Huawei MateBook X Pro hands-on review

BARCELONA: LAST YEAR, Huawei moved into the notebook space with the original MateBook range, designed to complement its high-end Mate smartphones. They didn’t reach the UK that time, so the arrival of the MateBook X Pro to at MWC is the first time most Brits will get to see the Chinese giants’ answer to the Surface Book.

But is it any good? The short answer is, yes, very (with some reservations – after all – we’re The INQUIRER).

What’s really striking first off is the weight. Or rather lack thereof. The Huawei MateBook X Pro weighs in at 1.33kg, making it lighter than its rivals, and thinner too – at its skinniest point, it’s just 4.9mm.

The 14in laptop design is stunning, combining diamond-chiselled edges with a rugged sandblasted outer. Open it up and you’re greeted by an almost bezel-less screen (Huawei calls in FullView and claims it offers 91 per cent screen to body ratio). The lid is offered in silver or grey, with the usual stupid paint colour names.

The backlit keyboard is really comfortable to type on and the trackpad is extremely generous, though we are a bit worried about palm-press – it’s something we’ll come back to in a full review as this is only based on a basic look. Oh, and Huawei are at great pains for us to tell you it’s spillproof, but as this was a hands-on, we’re a bit disappointed we didn’t get to confirm that with a conveniently placed cup of coffee. We’ll trust them on it.

Let’s start with that screen. First and foremost, it’s a touchscreen, which is instantly an upgrade from its predecessor. Next up, it’s a 3k display, with 260ppi and 450nits of brightness – with a 1500:1 contrast. Also, it’s Gorilla Glass, thankfully.

Here’s where it gets a bit subjective because that makes visibility incredibly easy. You can read the screen from 178 degrees, and that could be a blessing for video conferencing (of which more later) or a curse (writing private emails on a plane or train). We’d like to have seen some sort of solution to this, as it won’t be for everyone.

We’ve already seen a combined power/fingerprint combination recently with the Eve V, but Huawei manages to make it so seamless that it can be done with a single short press. That’s slick, and pretty much sums up the mission statement here – slick and secure.

The fingerprinting is handled by an entirely separate chip to the main processor. This means that it can authenticate you and send a token to Windows to let you in without your credentials ever being in contact with the online system. That’s a nice touch, plus it gives the Intel i7 8550u processor one less thing to do.

There is an argument that an i7u is a bit overpowered for a business machine, but it’s clear why, when you discover that there’s also a 2GB of  Nvidia Geforce MX150 DDR5 under the bonnet too. That classifies the MateBook Pro X as bordering on a workstation, certainly at very least a gaming PC.

And if that isn’t enough, there’s a Thunderbolt 3 port so you can add your own eGPU.

There’s up to 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD onboard too. All in all, this eclipses almost everything else in its class on paper.

There’s Dolby Atmos sound from four powered speakers – two treble, two bass, and the resulting sound is, whilst perhaps not room-filling, is certainly a cut above.

The best example of what a hands on the with MateBook X Pro looks like comes from the experience of video conferencing.

We’ve already talked about the wide viewing angle, which lends itself very well to “everywhere’s a conference space” mentality.

But, the keen-eyed may have spotted something. If you have a 91 per cent real estate for the screen, you get nowhere to put a webcam.

The solution is elegant. Between F6 and F7 lies a dedicated camera button. Press it, and the entire key lifts revealing a hidden HD webcam.

It’s not perfect – the angle means that one to one video calling might yield a certain amount of double-chin action to the world, and it’s not like you can adjust the angle by tilting the screen.  But it does put pay to the constant fears of privacy and keeps electrical tape away from the casing.

There are also four far-field mics which are great for conference calls, Cortana and meets the criteria for Alexa for Desktop when it arrives too, we reckon.

There are a few bonuses for Huawei phone owners, too. Over the air transfer can run at 20MB/s between Mate phones and the MateBook, ideal for photo backups.

Plus the USB-C charger uses the same Fast Charge tech as the phones, giving you 6 hours in 30 minutes and only one charger to lug about.

Battery life is quoted as 57.4Wh but we’ll need a bit longer to check what that means in real terms.

First impressions
Our big concerns about the Huawei MateBook Pro X stem from its biggest strengths, that wide-angle screen and the hideaway camera.

As such, we’re expecting it to be ‘a bit Marmite’, and some people will hate it. But that also means some people will love it and we’re erring towards the latter, though we’re going to have a bit longer before we start making decisions like that.

The other thing is that it’s a laptop. Call it what you want, essentially its a laptop. The other device that Huawei has announced is a tablet. Both are declining parts of the overall market, and we’re a bit confused as to why they haven’t eschewed both in favour of a 2-in-1 device.

We’re reminded of the Beck line “In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey”. There’s no question there’s a market for this, but it feels a bit behind the times. Maybe that’s part of why we like it.

Full review to follow. µ

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