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Huawei MateBook: A second opinion

Huawei has made an impressive Windows 10 debut but still has room for improvement.

I was lucky enough to be one of the early ones to see Huawei's first Windows 10 product, the MateBook, back in a briefing at Mobile World Congress this February gone. I've been following the company's hardware closely for a couple of years now, for good reason.

Whatever you think you know about Huawei, you should probably put to one side. This is a manufacturer making some seriously nice hardware in 2016, and with the MateBook it brings some of what it learned on Android phones to the Windows 2-in-1.

We've already put it through its paces in the course of our full review, but I've been using one, too, so figure that a second opinion is worth bringing up. I've been eager to spend some quality time with the MateBook since my brief experience in Barcelona, and for the most part, I'm pretty impressed. But that doesn't mean there aren't things I'd like to see done differently.

The obvious comparison to draw is with Microsoft's own Surface Pro.. It's the one drawn any time a manufacturer comes out with a tablet focused product with an attachable keyboard such as this. Microsoft set the bar, and it's up to the rest to meet and exceed that.

I've never really warmed to the Surface Pro, or any 2-in-1 for that matter, for use in my own world. I prefer a laptop to a tablet, and something like the Surface Pro is too big for me to use and enjoy as a tablet. The MateBook, though, is different. It's so ridiculously thin and light that despite its 12-inch display, it's comfortable to use in this manner. There's not a whole lot of bezel on the front which keeps the surface area down, but it doesn't mean you're covering the screen with your fingers. It's about right.

This is not the Intel Core m you used to know

The race to be thin isn't something I appreciate on a phone, but on a tablet, there's more space to work with, so the tradeoffs aren't as severe. Despite being ridiculously thin it still packs a fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello, and it is superb! I'll also get to battery life later on, but Huawei worked some pretty incredible magic getting a 4430mAh battery inside this thing at all. Or at least, that's how it appears to me.

Part of what makes this possible is Intel and its Core m chipset. With Core M, we lose the necessity for internal fans (hello Surface Pro 3) which makes for a better tablet experience all round. It's silent and doesn't get nearly as hot as a Core i would. Warm, but not hot.

The Core M of today is not the Core M as it launched in 2014, not at all. Where the previous generation we'd have recommended you ignore, the new chips are much, much better. They need to be, too, since Intel commands a pretty steep asking price for them. All that means that the MateBook is perfectly capable as an on the go productivity and entertainment machine.

MateDock

To do any of that, though, really, you will need to buy the optional MateDock. This little block adds regular USB, HDMI and Ethernet connections to the MateBook. The cloud is great, but it's not always available. I carry a portable SSD with me, and I can't just plug it into the tablet. Personally, I'd have traded some of that thinness for a proper USB 3.0 port built in as well.

The MateDock is useful at home, too, not just on the road. It's a compact, inoffensive way to turn your 2-in-1 into a desktop machine. It takes up a lot less space than the Surface Dock, albeit without offering as many connections. The MateBook isn't designed to be a desktop machine, though, that's just an added convenience. Huawei's big launch event was clearly touting this as an everyday carry, the business users all day PC. A portable productivity machine.

On that front, there are some good things, and some not so good things.

I'll get the less positive bits out of the way first. And top of that list is battery life. The MateBook isn't something you can leave home or the office with for the day and not worry about running out. It just isn't. It's not as bad in my experience as some reviewers have found, but it doesn't offer the same as my laptop.

I've been getting around 5-6 hours before I need to think about charging up. I've had to make a few changes, too, like not using the Slack desktop app, since that seems to make it worse. I can run out for a few hours, get lunch, hit the coffee shop and get some work done, but I wouldn't leave home for the day without the charger, that's for sure.

The battery life isn't good enough for an all-day productivity machine

Then we get to charging it up. Despite being USB-C, it seems you can only use the included power brick to juice up the MateBook. Neither my Microsoft USB-C charger nor the included USB to USB-C cable in another brick yielded any results. Which means when I do go somewhere, I'm taking two USB-C chargers regardless.

It's not a massive inconvenience, but when adopting a standard like this, I'd have been much happier to be able to use my phone charger (which has QuickCharge for my Lumia 950 XL) for both rather than needing two separates.

Battery aside, using the MateBook has been a great experience. The display is stunning if a little too aggressive for my own tastes on dimming the brightness. But paired with the form factor, I've found myself enjoying using it as a tablet more than any other of this size in recent memory. The Surface Pro has always felt just a little too bulky to me, but I can happily kick back on the sofa with this and watch videos for long periods without being uncomfortable.

The keyboard experience has, however, been mixed. The portfolio case is really, really nice, but I'd prefer a solid kickstand over a folding arrangement every time. I'd also like it if you could angle the keyboard up a little, as you can on the Surface, for a more comfortable experience. It's a good keyboard, though, the backlighting is strong, and the trackpad is better than I expected. It's just a little cramped, though, for my own liking. I've hit too many keys by accident in my time with it.

I'd trade thin for a proper USB port in a heartbeat

So, final thoughts. I've long been an admirer of Huawei hardware, and that hasn't dampened any with the MateBook. The hardware is sublime, and while I'm not a fan of 2-in-1 setups personally, the MateBook is one of the closest things to sway me. I prefer it in some areas to the Surface Pro, while in others it definitely falls behind. It's probably my favorite Windows 10 tablet to date, but it's not as hot at being a laptop replacement.

The need for an external dock for any 'normal' connectivity is disappointing, and I'd trade some of that thinness for a regular ol' USB port in a heartbeat. You may also notice I didn't mention the pen, yet. I'm not a pen user, not in the slightest. But the MatePen is excellent. I think it's marginally better as a, well, pen, than the one on the Surface, and the addition of a laser pointer is a neat touch for those involved in presenting things for a living. The magnetic pen loop included though is fantastic, much preferred to a fixed option.

Huawei MateBook

If the battery life were better, I'd happily recommend the MateBook to anyone looking for a high-end 2-in-1 running Windows 10. Right now it's a caveat to that recommendation. It's not horrible, but equally, it falls short of many popular laptops of the present time. If you're boasting productivity, you have to nail the battery life. For that, Huawei falls a little short in my opinion.

But if you like what you see, you'll be mostly happy and even more so, if you're OK with charging it a little more often. What the MateBook is, though, is an impressive debut from Huawei into this space. Expect its successors to be even more so.

More: Huawei MateBook Review

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Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

30 Comments
  • I agree with Richard's analysis here. The battery life could be better, but the performance, thinness, and 'kit' make it a worthy tradeoff (it's a 1.4lb PC!). I still find battery life between the MateBook and SP4 very close, with MateBook edging it out sometimes. While I still reach for my Surface Pro 4 often - because it's awesome - I do grab my MateBook when heading out with friends or to do errands. That sounds weird, but I always need a PC around me due to my job and this is the first "full" PC that I can grab and not feel goofy. I'm still in awe of the quality and design and I have had zero issues with it. I think the Core m5 version is the real winner here. Core m3 is nice, but m5 hits that sweet spot for performance/power.
  • Do you know how well the screen will calibrate to sRGB so I can use this in the field to view photos from a tethered camera?  I would not use Photoshop but Lightroom or ACDSee jost so I can take field notes.
  • Indeed, battery life is really the only major gripe here which is a big deal for a device that is meant for mobility. My take, OEM's must really focus and offer near consistent and great battery life that's actually achievable on standard usage and not just bunch of battery-life numbers that sometimes are actually way lower in reality. Not sure what Microsoft can much do about in this regard, only they can help by further optimizing power-usage of Windows if there is a way. So far Core M CPU's are getting there in terms of performance and power efficiency, and it will be better for next iteration.
  • How does the Matebook compare to it's closest competitor the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S?
  • I find myself using the kickstand on my Surface 3 without the keyboard pretty frequently, which you couldn't do here. If nothing else, it's a nice handle in landscape mode rather than relying on the bezel to hold it.
  • That's what I like most about the MateBook...it's clearly not aping the Surface. Whether it's better/worse is up to the consumer and what they are looking for, but I like how Huawei said "let's try something slightly different". The PC world has always been about choices and this is just another one for people.
  • The adjustable stand on my SP3 is priceless imho so a definite winner there. I do admit that I replaced the sp3 keyboard with the sp4 with fingerprint scanner and was utterly happy with that making my i5 sp3 a true desktop and tablet replacement for Photoshop/Capture One Pro/webstuff. Still good to see viable hardware coming from major OEMs and can't wait to see what else is coming... Imho Microsoft really started something there. Thumbs up!!
  • Nice
  • Nice tablet but I prefer the SP4 without a doubt.
  • "...its xx-inch display.."
  • Well, an XXX-inch display might be inappropriate. 
  • Hhindeed
  • "xx-inch" Placeholder you forgot to fill in? "Personally, I'd have traded some of that thinness for a proper USB 3.0 port built in as well." I don't think Type-C is a problem, the problem is there is only one of them. You can buy Type-C to any of the other USB shape cables for a few dollars so it isn't that big a deal. Only having one port is a big deal, the MacBook is not good because it only has one port, and this device is in the same boat. I need to charge and use the ports at the same time. The concern may be that extra devices - charging phones, connecting external disks, etc. would draw more power than would be available for the device to charge. The most likely reason you cannot charge this with the 950XL charger is because it just doesn't put out enough juice. If the output on the 950xl charger is less than output on the Matebook charger, then it does not put out enough power to charge it. I don't have my 950xl charger with me, but it is probably around 10W (volt * amp = watt). From the Huawei web site the charger is max 12v. They don't give the amp but the USB Type-C spec states the max for USB 3.1 is 5A (although, this is a 3.0 so it should be 1.8A). 12v * 1.8A = 21.6W. If the charger for the 950xl does not put out 21.6W, then it will not work.
  • I think the bigger issue is that the USB-C spec allows 5, 12 & 20v for charge voltage. Curent can vary but is up to 5A as you say. That 20v @ 5A is where that 100W max of USB-C comes from. The device needs to negotiate the voltage, current will regulate itself. I would guess most chargers built for, and supplied with phones only do 5v. If the tablet is looking for 12, that's a no-go.  I'd take a look at the Matebook charger and see if it lists 5v and 12v. If so, I imagine it would charge a phone just fine. Most everything that has a USB-C kind of has to comply with the negotiation standards or a lot of people will be burning stuff connecting charges to devices with cables that all fit physically. Same sort of concept with AC outlets. They are designed so you can't plug a 20A device into a 15A outlet, because you can't expect people to read and understand. If it fits, it better work.  Caveat- cheap places hire cheap engineers, and use cheap componenets to deliver cheap products. Beware,
  • This. I wonder if this charger could juice up Richard's 950xl. In that case, problem solved, I guess..
  • Never a fan of charging a laptop via a usb port either for that reason so I'm happy that my sp3 has a separate charging port and still have a usb3 port.
  • Thin and light didn't impress me with the ipad and it doesn't impress me here either. Much rather have more ports, expandable storage, better battery and a kickstand which is truly invaluable.
  • Yeah, we have an iPad Air, and while it's amazingly thin and light, it barely gets used. I go to my LG G4 and Surface 3 everyday. The lightness of the iPad vs the Surface 3 just doesn't make the difference for me. I'm actually surprised that my wife doesn't use it, since she already has an iPhone, but she goes to her 15" Windows laptop when she needs the bigger screen.
  • Ports are indeed going to be a tradeoff with current thin and light tablets like these (and laptops too), though overtime as more USB Type-C devices becoming more common, this issue would fix itself except for some rather "legacy" ports that may still need on some cases in the future (VGA projector for example). Expandable storage is really achievable at least with MicroSD, which is better than nothing but unfortunately some OEM's choose not to have this. Agree that we need better battery like seriously, this is a mobile devices after all which is meant to be used with battery most of the time. Battery issues is more of OEM's responsibility and maybe partly MS to optimize Windows further or helping OEM's to do something if there is something they can do. Kickstand is really nice to have indeed, the issue is this is rather difficult for very thin tablets. Lightness are achievable with lighter materials and clever construction. For me though, I already find Surface 3 thin enough already, and we already have ways to make it even bit thinner without sacrificing battery.
  • Huawei is definitely doing things right now days. If they would only put Windows 10 Mobile on something like their P8 Max or the 6P......
  • :P
  • That's a pretty nice hardware but I still dig the Surface Book thou....Niceeee**Pari**
  • Nice look wish i can have this
  • Does this have a pen, and if so how does this compare to the Surface Pro 4 Pen? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • The pen is a separate purchase, and according to both Daniel and Richard it's very good. It may be worth reading the full review. 
  • 5-h battery life is a non-starter for me. It feels it's all too easy to make thin devices nowadays by sacrificing battery life. Just look at LG Gram, iPhone, Lavie Z, etc.
  • How does it compare to the Samsung TabPro Windows tablet recently released? It's specs are pretty similar and it includes a keyboard in the box. 
  • interesting.
  • Hey Richard have you installed the 1607 Anniversary update on this? Does auto-rotate still work?
  • Any one who owns one of these know of an aftermarket charger that works?? I'm having issues with my charging brick ( connection is loose ) unit is about 3 months old. I'm finding it ridiculous​ that i can't just buy another charger? i called Huawei for warranty issues and he said his manager told him they would get back to me. even the guy that took my call thought it was silly. he couldn't get a straight answer in the company he works for?! if your going to make the charger proprietary at least sell them to the public!? i hope someone reads this before deciding to buy this tablet. i don't care how good the tablet is if you can't buy the charger... Huawei get your **** together.