We called the Huawei MateBook the “best in its class,” and gave it a NotebookReview Editors’ Choice award for its slim build, swift performance, and right price.
We called the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 a “better version of 2014’s best Windows device,” and compared it favorably against the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet, Apple MacBook 2016, and Samsung Galaxy TabPro S.
Which is the best Windows 10 two-in-one: the venerable Surface Pro 4, which is still superb after more than a year on the market; or the upstart MateBook, Huawei’s first attempt at a premium Windows 10 device?
Build & Design
As we’ve written numerous times, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the top piece of the hardware on the market. The free-swinging kickstand is still arguably the greatest tablet design innovation since the original iPad, and no device can surpass its superb magnesium build. It’s durable, and both looks and feels great. This was also the case with the Surface Pro 3, but new to the Pro 4 has a magnetic strip running along the left short edge that serves to secure the Surface Pen.
The fanless Huawei MateBook is “just about as thin as a Windows 10 tablet can be,” measuring .27 inches thick (slightly thinner than an iPhone 6S, and .06 inches thinner than the Pro 4), and weighing a scant 1.41 pounds (.28 pounds less than the Core m-powered Surface Pro 4). Its slick aluminum build suggests a high quality product, and it feels solid. There’s no wasted space inside.
The MateBook is a straight-up tablet with no kickstand or other design flourishes. First-time users will be amazed at its build, however. For a full-powered Windows 10 device, it’s absurdly thin and impossibly light.
The MateBook is available in gold and gray, while the Surface Pro 4 is only available in gray.
You can’t beat the best. The Surface Pro 4’s kickstand and magnetic pen strip offer utility the MateBook can’t match. It’s a small tradeoff for added fractions of an inches and a pound. For its part, the MateBook redefines thin-and-light, making it an ideal travel device.
The Surface Pro 4 has a 12.3-inch LED “PixelSense” display with a 2736 x 1824 resolution. This makes for a 3:2 aspect ratio and 267 pixels per inch. The colors are accurate, it resists glare, and it’s one of the best displays on the market.
The Huawei MateBook has a 12-inch IPS TFT LCD display with a 2160 x 1440 resolution, resulting in a 3:2 aspect ratio and 216 pixels per inch. Its color reproduction matches the Pro 4, as do its wide viewing angles. But its display is more reflective than the Surface Pro 4’s, and the MateBook has trouble cutting through overhead glare.
Both support up to 10 touch points and active pen input.
The Huawei MateBook and Surface Pro 4 excel here. It’s close, but the Microsoft 2-in-1 has the better display. Both have plenty of pixels, and the difference in density is near unperceivable, even with the benefit of a direct comparison. It’s the Pro 4’s glare resistance that puts it over the edge.
Ports & Inputs
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has a full-sized USB 3.0 port, microSD card slot, 3.5mm audio jack, Mini DisplayPort, smart connector for the Surface Type Cover, and a proprietary charging input.
The Huawei MateBook has a single USB Type-C input, 3.5mm audio jack, and a smart connector on the bottom for a keyboard folio. It also has an onboard fingerprint sensor, situated in the middle of the volume rocker.
Neither is a business laptop in terms of ports, but the Surface Pro 4 has a great selection for a device in its class, and it’s the better of the two. The only omission is USB Type-C.
The MateBook sacrifices inputs for thinness, but it ships with adapters that make its lone USB Type-C input less of a hassle than it is on the Apple MacBook 2016 or Samsung Galaxy TabPro S. Also, give Huawei credit for including a fingerprint sensor on the device. It’s one of the more reliable and responsive Windows 10 fingerprint sensors we’ve tested.
Camera & Speakers
The Surface Pro 4 has two cameras, a front-facing 5-megapixel shooter and 8-megapixel rear shooter. Both are suitable for video conferencing, and do particularly well in low-light environments. The Pro 4 camera also supports Windows 10 Hello for unlocking the device with facial recognition. It’s a neat trick.
We were impressed with the Pro 4 speakers:
The Surface Pro 4 features front-mounted speakers on the upper edges of the display, which is exactly where they should be in order to direct sound at the user. Compared to other tablets and laptops, they are absolutely superb, emitting clear and robust audio. The sound is slightly fuller than what the Pro 3 is capable of producing, and it’s loud enough for personal use, even with plenty of background noise.
The Huawei MateBook has a lone 5-megapixel front-facing camera. It doesn’t support Windows Hello, but is more than enough for video chat.
Regarding the speakers:
The MateBook’s top-mounted speakers pump out sound as well as other thin 2-in-1s, which is to say they are fine for personal use, but not much more. Music in particular is limited, with virtually no bass and shrill high tones. There’s a low bar here, and the MateBook barely clears it.
Camera and speakers are arguably the two least important tablet features. No one should base a buying decision on either. But for those keeping score, the Surface Pro 4 is the better of the two in both departments. The speakers deliver for a 2-in-1, and facial recognition is novel.
The Huawei MateBook ships in the following configurations:
- Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD
- Intel Core m5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD
- Intel Core m5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- Intel Core m5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD
It runs either 64-bit Windows 10 Home or Pro, Signature Edition, meaning it has no bloatware beyond Microsoft’s additions.
The Surface Pro 4 comes in the following configurations:
- Intel Core m3, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD
- Intel Core i5, 4GB of RAM 128GB SSD
- Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM 256GB SSD
- Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM 512GB SSD
- Intel Core i5, 16GB of RAM 256GB SSD
- Intel Core i5, 16GB of RAM 512GB SSD
- Intel Core i7, 8GB of RAM 256GB SSD
- Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM 256GB SSD
- Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM 512GB SSD
- Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM 1TB SSD
It ships with 64-bit Windows 10 Pro Signature Edition.
We reviewed the Core m3 Surface Pro 4 with 4GB RAM and the Core m5 MateBook with 8GB RAM. Head to head, it’s an unfair comparison, as the more powerful MateBook configuration outperforms the entry-level Pro 4 in benchmarks and in real-world use. But both run Windows 10 acceptably thanks to the sixth-generation Core m processor:
We’ve written it before, and here it is again: the sixth-generation Core m is a fine and surprisingly capable chipset. It easily handles day-to-day casual and productivity tasks as well as any other Core i processor, but struggles with higher demands, even though it can eventually power through tasks like image and video editing.
The Surface Pro 4 takes a big step up to its next configuration, going from a Core m3 to Core i5. Generally, the leap from Core i3 to i5 provides the salient performance boost, and we suspect that’s also true going from m5 to i5 too.
From here, comparisons become more complicated. Would you rather have a Core m5 with 8GB RAM or a Core i5 with 4GB RAM? The “better” system here depends mostly on specific needs, and we’d consider other factors, like price, design, and display, in addition to performance.
The Huawei MateBook has a 4430mAh battery, while the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has a larger 5087mAh battery.
Streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi in Chrome with the display brightness maxed out, the Surface Pro 4 lasted 3 hours and 58 minutes, while the Huawei MateBook lasted 4 hours and 1 minute.
The MateBook charges from 0% to full in about 2 hours and 30 minutes, while the Surface Pro 4 does the same in about 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Call it a disappointing tie. We suspect users will be able to squeeze out a full day of use with the Windows 10 battery saver features and a dimmed screen. But these are mediocre results, and both the Surface Pro 4 and MateBook suffer for them. The only saving grace here is that they both charge relatively fast.
In the Box
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 ships with a Surface Pen and its power supply.
The Huawei MateBook ships with its power adapter and a USB Type-C cable for charging, as well as a USB C-to-microUSB cable and micro-to-full USB adapter.
It’s tempting to give Microsoft the nod here, given that the Surface Pen is a superb accessory. But we are calling this a tie, considering Huawei offers its active stylus as a separate accessory. Combined, they bring the MateBook’s total cost below the Pro 4’s price tag.
Plus, we love Huawei’s adapters. They mitigate a major issue inherent in the MateBook’s slim design. As we wrote in the MateBook review:
Here’s where we would complain about the single USB Type-C input. To reiterate, it hinders productivity because the setup requires users juggle charging with accessories, and USB Type-C accessories are way too expensive as of this writing.
But we won’t, because Huawei bundles the MateBook with a USB C-to-microUSB cable and mini-to-full USB adapter. This means the MateBook works with just about any USB accessory out of the box, including USB hubs with Ethernet support and memory card slots. These can typically be had for around $10 on Amazon, as opposed to the $89 Huawei charges for the MateDock.”
Granted, the Surface Pro 4 also works with the same inexpensive accessories, but again, it’s hard to ignore price (more on that below).
The MateBook pairs with a leather-bound keyboard folio, which Huawei sells separately for $129, in black or tan. It’s a necessary accessory, and works in conjunction with the MateBook’s smart connector. As a keyboard, it provides a comfortable typing experience, thanks mostly to its 1.5mm of key travel:
That’s just more than enough, and a good 1mm more than other USB Type-C devices. The keys also have good snap.
In terms of the touchpad:
Centered underneath the spacebar is the large single-piece trackpad, which measures 3.7 x 2.4 inches. It’s smooth, and works fine for basic navigation. We found the multi-finger controls like the two finger scroll finicky, however.
Overall, we only had two small complaints:
We prefer a chiclet-style keyboard with space in between each key, even if it makes them smaller. It makes for less clumsy typing and fewer errant key presses. And as mentioned above, there are no default volume control keys.
As a folio, it needs work. It has a very professional aesthetic, but its magnets don’t attach securely, which is a problem as it also doubles as a kickstand:
The kickstand function also needs work. The folio’s back portion flips over to prop up the MateBook, similar to the Apple iPad Smart Cover. It kicks out to two stops, about 10 to 15 degrees apart. The problem is that it doesn’t take much force at the more open stop to send the MateBook tumbling down. This isn’t much of a problem on a desk or flat surface, but it will spill the MateBook over the knees and onto the floor when used as a literal laptop.
The Surface Type Cover costs the same, or $30 more with the fingerprint ID. It’s available in black, blue, bright blue, red, and teal. Its key travel only tops out at 1.3mm, but it still offers the best overall mobile typing experience due to its island-style keys and sloped design. We only quibbled it lacked default display brightness control keys, opting for keyboard backlighting control instead.
It too has a large touchpad, made of smooth glass. It’s a single piece, and performs as well as the MateBook’s.
Both keyboards are backlit and offer comfortable typing. The MateBook’s keyboard is also water resistant, and even though it has a slightly longer key travel we give the edge to the Type Cover. That sloping effect makes a large difference, as do the island-style keys.
The MateBook’s folio offers better protection, considering it wraps all around the device while the Type Cover only covers the Surface Pro 4 display. But the folio’s kickstand makes literal lap use an impossibility, while the Pro 4’s kickstand is extremely stable.
The Microsoft Surface Pen features N-trig technology, 1,024 points of pressure sensitivity, and is powered by an AAAA battery.
The new Surface Pen is longer, with about the same circumference and similar weight. It ditches the two buttons on the shaft, featuring only the tip and the nub, along with a flat side that serves two purposes: it makes it the Pen easier to hold and grip, and it enables magnetic docking on the Pro 4’s left short side.
The MatePen supports 2,048 pressure points, and all Huawei’s comments suggest it features Wacom technology. It’s powered via rechargeable battery (microUSB), and sells for $59.
It’s a light pen, and comfortable to hold, with a tad more weight on the top than the tip. It has standard Windows 10 pen girth and length, with a textured grip in the middle. Bluetooth enables the two buttons near the tip to double as OneNote quick launch and screenshot grabber. There’s no eraser nub, and instead Huawei included a laser pointer. It’s an odd addition, but why not? We can see it as a useful presentation tool.
Looking at the pen tests, both had trouble straightening out slowly-drawn lines, and the MatePen dropped fast strokes on the edges.
It’s a tie. There are no discernable differences between the two with average use (scribbling, note taking), while the MatePen has a distinct advantage with pressure sensitivity and its rechargeable battery. The Pro 4 has a better docking solution, with its magnetic strip (the MateBook keyboard folio ships with a magnetic loop that does not adhere securely enough to inspire confidence), and we prefer the way it feels on the display. It has more friction than the MatePen, and feels more like pen on paper than pen on screen.
The Huawei MateBook 2-in-1 starts at $699, with an Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB RAM, and 128GB SSD. A Core m5 unit with the same RAM and SSD costs $849. A Core m5 MateBook with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD costs $999, while $1,199 gets an m5 with 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD.
The Pro 4 starts at $899, and its specs match the entry-level MateBook (Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD). Each step up adds $100 to $500 to the cost. The next step up, a Core i5 Pro 4 with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, costs $999.
Comparing apples to apples, an entry-level MateBook with a keyboard folio and MatePen costs $887, while a Surface Pro 4 with the same specs, Surface Pen, and Type Cover costs $1,028.
Here, the MateBook is the undeniable better value. But that’s not the case with the more powerful models:
Moving up the line, value is less clear. A Surface Pro 4 with a Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM costs the same as a MateBook with a Core m5 processor and 8GB of RAM. Factoring in the Pro 4’s superb build, kickstand, and abundant port selection, we think it’s the better value, but only by a smidge, the contentious RAM or processor speed argument aside.
The Surface Pro 4 is the better overall 2-in-1, not accounting for price. And that’s a testament to Microsoft. Its flagship is still the standard for Windows 10 two-in-ones after more than a year on the market. It’s superb as a travel device and as an every-day driver.
For its part, the Huawei MateBook is very good. We gave it an Editors’ Choice award for a reason. It’s slick, with swift and stable performance, and we love its extra USB adapters. Huawei also priced it right, making it the perfect travel or secondary device, especially for those in need of a productive machine.
And that’s why we recommend the MateBook over the Pro 4 on the entry level. While the Pro 4 is better overall, it’s not $141 better; and that’s the difference in price factoring the MatePen and both keyboards.
In fact, we’d consider ditching the MatePen and saving an additional $59. It’s good, but it’s best for those already accustomed to Windows Ink. MateBook owners looking to splurge on accessories will likely get more use out of the $89 MateDock adapter, which adds additional ports and display inputs, while simultaneously charging the device.
Looking at the more powerful configurations, Huawei loses the edge and the Pro 4 becomes the better buy. A Core i5 Pro 4 is a very capable machine, and will provide many years of service.
Both are great 2-in-1s. As is often the case, the “best” is based on your specific needs and budget.