Replacing my Nexus 9: an ASUS ZenPad Z8s and Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro Review


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Apr 11, 2012
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If you're like me, you've happily owned a Google Nexus 9 tablet for the last few years. You're willing to replace it, but you've either hoped for Google to release the Nexus 9B or for Nvidia to release a follow-up Shield Tablet. Neither day ever came. You want a replacement tablet but you've looked around and been dissatisfied. They're going to have to pry that Nexus tablet out of your cold hard hands before you'd replace it with some cheap garbage tablet running on Android Marshmallow (or worse, Lollipop).

I have good news: the Asus ZenPad Z8s and Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro are worthy Nexus 9 replacements deserving your consideration.

The Reviewer
Me: An Android smartphone user since Froyo and Android tablet user since Gingerbread:

  • I prefer unaltered vanilla Android but also love HTC Sense
  • The 7-8" tablet form-factor satisfies my primary tablet use sweet spot: e-reader, image processor, email, internet media consumption
  • I believe in homescreen widgets, particularly the Simple Calendar Widget Pro, and the use screen overlaying Swapps app launcher
  • On crowded San Francisco public transit I've switched from e-reading on the Nexus 9 to the smaller Dell Venue 7 Windows tablet (running Windows 10) and found 7" a far preferable size for reading books

My aged Nexus 9 unexpectedly died in July and I had an immediate need for a replacement (Android) tablet. I wanted the replacement to have a recent Android OS, more RAM than the 2GB in my old Nexus and also support additional micro SD storage. Lastly I required the replacement's screen be similar in size and provide improved or comparable image detail and color fidelity compared to the 9.

I also had a dream list above and beyond these minimum requirements. I wanted a tablet with a fast CPU for image processing and fractal art creation. One where when I copied and pasted between browser and email and then returned to the browser the browser page wouldn't require a reload. A tablet that let me paint with a stylus.

In a twist of fate I ended up with two new tablets instead of one: The ASUS ZenPad Z8s and the Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro. Although they don't satisfy each and every one of my wish list requirements, I've been quite pleased with both tablets and they deserve a few words of recognition.

The Purchases

  • The Asus ZenPad Z8s. The Z8s is a tablet available 'only through Verizon'. It does not require a Verizon cellular plan to purchase. I bought mine at BestBuy.
  • The Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro. The M5 and M5 Pro, as you may have been following, seemed to take forever to reach a reputable US distributor: I found mine through Newegg.
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Initial Experiences
The ZenPad Z8s was purchased under duress the morning following my Nexus' unexpected demise. The packaging was spartan, but the box opening experience was clean. Holding the metal Z8s for the first time it felt both solid and slippery. The tablet has great lines.

I was presented with options to setup the new tablet with apps and preferences from the old Nexus or one of my phones. After a few minutes of quick downloads and installs I was in the ZenPad UI with all my old tablet apps. They looked great! Zen UI felt unobtrusive, and by running Android Nougat 7.0 (same as the Nexus) the lack of Oreo wasn't a set back.

The MediaPad M5 Pro purchase was more an extravagant whim than a necessity: I NEEDED and already had my ZenPad, but WANTED and longed for the MediaPad. The M5 Pro box opening experience felt more like an extravagance as well: the packaging was steps above 'spartan' and the M5 Pro within looked great. NewEgg only had the Pro in champaign/white and I was afraid the tablet would look gaudy, but it actually looked good. The white bezels are of identical, relatively narrow, width on all sides, so there isn't a wide sea of white edging around the screen. The Pro felt solid and heavy in the hand after years of the lighter Nexus and much lighter Dell Venue (and now also Z8s) tablets.

Having recently experienced the Z8s setup, I smartly inserted a fresh microSDXC card into the M5 Pro BEFORE initially booting Android. As with the Z8s, M5 initial setup presented the option of importing settings from other devices, so I selected the Z8s' configuration. The first time the EMUI 8.0 live wall paper came to life I was hooked. The device is gorgeous and immediately impresses as 'money well spent'.

Both tablets provide a bright, crisp, pleasing and appropriately saturated viewing experience. I've been able to read on Z8s in full sunlight without issues. Additionally, both tablets conservatively sip power. I don't have solid longevity test figures, I just know when these tablets are in use their battery indicator remains at 100% for a long time. They're both way more efficient than the Nexus 9 had been.

As you would expect of a 'pro' device (or wondered about in the Z8s' case) they're both very responsive tablets. For all of the reviewer complaints about ZenUI (Nougat) and EMUI 8 (Oreo) these overlays are never in my way, never slow, never crashing. Really they provide unique shiny Android experiences without a learning curve. I'm not sure why reviewers compare EMUI to iOS: I never felt like I'd departed Oreo for unfamiliar lands.

The two devices' WiFi benchmarks must also be in a league above the old Nexus 9. I especially notice this when downloading images from Google Photos for an editing session (the tablets pull down the full jpg faster than I can reverse-pinch-zoom-gesture). But I have noticed, when outside the house, both tablets' WiFi reception require I remain closer to the house than the Nexus 9 required.

And lastly in the 'both-excel-at' category: they both worked flawlessly with Samsung EVO 128GB microSDXC UHS-1 cards and I'm using the SD cards as my default storage location.

Unique to the ZenPad Z8s
The Z8s is like a workhorse. It feels snappier then my Nexus 9 had been. I find my Firefox private tabs are less likely to have closed at the end of multitasking into another app. Reading is great: text is crisp and characters are displayed with a contrast that supports reading in full sunlight.

It also looks good and feels durable.

I'm a big guy with stubbish fingers and a really fat thumb. I have to be careful of the tablet's beautifully thin bezels.

As stated previously ZenUI is unobtrusive. the only caveats I have relate to the beautiful, weather-displaying, default living lockscreen. Waking a snoozing Z8s and swiping to the pattern-password challenge can frequently be more difficult than it ought to be. (I only find this to be true when the weather lockscreen is enabled. Disabling that option restores Android authentication to its normal reliable self.)

The ZenPad Z8s' irritating hardware decisions are the Home, Back and App List navigation buttons and their placement within the bezel along the bottom of the screen. Yes, their placement does increase usable screen area on the device but they ARE also a pain. The Home button is not capacitive and requires a solid push to engage. The Back and App list buttons are so close to the tablet bottom that I find (when holding the tablet in ways I'm accustomed to after years of Nexus 9 use), my finger placement scrolls me backwards through closed browser pages or suddenly invokes split screen mode. But that's me and these fat stubby fingers, your experience may vary. An even more annoying issue with these 'buttons' is they are not backlit making them challenging to find at night or whenever the screen is brighter than current ambient lighting.

Something a little surprising: despite the Z8s' resolution and size, the NYTimes (and possibly other apps) assume the Z8s is a phone and not a tablet. (So, for example, when reading the NYTimes, tablet in portrait position, news is presented as a single vertically scrolling blog, rather than the two column layout I'm accustomed to from years of Nexus 9 use.) It's not 'bad' just 'different'.

All of the preceding nit-picking commentary is just that: nit-picking. NEVER ONCE HAVE I WISHED TO SWITCH BACK TO MY NEXUS 9. The Z8s is a fast, sturdy, masculine-designed tablet worthy of your consideration to be your Nexus 9 replacement.

Stylus Action
It's possible you're also interested in drawing and painting on your tablet. To review stylus input behavior I painted in AirFlowStudio with the Simulate Pressure sensitivity option enabled. The Z8s accepted input from every stylus I have except the MediaPad's M Pen (for which support is not expected). I was slightly surprised to observe that my finger created the smallest dots. But overall I did not observe stroke gradation/tapering with any of the devices.

Unique to the MediaPad M5 Pro

"Are these photos taken by a smartphone!?"

Current mobile product naming schemes generally use "S", "Plus" and "Pro" suffixes to specify device quality-level.

A few professional tablet reviewers have questioned the 'Pro' quality level applied to the enhanced M5 Pro. I agree with them that Pro isn't the correct qualifier to use with this tablet. But not in the negative way they meant!

The descriptive modifier I'd use is "Premium".

The MediaPad M5 Pro is "smooth": tactilly in its surface texture, visually in its design and experientially in its UI presentation.

The 10 inch MediaPad M5 is too large to use as an ereader while commuting and I've been using my ZenPad Z8s as my go-to machine. I therefore "forced" myself to use the MediaPad more often to provide a comprehensive review of both machines

Returning to the MediaPad M5 Pro after weeks of daily Z8s use was a surprisingly pleasant experience. It was subtle. At first I was concerned my M5 impressions were biased, since I originally wanted and longed for the M5 Pro for months and had been 'forced' to 'settle' on the Z8s.

But it's not a bias at work. The difference between the two is odd: there's nothing wrong with the Z8s, but the M5 Pro can feel more right.

I had confirmation of this experience from a neutral non-technical observer. I opened Google+ on the M5 to display a set of my winter travel photos to a friend. She exclaimed: "Are these photos taken by a smartphone!?". I swivelled the tablet back around to see what she was seeing. The photo set she was viewing looked better than they ever had on the Nexus 9. It was in that moment I knew I had to share my MediaPad experiences and opinions as a review.

The M5 Pro's default saturation level was too saturated for my tastes and for use as a photo processing device: I require a neutral presentation of my art while processing. The M5 Pro provides easy vividness toggles as well as a full colorwheel for precise color calibration.

Additionally, the Pro's fingerprint scanner is scary sensitive and fast and works turned at all angles. Yet another aspect of the M5 Pro tablet's smooth, 'premium' experience.

Feeling the Power
Image processing in Snapseed doesn't challenge this tablet at all. If your artistic style requires a boatload of mathematical computations the M5 Pro is the tablet for you.

Mirror Lab processing at maximum-supported resolutions is near-instantaneous.
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Navigating the most complex regions in Frex fractal-space are quite gratifying: the M5's 10 coprocessors simultaneously churn out new views of fractal vistas at a satisfying pace.

Stylus Action
The MediaPad M5 Pro performed similarly to the Z8s, however M Pen input pressure sensitivity provides gratifying pressure-sensitive stroke variations. (I'm sorry that I'm not a painter so I can't provide much better insight than that.)

Closing Thoughts
I really like both of these tablets, each for different reasons:

  • The Asus ZenPad Z8s is a small, capable, workhorse closely adhering to the thin, light, easily portable PADD form factor originally envisioned in Star Trek TNG
  • The Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro is a graphics powerhouse perfect for drawing and effortlessly churning through complex image permutations

Which of these two tablets is the best fit for you of course varies based on your needs. I'm very happy to have ended up with both.
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Well-known member
Dec 9, 2014
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What a great review! And good timing for me as I'm seriously considering upgrading from my Nexus 9. The best pricing I'm seeing right now is $175 for the Asus and $300 for the 8" version of the Huawei. Do you feel the Huawei is worth almost twice as much? Another question I haven't been able to find an answer for: Is the home button on the Asus also a fingerprint scanner? If not, does it have one?


Well-known member
Apr 11, 2012
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Hi canawler. Sorry for the delay.
the ASUS' Home button is most definitely NOT a fingerprint scanner. Despite my misgivings about the Home and navigation buttons, it's a nice tablet. It's totally my go-to device, moreso than either my phone or the Huawei tablet.

I don't have the 8" MediPad. I think the real questions are:
  • would you use the additional ram
  • do you prefer 7" over 8"
  • how much power do you need in your tablet

if you find you want more, more AND more, then the Huawei might be the tablet for you
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