We’ve spend time with the Huawei Matebook and this review will go over the design, strong and weak points, along with a realistic assessment of how the Huawei would perform in the real world. How much punch has Huawei packed in this first Windows 10 notebook? Read on.
Configuration as tested
There are a few configuration variants, and here’s ours (with maximum config in brackets):
- Intel Core m3-6Y30 CPU (0.9 – 1.51GHz) [Core m5 max.]
- 4GB RAM [8GB max]
- Windows Home 10 64bit
- 240 GB SSD (80GB +157GB partitions) [512 GB max]
- 1.4 lbs (tablet), 2.4 lbs (tablet+keyboard-cover)
How we recommend using this notebook
Portable computers are built with specific objectives and use cases in mind. Gaming, workstations, productivity, ultralights, 2-in-1 — each design has a specific focus, and therefore tradeoffs. With such a design, it is evident that the attention should be on weight and mobility, rather than speed and comfort.
Typical use cases for such computers are for basic productivity tasks and relatively low-frequency usage. This kind of design is best suited for the executives who mostly go from meeting to meeting and quickly reply to emails. It’s also good for light text or slides editing, basic web browsing, presentations, photo review, etc…
It’s not designed to be a “main computer” on which you will work for hours at a time. The ergonomics are not ideal for that. The main goal of this computer is to be light and small in your backpack, and yet, much more productive than a phone or an Android/iOS tablet. These are the goal we think this notebook should achieve, and that’s with this mindset that we will review it.
The industrial design of the Huawei Matebook is great. The all-metal chassis is made of CNC aluminum, and feels very “premium”. It seems very solid, and rigid. The design has a lot of commonalities with how smartphones and tablets are built, but the design fits a 12” diagonal screen suitable to a PC environment.
At the top edge, there’s the Power control, a microphone and a stereo dual-speaker setup. The speakers grills look very neat, but although the sound is reasonably powerful, it lacks a bit in the low-frequencies sounds. Given the form-factor, it’s not completely surprising, but in absolute terms, it’s important to know where it stands.
"THE INDUSTRIAL DESIGN OF THE HUAWEI MATEBOOK IS GREAT" On the left side, there seems to be one more microphone (for noise-cancellation) along with a 3.5mm jack connector for headphones. At the bottom just features the keyboard connector. Note that, in general, I prefer having a wired connection from the computer to the keyboard. The lag is lower, and there’s no need to pair or charge the keyboard. Of course, nothing prevents you from using a Bluetooth or USB keyboard if you want to.
On the right side, there’s a physical volume rocker control, the USB-C port which is the charge port and the only data port at the same time. It means that by default, you’ll have to choose between charging or using the port for data, etc. In practice, it’s usually not much of a problem if you are just copying stuff from a USB key from time to time.
If you need to have a USB device connected for a while, Huawei has a USB-C dock that provides a couple of full-size USB ports, along with an Ethernet port. It’s pretty convenient when working at a desk, but it will cost you $89.
We’ll talk more about the display later, but from a design perspective, Huawei has done a very good job at integrating the display and hiding the bezel when the screen is OFF. The glass surface looks very clean, without much of an apparent separation between bezel and LCD.
Finally, the tablet itself weighs 640g (1.4 Lbs), which is of course very light, although you’ll see later how that translates into performance/weight, which is a key metric for mobility. Overall, we’re talking about a notebook that is a real 12” PC in a form-factor that is very comparable to the first iPad.
The Huawei Matebook has an optional keyboard-cover option that weighs 450g (!). Although you could technically use it without it, I would consider it a must-have option for any serious productivity usage. If you do very little typing and want a tablet with a full PC-browsing capability, it may make sense not to buy it, but otherwise, most people would need one.
The keyboard integrates a touchpad, which is relatively large for a device in this category. Typing works well and although obviously not as comfortable as a larger model, it gets the job done. The keyboard is backlit, which is very nice, and it is also a bit bigger than the competition (Samsung Tab S Pro), but I’m afraid I have bad news too:
"SMALL DESIGN DETAILS OF THE KEYBOARD HAVE CREATED FRICTION POINTS"I found the keyboard positioning and angle selection to be sub-optimal on a convoluted design. Only one of the two position is useful in most case, but still doesn’t let me see the screen straight on in normal seating scenarios, especially if I don’t control the chair and table settings (conferences, hotels, press rooms)
The magnets integrated into the tablet aren’t strong enough, so from time to time, the Matebook would unfold uncontrollably. On a table it’s not going to be damaged, but if you have it on your lap, it might slide and fall to the ground. It’s an unfortunate design element of the notebook that costs it some serious points in the review.
Other than that the keyboard keys are pretty decent, although we’d like to see a chiclet design with more spaces in-between keys. Microsoft has improved its Keyboard for the Surface 4 Pro, and we hope Huawei will take away some data from all of this. Small design details of the keyboard have created friction points.
I’ve seen some people complain about the lack of Volume control keys, but since there’s a rocker on the side of the notebook, so I don’t consider that to be an issue.
With only the 3.5mm headphone jack, the proprietary keyboard connector and the USB-C port, there isn’t that many options to plug things by default. As I said previously, there’s a USB-C Dock option, or you can use a 3rd party USB-C adapter. With the Huawei Dock USB-C accessory, it’s possible to connect an external display (HDMI+VGA). Not sure that you could drive two.
The relative lack of ports can be annoying if this is your main travel laptop, but there isn’t a better option out there. In the future, it is technically possible to see this form factor with a couple of USB-C ports, but the internal volume budget is very slim.
Fingerprint scanner (fast!)
The volume rocker on the right side of the tablet also doubles as a fingerprint reader. It’s a smart use of the space because despite being very thin, this is not a swipe fingerprint sensor, but a touch sensor. Using Windows Hello, you can set it up just like you would on a smartphone. Start the setup, touch the sensor with your finger in different locations, and it’s done.
Regarding security, note that Windows requires you to setup a PIN number to use Windows Hello and the fingerprint log-in. Your security is therefore determined by the PIN number, which probably has less entropy (number of possible combinations) than your fingerprint markers (which is essentially a long password).
The solution to this is to use a longer pin. Instead of a 4-digit pin, use a longer one (that you can either remember or retrieve). Since you will login with your fingerprint most of the time, the PIN length shouldn’t be a big issue. Use common sense and don’t use easy to guess numbers sequences like your birthday, the age of your kids and other 123456789 combos that are rated as very poor by security experts.
The fingerprint is fast, so it makes it extremely convenient to have your windows lock itself out relatively quickly for security reasons. I wish there were such readers for desktop PC, or integrated into keyboards. Instead, we still have the old swiping ones that are ridiculously slow, expensive and terrible overall.
The display is a multi-touch 12-inch IPS LCD (2160×1440, 216 PPI) that looks quite good, with excellent viewing angle and agreeable color reproduction (99.8% sRGB colors and 82.8% Adobe sRGB colors) which ranks among the best that you can get in this form-factor.
With it, users get a very sharp Windows interface and text. Photos also look detailed and nice to look at. At 216 NITs (measured), the brightness isn’t very high (many laptops hit 300 Nit), so be mindful that if you are working outdoors often, the screen could be tough to read if there are reflections. That’s particularly true since the screen has a glossy finish.
Bluetooth digital pen/stylus ($59)
Optionally, it is possible to buy a digital pen/stylus, which is connected via Bluetooth. The pen has 2048 levels of sensitivity and works very well. The ink is fast if you’re not using fancy brushes and it’s great to take handwritten notes. It can also be used with Photoshop, although I’m no artist to have a decent opinion on that. All I can say is that based on the technical specs, it should work well for sketching purposes. The only thing that I would caution about is that the processing power of the Intel Core M3 may not be enough for complex brushes.
"THE STYLUS CAN BE A DIFFERENTIATION AGAINST THE GALAXY TABPRO S"The pen is supposed to last ~100 hours, although I’ve never used it for more than 1 hr straight. Given that it is a fixed-function device, I would tend to believe the manufacturer claim because it’s easy to forecast battery depletion in this case. It has an internal battery charged via micro-USB (not USB-C? it would have been… convenient) and a laser pointer in case you’re presenting. Nice.
The stylus can be held at the back of the keyboard/cover with a magnet. It works, but you have to be pretty careful because the magnet isn’t very strong and it’s easy for the pen to fall off if there’s a little force applied to it. It could happen in your bag, but also in other places. Despite all of this, the Stylus can be a differentiation against the Galaxy TabPro S.
The Huawei Matebook performs similarly to other mobile PCs equipped with the same Core m3 processor, so there isn’t much of mystery here. Of course, being the lowest power option for this class of computers, there are performance tradeoffs – it’s normal. The important part is to understand what you’re getting.
The charts below will show you that 1/ Core m3 computers are very comparable in performance 2/ Core i7 designs such as the Surface Pro 4 (which also comes with m3 and i5 CPU options) can be significantly faster. They are simply not in the same “class” of performance, if you want to do something a bit heavy such as movie encoding, and heavy multi-tasking (like leaving a ton of browser tabs open).
Huawei offers a core m5 version which gets incremental performance improvements, although don’t expect any miracles. There’s a reason why “Core i” and “Core m” are two distinct categories of processors.
But absolute performance is probably not what users are looking for, so let’s take a look at performance “for the price”, and performance “per pounds of weight”. Note that the price here doesn’t include the keyboard.
Those two charts show that performance viewed in the prism of weight and of price (minus keyboard) is actually quite good. That’s a typical trait that we find in most Huawei products we review: the DNA of the company has long been rooted in providing the best quality or performance — for the price.
When I’m on the go, and with such a thin laptop, I try to be very mindful of the battery life. To that end, I try to minimize the number of tabs open (browsers can increase your CPU usage and battery life) and use apps, rather than web apps.
That said, the battery of the Huawei Matebook would generally last about 3.5 hours at most during a normal productivity work (web+writing articles). It’s not completely surprising, but I can’t say that it is good enough in absolute terms. It seems to me that the Galaxy Tab S Pro has a slightly larger capacity (5200 mAh vs. 4430 mAh) within the same form-factor constraints, and the Surface Pro offers better battery capacity but is bigger.
In general, the most important factor for battery life within the same hardware platform (Intel core m3) is the battery capacity and the display brightness. The usage varies too much from one user to the next to make most synthetic benchmark fairly bad to predict actual battery life. Unless the OEM does something really horrible, battery life capacity the single best objective clue for battery life.
If you take “Mobility” (weight) into account, the Huawei Mate offers good battery capacity for each pound of weight. The Samsung TabPro S happens to offer even more, but you can see that 13” laptops don’t have nearly as much battery capacity in relation to their weight. The issue at hand here is that Huawei may need to push the boundary a little more to reach and “absolute” battery capacity and battery life that will be satisfying “enough”.
Conclusion: it’s all in the details
There are things that I really like about the Huawei Matebook. The industrial design scores high marks, and did shock the traditionally PC OEMs when it was revealed. Only Samsung offers a real competitor in that regards, with the Tab Pro S notebook. The weight of the standalone tablet is impressive, but keep in mind that the elegant detachable keyboard adds some weight too. That’s the reason why weight alone doesn’t make this computer a Surface Pro killer.
Unfortunately, there are some real functional issues with this first design, namely, the keyboard – and the battery life/capacity. I consider the keyboard to be an essential (must-have) feature, so most people should take its price and performance into account. At the moment, The MS Surface design is proven to be the most reliable and versatile in this category (600g-750g). Unfortunately, there isn’t an alternative keyboard option for this notebook.
At this point and with other options available, the Huawei Matebook is a bit of a tough sell. I think that Huawei will look at the data gathered from customers and reviewers and will work hard on its next-revision. The good news is that the technological fundamentals are good, but more importantly, basic user experience needs to be flawless.
It’s also fair to say that the base version of the Matebook is significantly smaller and cheaper than the Surface Pro, so there is still a tablet-only market where it could be successful (Win10 tablet-ony usage). Its closest competitor is the Samsung Tab Pro S, which does not have as many configuration options, is more expensive, but has a functional keyboard design.
- Samsung TabPro S (m3/128GB/4GB): $798
- Huawei Matebook (m3/128GB/4GB): $670+$129 (keyboard) = $799
- Surface Pro 4 (m3/128GB/4GB): $899