TABLETS HAVE a strange history. Initially seen as the saviours of technology, they haven't proved as disposable as phones, and the pace of change has been slow, meaning that the upgrade cycle is equally slow. In fact, the tablet market has been in decline.
So what does Huawei think it can bring to the party with the MediaPad M5 range? The answer is, just enough, at a price point just right to make us think twice about trading in that four-year-old tablet we've been holding on to.
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it probably is, but if you're in the market for a tablet then these are definitely worth a look.
There are three models - or as we've been saying, two and a half. The 8.4 and 10.8 are straightforward enough. Then there's the Pro, which is essentially the 10.8 with one key difference - support for the new H-Pen which we'll come back to shortly.
Normally we wouldn't mention that so early in a hands-on, but as it's the only change, it'll be easier if we talk about two tablets and come back to the third later.
The first thing to note is that even the larger-sized tablet is incredibly light and comfortable to hold with one hand (316g and 498g). They're thin too, which is incredibly important for "content consumption" - they're called MediaPads for a reason.
The screen is crisp and sharp, with 2560x1600 IPS display, even on the smaller model which gives it one heck of a healthy 359PPI.
In all cases, there's a Kirin 960 octa-core processor and up to 128GB of internal memory bolstered by a microSD slot to add an extra 256GB.
4GB of memory instantly puts it a cut above most tablets (1-2GB seems to be the average at the moment) and in most cases there's LTE (4G) SIM support too, making the whole thing into a ruddy great phone.
As ever, the EMUI overlay is the sticking point here. You either love it, or you hate it. Because as much as it looks slick, and feels slick and works well, it's a long way from stock Android and if you're not used to it, it can be a shock too far. It takes a bit of fiddling to bring back the app drawer, for example, so unless you like all that icons-all-over-your-home-screen Apple nonsense, you might find it a bit much.
We were a little surprised that the AI intelligence that has been built into the newest smartphones from Android hasn't made it into the MediaPads, but apparently that's because it's more about consumption than creation (except for the Pro, which, again, we'll come back to) and we didn't exactly miss it in the short time we had.
The 13MP camera seems a bit much considering the only people who take photos with a tablet are absolute tools - the 8MP front camera should be perfectly sufficient, though doubtless, someone would have moaned if it was missing.
OK, so now we come to this issue with the Pro. There's the 8.4 - that's easy. Then there's the 10.8. If you get the 10.8, you have the option to use a keyboard dock - Huawei will be releasing one, or there are several other manufacturers who make keyboards with a three-POGO-pin dock.
Then there's the Pro. Which is also a 10.8in tablet. It looks identical. It has identical specs. The only difference is that the Pro adds support for the Huawei S-Pen - a new stylus malarky which offers 4,096 pressure levels and support for tilting and shading.
We were quite impressed. It actually felt like something you could legitimately use to make handwritten notes with, with practice, and where the software supports it, colouring in feels natural too.
What is slightly bewildering is why this required a whole new product. The screen membrane would need to be compatible, but given the incremental price difference (there's only 50 Euros difference, and that includes the pen) you may as well buy the Pro. And if that's the case, it probably cost more to manufacture two different versions of the same device.
In fact, the whole thing seems to have been a way to sell more-or-less the same device to two different target markets - media consumers, and media creators.
Either group will be happy with what they get, and we're fairly certain that when we review the retail devices, we'll have nice things to say. It's not a game-changing line up, but then, what tablet is? µ