The Huawei MateBook is the company’s first foray into laptop-tablet hybrids and seems to take its inspiration from Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. The device has some powerful innards yet a svelte frame, and looks to appeal as much to big tablet fans as serious business users looking to ditch the laptop.
The MateBook is very nice at first glance. It’s slim at just 6.9mm and has a narrow 10mm bezel surrounding the display, giving the screen plenty of room to breathe. The aluminium chassis keeps the weight down to a trim 640g, which is notably lighter than the iPad Pro.
Curved edges and chamfered buttons make it a very pleasant tablet to hold. It’s a bit unwieldy to use in one hand, like any tablet with a 12in screen, but at least you won’t break your wrist doing so.
The keyboard dock, which transforms the tablet into a laptop, is also easy on the eye, and feels nice on the fingers as well. The two are attached by a magnetic pogo pin connection, rather than via Bluetooth, which feels surprisingly satisfying.
The keyboard also forms the cover and is made out of artificial leather, or 'pleather', which has a premium soft feel. Unfortunately, like many hybrids, the attachable chiclet keyboard felt a bit cramped with larger than necessary keys.
The 1.5mm travel is more than that found on the Surface 4 Pro’s keyboard, and made typing feel satisfying. But the additional travel and limited space meant that our clumsy fingers hit the wrong key more frequently than usual.
All the extra pressing seemed to produce a bit more flex than expected in the keyboard for a premium device. Typing on it remains on par with the Surface 4 Pro keyboard, and the subtle difference between the two will be more a case of typing style and personal taste.
The keyboard’s glass trackpad initially felt nice but required a solid press to register a click, which some may find irritating.
Still, those missing the functionality of a separate mouse will be able to connect with MateDock, a separate mini-box of connections that plugs into the tablet’s USB Type-C port. This has helped keep the MateBook trim while enabling it to connect to an external display, accessories and an Ethernet cable if desired. The MateDock is pretty compact as well and feels like a nice and sturdy device to open up the functionality of the MateBook.
That being said, the keyboard is still up there with those on offer from Microsoft and Apple, but you will have to pay the equivalent of $129 for the privilege of having one.
The MatePen, Huawei’s answer to a stylus, is also extra ($59) but keeps the MateBook in the same accessory ballpark as the iPad Pro and Surface 4 Pro. The plastic MatePen is perhaps a little light for people who prefer their pens with more heft, but it was accurate to use and a nice alternative to navigating the screen with constant finger taps.
Sadly, the MatePen can’t be attached magnetically to the MateBook in the same was as the Surface 4 Pro’s stylus, but we prefer to keep the slimness of the tablet at the expense of not having a detachable pen.
Overall, the design of the MateBook as a package is very nice, and more than a worthy competitor to the iPad Pro and the top-heavy Surface 4 Pro.
The 12in IPS display on the MateBook has a resolution of 2160x1440, lower than the iPad Pro’s 2732x2048 and Surface Pro 4’s 2736x1824. The difference is slightly noticeable, but it's no deal breaker and colours appear vibrant yet realistic with no over-saturation.
The display lacks a little of the pop and depth of contrast found in the Surface Pro 4, but is not as glossy as Microsoft’s hybrid display meaning that it avoids being blighted by reflections.
The MateBook’s display is a worthy rival to other 12in tablets, and the lack of a big bezel means that it really gets to show off in all its glory.
Operating system and software
The MateBook is offered with Windows 10 Home or Professional versions. Microsoft’s operating system can be navigated in desktop and tablet mode and is fairly easy and intuitive to use with the MatePen, trackpad or finger.
Sadly, the MateBook doesn’t offer the option to dual boot with Android, which really would have set it apart from its rivals. But the MateBook is all about enabling productivity, so we are not surprised that Huawei stuck to just Windows 10.
We can’t put the MateBook through its paces until we get the chance to thoroughly test it, but the sixth-generation Intel Core M processor and 8GB of RAM coupled with solid state drives help the MateBook slice through Windows 10 with ease.
The whole experience felt speedy and responsive, and we zipped through apps in no time. However, the Core M chips can output at only 3.1GHz at best, meaning that the Core i5 and i7 processors on offer for higher end Surface Pro 4 models will easily outpace the MateBook’s top-end hybrid.
That being said, the differences may not be obvious in real-world use as we noticed no real difference in day-to-day tasks when using the MateBook compared with the Surface Pro 4.
Testing battery life was also out of the question in our brief hands-on, but Huawei claimed that the MateBook will last 10 hours of average use on a single charge. This seemed perfectly reasonable, but we will see how true it is when we get the MateBook in for a full review. The device also comes with a compact charger with voltage outputs to suit laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Huawei’s first hybrid device arguably rips-off the best bits of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4, but that’s not surprising given that it wants to appeal to home artists and business bigwigs alike.
The option of Windows 10 Pro should appeal to office workers, while the big screen tablet and the MatePen offer creative types a digital canvas at the same time.
Putting the company’s influences to one side, Huawei has created a hybrid that is handsome and strong in performance. But it’s up against some stiff competition from Apple and Microsoft in the consumer and professional markets.
And with prices starting at $699 and topping out at $1,599, the MateBook is straying dangerously close to Microsoft’s Surface Book, meaning more competition for Huawei’s hybrid. Check back here for our full review when the MateBook is released in the coming months.
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