Back in mid-May, I got an early, pre-launch look at Huawei’s gen-two laptop, the MateBook X Pro. Although I had very limited time with the device, I came away impressed.
I finally got the chance to test the MateBook X Pro in full recently, and I have to echo the chorus of praises that other publications such as The Verge — “best laptop available right now” — have heaped onto the product. It took Huawei a few tries to get the smartphone right; with the laptop, however, they got it on the second try.
Of course, this isn’t exactly an original design either: the laptop, from the “space grey” color scheme to the chiclet, individually spaced keys, to the slick metal unibody finish, resembles Apple’s MacBook lineup. The MateBook X Pro’s near bezel-less screen does, however, allows it to offer almost an extra inch of screen than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, despite keeping roughly the same physical size.
The 3,000 x 2,000 display panel is bright, vibrant and a touchscreen. I als0 much prefer its 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the 16:9 aspect ratio that my Dell XPS 13 uses. There’s just more vertical space for reading and writing.
And you’ll want to use the MateBook X Pro for writing, because Huawei’s keyboard is among the best laptop keyboards. They’re backlit, spaced comfortably, and despite a relatively low travel of 1.22mm, the keys offer great tactile feedback and is generally a joy to type on compared to Apple’s flawed butterfly keyboard mechanism. On typingtest.com, I was able to hit my peak typing speed of 107 words per minute on the MateBook X Pro regularly.
The trackpad, too, is large and less prone to erroneous Windows shortcut swiping gestures like on some cheaper laptops. In fact, I rarely used the touchscreen because the trackpad was so easy to use. Still, I ultimately preferred using a mouse, which is now not a hassle because the MateBook X Pro has a full sized USB-A 3.0 port. This was omitted by Huawei in last year’s laptop in an effort to go as slim as possible, and I’m glad Huawei has decided to not play that silly game this time around.
Other ports included: two USB-C ports, one of which is for charging the laptop; and a headphone jack. There is, sadly, no card reader slot.
Up until a couple weeks ago, the MateBook X Pro had a significant power advantage over the MacBook line, too, considering that Apple’s laptops were still running the 7th gen Intel chipset, while the MateBook X Pro runs on 8th gen power. But alas, Apple has since finally released an upgrade (which I will review next week), so now the playing field is more equal.
The unit I’m testing runs on the aforementioned Intel i7 8550U chipset clocked at 1.8Ghz on 16GB of RAM, which is the same internals as my Dell XPS 13, and I found performance to be roughly the same for daily performances. The Nvidia’s MX150 inside the laptop is an entry level graphic chip, but it’s competent and can run most games without framerate issues, even if it does lag behind, say, the GTX 1050 chip inside Microsoft’s Surface Book 2.
When pushed heavily, the MateBook X Pro can get bit warm, which leads to audible fan noise. Yes, Huawei has decided not to go fan-less with this sequel laptop (because it isn’t trying to out-thin the competition). That means the MateBook X Pro is overall thicker (14.6mm) and heavier (just a shade under 3 lbs) than the first model, but it’s a trade-off I think most would take, because this year’s model is significantly more powerful and capable of more than just light office productivity tasks.
Two hardware features that made last year’s Huawei laptop stand out return here. The first is the one-touch fingerprint scanner/power button combo, and it’s still my favorite sign-in option on laptops. All users have to do is press the power button once (short press if laptop is just sleeping; a one second long press from a powered off state) and the machine boots up and gets all the way to homescreen ready to go without needing to sign-in, because the laptop had already recognized your fingerprint from that one touch.
The other feature is the Dolby Atmos speaker system, which has been upgraded to a four-speaker set-up this time around, and it’s the loudest speaker on any laptop right now. The bass is a bit weak, and the machine will vibrate if volume is dialed up to 100, so I’d still use headphones or a bluetooth speaker for movie sessions, but it’s great for quick music video watching or conference voice calls.
You may notice I specifically wrote “conference voice calls” in that last sentence. The MateBook X Pro isn’t ideal for video calls, because its camera is hidden within the keyboard, popping up with the press of a specific key. There’s a very satisfying click when the camera key is pressed, and there’s something inherently cool about a pop-up camera from inside the machine’s guts, but this location means the camera is looking up from below, resulting in unflattering, odd camera angles.
Huawei had to hide the camera inside the keyboard, of course, because the display is almost bezel-less. Perhaps a notch here would have been useful?
Battery life is good as is usual with Huawei device. In both real world usage test and benchmarks, the MateBook X Pro outlasted my Dell XPS 13. On PC Mark’s exhaustive battery test, Huawei’s device lasted nearly six and a half hours to Dell’s five hours and 20 minutes. And in a week of using the MateBook X Pro as my work machine, the laptop is almost capable of lasting an entire office work day. Numbers will vary depending on the usage, but I got an average of seven hour-plus battery life on a single charge.
Topping up won’t be an issue, because the charging brick that comes with the laptop is relatively small and the device charges via USB-C. Being able to charge both my laptop and smartphone with one cable and brick is very convenient, especially when traveling.
No sophomore slump
Huawei’s smartphones tend to be relatively pricey and close to what the big two (Apple and Samsung) charge. But with the MateBook X Pro, Huawei is offering a great value that consumers tend to expect from Chinese brands. The MateBook X Pro starts at around $1,100 for the lower-end i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage variant, and tops out at $1,500 for the i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB storage model. These prices are significantly lower — somewhere between $500 to $800 — than what Dell and Apple charge for their similarly powered counterparts.
The only major flaw with the MateBook X Pro is the camera placement. So unless you need to make a lot of conference video calls, then yes, the MateBook X Pro is the best purchase for consumers right now.