One glance at the Huawei MateBook and it's clear the Chinese company is hankering for a slice of the laptop-replacement market. This slim-build Windows 10 tablet is really well made, not a cheap knock-off competitor to the likes of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
But a glance is one thing; actually living with the device is a whole other. And over the last couple of weeks using the MateBook we've come to conclude a couple of things: one, it's more a Samsung TabPro S competitor than it is Surface Pro; two, it has some exemplary features, such as a fingerprint scanner and wide-viewing-angle LCD screen, but is let down by poor battery life and sloppy keyboard/cover implementation.
Can standout features such as that fingerprint scanner rebalance the scales and make it the slender Windows 10 device to go for?
Huawei MateBook review: Design
At just 6.9mm thick the MateBook is as thin as the slimmest of mainstream smartphones; it's also the same thickness as the iPad Pro, and slimmer than the 8.4mm of the Samsung TabPro S. Add its keyboard-meets-cover wrap-around - which, just like the Surface Pro, is sold separately, but is a must buy really - and the Huawei becomes slightly chunkier, so between those three devices you'll not notice a substantial difference.
The main difference lies in how those keyboards sit. The MateBook's looks a lot more like that paired with the Surface Pro 4 than the squat, tighter pads of the TabPro S or iPad Pro. As Huawei doesn't include one the MateBook is essentially just a tablet straight out of the box, despite its name. We'd rather one was included to make the device more of a laptop-replacement prospect straight out of the box.
Well, it would be such a device if the keyboard and kickstand combination was anywhere nearly as good as that of the Surface Pro. Sadly, the Huawei implementation is fussy; it's tricky to use on the lap, while its two-position fold-up stand (which is part of the keyboard) is impractical compared to that of the Surface Pro. Equally, however, the Samsung TabPro S is just as fussy, so manufacturers are clearly feeling around how to implement such designs.
Get the MateBook on a flat, hard surface, however, and the typing experience is great. There's enough give from the plastic keys, while the trackpad is an ample size and responsive. That's more than we can say for some of the competition, especially in the trackpad department.
Huawei MateBook review: Performance
The MateBook's slender frame is owed to the Intel Core M architecture inside, meaning no fan is required for cooling. Core M doesn't have the hardened speeds of beefier chipsets - here it's an m3-6Y30 CPU, at 0.9Ghz to 1.51Ghz, paired with 4GB RAM - so the MateBook can't flex as much muscle as the Surface Pro in this department. It's more than ample for on-the-go use, though: we've been word processing, browsing and doing all those day-to-day tasks quite happily.
With Windows 10 on board - in full desktop and tablet modes, as auto-activated when pairing the tablet to the keyboard via its magnetic connector - there are effectively no limitations to application installs. This isn't an Android tablet, so works a treat for both typing and touchscreen use.
There's even an optional stylus called the MatePen which not only has a frickin' laser beam pointer, but is just as good as you'll find from the competition, including the Surface Pro 4. Why, however, it uses microUSB to charge when the rest of the MateBook system is USB Type-C we really don't know though.
One of the more exciting things about the MateBook is that it offers a fingerprint scanner, ideal for quick sign-ins. As we've said of Huawei phones or late, such as the P9, the sensitivity and response of this scanner is second to none. Register a fingerprint once signed up to Windows Hello and it'll fire you from lock screen to desktop almost immediately. There's the potential to use this for other secure features too, some of which might be implemented in the future - PayPal, for example (which is currently linked to some Samsung smartphones) is one such option.
Huawei MateBook review: Battery life
With Intel Core M on board we had anticipated its lighter-weight processing power would mean a solid battery performance. But that's not the case and it's here the MateBook falls flat - flatter than its slender build.
We've been achieving around 5-hours of use per charge, which is less than the not-so-great Surface Pro 4, and a long way behind the Samsung TabPro S and Apple iPad Pro. A real shame, as this one point is what will hold some customers back from buying into the Huawei.
Recharging utilises the USB Type-C port, positioned to the lower right-hand side of the device. From flat it takes around 2-hours and 20-minutes to fully recharge the device. Problem being that, given the Type-C port is the only active port the device offers (there's also a 3.5mm headphone socket, but that's it), you can't do a great deal else with accessories during recharging. We would much rather have a secondary port, even if it was a dedicated charging connector (a la Surface Pro 4).
There is a work-around, as with so many of these kinds of devices, in the form of the Huawei MateDock, a twin USB, Ethernet, HDMI and VGA output dock, which connects via a dedicated USB Type-C wire (charging with this dock attached is possible, thanks to a USB Type-C port dedicated to power).
Huawei MateBook review: Screen
With a 12-inch screen, the MateBook is a touch smaller than the 12.3-inch Surface Pro 4 in all dimensions, with a black bezel surrounding the screen in equal portions throughout. This scale is ideal for a portable laptop-replacement in our view - and notably smaller than the MacBook Air 13-inch we're used to using for work.
Now Huawei hasn't opted for the hyper-colour AMOLED panel as found in the Samsung TabPro S, but the selected LCD panel does have an impressive 2,160 x 1,400 pixels for better-than HD resolution and, therefore, crisp visuals.
There's ample colour, too, while the IPS designation assures that viewing angles are really wide-angle with little falloff in colour or contrast. There's a subtle gloss finish, so catch light and you won't get the best experience for outdoor use, yet there's still enough brightness to cut through and compensate.
The choice for this resolution does have us wondering about the relationship to battery life, though, as a lower resolution might have meant the MateBook could hold out for longer periods of time per charge. And yet a lower resolution might not have helped to sell the device compared to its nearest rivals.
At first glance the Huawei MateBook gets lots right as 2-in-1s go: it's slim, well made, has a decent size keyboard and trackpad (if you buy it anyway), plus a built-in fingerprint scanner that helps stand it out from the crowd. It's not as powerful as the Surface Pro 4, but we never expected it to be - this is a different proposition.
Indeed the MateBook would be a winner if it wasn't for the limited battery life and ill-conceived stand position offered by the keyboard. An enhanced battery capacity (we'd even be happy with a slightly thicker build for that sake) and integrated kickstand would, in our view, put Huawei in the runnings against the Samsung TabPro S. Well, if that keyboard was included in the box anyway.
So if you're looking for a laptop-replacement to use around the house then the MateBook is a decent option. But as an on-the-go device it's those fundamental battery and stand underpinnings that hold it back from greatness.
The glance will lure you in, but it's the living with that will leave you wishing the MateBook gave just that bit more. Round two, anyone?