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Review: Huawei MateBook

There’s a lot going on with the new Huawei MateBook, both with its specs and overall mission. If you’re not familiar with the name “Huawei”, they’re the third largest cell phone manufacturer in the world. But "the world" is not just the US and Huawei is relatively unknown in the states. With the MateBook, Huawei is trying to break into the domestic 2-in-1 scene and compete with the likes of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4. If you think the MateBook looks like an iPad Pro combined with Windows 10, you wouldn’t be far off. Compared to the Surface Pro 4, the MateBook ditches the flip out stand for a classic tablet feel. In hand, one wouldn't be faulted for thinking this is a jailbroken iPad running Windows.

On the  specs front, the minimalist MateBook tablet weighs under a pound and a half and comes with a 6th generation Intel Core M processor and up to 9 hours of battery.

For connectivity, the only real port is USB-C. No USB 3.0, no micro USB, just USB-C (3.1 variety at 10GB/s, not Thunderbolt 3). You also get a headphone jack and volume controls. 

Prices start at $699 for the Intel Core m3 version with 5GB RAM and 128GB storage. At the other end, the $1199 MateBook features an m5 processor, 8GB RAM and a 512GB SSD.

While the features may not blow you away, the build quality is seriously impressive and Huawei as a company is certainly taking some strides to start really competing with the big boys.

And then there’s the price -- at $699 for 128GB, it’s clearly aiming for shoppers considering the Surface Pro m3 version that lands $100 more than the MateBook. The iPad Pro, meanwhile, starts at $799 for the 32GB (32!) and hits $949 for the 128GB version. Of course, the iPad runs Apple's mobile processor and iOS, not an Intel CPU and a desktop OS. 

Weighing the Options

The look and feel of this tablet is excellent, Huawei's experience building the Google Nexus 6P phone really shows -- this is a tablet made to compete with the best Apple has to offer. The big word on weight is 1.41lbs. Compare that to the 1.51lbs of the iPad Pro and the 1.7lbs for the Surface Pro 4. Of course, the 12" screen of the Huawei is slightly smaller than the competing screens, but Huawei is really gunning for the lightest premium ultra-tablet experience. 

I also loved the way the orange keyboard case easily attaches and detaches with a single magnetic port. Plus, the grey and orange color combo was doing a lot for me too. The box is white and clean and comes with a tray for the tablet and accessories, including the USB-C adapter port since the tablet is only about a quarter of an inch thick. I didn’t have the MatePen, so I can’t comment on the pressure and palm-rejection technology that is meant to make the drawing process go smoothly.

I did use the touch surface though, and can confirm my palm made no impact on my creation. The MatePen comes with 2,048 different levels of pressure sensitivity so the harder you press, the bolder the image becomes and vice versa. This may seem like overkill to someone whose drawings look like a failed third grader’s art project, but I have a feeling that’s going to be an excellent feature for the artists of the world.

In terms of the battery, Apple stacks up about even with the MateBook. You can play video for up to 10 hours, which should make those long business trips go by fast. Screen is 12” IPS LCD 2160 x 1440, so you can conduct meetings from outside without having to worry about whether you have enough juice to get you through a conference call. You can conduct that same meeting from a cafe in direct sunlight as well (though there are other distractions at a busy cafe.) My home videos and photos came out fine, but there was nothing earth-shattering about the camera. You won’t be shooting 4k video with this device, but it’s functional and intuitive.

To compete directly with the mobile-based iPad, the Huawei puts fingerprint scanning on the side of the tablet, so you can unlock with just one touch. Or at least, that’s what every commercial and promotional video and article kept telling me. It takes some tweaking to get it to work right but integrating the fingerprint technology on the side rather than a home button is a interesting choice. Personally, I like having as few buttons as possible. 

One negative was the typing experience, which is typical for the detachable keyboard category. I wasn’t a huge fan of the limitations that I had with the keyboard and case. While it looks amazing and it seamlessly connects to the dock without taking extra steps, the keys have no gap between them and the squishiness of the keyboard material is just not okay for long-term use. Of course, we're mechanical keyboard fanatics here at Unlocked, so your experience could be different. 

The trackpad is also jumpy, which made me frustrated pretty quickly. It really only works on flat surfaces too which I found maddening. I like to work in unconventional settings and there are very few times I don’t need my precious keyboard. I'd love to see a true laptop-style metal keyboard option. 

The touchscreen portion was excellent though, with highly responsive keyboard features and swiping capabilities. You can use the touchscreen without having to switch back and forth to the keyboard too. For more conventional office settings with desks and tables everywhere or for quick transactions when out and about, this has a lot going for it so you can multitask at work or use the the touch features from wherever you happen to be.

Of course, with the USB-C connection, you can hook up any manner of keyboards and mice...assuming it's only one device if you don't have the companion dock. 

Huawei Around Town

I really liked how the MateBook felt in my hands and I enjoyed how easy it was to carry from place to place, with the case practically built into the transport. It was hard not to feel professional and official with this thing in my hands. This tablet is definitely meant for a certain niche of people, so if you were already thinking of checking out the iPad Pro or Surface 4, you may want to see how this one measures up. The graphics were beautiful and bright with clear colors. The formatting for web pages was flawless on the 12” screen, which hasn't always been the case with these hybrid mondo tablets. 

I’ve also been impressed with how Microsoft has reengineered Windows 10. After the disastrous number 8, Microsoft went back to the proverbial drawing board and tried to integrate their beloved older features with the new technology they were sure people would adopt and embrace. So if you’re used to Windows already, be prepared for a familiar looking interface even if they did choose to keep some of their options available from Windows 8. The OS aims to be efficient, so you can do more tasks with less power. While Windows can run on most devices, the MateBook was designed with Windows 10 as its base, meaning that it will yield slightly better results than your current machinery. Upgrading generally saves a company in the long run because they’re not paying out for repairs or losing time in man-hours because of slow systems (and easily distracted workers.) Microsoft has done an excellent job at either copying or improving upon some of the key features that Apple has impressed people with for so long.

The tablet is exceptionally quiet too, equipped with a fanless processor that keeps your hands and lap cool. Its response time was lightning fast with everything I tried, but keep in mind that I wasn’t running any new software or extremely complex tasks.  Like any tablet, this isn’t recommended for people who run 15 battery-draining software programs at once, but you can certainly rely on it for some labor-intensive activities throughout the day. Comes with 128, 256 or 512GB options of internal storage, the 512GB bumping the price up to $1199. 

Huawei MateBook Specs

  • 12” Quad-HD 2160 x 1440
  • Windows 10
  • 4GB or 8GB RAM
  • 128GB, 256GB or 512 GB SSD
  • 5 MP Camera
  • USB Type C Port
  • Intel Dual-Core M
  • 33.4W Battery

The Final Word

This product would be good for those who want something fast and reliable in the workplace or for the ultimate true mobile tablet experience. If you were already thinking of upgrading your machinery, then it’s a device that can handle business needs in the air and on the ground. The iPad Pro caveats apply -- for typists and content creators, this isn't a real laptop replacement. But for everyone else, the Huawei is a strong competitor for best in class, especially if you've been itching for a Win 10 tablet with iPad build and style (and minimalist USB-C connectivity). Really, the Huawei MateBook is a near perfect Windows 10 tablet. If this is the kind of product we can expect from Huawei, then I can't wait to see what else they bring to market.