(Pocket-lint) - Huawei is far more than just a Chinese wannabe that makes gear a bit like that of the bigger names for less money. Just look at last year's MateBook X, which was a great device - ignoring its obvious similarities to other products' designs.
The Huawei MateBook 13 that we're reviewing here is a brazen rip-off of a MacBook. Which is perhaps what makes it an interesting prospect: it's a Windows device that draws from popular, established styling and costs a few hundred quid less in the process. How about that to draw a crowd?
This strategy can work, of course, but in the 2019 MateBook 13 it's only three-quarters successful. Yes, the MateBook looks great, but the price is actually a little too high to justify some of its shortcuts, including a plastic trackpad and shorter-than-average battery life. So are there better alternatives?
- Measures: 86 x 211 x 14.9 mm
- Weighs: 1.3kgs
- Space Grey
The Huawei MateBook 13 is designed to look a lot like the 12-inch MacBook. It's less wide than conventional laptop designs; there's barely any space left to to the sides of the keyboard keys; and the entire shell is matte, with just enough of the natural shine of the aluminium used.
However, to just think of it as a Huawei MacBook clone is to miss the important ways this laptop differs from those of Apple and other manufacturers, for good and bad.
Let's start with the bad bits.
The Huawei MateBook 13 weighs 1.3kg, which initially seems quite heavy for a laptop that looks like this. Apple's MacBook is 0.9kg. At 15mm thick, the Huawei is not ultra-thin either.
But take this in the correct context: we've played with almost all the ultra-thin laptops available and, yes, we're spoilt as a result. So the Huawei MateBook 13 is still easily thin enough to carry around all day long in a rucksack, we're just surprised it's not lighter still.
But there's plenty of good too.
Get this: the MateBook 13 is not just more powerful than the MacBook and MacBook Air, its CPU is also more powerful than that of most MacBook Pro 13-inch models. Only the Touch Bar version is in the same league.
Tool up a Touch Bar MacBook Pro with roughly the same kit as our £1099 MateBook 13 and you'll pay £2219. So, in that regard, the Huawei is sort-of half the price.
Fundamental build quality of the Huawei is good too - not too far off from Apple's output. The entire MateBook 13's shell is metal, the screen cover a flat pane of glass. There's some micro-flexing in the keyboard surround, but you'd only notice it when looking for holes to poke.
Keyboard and Connections
- 2x USB-C 3.1 ports
Dig deeper and you'll find some potentially more important issues. The MateBook 13 has just two USB-C ports and a headphone jack. Its USB ports are of the slower USB 3.1 Gen 1 kind, meaning they are an eighth the speed of a MacBook's Thunderbolt 3 connectors.
Does it matter? If you want to hook up several high-resolution monitors, an IT department's worth of peripherals, or an external SSD that's even faster than 500MB/s, then yes. Otherwise, not so much.
Those getting all upset about this may have a point, but the extra CPU power of the MateBook 13 over a MacBook 12 is actually more important for most people. You also get a breakout adapter in the box, which includes HDMI and VGA sockets, letting you plug in a monitor.
We can live with USB 3.1 Gen 1 for now. But there's another, more annoying, cutback. The Huawei MateBook 13 has a plastic trackpad rather than a textured glass one.
Consistent with its hobby of visual trickery, you'd never know from the look. However, glide a finger over its surface and you'll feel the telltale judder of a plastic pad. Most Windows laptops over £800 use glass, so paying up to £1100 for one with plastic is quite a gymnastic stretch. That the pad has a decent click mechanism only reinforces that this choice was a bad one.
The Huawei MateBook 13's keyboard has no such issues. Its keys initially seem ultra-shallow, but the typing feedback is surprisingly chunky and satisfying. We'd rather tap out a 1000 words on this than a MacBook. But, yes, it is still fairly shallow.
There's a two stage backlight too, while the power button just above the keyboard doubles as a fingerprint scanner. It's well above average, in that it usually works.
- 13-inch LCD display
- 2160 x 1440 resolution
- 3:2 aspect ratio
The Huawei MateBook 13's screen is one of its most unusual elements, primarily because of its shape. This is a 3:2 display. Most laptops are 16:9 or 16:10, for a much more "widescreen" look.
Movie and TV-watching (OK, and Minecraft YouTube channels) are the only activities that really don't get on with this screen shape as well. You'll see black bars above and below the image in such cases.
However, we can't get too upset as you still get a good screen image for the size of the laptop itself. The Huawei MateBook 13 is also sharper than most at this price point. The HP Envy 13 is Full HD, so are the Dell XPS 13 variants that are even in the same solar system price-wise.
This Huawei has a 1440p display, half-way between Full HD and 4K. Look very close and you'll see pixels - but they're not glaringly obvious at a normal viewing distance, as they can be on Full HD laptops.
- Intel Core i7-8565U CPU (lower-spec available)
- 8GB LPDDR3 2133MHz RAM
- 256 GB SSD
The Huawei MateBook 13 claws back much of any lost cred with performance. You can get the laptop with either a Core i5 or Core i7 CPU, and these are proper quad-core processors. In short: these flatten the ultra-low energy kind used in the MacBook Air line.
The Huawei MateBook 13 has enough power to act as a desktop-replacer for many people. Want to use full-fat Photoshop? Fine. Windows 10 runs beautifully here.
According to some benchmarks, this CPU is more powerful than the kind of you might have put in a big fat gaming PC just a couple of years ago. Performance for its size is kind-of spectacular. And this is why the MateBook 13 is a bit fatter and heavier than you might imagine from pictures on the internet. This kind of CPU needs heat disspating fans, which they take up space.
The bad news: the Huawei MateBook is not great for gaming. And it's even worse in the UK than some other countries.
Huawei makes a version of the MateBook 13 with an Nvidia MX150 graphics card, but in the UK we have to make do with plain old baked-in Intel UHD 620 hardware. This means you'll see roughly half the frames per second compared to the MX150.
More good news: the MateBook 13 can still play plenty of older games. Skyrim: Special Edition runs at Full HD, on Low settings at close enough to 30fps. Other titles from the Xbox 360 and PS3 era will run fine too, with enough tweaks to the visuals.
- 41.8 Wh/3670mAh battery
- Claimed 10-hour video battery life
- USB-C charging
Having used the MateBook 13 for a few days, a lot of the niggles start to fade. The plastic trackpad sticks out because we're used to glass. Connectors? Well no fancy laptop has any these days. Battery life is the issue that sticks.
The goal of any portable laptop like this needs to be to hang around long enough to last through a full day of work. Huawei's MateBook 13 doesn't. With browsing, writing docs and a sliver of video, the battery lasts between six to seven hours. If eight is the goal, we're a bit way off.
Add 10-hour stamina to the MateBook 13 and we'd have an undeniable ultraportable master on our hands. As-is, it's a little patchy.
Its charging style is modern at least. Sure, the adapter takes up one of the precious USB-C slots, but the adapter is small and you get a good chunk of charge in just 15 minutes.
The MateBook 13 doesn't need to beat any Apple MacBook. The two ranges may look similar, but each talks a completely different language when it comes to price - which is where the Matebook wins, despite some niggles.
The HP Envy 13 is the rival you really need to consider, because its differences highlight the Huawei's strengths and weaknesses: the HP has more connections, a discrete graphics card, slightly better battery life and a glass trackpad.
However, the Huawei looks slick, offers a sharp screen with deep display colour, and has lots of power on tap. It's a relative bargain - if you can forgive the trackpad finish, lack of discrete graphics and so-so battery life.
The dinkiest MacBook is slightly better-made than the MateBook, plus it's even lighter and smaller. However, it's also far less powerful. Its CPU is made for the basics, and is nowhere near as good at playing games like Fortnite. It costs more, which is the real issue for many prospective buyers. Even the £1474 version is less powerful than the cheaper Huawei.
Dell XPS 13
The Dell XPS 13 is style laptop royalty. Look at the Dell website and you could believe it's a similar price too. But it's not, as the £999 version uses a lower-end (but still pretty good) Core i3 CPU. Build quality is more consistent than the Huawei, though, and the battery life is a bit better.
HP Envy 13
Huawei wants you to compare the MateBook 13 to the biggest laptop names, but the most sensible alternative is the lower-key mid-range HP Envy 13. It looks a little less flashy than the MateBook, but the price is slightly lower, you get a dedicated graphics card and battery life is longer too. The screen isn't as sharp, though, so there is that notable trade-off.