Huawei MateBook review: Can it beat the Surface Pro 4?

Beautiful tablet design undermined by terrible battery life and a sub-par keyboard case

29 Jun 2016
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Huawei is a company on the move. Not content with flooding the smartphone market with well-designed, affordable smartphones, the Chinese giant is now making its move into laptops and tablets. Its first attempt, the Huawei MateBook, is a convertible tablet that’s hoping to beat the Microsoft Surface family at its own game.

The MateBook follows a familiar recipe. Just like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, the MateBook’s core components are all built into in the tablet housing, with an optional snap-on cover doing triple duty as stand, keyboard and touchpad. There’s also an optional pressure-sensitive stylus, used for taking notes, sketching, painting, drawing, and more accurate photo editing. And just like Microsoft's tablet, this is very much a device designed to run Windows 10.

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Huawei MateBook review: The tablet

Ian was very impressed with the MateBook when he saw it back at the Mobile World Congress technology show earlier in the year, and I have to say in large part I agree.

The tablet part of the MateBook is glorious. It’s clad in subtle, anodised gold-tinted metal with a beautifully silky matte finish. It’s extremely slim, measuring 6.9mm from the screen to the rear of the device, and it’s very light indeed, weighing a paltry 640g. That's as thin as the 12.9in iPad Pro and, impressively enough, 73g lighter.

Build quality is exceptional. You’ll get nowhere if you attempt to twist or bend the tablet, and there are no uneven seams or unsightly gaps anywhere in the chassis. The glass front of the tablet is perfectly smooth to the touch, too, which makes every prod and swipe feel slick and effortless.

All of the tablet’s controls are well made and sensibly positioned. The volume rocker is on the right edge of the tablet, and the fingerprint reader nestled between the up and down buttons works as well as those on Huawei’s smartphones – a quick dab of the finger and the tablet is unlocked.

The power button is on the top edge on the right-hand side and easy to reach, and the MateBook’s stereo speakers are on the top edge as well. They’re not a patch on the iPad Pro’s quad-speaker array for body and volume, but they go reasonably loud and don't distort. They’re good enough for keeping tabs on the cricket on the radio while you work, but you'll want a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker for music.

Sacrifices have to be made in a Windows tablet this slim, though, and there isn’t much room for luxuries such as full-sized USB and HDMI ports. In fact, the only connection aside from the headphone jack on the left edge is the USB Type-C port in the bottom-right corner. This is used principally to charge the MateBook, but with the help of the optional docking station it can be used to output video, connect to a wired LAN and hook up USB 3 peripherals.

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