Huawei MateBook 13 First Impressions

Posted on January 29, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 48 Comments

Modeled after the stunning MateBook X Pro, Huawei’s gorgeous new MateBook 13 offers similar quality in a smaller, even more affordable package.

I assume most readers are at least passingly familiar with the issues Huawei is having in the United States And with my contention that these issues are xenophobic in nature, and that the current administration is fighting a protectionist battle against anything and everything Chinese.

But regardless of your opinions on geopolitical matters, let me just reiterate a less contentious point: Yes, in the mobile space, Huawei, like Samsung—which has no image problems at all, for some reason—started off just cloning as many of Apple’s products as it could. But today, Huawei, again like Samsung, is delivering products that outperform the quality and cost of similar Apple products. This is true in smartphones. In tablets. And in laptops, too.

Last year, I reviewed the Huawei MateBook X Pro, describing it as “the single-best portable PC I’ve ever tested, the perfect combination of brawn, beauty, expansion, and value.” With a starting price of $1200, the MateBook X Pro is absolutely a premium PC, but it lives up to the cost and delivers much better value than other contenders, like the Apple MacBook Pro with which it most closely competes. That laptop has only a single flaw, in my opinion: A weird webcam that is hidden under a fake function key in the top row of its keyboard.

I just received a loaner MateBook 13 for review on Friday, so I’ll need some time to fully develop my opinion of this smaller, less expensive MateBook variant. But my first impressions are exceedingly positive, and this MacBook Air competitor appears to deliver everything that was special about the MateBook X Pro, but in a smaller and even less expensive package.

The visual similarities between the MateBook 13 and MateBook X Pro are obvious, so much so that I had to study my photos of the earlier device—a review unit I returned to Huawei—to find the minute differences. Like its bigger sibling, the MateBook 13 features an excellent power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader.

It has the same basic touchpad design, albeit less tall to match the MateBook’s smaller frame; I prefer this smaller unit.

It has the same keyboard, too. And the same overall aluminum CNC design.

As a smaller device—it’s dramatically smaller than even the new MacBook Air despite having a full-sized keyboard—-the MateBook 13 does make a few concessions.

The MateBook 13 is significantly smaller than the new MacBook Air

There’s no room for the MateBook X Pro’s excellent speakers, which were aligned on the sides of the keyboard; the MateBook 13 does offer Dolby Atmos capabilities, however.

There are two USB-C ports, but no full-sized USB port; in the good news department, however, Huawei put one USB-C 3 port on each side of the device, a configuration I prefer. More confusingly, the left port is for charging and power only whereas the rightmost port also supports DisplayPort.

The MateBook 13 also retains the very small display bezels found on the MateBook X Pro, but yet there’s room on the top for a webcam, eliminating my sole major complaint about that more expensive device. As its name suggests, that display is indeed 13.3-inches, with a resolution of 2160 x 1440, and with a perfect 3:2 aspect ratio. Bliss.

As a newer laptop, the MateBook 13 is outfitted with the very latest Intel processors, the “Whiskey Lake” 8th generation variants that were recently announced. The base version ships with an 8th-generation Intel Core i5-8265U processor, Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of NVMe PCIe SSD storage. The review unit, which costs $1300, is outfitted with an 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor, NVIDIA GeForce MX 150 discrete graphics with 2 GB of dedicated GDDR5  RAM, 8 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of NVMe PCIe SSD storage. Both ship with Huawei’s Shark Fin Design 2.0 cooling system, which is supposed to optimize cooling with minimal noise. So far, I’ve not heard a peep from the fans.

From a portability perspective, the MateBook 13 is small— 8.31” × 11.26” × 0.59”—but a bit dense with a curb weight of just under 3 pounds. Battery life is rated at almost 10 hours of video playback, but I will be testing that, of course.

The software loadout is mostly very good. Windows 10 Home version 1803 is preloaded and it comes with all the crapware we’ve come to expect. But Huawei’s additions are mostly well-intentioned: There’s a Huawei PC Manager application for driver downloads and support, which is fine, but it has a curiously large icon right in the middle of the notification area on the taskbar. Huawei also adds a custom eye comfort mode on top of Windows 10’s built-in controls, Microsoft Translate, and a few other apps. Nothing nefarious.

I’m traveling this weekend, so that will be my first opportunity to test the MateBook 13 in real-world conditions. But my experiences over the weekend suggest that this one, too, will be a winner. And that anyone knee-jerking it on Huawei might want to rethink things yet again. This is one impressive laptop.

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