Review: Huawei MateBook, missing true greatness
By Ajith Ram December 1, 2016
ACCORDING to IDC, Western European shipments of ultra slim convertibles and detachables posted positive growth (44.7 per cent) to account for 18.4 per cent of total consumer shipments and 21.9 per cent of commercial devices in Q1 2016. This is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise declining PC market.
We had recently reviewed the HP Elite x2 1012 G1 and the Acer Switch Alpha 12, both competitors to Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. The Chinese manufacturer, Huawei, has now thrown its hat into the 2-in-1 ring with the MateBook.
Available for under RM4,000, it immediately throws down a price challenge to its competitors. But keep in mind that this price does not include the Huawei MatePen, MateDock or keyboard accessories. If you purchase all three, it will set you back by at least an extra RM1,000.
If product cloning was illegal, then Huawei would have a hard time justifying MateBook's design to Apple or the courts. To say that the MateBook looks a bit like the iPad Air would be an understatement. With its thin profile (8.4mm), beige edges and aluminium backside, it could be mistaken for an Apple design.
But the similarity stops there. If you include the optional stylus, keyboard and dock, it is clear that Huawei would like to take a chunk of the Windows laptop market with the MateBook.
While the tablet itself is sleek and stylish, the same cannot be said about the keyboard or kickstand. The keyboard and kickstand are merged into a single leather flap which attaches and folds over the tablet.
Rather surprisingly and unfortunately, both have the feel of cheap Chinese manufacturing from a bygone era. For instance, the kickstand has very limited flexibility compared to the 2-in-1s from Microsoft, Acer and HP. Even on a flat desk, it has a tendency to fold and topple over. So there is no way the MateBook can be used on your lap.
Similarly, the keyboard has the feel of cheap plastic. In fact, while typing on it, it reminded me of my old 1980's Sinclair Spectrum keyboard. Although there were no errors due to stuck keys, it does not feel as if the keyboard was designed for prolonged typing sessions.
Fortunately, the stylus is fast and responsive. It even has a useful built-in laser pointer for your presentations. In a strange twist, while the tablet uses a USB Type-C port for charging, you need to use the older microUSB cable for the stylus. Another interesting addition is a fingerprint scanner which is usually found only in smartphones.
The Huawei MateBook has a 12-inch LCD display with a 2160x1440 resolution - same as the Acer Switch Alpha 12. The screen resolution is higher than the one which adorns the HP Elite x2. Bright and colourful, it probably is the best LCD screen we have seen on a Windows 10 2-in-1. The only minus point is the screen's glossy finish. You might want to consider a matte screen protector to reduce the reflections in bright light.
The top right corner houses the power button while the headphone jack nestles on the opposite side. The right edge also houses the volume and reversible USB Type-C connector. One of the negatives of the tablet's thin profile is the absence of full-fledged USB or HDMI ports. The optional MateDock provides two USB, Ethernet, HDMI and VGA outputs.
The basic model of the MateBook is powered by an Intel Core m3 6Y30 CPU. It also has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Our test device came with twice the amount of RAM and storage. It also sported the faster Core m5 CPU.
Performance & Software
With its slower Core m5 CPU and no active cooling, we did not expect the MateBook to set any performance records in the 2-in-1 category. That certainly turned out to be the case. Application and 3D graphics performance came in below the Microsoft, HP and Acer devices.
So is this something to be concerned about?
Like the MateBook, none of the other Windows 10 2-in1s are capable of running cutting-edge PC games at playable frame rates. So it means that office application performance is the only thing that matters. Thanks to a speedy SSD and ample RAM, the MateBook's performance in office and image editing applications is indistinguishable from the other devices.
Like performance, due to the thin nature of the device, we did not expect the battery to last too long. But we were pleasantly surprised. With the screen at peak brightness and constant video streaming via Wi-Fi, the MateBook lasted over four hours. While it does not quite beat the HP or Microsoft 2-in-1s, it is still a good performance for a Windows device.
If you drain the battery completely, a full recharge takes well over two hours. This is not surprising as the tablet does not have a dedicated power port and recharging is through the sole USB Type-C port.
In a wise move, the MateBook has very little pre-installed bloatware. In terms of custom software, the most useful item bundled with the device is MateBook Assistant. This provides a one-stop location for the manual and all driver downloads.
The Huawei MateBook is a very good 2-in-1 that falls just short of true greatness. It is slim, light and has an excellent screen. Highly competitive on price, it also features a versatile stylus and useful fingerprint reader. But the 2-in-1 is let down by an inflexible kickstand and a subpar keyboard. So if you do not require these accessories, then the MateBook is well worth considering.
Rating: 4 out of 5