the high-end Apple iPad Mini 4.

Editors' note November 1, 2016: This review was updated to clarify that the Wi-Fi only model will be available in the US..

Editors' note October 31, 2016: This review was updated to add information on the tablet's split-screen function.

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