Huawei MateBook X Pro Review

Posted on June 24, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 15 Comments

Huawei MateBook X Pro Review

The Huawei MateBook X Pro is a stunning new premium PC that outclasses the competition and does so at a lower price. What’s not to love?

Well, the webcam, for one thing. But we’ll get to that.

Design

The comparisons between Huawei and Apple aren’t just apt, they’re intentional on Huawei’s part. But one thing Huawei doesn’t get enough credit for is the way it often one-ups its inspiration. And such is the case, many times over, with the MateBook X Pro. Which is rightfully described as what the MacBook Pro should be.

Huawei tells me that the MateBook X Pro is made of an aviation-grade aluminum alloy. That’s the type of language Apple used to use to describe its own aluminum laptops. But I won’t begrudge them this, as the quality of the materials and their finishes exude the exactly right mix of style and durability. You can see and feel the quality.

There are nice touches all over. You can open the display lid with a single hand, and when you do, you’re treated to one of the smallest bezels available on any portable PC display. The design is such that you can’t easily see where the display ends and the bezels begin when it’s off.

But it also comes with a compromise: There’s no room on the lid for a webcam. So Huawei hid it under a fake pop-up key in the middle of the function keys row.

Whether that’s a problem will depend on your needs. Those with little use for a webcam will appreciate the elegance of the unique display and bezel design. But for those, like me, who actually use a webcam regularly, this curious touch puts the MateBook X Pro’s webcam in the same unfortunate category as that in the Dell XPS. It’s not good company. And I suppose it could even be a deal-breaker for some.

Beyond that controversy, the remainder of the MateBook X Pro’s design is beyond reproach. Yes, it’s heavily Apple-influenced, from the low-travel keyboards keys to the expansive touchpad to the power button that slyly doubles as a fingerprint reader. But this is purposeful and, I think, correct: The premium PC market exists almost solely because of Apple envy, both from PC makers and their customers. But what many buyers are really asking for is a MacBook Pro that runs Windows. Huawei delivers on this need, and then some.

The MateBook X Pro is one of the most professional-looking and handsome laptops I’ve ever reviewed. The review unit is a Space Gray color—yes, another Apple-ism—but there is a pedestrian Mystic Silver choice for the more traditional. I would choose Space Gray.

Display

In keeping with recent PC design trends and its ultra-thin bezels, the MateBook X Pro squeezes a 13.9-inch—basically, 14-inch—3:2 high DPI multitouch display into what is essentially a 13-inch form factor. I am a huge fan of this type of design, and Huawei gets everything right with the display.

It’s the right aspect ratio, the right size, and the right resolution, a Surface Book-like 3000 x 2000. It’s also incredibly bright, at 450 nits, with contrast-rich colors. It is, put simply, a joy to use.

Components and ports

The MateBook X Pro offers exactly the mix of modern components and versatile expansion options that one should expect in a PC of this class. It is powered by a quad-core 8th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, discrete NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics with 2 GB of dedicated RAM, 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB or 512 GB of high-speed NVMe PCIe SSD storage. (The review unit came with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage.)

Performance is excellent, both in the real world and in my video encoding test, in which I use Handbrake to convert a 4K video called Tears of Steel to 1080p/30fps. The MateBook performed this conversion in just 1 hour and 6 minutes, just a hair behind the Surface Book 2 (almost exactly 1 hour) and the 2017 Dell XPS 15, which still holds the top spot among the portable PCs I’ve tested, finishing that same conversion in just 54:29.

(What do each of these PCs have in common? A quad-core processor, discrete graphics, gobs of RAM, and fast SSD storage.)

These components do generate a bit of fan noise from time to time. And while I never found it objectionable, its presence was an interesting reminder that such a thing is getting more and more uncommon these days.

Connectivity is also modern, with dual-band 802.11ac. But the peek-a-boo 1 MP webcam is just weird. And not ideally-located, unless you’re into an unflattering and jowly look up at your neck from below. That said, it does provide an automatic privacy shutter: Just close it and the camera is blocked.

On the good news front, the MateBook X Pro provides notably spacious and loud audio, which is especially appreciated when viewing movies. The key to this system is two-fold, as the PC provides both quad speakers and the Dolby Atmos 3D sound system that can best take advantage of them. The result is the best-sounding laptop I’ve ever reviewed. It’s very loud and distortion-free.

Related to that somewhat, the MateBook X Pro also provides four microphones for seamless Cortana voice control, even from across the room. This isn’t a feature I’d use very much, but I was fascinated by its ability to pick up even quiet voice commands from several feet away while the PC was cranking out a loud movie soundtrack.

Moving to expansion, Huawei again has you covered with the right mix, in this case, of the proven and the new. There are two USB-C ports on the left, only one of which provides Thunderbolt 3 capabilities, plus a headphone jack. And on the right, you’ll find a single full-sized USB port. Power is provided over USB-C, of course, and the bundled 65-watt charger works with either port.

Additionally, the MateBook X Pro helpfully ships with a nice mini-dock that provides further expansion, with one full-sized USB 3 port, one USB-C port, one HDMI port, and one VGA port. That’s great, though I’m a bit surprised that Ethernet wasn’t included too.

One of my very favorite MateBook X Pro features, oddly enough, is the power button. First of all, it’s gorgeous, and it’s encircled in a metal ring that adds to the device’s overall feeling of quality. Secondly, it doubles as a speedy and accurate fingerprint reader. And it’s a real button, unlike Apple’s goofy Touch ID button, which requires the terrible touch strip.

Keyboard and touchpad

The MateBook X Pro typing and touchpad experiences are both first-rate, and further examples of Huawei one-upping Apple.

On the keyboard front, you may be aware that my preferences are evolving along with those of the industry. And that I’ve grown to really prefer the flat, chiclet-style keys on which PC makers have standardized. This is an area in which Apple has gone too far: While the butterfly mechanism in its newest MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops was designed to minimize wobble and enable ever-thinner designs, those keyboards are overly-loud and don’t offer enough key travel. (That they are likewise endemically unreliable is another issue entirely.)

The keyboard on the MateBook X Pro looks like an Apple design, and it even feels a bit like one, with clicky, short throws. But it also improves on the Apple design immeasurably, and it offers what I consider to be a near-perfect typing experience. It’s at least as good as that of Microsoft’s excellent Surface Book 2 and Surface Laptop.

The keyboard is also spill-proof and backlit, and I appreciate that the latter feature is automatic and based on ambient light: The backlit keyboards on Surface and ThinkPad PCs need to be manually adjusted.

The MateBook X Pro’s touchpad is larger than I normally like, though nowhere as silly-big as Apple’s latest touchpads. But it works well, and I wasn’t as bedeviled by mis-swipes as I typed as I feared. And it’s a precision touchpad, meaning that it offers excellent performance and full support for all native Windows 10 gestures, and it comes with no superfluous additional software.

Is it as good as the old pre-Force Touch Apple design? Not quite. But it’s roughly on par with the best designs from Microsoft or Lenovo. And I like it quite a bit: I was able to do detailed graphics work without reaching for a mouse.

Portability

The MateBook X Pro cuts a svelte figure at just 0.57 inches thin and 2.93 pounds. That undercuts its chief competitor, the 13-inch MacBook Pro (which is .59 inches thin and over 3 pounds), and it does so while providing a multitouch display with a higher-resolution and with better expansion capabilities. On the PC front, the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a bit thicker at .63 inches, but a bit lighter, at under 2.5 pounds. Surface Laptop, meanwhile, is .57 inches thin and weighs 2.8 pounds.

So those are all roughly comparable. But the competitors I mention there only supply integrated graphics, while the MateBook X Pro has more powerful discrete graphics. Also, the MateBook X Pro, like the MacBook Pro and Surface Laptop, is made from aluminum, and it exudes a premium vibe in use. It has that pleasant heft of something that is well-made.

From a longevity perspective, the MateBook X Pro logged almost exactly 10 hours on my streaming HD video over Wi-Fi tests. That’s a strong showing, especially when you factor in its use of discrete graphics. The Surface Laptop, at over 13 hours, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, at 10:34, outperformed the Huawei. But I think that the MateBook X Pro strikes the right balance between power and longevity.

Put another way, any PC with double-digit battery life delivers what I’d call all-day battery life. And the MateBook X Pro supports fast charging, so you can achieve 6 hours of use after just 30 minutes of charge time.

Software

The MateBook X Pro comes with Windows 10 Home. This is a minor niggle, but I’d rather see Windows 10 Pro at this price point, if only so the user has more control over Microsoft’s never-ending parade of software updates. And not that Huawei can do anything about this, but either version of Windows 10 comes with crapware and in-box advertising, again courtesy of Microsoft.

As for its own software loadout, it’s mostly clean, with a few Huawei-specific utilities that most U.S.-based customers can safely ignore. A PC Manager application handles driver downloads and support, and it can manage cable-less connectivity between your MateBook X Pro and your Huawei handset so that you can transfers files in both directions. But the Huawei Share and Auto Backup applications are less relevant to those outside of Huawei’s sphere of influence. There’s nothing offensive here, mind you. Just pointless for this market.

Pricing and configurations

The base MateBook X Pro configuration, with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage, sells for $1200. That’s just $100 more than a similar Surface Laptop configuration, but given the MateBook’s advantages—a more recent and quad-core processor and discrete graphics, plus the superior expansion—I feel that the Huawei is a tremendous value and the better choice. The closest MacBook Pro configuration—13-inch display, dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 graphics—costs $1500. (And that model doesn’t include the Touch Bar with its integrated Touch ID button.)

The higher-end configuration, with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage, costs $1500 at the Microsoft Store. The closest equivalent MacBook Pro is $2200. So is a comparable Surface Laptop, again with a previous-gen processor and terrible expansion. So the value of the Huawei, again, is obvious.

That said, those are literally your only options, beyond choosing between the Mystic Silver and Space Gray colors. There’s no way to configure a base unit with more RAM or storage, for example.

Recommendations and conclusions

Despite its curious webcam, the Huawei MateBook X Pro is the single-best portable PC I’ve ever tested. It is the perfect combination of brawn, beauty, expansion, and value.

Indeed, it’s hard not to take this one personally. It’s like Huawei researched what I was looking for in a laptop—that superb 3:2 display, its nearly-ideal typing experience, its mix of modern and compatible ports—and just delivered on my dream machine. And did so at a reasonable price. Thanks, Huawei.

The Huawei MateBook X Pro is high-recommended. This PC is a tremendous value and a great alternative to the best that Apple, Lenovo, Microsoft, and other premium PC makers have to offer.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Premium design
  • Great value for the price
  • Excellent 3:2 display
  • Great specs and expansion
  • Exceptional audio
  • Great battery life
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad

Cons

  • Awkward hidden webcam

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