Huawei MateBook: Hands-on with the device Microsoft will fear

Huawei has created a tablet that mixes the best of the Surface Pro and iPad Pro

The Huawei MateBook is yet another Windows-based 2-in-1, but it’s a very different kind of device from the likes of the Microsoft Surface Pro. What Huawei has done is take the experience it has gained from creating phones and applied it to a Windows tablet. This means it looks like it shares much more DNA with Apple’s iPad Pro than the average Windows machine – so much so that, before I saw it ran Windows 10, I assumed it would be powered by Android.
Like an iPad, there’s only a single port – in this case, a USB Type-C. The side also has a fingerprint reader, which the company claims is the first on a Windows device to work with a press (again, like an iPad) rather than you having to slide your finger over it. There’s a 12in screen running at 2,160 x 1,440 pixels resolution, with a claimed maximum brightness of 400cd/m2. Huawei also says the screen has 85% NTSC colour gamut coverage, and if this turns out to be true, it will be better than both the Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro, neither of which are slouches in this area.

It’s thin and light, which is what you’d expect from this kind of design. It’s just 6.9mm thick and weighs 640g, again less than both Surface Pro and iPad Pro. 

Pricing is aggressive at the low end. The range starts with a Core m3 version equipped with 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD for just $699 – probably around £599 including VAT. That’s cheaper than an iPad Pro with just 32GB of storage. If you want, you can spend $1599 for a model with 8GB of RAM, 512GB storage and a Core m7.
But what is it like to use? In the limited amount of time I had with the device, I found it to be quick, light and responsive. The keyboard cover – which is, of course, an extra $129 – has decent key travel, but because it didn’t lie exactly flush to the table, it felt a bit bouncy. It wasn’t as nice as either the optional keyboards with the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4. It does, however, have a very nice-feeling touchpad, which – for once on this kind of device – didn’t make me instantly pine for a mouse. It certainly all looks nice, with four different colours of faux-leather available. 
There’s also the obligatory MatePen, which also felt decent in the hand, but nowhere near as good as Apple’s Pencil. It also suffered some issues when I tried it with palm rejection, although hopefully this will be sorted out by the time the product finally ships. There are three buttons on the MatePen, one of which activates the eraser, one that acts as right-click, and a third that activates a laser pointer. Yes, this is a pen with a built-in laser pointer, possibly the nerdiest thing we’ve ever encountered.
There’s a big feature that I wasn’t able to test, which, if it actually lives up to its billing, will be amazing: battery life. Huawei is claiming the MateBook is capable of 10-hour battery life, a full working day and a bit to spare. If this is correct, it may well lift the product up from the pack to be a genuine winner.
Overall, what’s most interesting about the MateBook is the philosophy behind it: take all the things that Huawei has learned from its history of making well-designed mobile phones with long battery life, and apply them to a Windows tablet. On the basis of my encounter with it, it delivers something that is very, very interesting indeed. 

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