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Huawei MateBook X Review

Huawei’s first laptop wins big with terrific design and standout audio.

Usually I’d advise against buying a first generation effort, regardless of brand or device. That’s especially true for new device categories, but it still holds true for established machines like laptops. When a company jumps in for the first time, there are almost always little pitfalls and snags that arise from a lack of experience in the field — problems that need a generation or two to be worked out. So, it’s with a little surprise that after a couple weeks with the Huawei MateBook X, I’d have to say this is about as good a travel laptop as any on the market.

This isn’t the first PC for Huawei — that would be last year’s MateBook, a 2-in-1 detachable along the lines of the Microsoft Surface Pro. Huawei followed that up with the MateBook E this year, but their most technically impressive device is the MateBook X. The company’s first true laptop, the MateBook X competes with the MacBook, the Asus ZenBook 3, and the Dell XPS 13, among a few others. Those are all really good options, and the MateBook X finds itself right up there with them. Huawei has combined solid performance with an extremely thin and light build, and they’ve even managed to add a valuable differentiator — probably the best sound system on any laptop.

The 13″ Huawei MateBook X looks and feels like a classy laptop, which is usually not the case with first efforts. It’s not too much of a surprise, though — Huawei has used the design expertise they’ve developed with through their phones on the MateBook X, bringing over an aluminum construction and diamond-cut edges. That gives the laptop a nice shine that can attract some attention, so you’ll want to take special care of this one. That includes giving it regular wipedowns — the exterior is a fingerprint magnet.

Actually, you’ll really want to handle this thing with kid gloves, as you can probably see from the pictures up top. The MateBook X is extremely thin and light, which is great, but it’s worth remembering that aluminum is not the most sturdy metal — a little carelessness and an insufficiently padded backpack sleeve earned me the ding you see on the cover. The display is well protected with Gorilla Glass, at least.

I’m not going to give Huawei too hard of a time because aluminum seems to be everyone’s choice of metal, but as these laptops get lighter and thinner (2.31 pounds and 12.5 mm here), the softness of aluminum might come into play more often. Because this is such a good travel laptop otherwise, it’s going to be essential to buy a laptop sleeve and a well-padded backpack or bag to protect the MateBook X and make sure it actually lasts you five or six years.

Otherwise, the MateBook X is virtually perfect for remote workers. It’s almost weightless on the back, and the USB Type-C wall charger is not all that much bigger than what Huawei packages in with their phones. It also helps that the chassis is much smaller than the average 13″ laptop thanks to 4.4 mm bezels. The top bezel is just thick enough to fit the webcam, too, which was a good call — others have moved the webcam below the display, which hasn’t been a popular choice. Maybe don’t get too excited, though — the webcam is a bit grainy.

With a laptop this thin, we’re used to expecting a downgrade in specs. Not so here — the Huawei MateBook X gets the full high-end laptop configuration. There’s a 7th generation Intel Core processor (i5 or i7), 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB or 512 GB of SSD storage, plus a 41.4 Whr battery to power it all. It’s all been implemented very well — the MateBook X can handle a dozen browser tabs, music playing in the background, and loads more. The one thing it can’t handle is games, although you can get away with playing low-speed games like Civilization VI or The Sims 4 on low settings. That’s not bad if you’re looking to take a breather from work for a little while, but don’t expect anything past that.

There are more surprises in store. Despite having more powerful Core i processors, the Huawei MateBook X lacks a fan for cooling. Huawei has developed their own cooling solution that uses gel to dissipate heat. I thought the laptop still got pretty hot under even normal circumstances, but not so much that I would start getting concerned about longevity.

While this is a great laptop for work, the Huawei MateBook X is just as good for watching movies. The 2160 x 1440 IPS display is sharp and covers most of the sRGB color gamut. The combination of high brightness and an anti-reflective coating make it a terrific choice if you regularly deal with glare, too — I didn’t have to start squinting when the sun started hitting my back. The lack of a touchscreen option is a little disappointing, but this isn’t a 2-in-1 device, so I’m less inclined to miss it.

It’s not going to come as a surprise considering the thickness and weight, but the battery life isn’t all that great. With mixed use I was able to get between five and seven hours on most days, so if you’re a mobile worker, bringing the charger and parking yourself next to an outlet are essential. You’ll also want to mind the display brightness — full brightness will kill the battery very fast, sometimes in a little over two hours.

But put all that to the side for a second, because we’re going to get excited about laptop audio! While we’ve seen an increased focus on speaker quality in laptops in recent years, they’ve still ended up being tinny and quiet enough to leave us wanting. The Huawei MateBook X doesn’t. In a first, Dolby has supplied both the speakers and the processing software, designing a comprehensive system that sounds incredible. Dolby has designed and placed the speakers to suit their Dolby Atmos processing, which can create really cool virtual surround sound effects — watch Star Trek, and it’ll actually sound like a spaceship is flying overhead. It’s super cool for movies and sounds amazing on the MateBook X, and the audio quality remains impressive even at higher volumes. If I had to criticize anything, I’d say that the system isn’t well suited for music, even when you switch the software over to music mode — tunes don’t sound as warm as you’d like, although you can tinker with the EQ settings to improve the sound.

Huawei’s lack of laptop experience does show itself in the keyboard and touchpad. The keyboard is the least troublesome of the two — it’s not cramped, and while the key travel isn’t as deep as I’d like on a laptop, I’m happy to make the trade for thinness and lightness. The touchpad is a little more concerning — it’s not always as accurate as I’d like, and it feels a bit loose. My suspicion is that years down the road, this will be the first thing to break down on most MateBook X units.

There is one super rad thing around the keyboard, though — the power button! The big round button doubles as a fingerprint sensor, which is a terrific idea. Once you set up your fingerprint with Windows Hello, it’s possible to boot up and log in with just one press of that button (with the right finger, of course!). It works perfectly in practice, too — one-touch boot and login isn’t the biggest deal, but this concept feels like a no-brainer that should be industry standard.

The port situation is less exciting. There’s a 3.5 mm headphone port and two USB Type-C ports, one of which is used for charging. They’re not the super speedy Thunderbolt 3 sort and they’re not going to be useful for transmitting audio or video to an external monitor, so there’s not much upside to the presence of those Type-C ports. But, this is less stubbornness and more practicality — the laptop is just too thin to fit the usual Type-A ports. Huawei does include a MateDock 2 dongle in the box, though, which includes VGA, HDMI, and USB 3.0 Type-A ports.

On the software side, Huawei doesn’t mess with Windows 10 too much. Besides the Dolby Atmos control software, Huawei has added simplified quick display settings to adjust color. The biggest addition is the MateBook Manager, which really is only handy if you have both a Huawei phone and the MateBook X. If you do, you can use the program to sync files using your Huawei ID account, which also lets you transfer files quickly to other Huawei users, too. It’s probably more useful abroad in markets where Huawei has sold more phones — they haven’t made much of a United States push, so it’s unlikely you’ll find the manager to be anything more than wasted space. It’s easily ignored, in any case.

Read on for the verdict…

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