When does a phone become a tablet? Is it all about the size or is there more to it? With the MediaPad X1, Huawei has blurred the line more than ever. Huawei swears blind that this 7-inch Android device is a tablet, but it also has a SIM card slot that provides 4G LTE data as well as letting you make calls and send SMS messages -- functioning, essentially, as a phone.
As well as its phone skills, the X1 packs a Full HD display, a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, an attractive metal body and a 13-megapixel camera.
It's due to hit stores in the UK later in the year, although Huawei has so far only given an estimated price of €399 (£330, $550), which isn't exactly dirt cheap. It has a decent lineup of specs, but it's going to need those if it really hopes to take sales from Apple's iPad mini or the much more affordable Google Nexus 7.
With its slim, metal body and cool blue paint job, the MediaPad X1 isn't bad looking at all. Its metal construction helps make it feel rather luxurious when you pick it up, as do the skinny bezels and the all-glass front. There's no flex in the metal back panel or any unpleasant rattling from the buttons, which makes it feel like a sturdy piece of kit.
At 7.18mm thick, it's roughly as svelte as the iPad mini, although its 7-inch, rather than 8-inch display helps make it narrower and shorter. I found I was easily able to slide it into an inside jacket pocket, although it's very awkward to keep in your jeans pocket -- something to bear in mind if you're hoping to use it as your everyday phone.
Whether you prefer its design to the iPad mini's metal body is purely a matter of taste. Personally, I don't think there's much in it, although the iPad certainly has more sex appeal in its name alone. I do prefer the X1's cool chassis over the rubberised body of the Nexus 7 though.
There are no physical buttons on the front of the device, but around the sides you'll find the standard volume and power buttons as well as the micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. There's a SIM card slot and a microSD card slot, allowing you to expand the 16GB of built-in storage.
The 7-inch display has a Full HD (1,920x1,200-pixel) resolution, which gives a pixel density of 314 pixels per inch. That's a step below the 326 of the iPad mini's Retina display, but it's really not a difference you'll ever notice.
I found the X1's display to be very crisp, with sharp edges around icons and a comfortable clarity to small text in Web pages. It's bright too, countering most of the glare from the CNET office lights, once you crank the brightness up at least. I can say with certainty that it's easy to read under a grey London sky, although how it fares in the bright, midday Californian sun remains to be seen.
Colours are vivid as well, and it has decent viewing angles, making it a great all-round display for watching movies and TV shows when you're lying in bed or sitting on the toilet.
Software and processor
The X1 arrives running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which is a disappointingly old version of Google's mobile operating system. The latest Android 4.4 KitKat has been around for a while now so there's no excuse to at least have version 4.3 on board.
Huawei has customised Android on the X1 with its Emotion interface. It's quite different from the stock Android experience, so you might not immediately realise you're on older software. The major change is that there's no grid-like app list. Instead, all of your installed apps are strewn across up to six homescreens.
I'm personally not keen on this change as it can be difficult to find where you've dropped an app -- going into the usual menu to see it in alphabetical order is much quicker in my experience. Emotion UI does allow for a lot of customisation though, including changing the homescreen panel transitions or applying various themes that change the colour schemes and app icons. If you like putting your own stamp on your hardware, Emotion UI might be right up your street.
On the downside, Huawei's software changes seem to have resulted in making the X1 very sluggish to use. It's packing a reasonably powerful 1.6GHz quad-core processor -- which scored a healthy 1,930 on the Geekbench 2 benchmark test. Swiping around the interface was often quite frustrating, however. Flicking between homescreens was laggy and juddery, as was pulling down the notifications bar.
Hitting the home button when in an app often resulted in a couple of seconds delay before you were actually presented with the homescreen and icons. This sort of sluggish performance really isn't acceptable on a high-end device. It's a particular shame given that the processor is clearly capable of running it well -- demanding games like Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8 played without much trouble, but the Emotion interface just seems to drag it down. I'd be very keen to see a stock Android version.
Tucked into the metal back panel is a 13-megapixel camera with an LED flash. I popped over to the lovely River Thames to see what sort of snaps I can get.
My first test shot was pretty good. Although it wasn't a particularly bright day, the sky is still well exposed and the darker buildings opposite, and the dark waves of the river, are easily visible. The generous helping of megapixels also means that there's plenty of detail in the image when you view it at full screen.
There's a bunch of different shooting modes, including a 'Smart' mode that automatically sets the best settings for the scene. It didn't seem to do that particularly well however, as can be seen on this shot of a daffodil, which has come out far too dark.
In normal mode, the brightness level is much better. The flower has good colours and the high level of detail means the petals have crisp, well-defined edges.
There's an HDR mode too, along with a bunch of filters and effects, and a panorama function that combines multiple shots into a wide scene. It stitched them fairly well, with only a small error on the sides.
The X1 also packs in a capacious 5,000mAh battery -- Huawei reckons it can keep chugging away for several days with normal use, which I don't think is too far from the mark. With moderate use involving downloading and playing games, watching an hour of Netflix, sending and receiving email and doing a bit of tweeting -- all at just over half brightness -- the X1 easily made it through a whole day.
How long you can keep it going really depends on what you do with it. If you slap in a SIM card and use it as your phone, making calls, browsing on 4G, with push-email activated and GPS active, you shouldn't expect to squeeze out the "several days". Keep brightness down and avoid anything too taxing and I don't doubt you'll be able to make it most of the way into the second day.
An interesting quirk is the ability to plug your phone into the X1 and use the X1's battery to charge your phone. You'll need a separate cable -- a micro-USB to micro-USB, which I've not even seen before, so I doubt you'll have one just lying around -- and you will of course be sacrificing some of the slate's life, but if you really need your phone to survive until you can find a plug, it'll certainly come in handy.
Although Huawei states that the X1 is a tablet, its ability to make calls and send texts means you can legitimately use it as your main phone. Whether you see it as a phone or a tablet, the X1 is a decent bit of kit. Its screen is sharp and bold, while its slim, metal design is easy on the eyes.
It's sadly let down by its outdated version of Android and Huawei's interface, which makes using the slate at times rather frustrating. If you're struggling to decide whether to spend your hard-earned cash on a new phone or a new tablet, the X1 is a good compromise. If you don't fancy battling with a clunky interface though -- and you already use Internet-based calling and messaging services -- you'd be better looking towards the iPad mini.