If you’re going to launch a lightweight laptop, you might as well learn from the best. Which is exactly what Huawei has done for the MateBook X.
This super-skinny 13in ultra-portable could easily be mistaken for Apple’s MacBook, with an all-metal build and minimal styling. Oh, and lets’ not forget a near complete lack of connectivity.
Dig a little deeper, though, and Huawei has actually gone further. A few neat hardware upgrades could even give it the edge over Apple’s attempt. If you’re looking for something perfectly portable for working on the move, this could definitely be worth a look.
After spending some time with one ahead of the official launch, here’s what I think.
HUAWEI MATEBOOK X – DESIGN & BUILD
If it weren’t for the huge Huawei lettering on the lid, you’d be hard pushed to tell the MateBook X wasn’t a MacBook.
It’s made entirely from metal, with barely any ports at the sides – just two USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone port. At least Huawei bundles a dongle in the box, adding a single USB port, along with VGA and HDMI video outputs.
At 12.5mm thick and weighing just over 1kg, it’s about as thin and light as laptops get. That should make it perfect for taking on the move, especially as the charging adapter is no larger than the one you’d use to top up your smartphone.
Open it up and you’ll spot a very skinny screen bezel. At just 4.4mm thick, it certainly draws your attention towards the display, and the speaker grille directly below it. Just like a certain fruit-flavoured laptop. There’s more than a little bit of flex in that grille, though – not something you’d see in a machine built by Apple.
Oh, and just in case there weren’t enough comparisons with Apple’s ultraportable already, you can buy the MateBook X in grey, gold and rose gold colours.
HUAWEI MATEBOOK X – SCREEN & SOUND
It might be barely any larger than a sheet of A4 paper, but the MateBook X still has room for a 13in display. With ultra-slim 4.4mm screen bezels, there’s hardly any wasted space. It’s not quite as minimal as Dell’s XPS 13, but it certainly adds a touch of class.
The 13in panel has a 2160×1440 resolution, which is a welcome step up from 1080p. It’s slightly less than the current MacBook, but from arm’s length, it looks sharp enough and packs in enough detail to make pictures and videos really pop.
Viewing angles are excellent, and there’s plenty of tilt in the screen hinge, so finding a comfortable working position shouldn’t be a struggle. I’d want to take one outside to see how brightness and contrast stack up in bright sunlight, but so far I’m pretty impressed.
The speakers are even more impressive, thanks to a partnership with Dolby that started in the factory. Normally Dolby chips in at the end of development, but Huawei got them involved from the start to design the dual-driver motors inside the MateBook X.
That’s why this is the first laptop with a Dolby Atmos Sound System onboard. No, it’s not going to bounce sound off your ceilings or create height channels for proper surround sound effects, but the speakers have been tweaked to eke out more detail at the high-end. It seems to work, too, with a clip from Mad Max blasting out a surprising amount of detail.
HUAWEI MATEBOOK X – PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE
It might be skinny, but Huawei has managed to cram the latest Intel silicon inside the MateBook X – and without needing a fan to keep it cool. That means silent running, even after you’ve spent all day firing out emails and typing up documents.
You’d normally find a Core M in a laptop like this (that’s what Apple has used for the Macbook) but Huawei has managed to fit a more powerful Core i7-7500U. Until we get to test one properly, though, it’s a mystery if the MateBook X will run at slower speeds than the actively-cooled competiton to avoid overheating.
It felt quick enough on the Windows desktop, and loaded browser tabs without any stutter, so it should be plenty powerful enough for everyday duties.
Huawei says the battery is good enough for ten hours of working at 50% brightness, meaning you can go all day without needing to plug in. We’ll need to put that claim to the test in a proper review, but it sounds promising for such a slim machine.
There should be enough room for storing all your stuff on the 256GB PCI-E SSD, but you can upgrade to 512GB if you don’t think it’ll be enough. It’s a similar setup with memory: the standard model has 4GB, but you can step up to 8GB to keep all those Google Chrome tabs ticking over smoothly.
HUAWEI MATEBOOK X – KEYBOARD, TOUCHPAD & USABILITY
The MateBook X is refreshingly comfortable to type on for such a small laptop, thanks to the full-size Chiclet-style keyboard. Each key has just enough travel, so you can tap away forcefully without them bottoming out.
It’s not quite as feedback-friendly as the ultra-slim keys on Apple’s MacBook, but I could type out sentences without any typos right away. The whole thing is fully backlit, so you can get work done in the dark, and nothing feels particularly out of place – even the half-height arrow keys at the far right side.
The wide aspect ratio touchpad felt a little overly sensitive when I took it for a spin, but thankfully you’ll be able to tweak it in the Settings menus right out of the box. The whole pad clicks down when you push it, and it recognises the usual array of multi-touch gestures.
There’s one other handy key at the top right corner: the power button. It’s got a fingerprint sensor built into it, so you can use Windows Hello to skip the lock screen right from startup. Neat.
HUAWEI MATEBOOK X INITIAL VERDICT
The MateBook X is probably the most exciting of Huawei’s three new Windows-powered portables. The MateBook E is a relatively minor refresh of last year’s convertible tablet, and the MateBook D is a business-centric laptop with a dash of added style.
This, though – this feels like it could be Huawei’s effort to muscle in against the MacBook Air, or even the Apple MacBook. It’s powerful enough, has a high quality screen, and should have the battery life that’ll let you take it around all day without having to worry about straying too far from a mains socket.
Build quality is a bit of a mixed bag, from what I’ve seen of the pre-release samples on show at the launch event, but display, sound and performance all look pretty impressive so far.
I still can’t wait to slip one in my bag and see if it performs as well as it looks.