Review

Huawei MateBook review: Going toe-to-toe with Surface

Huawei announced the MateBook back at Mobile World Congress in February. Definitely one of the more stylish Windows tablets to ever exist, it would seem that the company might have a hit, but does it do the job? Let’s find out.

First of all, I want to note that I’m typing this review on the MateBook Portfolio Keyboard. More specifically, I’m trying to use the Portfolio Keyboard, and I absolutely can’t say for certain that I’m going to make it until the end without plugging in my USB keyboard. Of course, we’ll get to that when we discuss the keyboard in further detail.

Out of the box

The MateBook itself is just the tablet. Everything else is sold separately, including the Portfolio Keyboard, MateDock, and MatePen. So what comes in the box? Well, you get the tablet, a USB Type-C to micro-USB adapter (male-to-male), a micro-USB to USB adapter (female-to-female), a USB Type-C cable, and a power adapter with a USB Type-C port.

Obviously, the power adapter and the USB Type-C cable are mainly for power, so what’s with the adapter, and adapter for the adapter? It actually makes sense when you use the device for a bit.

Other than a 3.5mm headphone jack, the MateBook has a lone USB Type-C port. The Type-C to micro-USB adapter could be great for plugging in your phone, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Huawei hopes that you’re using this with a Nexus 6P, which uses USB Type-C. The MatePen, however, charges via micro-USB. You can use the adapter to charge it, and being able to connect your micro-USB phone is an added bonus.

Then there’s the micro-USB to USB Type-A adapter. The reasoning behind this should be obvious, as it turns the USB Type-C port into a Type-A port. Huawei does sell a MateDock to expand the Type-C port into a more functional array of ports, but it’s very helpful to have this out of the box.

Pre-installed software

Huawei was quick to note that all MateBooks sold in the US are Signature PCs; however, your experience may vary in other markets.

Of course, Signature PC does not mean that there is no pre-installed software. Huawei’s only bit of pre-installed software is MateBook Assistant, which provides the user manual and such.

Interestingly, the entire Office suite is also pre-installed. Attempting to use it will prompt the user for a product key or Office 365 credentials. Oddly enough, you'll still see the Get Office app.

To answer your next question, it does come with Get Skype, but not the desktop Skype app.

The tablet

Frankly, the Huawei MateBook is wonderful as a tablet. The model that I received is the Core m3 device with 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage. In other words, it’s the $699 base model.

I am an avid Surface Pro 3 user; however, mine sits in a Docking Station. I almost never use my Surface as a tablet. It’s too big, and it’s a bit uncomfortable to hold.

Huawei's new tablet comes in at 278.8mm x 194.1mm x 6.9mm, while the Surface Pro 3 is 292mm x 201.3mm x 9.1mm. While both displays are the same size, the Surface is bigger, thicker, and heavier (at 800g). The MateBook also has more rounded corners, making it feel more comfortable in my hands.

While slightly thinner and lighter, Microsoft's latest Surface Pro 4 isn't much better. The device comes in at 8.45mm thick and 786g. Microsoft always seems to be keen on leaving room for a USB Type-A port, which may hinder its use as a tablet.

The MateBook is a wonderful tablet. Coming in at just 6.9mm thick and weighing just 640g, it’s absolutely delightful to use. The display is stunning as well, and it’s probably the first Windows tablet that has a chance to sway me away from my iPad.

It’s great for reading books, only hindered by the quality of the apps themselves, such as Amazon’s Kindle app. It’s also great for general consumption; the stunning 1440p display looks great when watching movies in the Netflix and Hulu apps.

Speaking of the display, the MateBook has an 84% screen to body ratio. The bezels are super-thin. Huawei promises a 160-degree viewing angle, and the device delivers.

Windows Hello

I'll be honest. The Windows Hello capabilities surprised me. The MateBook doesn't sport the facial recognition features that are popular in laptop-style devices these days. This device has a fingerprint reader.

The scanner is fast and it's accurate. Truthfully, this is all that you need to know.

I've always been one to say that facial recognition makes sense on a laptop and fingerprint scanners are better for phones, and I'm quite stubborn about it. I truly expected to be back to using a PIN or even a password after a few days.

That wasn't the case.

The Portfolio Keyboard

For me, the Portfolio Keyboard is the one major drawback to this device. As mentioned earlier, I’m a Surface Pro 3 user, and like most users of Microsoft’s tablet, I own a Surface Pro 3 Type Cover. I hated that just as much. Personally, I need a keyboard with space between the keys. This is why I was at the Microsoft Store the morning that the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover came out.

Sadly, the MateBook Portfolio Keyboard does not provide that space. I’ve spoken to some that don’t mind, and if you’re one of those people, you’re good to go.

You'll also want to keep in mind that the Portfolio Keyboard is sold separately, like all of the accessories to the device. Whichever model you choose, you'll likely have to add-on $129 for the Keyboard, and sadly, you don't get much choice in which keyboard you can use.

The Portfolio Keyboard is also what props up the device. You get two options in terms of angles that the MateBook can be set at, and that’s about it. This is also the issue with using the dock to attach a third party keyboard. Without the Portfolio Keyboard, nothing is propping up the device.One goody that the Keyboard comes with is a pen loop. It sticks to the Portfolio via a magnet. Mine fell off a couple times, so it’s something that you’ll want to be careful with.

The MateDock

The MateDock is exactly what it sounds like. It expands the lone USB Type-C port into two USB 3.0, an Ethernet, an HDMI, and a VGA port. There is also a USB Type-C port for power.

The case that the MateDock comes in also includes its own pen loop, which is sewn into it. This guy isn’t going to fall off.

The dock does exactly what it’s intended to. It turns the MateBook into a full PC, much like the Docking Station does for Microsoft’s Surface line of devices. Wired Internet can also be key in places where you need that additional speed.

The MatePen

The MatePen is the part of the MateBook that I have the least experience with. My review unit was lacking one, so it came in the mail just 24 hours before this review was published.

The pen does its job, much like you would expect from a modern Windows tablet. It’s not compatible with any devices that I tried, that being the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 3. In other words, it’s not WACOM or N-Trig.

One thing that’s pretty cool is that the pen also doubles as a laser pointer, which is very entertaining. If you don’t have a presentation to give, it works excellently as a cat toy.

Huawei promises that once charged, the MatePen will deliver 100 hours of battery life. I haven’t had time to test this, but while demoing the units at the event, I did find some pens with dead batteries.

Interestingly, the MatePen charges via micro-USB. It seems like an odd choice, considering that it goes with a USB Type-C device. Still, it’s a good reason to keep that adapter with you.

The MatePen is also very comfortable to write with. I installed Windows 10 build 14372 just to try it with Windows Ink.

Disclaimer: I have terrible handwriting. The testament to the MatePen is that unlike most pens, it didn't make my handwriting look even worse.

Performance and battery life

At Huawei's event in New York City last week, the company said that the MateBook's 4430mAh battery gets nine hours of battery life under heavy usage. If you use it for normal tasks, it would get better battery life.

I found it exciting that a company would finally be testing its devices based on heavy usage. Unfortunately, I've found the firm's claim to be anything but true. In best case scenarios, I've gotten about seven hours of battery life.

This is also the first Core m-series device that I've reviewed and I was significantly impressed with the performance.

These results can be compared to a Core i7 Surface Pro 3, which scored 235,121 on the same test. Interestingly, the MateBook beats the Surface Pro 3 in the 3D section, in which the Surface scored 34,559.

The performance issues that I did have seemed to come from the 4GB RAM that come in this model. For example, I would return to tabs in the Chrome browser and the page would have to reload. This is actually a very real problem for me, as I rely on alerts from pages such as Google+, where I receive SMS messages.

I was also able to play games from the Windows Store without a problem. Games such as Halo: Spartan Strike ran flawlessly.

Conclusion

The main drawback to the MateBook for me is the keyboard, along with the lack of a way to prop up the device if a third party keyboard is used. I'd also recommend getting a model with 8GB RAM to anyone considering this purchase.

Other than that, the Huawei MateBook is a wonderful device. It's clear that it was carefully crafted and it's well-designed.

This is Huawei's first shot at a Windows 10 device, and the firm definitely didn't pull any punches. In fact, it's part of the company's plan to penetrate the United States market, along with the Nexus 6P and Watch, which is why the trio of devices share a similar design language.

While the device itself feels like a winner, it's still a bit pricey. I recommended opting for a model with 8GB RAM, and that would require a Core m5 model, which starts at $999. You'll also need to purchase the Portfolio Cover, MatePen, and MateDock separately, which will cost $129, $59, and $89, respectively, for a grand total of $1,276.

I can't tell you how much your money is worth to you. I can tell you that you should make sure that you're OK with the keyboard first and that if you are, you probably won't regret your purchase.

You can pre-order the MateBook from the Microsoft Store right now, but the device doesn't ship until July 11.

Note: I made it to the end while typing on the Portfolio Keyboard. I'm not trying to say that it's a horrible keyboard, but it's something to factor in when you're considering a device that might cost you over a thousand dollars.

 

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