(Pocket-lint) - Fewer manufacturers are making genuinely great laptops these days. Which is why it came as something of a surprise to see Huawei produce the formidable MateBook X back in 2017. However, it's nigh-on impossible to buy one in the UK - which is ludicrous, as it's one exceptional laptop.
For 2018 the Chinese super-brand has gone one better with the introduction of the MateBook X Pro. As its name makes no secret, this model targets the pro market by adding more power, discrete graphics, a larger screen with the tiniest surrounding bezel in the business, and plenty more top-end features besides.
To look at the MateBook X Pro certainly has some Apple MacBook Pro design cues, but in many respects it goes one better thanks to that minimal bezel, its fingerprint-ready power button, and Nvidia discrete graphics in a body of this size (the MacBook Pro only dabbles in Radeon as an option for the 15-inch model).
It's clear the MateBook X Pro is gunning to be the best Windows 10 laptop on the market. And having lived with one for a week it's brilliantly close to achieving its goal. Here's what we make of it.
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Design, keyboard & trackpad
- Metal unibody design, diamond cut edges, sandblasted finish
- 2x USB-C (both power), 1x USB, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Spill-proof backlit full-size keyboard and giant trackpad
- Measures: 14.6mm at thickest point; Weighs: 1.3kgs
- Finishes: Space Gray and Mystic Silver
- Fingerprint-ready power button
With more than a little similarity to the MacBook Pro - right down to the underside screws and the side-of-keyboard speaker grille openings - the MateBook X is a laptop that knows its market position aspirations. But these design decisions are part and parcel of what people expect from a high-end laptop, so we think Huawei has got the core features locked into place.
Certain subtleties make using the MateBook X that much better than its competition, too, such as the easy-to-open lid. It might sound like a minor point, but the lack of tension required to separate screen from keyboard - but only for the first 15mm or so, until the hinge tension kicks in - is a great thing indeed. No more desperately trying to pry it apart like a stubborn bag of sweets.
The MateBook X Pro's full-size keyboard feels spot-on to the fingers, with enough clack to the keys, without the need for them to travel excessively far per press. There's none of this "butterfly hinge" business, meaning the keys actually move. The tinted backlight looks smart, without leaking too much, unlike some competitors. But it's the spill-proof finish - which ought to save you from any drink disasters - that adds yet another string to Huawei's bow.
The trackpad, as you can see from our pictures, is huge in scale, topped with a smooth finish that sees fingers glide over it with ease. The majority of the pad acts as a left click; towards the bottom right corner, there's a right-click equivalent, just enough to avoid accidental presses. It feels great in use and makes multi-finger gestures, such as scrolling through webpages, a total doddle.
With a 14.6mm thickness at its chunkiest point, the Huawei is less than a third of a millimetre slimmer than the MacBook, which is such a small measurement that you won't even notice. Despite this, Huawei has managed to squeeze in something that Apple does not: one full-size USB slot, which joins the two other USB-C ports (one of these is Thunderbolt 3 speed compatible; both can be used to charge, so take your pick).
Just like the original MateBook X, the Pro keeps the fingerprint-enabled power button, positioned to the top right of the keyboard. It's designed for a single press-and-hold to unlock and log you into Windows in under seven seconds. It's not nearly as rapid as a smartphone login, but it's still a useful setup to have - which will also require a password and PIN set as backup to login. If you don't want to use the biometric aspect then there's no requirement - it works as a standard power button too.
- 13.9-inch "FullView Notebook" display, 3K resolution (3000x2000), 450nits
- 91% screen-to-footprint ratio; just 4.4mm of screen bezel to each side
- 178-degree viewing angle, 450nits brightness, 1500:1 contrast ratio
- 10-point touchscreen controls, Corning Gorilla Glass protection
- Hidden camera (F7 key)
One really impressive feature about the MateBook X Pro is its screen. Despite being doused with Huawei marketing sell - it's called the "FullView Notebook display" - it's a panel with minimal bezel, leaving the screen itself to dominate over 90 per cent of the total footprint.
Indeed, these 4.4mm bezel measurements are even slimmer than you'll find on a Dell XPS device (they're 5.7mm left and right), for a truly screen-centric view. It kind of makes the Apple equivalent look archaic. We're massively impressed with it.
Having trim bezel all the way around that screen has meant there's no room for a camera to hide. The solution? Huawei has concealed it in the F7 key, which is released with a single press. While this feature was met with applause at the product's unveiling at Mobile World Congress 2018, having used the feature since then, we don't think it's quite right: the positioning is poor for calls (say hello to exaggerated double chins and nose hairs); the trajectory means there's a single angle of placement only; and it's not really wide-angle enough to make sense. So while Huawei has boldly addressed common privacy concerns, it's not done it quite well enough in this first attempt. Others will copy this feature, though, as it's an intelligent idea.
Technically the MateBook X Pro's screen is every bit as bright and resolute to take on the best of them, too. There are as many pixels crammed in here as you'll find in a Microsoft Surface Book, for example. The Huawei's brightness, at 450-nits, isn't too far away from Lenovo's Dolby Vision ThinkPad X1 laptop. But the typical auto-brightness adjustment of the X Pro is overzealous the say the least, often seeing the screen far darker than it should be, leaving reflections from the overly shiny surface all too prominent. It didn't take us long to switch off the auto-adjustment feature, to enjoy the available brightness on offer.
Plus with touchscreen tech baked in - take that, Apple - Huawei has taken the decision to use Corning Gorilla Glass to avoid any unwanted scrapes and damage. A nice touch, whether or not you're likely to use it, and far more elegant than, say, a Touch Bar solution.
Performance and battery life
- Up to 8th Gen Intel Core i7 (8550U) processor, 16GB RAM
- Up to Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics, 2GB GDDR RAM
- Thunderbolt 3 supports external graphics (to GTX 1080)
- Second-gen Dolby Atmos sound, quad speaker setup
- Up to 512GB SSD storage (NVMe)
- 57.4Wh battery; USB fast-charge
Huawei's aims with this MateBook are clear: under the hood is an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB RAM, plus an Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card with its own 2GB RAM on top of that. Well, that's the case in this top-of-the-line model, as an Intel Core i5 with integrated Intel graphics will also be available.
As one of the USB-C ports supports Thunderbolt 3 speeds it's possible to plug-in an external graphics card (up to GTX 1080 maximum, which could make the Pro a capable enough gaming laptop, or better set for those hefty CAD calculations and modelling scenarios). Not that we've got a spare card knocking around to test this high-end feature.
Still, even with the available power on tap, the MateBook X Pro gauges things very well indeed. With Photoshop installed we've been able to churn through edits no problem at all, faster than we can on our staple MacBook Air, that's for sure. The X Pro is quiet in operation, so there's no worry of excess fan noise or whistle. And we've not encountered instances of overheating either, which is always welcome for a device that might often be sat on your legs.
The one area we were worried that MateBook X Pro would fall down was in the battery life department. But that's not been a particular problem. With the screen brightness set to 75 per cent, volume to 50 per cent and performance set to "Better" (not "Best"), we've been able to stream a 1440p YouTube clip non-stop for nine hours and 20 minutes straight. Ok, so it's not quite double figures, it's not the 14-plus hours of the Lenovo Yoga 920, but it's not too bad at all.
Pull on the power that's under the hood and, inevitably, the MateBook X Pro won't last as long. But for office-like tasks, we've found it's been largely good enough to cater to our needs, at around seven hours. And there's USB fast-charging available for rapid top-ups... well, there is theoretically, but as the cable provided for our review unit is a US plug socket, we've not been able to witness the fruits of this (indeed, our charger delivers a paltry five per cent charge per hour. Ouch).
Audio is also well worthy of mention. Much like its predecessor, the X Pro embodies Dolby Atmos surround sound, here in its second-generation configuration. As small-scale Atmos devices go, it's one of the few to deliver convincing perceptual surround. You'll need the right software switched on to make it work, but work it does.
As for sound quality, there's some other clever stuff going on behind the scenes: the quad speaker setup (two for treble, two for lower-end) are mounted in a double suspension system to isolate them from the motherboard and chassis for a supposedly cleaner sound. Left-right separation is good, but we find the treble speakers a little over "fizzly" in their delivery, so the sound isn't the greatest you'll hear. But this is a slim laptop, so we're not exactly surprised.
With a stunning trim-bezel screen, heaps of power on tap, ample ports (including full-size USB), and a great-looking finish throughout, it really is Pro by name and pro by nature.
Sure, the battery life doesn't hit the double-figures golden standard, and we're not sure just how much cash this powerful laptop will cost when (or if?) it arrives in the UK. But we really do hope it arrives on these shores, as the MateBook X Pro is a truly great Windows laptop.
Alternatives to consider
Dell XPS 13
The go-to trim bezel laptop, the XPS is well established and an ideal match for almost any kind of use. The latest generation version is slimmer than the Huawei, and should be cheaper, too, plus its battery life ekes a little extra time out per charge.
Read the full article: Dell XPS 13 review
Apple MacBook Pro
Ok, so you're probably either in camp Apple or camp Windows, but if you're flexible in your operating system choice then the MBP is a classic workhorse. Its latest guise offers a Touch Bar panel (or not, if you don't want to pay for it) instead of a touchscreen. The lack of a full-size USB port is irksome, but Apple's battery life will go the extra mile compared to the Huawei.
Read the full article: Apple MacBook Pro review
Lenovo Yoga 920
This Windows machine has a fancy hinge that can be used to flip it through various angles, giving it use in laptop, tablet, stand and tent positions. There's also minimal bezel and plenty of power on tap, just not quite as much as the Huawei.
Read the full article: Lenovo Yoga 920 review