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Huawei MateBook X Review: thin, light, and quite a looker

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Huawei's first laptop is thin, light, and quite a looker.
Overview
Processor

Intel Core i5-7200U

Screen Size

13" 2160×1440 IPS, 200 ppi, non-touch

Memory

8GB RAM

Storage

Partitioned 256GB SSD

Camera/s

1Mp webcam

Battery

41.4Whr

Weight

1.05kg

Materials

Brushed metal

Operating System

Windows 10

Last year Huawei surprised us with their first Windows 10 device; a 2-in-1 tablet PC called the Huawei MateBook. This year, Huawei has 3 new MateBooks! The MateBook X and D are both regular laptops, while the MateBook E is another 2-in-1 tablet PC. Today, we’re going to take a look at the MateBook X, which is Huawei’s ultra-light and extremely thin notebook PC. The MateBook X is designed more for the people who prefer the traditional clamshell hardware keyboard no-touch-screen, big trackpad type of portable computer. It’s especially designed for the people who like the Apple MacBook Air and new MacBook style of thin clamshell laptops.

Specs

This review is going to be about the space grey version of the MateBook X with 8Gb RAM, 256Gb SSD, and Intel Core i5 processor. It’s also available in Prestige Gold and Rose Gold. In terms of internal hardware configurations, you can choose between a WT-W09 7th gen Intel Core i5-7200U and WT-W19 7th gen Intel Core i7-7500U processor. You can also choose between a 256Gb and 512GB SSD for storage as well as either 4Gb or 8Gb of LPDDR3 RAM (depending on the market demographic).

The MateBook X has a 13″ IPS gorilla glass screen with 2160 x 1440 pixel resolution which turns out to be about 200 ppi. That gives you a 178 degree viewing angle, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 350 nits of brightness, and 100% of the sRGB color gamut. The physical dimensions of the MateBook X are impressive at 12.5mm x 286 mm x 211 mm with a weight of only 1.05 kg (2.31 lb). For graphics, you’ve got the Intel HD 620 GPU, and of course there’s all the usual WiFi 802.11a/b/n/ac 2.4/5Ghz 2×2 MIMO and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity. There’s a small 1 megapixel webcam in the bezel, and dual digital microphones as well as dual speakers in the base. The lithium polymer battery has 41.4 Wh and [email protected]

We’ve also got 2 USB-C ports so you can charge the battery and connect something else at the same time. Be warned that only one of these USB-C ports supports charging, and it’s the left one. The other one only supports data transfer. It’s too bad USB-C wasn’t designed to be as forward-thinking as it should have been and there are so many other compatibility issues with USB-C.

By the way, in addition to the USB-C charger that’s included with the MateBook X, you also get the new MateBook Dock which plugs into the USB-C data port on the right side and adds some extra ports.

Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice about the Huawei MateBook X is how thin and portable it is. That brushed metal body looks great too.

Yes, there’s a big Huawei logo on the back, but this is to be expected. Personally, I like the smaller peacock-style Huawei logo used on the 2016 MateBook a little better.

At 12.5mm thick, the MateBook X is very thin! Here you see the tiny bit of space on the hinge side.

Above is the USB-C port on the right side of the laptop. You won’t know it, but this one only supports data transfer and not charging.

The USB-C port on the left side also has a little battery icon next to it along with an LED light that indicates charging. This is the port you need to use to power and charge the device! It also supports data transfer though, and thankfully there’s a 3.5mm headset jack for audio. You can see the base is so thin, USB-C is almost too thick to be usable here. We may need a thinner USB standard soon.

The bottom has nice big rubber circular feet that keep the laptop very stable when set on a desk or table. It doesn’t slide around at all.

You’ll also find 3 small screws on the bottom of the laptop to hold it all together. The tiny holes here are the dual microphones.

Under the lid, there’s a small 1 megapixel camera for video calls. There’s nothing particularly special about this nor does there need to be.

There’s an obligatory Intel sticker on the palm rest of the keyboard so you know what kind of processor is inside. The 7th Gen Core i5 here is fanless so the laptop is very quiet. It performs quite well, too.

The screen is very very reflective. I know that many laptops and especially Apple Macs and MacBooks do this, but I don’t see the appeal. If you’re using the laptop anywhere that’s got lights on, any black areas of the screen will show reflections and glare. This is especially true if you’re trying to save battery by using a lower brightness level. If you’re in a dark room it looks really nice, but anywhere else you’ll have to deal with distracting reflections of your hands propped up on the keyboard.

One of the most impressive features of the MateBook X is its fingerprint scanning power button. It’s fully compatible with Windows Hello, but what’s new is that it works even when the laptop is turned off. So say I press the power button with a finger that’s enrolled in Windows Hello, the MateBook X will boot up and then log into my Windows 10 user account right away. It passes the fingerprint log-in information along to Windows 10 as soon as Windows 10 loads. If I use a finger that is not already enrolled, the MateBook X will still turn on, but it will remain locked requiring a password or enrolled fingerprint. While I love the speed and easy-of-use that the Microsoft Surface infrared facial recognition Windows Hello system uses, I feel like this method might be even better since you have to press the power button to turn it on anyway… might as well biometrically recognize the user at the same time.

The area near the hinge is where the Dolby Atmos speakers are located and this is another impressive aspect of the Huawei MateBook X. At first I thought this was just some branding partnership thing that doesn’t really mean anything, but these speakers are really something special. This is the first time Dolby has custom-designed speakers for a PC, and they sound very good. There’s custom Dolby Atmos software driving the speakers through Windows 10 as well, and we’ll talk more about that a little later. The virtual surround sound effects work great when watching movies, and the volume can go quite loud. 30% volume was louder than 100% volume on some of my other devices.

Here you see the required arrangement for using the MateDock and Huawei charger. The MateDock does not allow pass-through charging even though it does have a female USB-C port. So that means you can’t plug the charger into the MateDock and plug the MateDock into the MateBook. You have to plug the charger into the left side and the MateDock into the right side. That, to me, means it’s not really a dock at all since you have to plug in two different things… it’s really just a port expander.

In the above photo, you get another look at the highly reflective screen, but you can also see the keyboard layout and trackpad size. Personally, I’m annoyed that the keyboard is missing things like Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and the context menu key. It does have a good set of function keys though and in the software you can choose their default actions. Well, you can’t customize them, but you can choose wether the F2 key will increase brightness or invoke the F2 command. So if you rarely use the Function keys in your other programs, you can have them default to all of the pre-programmed system hardware controls (screen brightness, keyboard backlight, volume control, mute, etc.)

In terms of keyboard comfort, there is slightly less vertical travel than you’d expect (1.2mm), but the keys still work well enough. The backlight under the keys can also turn on/off automatically depending on the ambient light, and it’s splash-resistant and easy to clean. We’ve also got the “chiclet” style flat keys here which are very popular these days. Personally, I don’t like this type of keyboard nearly as much as the far more ergonomic concave keys that laptops used to have but you can still get on 3rd party desktop keyboards. The subtle curves on the letters and spacebar were much easier to feel for as a touch typist. The flat chiclet style keyboards are more difficult to use since you can’t feel each individual key as easily. You have to rely more on motor-memory for the key location as opposed to feel and thus typing errors are more likely.

The trackpad on the MateBook X is a good size as well. It’s not as big as some laptops, but given the MateBook X’s form factor, it’s about as big as it can be. It supports multi-touch gestures of course. Three fingers swiping horizontally switches between open programs, three fingers swiping up goes to task view, three fingers swiping down goes to the desktop, four fingers swiping horizonzontally switches between virtual desktops, two fingers swiping pans/scrolls, and two fingers pinching zooms.

The MateDock nicely adds a full sized USB-A port, VGA display port, USB-C female port, and HDMI port. The 2016 MateDock had a few extra ports that this doesn’t have, but this new version is a lot smaller and more portable.

Software

We praised the 2016 Huawei MateBook for its lack of bloatware. It was practically fully stock Windows 10 except for a little Huawei app that listed links to download all the drivers along with some support and documentation stuff. It was beautiful! With the 2017 MateBook X, Huawei has added a few new programs of its own.

The MateBook manager adds a number of features to the MateBook X. First of all, this is Huawei’s new driver and update management software. I don’t know why Huawei can’t use Windows Update for this kind of thing like they did with the 2016 MateBook (which was a much cleaner or more reliable system.)

The MateBook manager also has an “Instant Online” section which lets you wirelessly tether to certian smartphones in order to use your phone’s data plan for internet access. This is a Huawei service that requires a Huawei ID account, which seems strange. Why can’t it just pair to the phone via Bluetooth and turn on the WiFi router that way like the built-in Windows 10 version does?

There’s also a “Huawei Share” feature that allows you to send and recieve files with other “Huawei Share” app users nearby. This seems like an odd thing to add as well since the MateBook X is already using Windows 10 which has dozens of wireless file sharing options already.

One really useful part of the MateBook manager is the ability to define the function key mode on the keyboard. By default the “Hot key” option is selected which means you don’t need to use the “Fn” modifier to change screen brightness, volume, etc. Setting this to “Function key” will enable the F1-F12 functions as the default behavior for those keyboard keys.

There’s also a nice Power management utility that pops up occasionally to list software that’s running in the background which you might want to force close to save battery life. I think the button labeled “A key power saving” may have lost its meaning in translation since I don’t really know what that means. What it does is close the background programs that you have checked off above.

As mentioned earlier, Dolby has created some custom software and drivers to go along with their excelent Dolby Atmos custom speakers. You can configure the sounds system for different usage scenarios and the “personalize” tab has an equalizer along with options for enabling surround virtualization, dialogue enhancements, and volume levelling.

Unfortunately, the Dolby drivers seemed to break themselves one time for me. As seen above, the speakers randomly became unrecognized. In order to get them working again I had to use the Windows 10 device manager to uninstall the drivers and then reinstall them. The speakers have been working great since then.

The GPU had some errors after waking from sleep once or twice as well. Videos in the web browser were refusing to play. A reboot often fixes that problem, but I shouldn’t need to do that. This is a pre-release device, too, so maybe Huawei and Dolby and Intel can iron out the bugs before it ships out for real. UPDATE: After having those problems, and before this review was finished, an update to the audio driver was made available in the Huawei MateBook manager.

Battery Life

As always battery life is a relative term depending on what kind of CPU intensive programming you’re going to do. In general, with the Huawei MateBook X, I can last a full work day on its 41.4 Wh battery without having to use the charger. Doing any kind of heavy graphics work such as video editing in Adobe Premiere Pro for example, will greatly reduce battery life and also cause the bottom to get a bit hot. With light Microsoft Office, email, web browser use, you should easily be able to get 8-10 hours of battery life out of it. Recharging with the included charger takes only about 3 hours to get back to full capacity. Be careful when using other USB-C chargers though as those may not be compatible.

Pricing

The current press materials for the Huawei MateBook X are a bit vague on pricing and configurations. We have European pricing that indicates offering the i5/8Gb/256Gb SSD model for 1399 Euro, the i5/8Gb/512Gb SSD model for 1599 Euro, and the i7/8Gb/512Gb SSD model for 1699 Euro. That’s about $1559, $1782, and $1893 in US dollars equivalents if we’re to go by the current exchange rate. Supposedly there’s a configuration with only 4Gb of RAM as well, which will presumably be less expensive, but don’t have pricing on that. Actually, Huawei PR tells us that the version with 4Gb of RAM will only be available in China. $1559 USD seems very expensive for such a laptop with limited expansion, no touch screen, and no pen. Actual pricing for release in the U.S.A. has not been announced yet, but hopefully we’ll see some more competitive pricing for the MateBook X in the future.

Conclusion

It’s great to see Huawei expanding their portfolio further into the Windows 10 laptop market. Last year, they released the excellent original MateBook 2-in-1 tablet PC, while this year we’ve got an update to that coming called the MateBook E, plus two new traditional laptops called the MateBook X and MateBook D. The MateBook X reviewed here, is quite a nice laptop in a gorgeous compact form factor. The speakers make for an amazing movie watching experience, and the biometric power button make secure log-in as easy as can be. If your computing needs require a lot of typing and you’re not into the modern touch or pen interfaces, the MateBook X is going to be an excellent travel companion for both work and video-watching entertainment.

Positives

- Extremely thin & portable
- Excellent fingerprint secure power button interface
- Great speaker audio quality
- Thin bezel along the screen
- Large, responsive track-pad with gesture support
- Splash resistant keyboard
- Two USB-C ports
- All day battery life
- Includes Matebook Dock dongle for port expansion

Negatives

- Audio & Video drivers could use improvements
- Slight "creaking" flexing noise
- Glossy screen causes glare in many scenarios
- USB-C has compatibility issues

Our Rating
User Rating
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Build and materials
6.5
8.9
Design
8.5
8.5
Durability
7.0
7.7
Specs
8.5
8.8
Display
6.5
7.9
Audio
9.0
9.2
Camera
5.0
6.2
Software
6.0
7.0
User Experience
7.5
7.9
Bottom Line

If Huawei gets the price right, this could be a great ultra-portable laptop, especially if you need good audio.

7.2
Our Rating
8.0
User Rating
8 ratings
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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein

Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!