Huawei MateBook Hands On: Not Too Pricey But Still Slick

by Reads (4,939)

Huawei is trying really hard to change perceptions around the term “made in China.” Where the old stereotype implied cheaply-made and unreliable, the Chinese device maker and telecom giant has launched a steady stream of flagship smartphones and wearables that rival in quality the same from Apple, Samsung, and other high-end device makers.

The Huawei MateBook is an ultra-thin 2-in-1 Windows 10 PC.

The Huawei MateBook is an ultra-thin 2-in-1 Windows 10 PC.

On top of that, Huawei does it with costs typically lower than its competitors. The pricey Huawei Watch aside, spec for spec, its smartphones often beat other flagships on price.

It’s with these two traits in mind that we examine the new Huawei MateBook, a 12-inch Windows 10 two-in-one that sports a sixth-generation Intel Core m processor and an ultrathin design.

Don’t Call it a TabPro

At more than a glance, the Huawei MateBook looks exactly like the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, right down to the folio keyboard cover and single USB Type-C input. All the descriptive terms we hurled at the TabPro fit here: impossibly thin, absurdly svelte, slick, etc. That’s thanks to the Core m processor that operates sans an internal cooling fan. The MateBook measures just 6.9mm thick without the keyboard, and weighs a scant 1.41 pounds. That’s thinner than an iPhone 6s.

It feels solid, too. And this is where Huawei shows its efforts. The MateBook features an aluminum unibody, similar to the Nexus 6P. Plastic is a perfectly reasonable build material here, especially for thin-and-light devices, but aluminum both looks and feels much better.

USB Type-C

The MateBook fingerprint sensor sits in the volume rocker.

The MateBook fingerprint sensor sits in the volume rocker.

Also like the TabPro S and Apple MacBook, the Huawei MateBook has only a single USB Type-C input for both data and charging. We’ve been critical of this choice for all but travel devices, as it creates headaches with day-to-day usage (try loading pictures off an SD card onto an Apple MacBook) and requires expensive adapters. Thankfully, Huawei offers a MateDock with expanded port options (two full-sized USB, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet). No thankfully, it costs $89.

We will give Huawei some slight praise for placing it on the lower end of the short side however, ensuring adapters with short connectors don’t needlessly hang and put stress on the port.

On the plus side, we like the fingerprint sensor, and especially its placement smack in the middle of the volume rocker. It’s a premium feature in a novel spot. Outside of Apple, we found Huawei smartphones to have the quickest and most reliable fingerprint sensors. Here’s hoping its Windows 10 efforts match Huawei past efforts, as other Windows 10 fingerprint readers tend to be finicky and unreliable.

Other Ports & Inputs

The MateBook also sports a smart connector on the bottom edge for its magnetic keyboard dock/folio, which serves triple duty as a keyboard, device protector, and kickstand.

Here’s where Huawei again distinguishes its quality. The keyboard is backlit and has a metal oxide frame, and according to Huawei is spill resistant. Huawei also claims the keys have 1.5mm of travel, which is ideal if true. The Apple MacBook and Samsung Galaxy TabPro S keyboards both bottom out at 5mm, and that makes for a horribly uncomfortable typing experience. Even the new Microsoft Type Cover only has 1.3mm, which is just barely enough.

The quality MateBook keyboard could be a selling point.

The quality MateBook keyboard could be a selling point.

In our brief time testing the keyboard, typing felt very comfortable. But we’ll have to spend more time with it, comparing it against other notebooks and the aforementioned Type Cover to see where it ranks.

The MateBook also pairs with the MatePen, an active two-button stylus with 2,048 pressure points and a laser pointer on the eraser end. The MateBook supports Windows 10 inking, though we can’t confirm the technology behind it. The MatePen is very light and comfortable, and doesn’t require a AAAA battery like the Surface Pen and others. Instead, it’s rechargeable via a microUSB input hidden in the nub.

Price & Availability

Here’s the good news, and where Huawei’s reputation for value shows. The Huawei MateBook starts at $699. For that, users get an Intel Core m3 unit with 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD. For $849, Huawei offers and upgrade to a Core m5 processor, while $999 will get buyers Core m5 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, and $1,199 will get the same but with a 512GB SSD.

The MateBook Keyboard is sold separately for $129, as is the MatePen for $59.

So a base-level MateBook with keyboard costs $828, and represents  a better value than the Core m3-powered Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, which costs $900 and includes a keyboard cover. The MateBook is also cheaper than the Core m3 Surface Pro 4, which also has 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. With a Type Cover, that costs $1,029. And the MateBook is most definitely a better value than the new Apple MacBook, which has the same specs as the base MateBook, but costs $1,299.

The Huawei MateBook is available for preorder now in the Microsoft Store, and is set to ship July 11.

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