Huawei MatePad 11 Review: A tablet that can do a lot of everything
Huawei has had to reimagine its business strategy over the past couple of years since the imposition of trade restrictions by the United States. We’ve seen the company lean more into its wearables business while also delving more into tablets. We saw the arrival of the Huawei MatePad Pro earlier this year, a tablet that I greatly enjoyed, alongside the Huawei MatePad 11. These are two very different tablets for different people, and while the MatePad 11 is definitely the weaker of the two, I’d wager that some people may prefer it.
About this review: Huawei Global sent us the Huawei MatePad 11 for review in October. The company did not have any input on the contents of this review.
|Specification||Huawei MatePad 11|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint scanner|
|Rear Camera(s)||Primary: 13MP, f/1.8|
|Front Camera(s)||8MP, f/2.0|
|Software||HarmonyOS 2.0 (based on Android?)|
Huawei has nailed its tablet design
The primary focus of the Huawei MatePad 11 is its display though, with a beautiful and decently-bright 10.95-inch IPS panel. It’s aimed primarily at content consumption, and the 120Hz refresh rate is fantastic for scrolling through menus. If you’re also interested in gaming, compatible games will be able to avail of the higher refresh rate. Keep in mind that a great LCD can be better than a good OLED panel, but obviously, some people simply prefer the true-to-life blackness of a switched-off pixel on an OLED panel.
The Huawei MatePad 11 has four speakers — two on each side — a USB-C port, and a micro SD card expansion slot. There’s no headphone jack here which seems amiss for a more content-oriented tablet, though it seems that headphone jacks are becoming more and more of a rarity. Finally, there’s a dual-camera setup on the back.
The Huawei MatePad 11 has been amazing for content consumption, especially watching Twitch streams. It can be a little bit frustrating to deal with a situation where your favorite app isn’t on the company’s own AppGallery, but it’s a lot better than it once was, and there are ways to get around it. For example, I used NewPipe on the MatePad, as it’s a free and open-source alternative to YouTube that effectively acts as a web wrapper with extra features. It’s a great tablet for watching movies, TV shows, and YouTube.
The new MatePad Pro can also link up to a Huawei laptop to be used as a secondary display wirelessly, and it works surprisingly well with the MatePad 16. The tablet can even be used as a touchpad in a pinch, and audio can also be played out over it instead of your laptop’s speakers if you want.
AppGallery continues to improve
The biggest issue that I’ve found with AppGallery is the lack of apps. The YouTube app works when installed (though you can’t sign in, as it relies on Google Play Services), and apps like Twitch can only be downloaded through third-party APK websites. While the company’s Petal Search does the hard work for you in finding APK files to install, there are some surprising omissions. There’s no Twitter app aside from Twitter Lite (not even Petal Search can surface one, for some reason), and obviously, there are no automatic updates for apps that you install either. You may miss out on your favorite apps if you’re not going out of your way to sideload them.
Having said that, a ton of more mainstream apps have recently been added. In Ireland, I now have access to Curve and Revolut, two pretty popular fintech applications. There’s also Telegram, TikTok, and Booking.com, so it’s no longer quite the wild west of applications as it once was. Sure there are none of the bigger social media sites, but Huawei is in a significantly better position than it once was. For some users, it’s certainly usable, and the litany of options that also includes takeaway services, dating apps, and e-commerce sites means that all of your basics should be covered, at the very least.
HarmonyOS as a concept is still as confusing as ever
When the Huawei MatePad Pro launched, we were confused as to its relation to Android. While it clearly can run Android apps, looks like Android, and can even make use of adb, it’s unclear what Huawei believes it to be. At the time of its launch, we reached out to Huawei, and this was the response we were given.
“In order to protect existing mobile phone and tablet users’ digital assets, HarmonyOS 2 currently allows existing Android apps to run on some HarmonyOS 2 devices, and Huawei has abided by the relevant open source licensing rules. Android apps that have integrated HMS Core can continue to function on HarmonyOS. HarmonyOS 2 is a commercial version developed by Huawei based on the open source project OpenHarmony 2.0 for smart devices used in different scenarios, and inherits Huawei’s differentiating capabilities and proprietary technologies from EMUI. Android is developed based on the AOSP open source project while OpenHarmony is an open source project created and operated by the OpenAtom Foundation. As one of its major contributors, Huawei hopes more vendors and developers around the world will join it in the OpenHarmony project. This way, we can all contribute to the development of the open source community, and thus improve experiences for consumers.” – Huawei spokesperson
Printing the contents of the /proc/version on the Huawei MatePad 11 paints a clearer picture of what’s going on here. This file gives you information about the Linux kernel release version that you’re using, the name of the machine and host addressed used in compilation, the compiler used to compile it, and the time of compilation. As you can see from the above, it even says that the compiler front-end used is Clang for the Android NDK (Native Development Kit), and Clang is the only compiler that the Android NDK supports.
Even if HarmonyOS is another Android fork (which looks more and more likely every day), I don’t think there’s a problem with that. Making an OS from scratch is no small feat, and given the open-source nature of Android and the years of work put into EMUI, it makes sense that Huawei would want to build on that. It’s comfortable to use, filled with useful features for a tablet, and looks nice as well. I always find it a shame that Huawei can’t make use of Google apps on its products because this tablet would be amazing if it could integrate easily with all of my usual apps and games that I’m used to.
It’s a tablet that does media consumption well, and with the keyboard peripheral you can pick up for it, it would even work as a smaller laptop replacement if you were inclined towards that. While I didn’t get the keyboard peripheral for review here, I used it with the MatePad Pro, and I found that it worked extremely well.
Huawei is trapped
Here’s the problem with Huawei currently — the company is trapped. When it comes to phones and tablets, Huawei is destined to only be able to use the leftovers of whatever Qualcomm can provide. It can only buy 4G chips from Qualcomm, it can’t produce its own HiSilicon Kirin chipsets anymore, and without Google, it’s hard to sell these products in a market outside of China. Even in China, Huawei’s influence has been slowly dropping, which is why we’ve seen a pivot to excellent fitness bands and the like in recent years.
In short, Huawei’s tablets are capable of being flagship contenders worthy of taking on Samsung, if not for that final hurdle of not having the services that everyone relies on. I like Huawei’s tablets and it’s a massive shame that it’s impossible to use the apps that I really want to properly on them. The problem with Huawei Mobile Services isn’t just that it’s not Google either, it’s that there are still some teething issues that can’t really be solved. Any apps that used the Google Maps API can’t actually show the map, as it needs that integration. Overall, it’s difficult to hand a Huawei phone or tablet to just anyone, as it definitely isn’t what many consumers are familiar with from an Android smartphone. It’s missing that “it just works” factor that so many people take for granted with their devices.
The current state of HarmonyOS and the Huawei AppGallery is a culmination of the company’s efforts to overcome the U.S. trade ban. HarmonyOS has definitely helped rejuvenate its software identity a bit, but it hasn’t done a whole lot for the actual state of Huawei’s affairs. It’s still stuck in a loop of playing catch up in getting major apps on its devices.
I think that Huawei’s attempt at pulling away from the Android branding has only helped it to get so far. Stepping away from the Android brand was supposed to help it identify as something else, as “Android” is perceived in the wider world to need Google. If it’s not Android, then why would it need Google? I don’t think it’s worked quite as well as it hoped though, even if the devices it’s making are powerful and nice to use.
I think the biggest loss here is one to consumers though. Consumers want choice, and choice drives innovation as companies try to outdo each other. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus is great, but it’s all there is if you’re looking for an Android tablet. I wish that there was more competition but there just isn’t, and Huawei is all there really is. The Snapdragon 865 is a powerful chipset, and the display on this table this genuinely great for content consumption. It’s 1440p, so it’s perfect for basically any content that you’d want to watch on the go.
It’s the same story every time with Huawei’s tablets — fantastic hardware, lackluster software — and it’s a sad state of affairs. This tablet is good at everything, but it’s hard to recommend to just about anyone as one of the best Android tablets. It comes in at £349.99, an excellent price for a tablet as good as this, and yet I think that for most users, this won’t be the tablet for them.