Does the Huawei MateBook help evolve the two-in-one PC category or merely come off as a Surface knockoff? My review may convince you why the MateBook may be the must-have tablet for 2016.
What makes a good Windows 10 two-in-one tablet hybrid laptop? If you ask consumers, you will get a wide variety of answers, but I can also guarantee you will get consensus on many items as well. Thin and light, with good battery life, beautiful display, and good looking design are the distinct requirements. But what about a thin bezel, fingerprint reader, and an excellent keyboard with a trackpad?
Huawei may be a new brand to those in the United States, but after the release of the MateBook, I have a feeling you'll be hearing a lot more from them — and for good reason. The MateBook is the first serious challenger to the Surface brand in quality, but this is not a clone. The MateBook can stand on its own as your go-to daily tablet and computer.
Huawei MateBook Specifications and Features
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|CPU||6th Generation Intel Core m3, m5, m7|
|Display||12-inch IPS TFT LCD
2160 x 1440 (QHD)
|Storage||128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD|
|RAM||4GB or 8GB|
|Front Camera||5MP fixed focus|
|Windows Hello||Single touch fingerprint scanner|
|Dimensions||10.97 x 7.64 x 0.27 in (278.8mm x 194.1mm x 6.9mm)|
|Weight||1.41 lbs (640g)|
|Ports||3.5mm headset jack, USB-C, Keyboard docking pins|
|WiFi||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO
|Battery||Up to 9 hours (claimed)|
|Pen||Optional Mate Pen, 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity
|Other||Dolby Audio, optional keyboard cover with LED backlighting|
Unboxing and hands-on video
All beauty — and brains
You cannot start talking about the Huawei MateBook without mentioning its design. Huawei is actively trying to break the stereotype that a Chinese firm cannot make premium, luxury hardware. Huawei is competing directly with Apple and Samsung for the high-end space in mobile and, now, computing. They brought their A game with the MateBook.
Featuring a metal unibody design that is just 6.9mm thin and weighing only 1.4 pounds (635 grams), it would be easy to mistake this tablet for something out of Apple's iPad labs. It's gorgeous, and mirrors the design language of Huawei's popular and well received P9 and Mate 8 Android smartphones.
Whether it is the curved and polished edges or the slightest gold hue on the back, the MateBook looks as good as it feels. While the MateBook makes an excellent PC with a keyboard, it is also something you will want to hold. Granted, a tablet that weighs 635 grams is not light by today's standards, but it is not terrible either.
Hardware – Display, fingerprints, and processor
One of the most important and contentious parts of a tablet is the screen: if you are going to stare at one all day, you better be happy with the whole package. Luckily, Huawei delivers with a stunning 12-inch 2160 x 1440 IPS display. It features an 85 percent sRGB color gamut and an impressive 84 percent body-to-screen ratio.
While it's not quite as spectacular and vibrant as the similar Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S with AMOLED, it holds its own amongst some of the best displays I have seen.
On the other hand, the screen's brightness is only okay, so you will struggle to use the machine in direct sun. Whites also veer a little towards the warm with an almost unnoticeable pink hue. I'm also a little surprised the MateBook doesn't use Corning Gorilla Glass.
The real hallmark of the MateBook's display, however, is the incredibly thin bezel. At just 0.5 inches (12.7mm) Huawei has finally delivered the minimalist and clean two-in-one tablet prosumers have been yearning for. While I have no complaints about Samsung's AMOLED display, its bezel falls closer to 0.9 inches making it seem gargantuan by comparison. Surprisingly, there are no issues with accidental screen activations when using the MateBook as a tablet.
The real hallmark of the MateBook's display, however, is the incredibly thin bezel
Perhaps one of the cleverer things Huawei did was put a fingerprint reader on the MateBook for Windows Hello and logging into the OS. The reader itself is slightly less than the 6.9mm width of the body and sits brilliantly between the volume rockers.
My favorite feature of the fingerprint reader is if the MateBook is in low-power standby, you can wake and unlock it just by placing your finger on the reader. And is it fast! When I touch the sensor, I can wake the MateBook from sleep and unlock in one second. It is so quick that if you blink you'll miss the visuals of the login screen. Huawei is known for making excellent fingerprint readers for their smartphones, and that know-how has been brought to their MateBook line. Since the fingerprint reader is in the body of the MateBook and not the (optional) keyboard, you get the full benefits of Microsoft's Windows Hello quick login in all modalities including when just using the device as a tablet.
Pure Windows 10 Home
Windows PCs tend to have a bad reputation for coming with bloatware, adware, and unnecessary antivirus demos. This issue is of less concern in 2016, but there are still bits and bobs that come on many PCs from Best Buy and even direct from Dell.
Microsoft has a solution to its unsavory reputation, and it's called Signature Edition. The term is just a fancy way of saying a pure Windows installation. No third-party software, no ads, nothing expiring, no customizations, and no unnecessary bloat. All PCs that Microsoft sells ship as Signature Editions whether they are from Lenovo, Dell, HP, or Acer, and it is one reason why I always recommend buying directly from Microsoft.
Whereever you choose to buy the MateBook you will be getting a pure Windows 10 Home experience...a victory for consumers
The Huawei MateBook is being sold through the Microsoft store, so it is a Signature Edition. No surprises there. However, Huawei will also ship this tablet through Newegg, Amazon, and other online retailers, where the MateBook will be still be a Signature Edition. This decision marks one of the first times I recall seeing a device being sold outside of Microsoft's purview and not having trial software installed by the manufacturer. I consider that a small but significant victory for consumers, and I'm glad to see Huawei doing the right thing.
The bottom line: Where ever you choose to buy the MateBook you will be getting a straight Windows 10 Home experience. (If you want Windows 10 Pro and BitLocker support you will need to do an in-store upgrade for an extra $99.)
Intel Core M is here, and it's more than okay
Intel has its ups and downs with processors, and their Core M line did not get off to a good start back in 2014. The Core M sits in between the underpowered Atom and the standard Core i series of processors, but is also not cheap. Its reason for existence is to offer performance approaching the Core i-series but in fanless chassis designs. While the Broadwell Core M processors were so-so, the new Skylake variant is in another league.
The Huawei MateBook makes liberal use of the Skylake Core M processor as it comes in all three options including the Core m3, Core m5, and the high-end Core m7 with varying RAM and storage configurations, including:
- Intel Core m3, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage - $699 in U.S.; $909 CAD
- Intel Core m5, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage - $849 in U.S.; $1,099 CAD
- Intel Core m5, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage - $999 in U.S; $1,299 CAD
- Intel Core m5, with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage - $1,199 in U.S; $1,599 CAD
- Intel Core m7, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage - $1,399 in U.S.; $1,819 CAD
- Intel Core m7, with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage - $1,599 in U.S.; $2,079CAD
In this review, I am using the Core m5 version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage ($999). It should also be noted that only the variants with 256GB of storage and higher come with the white bezel versus the black one. At the time of this review, the Core m7 variants were not available for pre-order at the Microsoft Store.
Huawei does make one odd, but almost welcomed change: they keep the internal storage partitioned with a C and D drive. The C drive is just the Windows 10 Home operating system while D is the majority of storage meant for programs, photos, and documents. However, you need to set Windows default storage to the D drive manually otherwise you will run out of space on C in short order. Huawei also opts to use Samsung SATA Solid-State Drives in the MateBook, which are not the best performers on the market for write speeds, but everyone seems to use them. Despite that, I cannot say performance (read times) felt lackluster.
It should be obvious that those above prices are not cheap. Once again, Huawei is challenging Samsung and Apple in the premium hardware space. While these prices are not bargain basement, they are fair, since, in my opinion, the hardware stands up to the quality sniff test. I think it takes a lot of guts to walk into that market and charge those prices, but I think Huawei earned it with the MateBook.
Giving consumers that level of hardware choice is another excellent move by Huawei. No one wants to be forced to settle for a particular configuration, and while there are no 16GB versions available, I think the choices here are more than adequate for that this device's intended audience.
The MateBook performs quite well with the Core m5. Apps that are part of the Universal Windows Platform and found in the Store are zippy with no stutters or delay. The suite of Office 2016 apps (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) all run buttery smooth, too, and playing full HD videos streaming on YouTube or Netflix is no problem for the Core m5.
Even playing some light games is not a problem for the MateBook. Sure, the Intel 515 graphics are not going to crush frame rates in Crysis 3, but you hopefully did not have that expectation anyway. The MateBook is a productivity tablet, not a gaming machine.
Still, my go-to gaming test is using Pinball FX2 for Windows 10 and loading up the Family Guy board. I was able to play with excellent frame rate with details at high but antialiasing (AA) turned off. The experience was supremely enjoyable. Enabling AA to x2 resulted in a better-looking game, but there was a clear performance impact as frame rate dropped. Still definitely playable, but not ideal with antialiasing enabled. Killer Instinct with graphics turned down is playable, although the frame rate does slow down significantly on the Core m5 making it passable but not preferred. Overall, the MateBook is better for casual gaming rather than anything intense.
Under heavy load the MateBook would get warm on the upper back, but never hot or uncomfortable. Since there is no fan, there is, of course, no noise to report.
Sound and Camera
The MateBook ships with two tiny speakers placed on the top edge of the tablet. While front-facing speakers are always preferred, the speakers are better than average. In fact, they are much louder than you would expect, and I find myself keeping the MateBook leveled at about 20 percent system volume most of the time. Putting the MateBook up to 40 or 60 percent borders on uncomfortable for loudness, yet there is no noticeable distortion.
Huawei worked closely with Intel on the MateBook, and they are using Dolby Audio to manage the sound. Dolby Audio includes numerous presets for Movie, Music, Gaming, and Custom along with a full equalizer, audio leveling, and voice isolation.
While the MateBook lacks a secondary rear camera (unlike the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S and Surface Pro 4) it does make up for that by including a fantastic, but fixed focus, 5MP front-facing camera perfect for Skype and teleconferencing. I felt the image quality edged out the Surface Pro 4 in everyday usage.
Battery and charging
The MateBook ships with a 4430mAh battery that can be fully juiced in 2.5 hours using a USB Type-C connector and Quick Charge. Huawei puts the battery life estimate for the MateBook at nine hours and, as usual, that is being extremely generous. I pushed the tablet to around 5 to 6 hours with normal web use on Wi-Fi with no attempts to conserve the battery. Watching the screen brightness, and using Opera browser with battery saver, and the MateBook could likely push 7 hours and more if you put on the Windows Battery Saver.
I pushed the tablet to around 6 hours with normal web use on Wi-Fi
Although that number falls well short of Huawei's numbers, it is in line with what most Skylake laptops are getting, and to be honest, I found the experience satisfactory. Considering the MateBook is as thin as some smartphones, weighing just 1.4 pounds, and sports a QHD display, I cannot complain about its battery life, which is better than the Surface Pro 4. Still, if you are expecting nine hours of unfettered usage you will likely be slightly disappointed. The MateBook picks up five to six percent battery for every ten minutes of charging until it starts to trickle near the end.
I think most people will find the battery life versus performance balance on the MateBook reasonable, but you will have to charge it at the end of the day. At least with Quick Charge you can tack on 15 percent of battery life in 30 minutes.
Huawei ships the MateBook with a preferred flat ribbon-style USB Type-C cable. Type-C cables do much more than Type-B cables, so they tend to be rather thick. Making it a flat ribbon style makes using the charger slightly more convenient for travel.
Keyboard not included, but you'll want it
One of the areas where I could potentially ding the MateBook is the nickel-and-diming to get it to the full experience. Pen? Extra. Keyboard and portfolio? More money, please. Dock? That's an extra $90. All of this quickly drives up the price of the MateBook, but here's the rub: it may be worth it.
The MateBook Portfolio Keyboard retails for an extra $129 and comes in two colors for its leather bound cover: light brown, or dark black. The keyboard features backlighting with an ambient sensor (so it turns on only when there is insufficient light) and sports 1.5mm of key travel. That amount of travel is higher than most 15-inch laptops that average just 1.3mm. It's absurd, frankly.
...almost everyone who I let try the keyboard came away impressed
Here is what I can say about the Portfolio Keyboard: The key travel is borderline too high, which is an odd complaint. I don't have any laptops that have this much key movement, and we live in a world where people are putting up with 1.2 mm of travel for everyday typing, (the Apple MacBook (2016) has just 0.5 millimeters!). However, more is not always better, and I did find the keys a little on the mushy side. The keys are also close together and are similar to the Surface Pro 3's keyboard rather than the much-improved Surface Pro 4's (who smartly put spaces in between the keys).
Having said that, almost everyone who I let try the keyboard came away impressed at how good it felt. The MateBook Portfolio Keyboard errs on the side of almost being too good and simply takes some time to get used to, but overall it is a solid experience for typing.
The keyboard backlight is decent with white light coming from the sides of off-white keys. It can make things difficult at times when there is some light in the room.
...The trackpad is enormous and supremely satisfying to use...one of the best
The Portfolio also doubles as protection wrapping around the MateBook in a moleskin-like cover. Its design has a few advantages. For one, it wraps around the MateBook with a magnetic flap sealing like an envelope. It stays secure too. This design is a marked difference from the Surface Pro series and even Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S, which merely cover the display and can flop open (Samsung uses magnets to keep it closed, however). Because of the extra Portfolio length, it has a longer base than other tablets, and it gains you significantly more room for your palms and a larger trackpad.
Regarding the trackpad, it's enormous and supremely satisfying to use. Whereas people complain about even the Surface Pro 4's improved trackpad, the MateBook is easily the top of its category for any PC tablet, bar none. It has a smooth, glass texture and is a Precision class trackpad. Frankly, it is one of the best trackpads I have used on any device to date.
The real hiccup to the MateBook Portfolio Keyboard is how it holds the device in position. There are only two angles, which are achieved by using magnets in the flap. The keyboard is connected via pogo pins on the bottom (so no Bluetooth). It works, but it is not nearly as nice as the Surface and its adjustable kickstand. Yes, you can use it on your lap (I do so on the couch all the time), but this kind of setup is more ideal for tabletops and desks.
I can't knock the MateBook's Portfolio and keyboard too much. It delivers a very elegant and professional looking tablet that you will want others to see. It can be a bit floppy, but you have to know that going in with this kind of design – there are always tradeoffs. I was more than okay with the experience especially since you are gaining a slim, light, and excellent looking setup. It's ideal for desks and tables, less so for the lap or when commuting.
The MatePen is mightier than...
Many companies have tried to create digital pens including Microsoft for their Surface line. For $59 Huawei will sell you their rechargeable MatePen and if you like to take notes, draw, or diagram it is something you will certainly want to purchase.
The MatePen features 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is double that of the new Surface Pen at 1,024 levels. That in and of itself is a rather big deal, but there are a few other areas in which the MatePen is different:
- It's rechargeable (micro-USB) with a claimed 100 hours of use per charge.
- It has a laser pointer instead of a top button/eraser.
The laser pointer is a clear nod to the target enterprise market for this device (or perhaps cat lovers). It works well, and there is not much to say on the matter. The MatePen also features two side buttons like the Surface Pen that can be configured. To recharge the MatePen you pull the laser pointer end off and use the included micro USB adapter. There is a small LED that glows orange when charging, green when complete.
I don't consider myself a heavy stylus user, but I really enjoy using the MatePen.
The MatePen is also slightly thicker than the Surface Pen and not as dense feeling. The middle section is a white and textured, giving a nice break from the aluminum body.
I don't consider myself a heavy stylus user, but I enjoy using the MatePen. It felt great to use, and the precision seemed right to me. Charging it is a bit awkward as not only do you have to pull it apart, but also use a cable adapter to use the MateBook's charger. Luckily, you don't need to charge it very often, and so while it can be clumsy, I think it's forgivable. Even the pen tip is replaceable in case you wear it out, and Huawei includes an extra in the box.
MateDock is a worthy accessory
To get the MateBook just to weigh 1.4 pounds while also having a razor thin bezel Huawei had to make cuts and one of those is multiple ports. The MateBook has one single USB Type-C port. Luckily, it's a full Thunderbolt one so it can handle double and triple duty with the right accessory.
Huawei is selling the MateDock as an $89 add-on and while not cheap it is one you will want to consider. The dock expands the MateBook's capabilities with two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, HDMI out, and a VGA port. It also comes in a nicely wrapped leather case that matches the keyboard folio. Once again, Huawei paid attention to the small things like making the MateDock magnetic so that the hub just sticks to the case. There is also space for the included micro-USB to full USB Type-B adapter and the adapter cable along with a slot for the MatePen. The Type-C cable sticks awkwardly out, but it not a big deal.
What I like most about these accessories is Huawei clearly put thought into them and don't feel like they are bolted-on, but rather part of a system. While carrying around dongles and adapters is never preferred, the tradeoff – a super light, thin, and good looking tablet – is well worth it for some people.
Who should buy a MateBook?
Putting aside the rather high price for the mid-range version of the MateBook the device is perfect for students and those in business who need a light, portable PC with robust battery life and is an overall joy to use.
If you have some extra money laying around the MateBook also makes an excellent companion device for when you are on the go and want something light to take with you. Writers, artists, and business types will have a blast with the MateBook.
Gamers, developers who need to compile apps or video editors who want to render 4K video would be better served with something else in the Intel Core-i range like my current heavy-hitter, the Dell XPS 15. While Core M is impressive for Office, Windows Store apps, light gaming, and some Photoshop, it will struggle with much more than that.
The bottom line
I can enthusiastically give the Huawei MateBook a highly recommended rating. Considering this is Huawei's first attempt at a classy two-in-one Windows 10 PC they got so much right out the gate. Knowing what readers of this site look for I can break down the main advantages of this PC over others on the market:
- Thin bezel – people go crazy for near-bezel-less designs, and the MateBook delivers
- Impossibly thin and light – At 6.9mm thin the MateBook will make your phone look chunky
- Gorgeous design – The MateBook is professional, elegant looking, and will turn heads
- Great accessories – Between the hub, the portfolio case and keyboard, and pen, Huawei will sell you the complete experience with no corners cut
- Plenty of power – With decent battery life and a fanless Core M the MateBook is the ideal tablet for light computing
- Signature Edition – Forget bloatware, you are getting just a straight Windows 10 Home experience
I also did not experience any glitches, failures, or oddities. It was a 100 percent smooth ride even after installing Windows 10 Anniversary Update (Insider Fast Ring).
Are there any negatives? It's hard to ding the MateBook for much since it gets so much right and does it with style, but here are a few downsides to consider:
- No expandable storage through micro SD
- No rear camera
- No LTE option
- No NFC
- A single port that forces you to get a hub
- Expensive and multiple accessory purchases
If the MateBook weren't so gorgeous, it would be easier to hold those faults against it. But Huawei made a decision here to go for thin, light, and powerful with an above-average display. While there are tradeoffs, I think these were the right ones for the majority of people who would consider buying this tablet.
The Windows world has been waiting for a high-end and elegant tablet for years that could challenge Apple's iPad line. Not in productivity (PCs always tend to win there), but in unique style and design that will garner envy from others. Apple's iPad may get better battery life, but this MateBook is the only tablet and PC you would need to carry giving it a substantial advantage. The MateBook is an impressive entry by Huawei into the growing convertible category and is certainly worthy of your attention.
All in all, the Huawei Matebook for 2016 could very well be the best Windows 10 tablet and PC experience to date but there are sacrifices. Whether it is better than a Surface depends on which you value more (design or performance), but make no mistake the MateBook is now firmly at the top of this category.
- Outstanding, premium design
- Thin bezel, better-than-average display
- Good typing experience, great trackpad
- Quality accessories available
- Great performance vs. design trade-offs
- Surprisingly loud speakers
- Many hardware variations and price points available
- Need to buy keyboard, cover, pen and dock separately
- Display could be brighter
- Only one port
- Storage is non-expandable
- No rear camera for forthcoming Office Lens app
- Keyboard/display is not very sturdy
The Huawei Matebook will be available starting July 11, 2016 from various retailers including the Microsoft Store, Amazon, and NewEgg. Microsoft is currently offering a 40% discount off a MatePen and MateBook keyboard combo ($100, savings of $88), and Office ($49 vs. $69) when pre-purchased with a MateBook.