Huawei’s HarmonyOS arrives on tablets with the new MatePad Pro

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Huawei has announced a trio of new MatePad tablets; a new 12.6-inch MatePad Pro, a smaller 10.8-inch MatePad Pro and a new MatePad 11. Not only are these the company’s first tablets with its own HarmonyOS operating system, but the smaller MatePad Pro and MatePad 11 use Snapdragon chips produced by Qualcomm instead of the Huawei-designed Kirin processors found in previous devices.

Between these hardware and software changes, the tablets highlight the challenges the Chinese tech giant is going through. At the same time, it’s trying to break free from Android, which outside of China is dominated by the Google apps and services that Huawei can’t pre-install on its phones. But they also talk about the problems that US sanctions are creating for the production of Huawei’s Kirin processor, forcing it to buy chips from competitor Qualcomm.

The 10.8-inch MatePad Pro is powered by a Snapdragon 870, while the 10.95-inch MatePad 11 is powered by a Snapdragon 865. The flagship 12.6-inch MatePad Pro, meanwhile, still runs Huawei’s own Kirin 9000E. processor, and it is the device Huawei has shared the most information about.

But more interesting than the chips inside is the software these new tablets run on.

From an end-user perspective, the “switch” to HarmonyOS doesn’t essentially bring back the missing Google apps and services that have made it so difficult to recommend Huawei’s recent devices outside of China. Huawei’s AppGallery store offers an increasing number of native apps and solutions to some others, but it’s still a long way from Google’s pre-installed suite of apps and services on a device.

There have been big questions around HarmonyOS since a Ars Technica research claimed it is a glorified open-source Android fork. I can’t speak to the underlying code, but I was able to download WhatsApp’s Official Android APK and install it on the new MatePad Pro as if I were using an Android device, suggesting Ars is correct. Huawei did not respond to my questions about shared code between HarmonyOS and Android.

The webcam of the 12.6-inch MatePad Pro is located in the edge on the long side of the tablet, the right place for video calls.

With its keyboard cover and M-Pencil stylus, last year’s MatePad Pro invited clear comparisons to Apple’s iPad Pro, and this year’s HarmonyOS model includes a few more features eerily reminiscent of Apple’s tablets. There’s a new FreeNote feature that lets you use the M-Pencil to write in dialog boxes and automatically convert your handwriting to typed text (a feature Apple introduced last year), and the tablet’s home screen now includes a dock with your most used apps (ahem).

But with the 12.6-inch MatePad Pro, Huawei takes some credit for not imitating some of Apple’s less-popular design decisions. For example, the webcam is built into the bezel on the long edge of the screen, so it’s in the right place for conference calls in landscape mode, unlike the iPad Pros. It also has a vibrant 1600 x 2560 OLED display with excellent black levels, while Apple’s lineup still uses variations of LCD panels.

Also announced today is a new M-Pencil stylus.

Huawei’s screen mirroring technology also returns with the new MatePad Pro. Where before you could mirror the screen of a smartphone on the tablet, you can now mirror the screen of the tablet and interact with it on compatible Huawei laptops.

The 12.6-inch MatePad Pro has a 10,050mAh battery that Huawei claims can play video for 14 hours on a single charge. It can quickly charge up to 40W with a cable, 27W wireless and also offers 10W reverse wireless charging. To round out the specs, there are three rear cameras on the tablet, four microphones, eight speakers and compatibility with Wi-Fi 6. Huawei has not yet given any details about 4G or 5G support for its new tablets.

In addition to the new tablets, Huawei is also announcing a second generation of its M-Pencil stylus. The company says the new stylus is more accurate, has a lower 9ms latency and also has a platinum-coated transparent tip.

Huawei has yet to confirm pricing or details for its new tablets, but said it would release more information soon.