Microsoft's Surface range didn't become a success story overnight - indeed, it took the company three generations before it finally found the right mix of performance, design, and pricing with its devices. Today, Surface is another billion-dollar business for Microsoft, and the company is eager to share some of that success with its partners.
Over the last couple of years, Microsoft has been working with its partners to offer its expertise in having created its newest Surface devices, allowing those companies to use that information to build portable PCs in the same vein. Recent examples include Samsung's Galaxy TabPro S and the HP Spectre x2 - and it looks like ASUS is about to join the party soon too. At Mobile World Congress this week, Huawei launched its own Surface-style device as well.
The MateBook is undeniably stylish with a softer, more rounded design than Microsoft's slightly more angular and chiseled Surfaces. Remarkably, Huawei's device is just 6.9mm-thick. Let that sink in for a moment. The company has squeezed the innards of a well-equipped portable PC into a device that's no thicker than Microsoft's latest Windows 10 Mobile phone, the Lumia 650.
Huawei's efforts have paid off on the design front. The sleek profile and efforts to reduce weight didn't come at the expense of build quality. The device feels rock-solid and it's really very nice to hold. In a thoughtful touch, Huawei also integrated a fingerprint reader between the up and down volume buttons, where it can be easily located.
The device also includes a Surface-style keyboard, but rather than opting for the Surface's kickstand, Huawei went for the same option as Samsung - an external cover that can be folded in such a way that it props up the display. The problem with this option is that it lacks the versatility of the latest Surface tablets, which can be adjusted through any number of positions, from upright to near-horizontal. With Huawei's solution (as with Samsung's) there's no such versatility, with only one upright position available. This seems like a bit of a poor compromise.
The keyboard is very nice for what it is - a keyboard built in to an ultra-thin cover - but I suspect that it won't be to everyone's tastes, due to fairly limited key travel.
Many users also favor 'islanded' keys that feature distinct gaps between them; indeed, this is part of why Microsoft opted for such a configuration with its new Surface Pro 4 keyboard, ditching the far more tightly-spaced layout of its previous-generation Type Cover for the Pro 3.
Even so, there's nothing unpleasant about the MateBook's keyboard, and indeed, some buyers will no doubt find it perfectly lovely to type on, while also appreciating the fact that its design complements the tablet itself quite nicely, while protecting the device's 12-inch display.
The display itself is nice enough too - its size and resolution match those of the Surface Pro 3, so that's not entirely surprising. The MateBook comes with a stylus which seemed fairly responsive and precise; but along with the performance of the device's sixth-generation Intel Core m processors, we'll have to put it all to the test in the real world - away from the flattering conditions of an exhibition stand - before we can pass judgment on just how good it all is.
For now, though, there's an awful lot to like about the MateBook. It's tremendously stylish and promises plenty on paper. Even without testing it, there are some shortcomings though - like that stand solution, and the not-to-everyone's-tastes keyboard - but there's enough here to warrant further consideration.
We'll be looking forward to testing the Huawei MateBook in the weeks ahead.