MWC 2016: Huawei MateBook hands-on review


THE HUAWEI MATEBOOK is the Chinese’s company’s first foray into the world of laptop-tablet hybrids, and is one aimed at being everything to all people.

Due for release in the next few months, the MateBook seems to take its inspiration from Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. It 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 their laptops.

We had a change to fondle Huawei’s hybrid to get an idea if it could live up its launch hype.

Design
From first glances the MateBook is very nice; it’s slim at only 6.9mm thick and has a narrow 10mm bezel surrounding the display, giving the screen plenty of room to breath. It feels light too, thanks to an all aluminium chassis helping keep the weight down to a trim 640g, notably lighter than the iPad Pro.

Curved edges and chamfered buttons make it a very pleasant tablet to hold. But like any with a 12in screen, it’s a bit unwieldy to use in one hand, though at least you won’t break your wrist doing so.

Huawei MateBook hybrid in white

The keyboard dock, which transforms the tablet into a laptop, is also easy on the eye, and feels nice on the fingers as well. Rather than connecting to the tablet via Bluetooth, you simply attaching the two together through a magnetic pogo pin connection, 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, not dissimilar to they real- dead cow variant used for swanky portfolios found in fancy business accessory shops.

Unfortunately, like many hybrids, the attachable chiclet keyboard felt a bit cramped, with larger than necessary keys. The 1.5mm of key travel is more than that found with the Surface 4 Pro’s keyboard, and did make typing feel satisfying. But the additional travel and limited space did mean our clumsy fingers often hit the wrong key more frequently than normal.

Huawei MateBook hybrid with pleather case

All the extra pressing seemed to induce a bit more flex in the keyboard than expected 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 of a case of typing style and personal taste.

The keyboard’s glass track pad initially felt nice but required a solid press to register a click; some may find this satisfying other may come to lament it. 

Still users missing the functionality of a separate mouse will be able to connect with MateDock, a separate mini box of connections, which 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 so 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 a $59 extra, but keeps the MateBook in the same accessory ballpark of the iPad Pro and Surface 4 Pro. With a plastic build the MatePen is light; perhaps a little too light for people who prefer their pens with a little more heft, but it was accurate to use and a nice alternative to navigating the screen with constant finger taps.

Huawei MateBook hybrid and MatePen

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.

Huawei MateBook is only 6mm thick

Overall, the design of the MateBook as a package is very nice, more than a worthy competitor to the iPad Pro and different experience to the top-heavy Surface 4 Pro.

Display
The 12in IPS display on the MateBook sports a resolution of 2160×1440, lower than the iPad Pro’s 2732×2048 display or Surface Pro 4’s 2736×1824 resolution. The difference is slightly noticeable though no deal breaker, with the colours appearing vibrant yet realistic with no over-saturation.

Huawei MateBook tablet display

To our eyes the display lacks a little of the pop and depth of contrast found in the Surface Pro 4, yet is not as glossy as Microsoft’s hybrid display meaning it avoids being blighted by reflecting everything in front of it.

The MateBook’s display is a worthy rival to other 12inch tablets, and the lack of a big bezel means it really gets to show off in all its glory.

Operating system and software
There isn’t much to said that hasn’t already been said about the Windows 10 Home and Professional versions of Microsoft’s operating system that the MateBook is offered with. The operating system can be navigated in both desktop and tablet mode and it fairly easy and intuitive to use with the MatePen, track pad or finger.

Huawei MateBook tablet

Sadly, the MateBook doesn’t offer the option to dual boot with Android, which really would have set it apart from its rivals. But, given the MateBook is all about enabling productivity, we are not surprised it stuck to just Windows 10.

Performance
We couldn’t really put the MateBook through its paces until we get the chance to thoroughly test it. Yet the sixth generation Intel Core m processor and the 8GB of RAM coupled with solid state hard drives, really help the MateBook slice through Windows 10 with ease.

The whole experience felt speedy and responsive, and we were zipping through apps in no time. However, the Core m chips can only output 3.1Ghz at best, meaning the Core i5 and i7 processors on offer for higher end Surface Pro 4 models, stand to easily outpace the MateBook’s top end hybrid.

Huawei MateBook tablet in white

That being said, in real-world use the differences may not be obvious, as we noticed no real difference in day-to-day tasks when using the MateBook compared to the Surface Pro 4.

Testing battery life was also out of the question in our brief hands-on, but Huawei said the MateBook will last 10 hours of average use on a single charge. The addition of a compact charger with voltage outputs to suit laptops, tablets and smartphones, the battery life seems perfectly reasonable. But we will see how true that is when we put the MateBook to test in our full review.

First impressions
Huawei’s first hybrid device arguably rips-off both the best bits of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4; that’s not surprising given it wants to appeal to home artists and business big wigs alike.

The offer of Windows 10 should appeal to office workers, while the big screen tablet and the MatePen offers creative types a digital canvas at the same time.

Putting the company’s influences to one side, with the MateBook Huawei has created a hybrid that is both handsome and strong in performance. For a company not known for premium devices, Huawei has really excelled with the MateBook. But it needs to do so, as it’s up against some stiff completion from Apple and Microsoft in both ends of 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 soon-to-be-released Surface Book, meaning more completion for Huawei’s fledgling hybrid. Check back here for our full review when the MateBook is released in the coming months.µ

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