Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review: An innovative MacBook alternative

Big fan-cooled Intel processors put this MateBook front and centre

Price
£791
  • Fast; Unique cooling system; Stunning display
  • Unoriginal design; Huawei Ecosystem

This hands-on was first published in 2019 and has since been updated. 

Huawei has announced that the three new laptops it launched at CES are finally coming to the UK, complete with some surprising extras. The MateBook X Pro and MateBook 14 will be available in April, with the Huawei MateBook 13 set for release in February. 

Despite the company's ongoing conflicts with governments in the US, UK and across the globe, Huawei is proving popular when it comes to hardware. Its smartphone business has managed to eat into the market share of both Apple and Samsung, and the same is true for its laptops; in just three years of producing MateBooks, the company has seen its profit grow 335%.

We've put together an early hands-on look at the MateBook 13, the first to release from Huawei's new lineup. Though we're still waiting to get the machine into our labs for a full test, we've got some early impressions - although not all of them are positive.

Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review: Design

The MateBook 13 is a beautiful looking machine; it's essentially a slightly smaller version of the MateBook X Pro, with Huawei clearly looking to develop a signature style. However, it's undeniable that the design isn't completely unique, as the laptop does feel like a homage to the Apple MacBook. 

The Huawei MateBook 13, in particular, is remarkably similar to the MacBook Air (2018), with its sandblasted aluminium body. However, it's a hair thinner than the MacBook Air at 14.9mm and only a smidgen heavier at 1.28kg - which is impressive considering it's housing a more powerful processor.

Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review: Display

Although it's not the most premium model in Huawei's laptop lineup, the MateBook 13 boasts all of the same specs and features as last year's flagship Matebook X Pro. The 13in display is bright and crisp with its 2160 x 1440 resolution. It's also a touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio, and according to Huawei, its sRGB colour gamut is 100%. However, unlike the X Pro, there's slightly more screen space, with an 88% screen to body ratio, and its digitiser is very snappy.

It's also clear that Huawei's Pro and Mate series of smartphones have had a big influence here, particularly with the nifty touchscreen gestures, such as screen captures that can be made with a three-fingered swipe.

Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review: Keyboard and Trackpad

Both the keyboard and touchpad on the Huawei MateBook 13 are impressive. The keys have a nice charcoal colour finish to them, and the entire board runs from one edge to the other. As for key travel, this is at the lower end of the scale at 1.2mm, though not quite as low as the MacBook Pro. Still, if you're a fan of light key taps, you're going to be happy with this.

Likewise, the Microsoft Precision touchpad is also a joy to use as it's both wide and spacious.

Just like the MateBook X Pro, the MateBook 13's power button features single-touch sign in. This is also very much like the P20 and P20 Pro and promises great biometric security and swift access to the device.

Once again, as with last year's MateBook X Pro, there's a pop-up camera in the keyboard rather than at the top or bottom of the screen. This is quite innovative; not only is it unobtrusive, but it's also a nice solution for those who are concerned about hijacked webcams. However, we're hoping that this version features a trigger that shuts off the camera when it's in its housing, as the last model didn't.

Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review: Specs and Features

Given the laptop's slim dimensions, it's quite impressive that the MateBook 13 houses an 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8565U processor with 8GB of RAM. It's equally impressive how it manages to keep the temperature down with a dual-fan cooling system that it's placed between the CPU and GPU.

The idea is that it keeps heat away from both of them and the improved thermals allow the graphics chip to use 25W of the laptop's overall power draw. For comparison, it says that most laptops equipped with the Nvidia MX150 run a 15W, lower-spec version of the chip. It keeps the MateBook much cooler under load compared to similarly thin and light models. Of course, we'll need to wait for a full review before we can accurately assess this claim but, if true, it's impressive stuff.

There's a 40WHr battery that Huawei says gives 10 hours of video playback and offers 9.5 hours of office work, which is fairly average for a device in this price range. However, it does charge quite sharpish, with a 15-minute charge equating to 2.5 hours power. Again, all of this will be tested in our upcoming review.

Elsewhere, there are Dolby Atmos speakers tucked underneath, where it still comes through loud and clear, although this will certainly muffle sound somewhat if you're placing the device on a soft surface.

Connectivity-wise, there's a USB-C port for data sharing, a USB-C for charging and a good old headphone jack for legacy audio.

You may have noticed that the MateBook 13 was already launched in January at CES, but what's different for us in Europe is the introduction of Huawei Share 3.0 and 'One Hop'. This is Huawei's plan to "extend connectivity" between laptop and handset. Currently this only works on Huawei devices, but it is quite a cool feature. It's about sharing content from phone to laptop and vice versa, with NFC tags and little shakes or taps of the handset onto the laptop (just to the right of the trackpad). Share a video straight from your laptop, instantly move a photo from your phone in the other direction.

But, interestingly, if the photo has any text, the laptop will instantly lift these out and make it editable as soon as it appears on the laptop. Why this is not available in the US was not explained by Huawei, which has left it open to interpretation.

Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review: Verdict

On first glance, the Huawei MateBook 13 is a rather interesting laptop; it's attractive enough, with the same interesting features that made the MateBook X Pro such a hit. It also boasts some fairly meaty specifications, and if they live up to our expectations, then it should be a serious performer.

On the other hand, its big shiny new feature, the One Hop, comes with a drawback in that you need a Huawei phone to use it. Not everyone likes to match their devices - we like the things that are best, not just because they are compatible. Opening up its own ecosystem, no matter how great it is, could end up cutting Huawei's MateBook 13 off from the rest of the world.

However, with a launch price of less than 1,000 after tax and some impressive specs to show for it, the MateBook 13 looks like it could be a serious contender for laptop of the year - but we won't know for sure until we can properly test it.

Verdict

As much as we love the battery, the super fan-cooled processors and the display, the best feature on the MateBook 13 - Huawei Share - is actually a reason no to avoid it. 

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