Huawei Matebook X Pro review: Perfecting the ultraportable
When Huawei launched its first proper laptop just over a year ago I wondered if it might be a step too far for the Chinese manufacturer. In the end, the Matebook X proved that scepticism largely unfounded. It was a touch rough around the edges but had genuine promise. Now, the Matebook X Pro takes that uncut stone and turns it into a polished gem.
There’s oh so much more to the Huawei Matebook X Pro than its most eye-catching feature: a webcam that pops up periscope-like from beneath a key in the centre of the keyboard’s function key row. You can take that pretty much at face value: it’s a circus trick, designed to do little more than catch the eye at a swanky press launch or in a promotional video.
What makes the Huawei Matebook X Pro so good is that it absolutely nails every corner of laptop design, from the screen to the size and weight, connectivity and performance. This is one great laptop: now let me tell you why.
Huawei Matebook X Pro review: Design and screen
It all starts with the design. Ostensibly, the Matebook X Pro is a 14in laptop but it’s so slim and light that it seems to feel bigger when you’re using it than when it’s folded up and stowed away in your laptop bag. It certainly feels like a bigger laptop than the 13in MacBook Pro I’m used to using, which the Matebook matches for both dimensions and weight.
It’s all down to the bezels, or lack of them to be precise, surrounding the Matebook X Pro’s 14in 3K display. They measure a mere 4mm all the way around: at the top, bottom and to the left and right of the screen. That gives the Matebook X Pro a frankly inconceivable screen to body ratio of 91%.
Combined with the 3:2 aspect ratio, which I find more practical than the more squashed 16:9 ratio adorning many of its direct rivals (including the MacBook Pro) this lends the Matebook X Pro a winning combination of high screen resolution, usable desktop space, small size and light weight. As a tool for working on the move, especially if you work with spreadsheets a lot – or have a penchant for working on documents side by side – it’s unrivalled.[gallery:17]
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of the display, either. It’s a 3,000 x 2,000 resolution LTPS touchscreen, clad in scratch and smudge-resistant Gorilla Glass and reaches a peak brightness of 488cd/m2, ensuring readability in a wide variety of scenarios. It has a punchy contrast ratio of 1,515:1, reproduces 96.2% of the sRGB colour gamut and has superb colour accuracy as well, returning an average Delta E of 1.27.
It’s a display that’s deserving of an equally sumptuous housing and on this front, the Huawei Matebook X Pro shines. The model Huawei sent to me for this review is finished in a satin-smooth “space grey” (it’s also available in silver), complete with “diamond cut” chamfering surrounding the clamshell’s internal edges and a huge, glass-topped touchpad occupying roughly 50% of the palm rest.
It looks fabulous, but there are some small problems with the fit and finish and, possibly, quality control. Close scrutiny reveals uneven gaps between the bottom panel and the edging and my review sample arrived with a loose-on-one-side up cursor key. I’m going to be charitable here and suggest these issues are principally down to early manufacturing.[gallery:11]
Huawei Matebook X Pro review: Keyboard, touchpad, audio and connectivity
Aside from those problems, though, the Matebook X Pro is every bit as usable as a MacBook Pro. The keys on the keyboard have a light, yet positive action and just enough space in the troughs around each one to keep typos at bay.
For my money, this is a better keyboard than the one on the current MacBook Pro, in fact, with its super-shallow key action. It’s good to see that Huawei has improved the keyboard backlighting, too: there may be only two levels of intensity, but the lighting is much more even than on the first Matebook X and doesn’t leak as badly from the sides of the keys. Plus, it’s spill proof, so hot drinks accidents needn’t see the end of your expensive ultraportable.
That huge touchpad works as well as the keyboard. It’s super sensitive, making multitouch gestures simple to carry out and, yet, it rarely succumbs to accidental activation. Its built-in mechanical click is light enough to enable easy double-presses but doesn’t feel spongy, tiringly heavy or nastily insubstantial.[gallery:20]
The fingerprint reader remains in place from the first Matebook. It’s built into the power button above the keyboard to the right and works along with Windows Hello to unlock the laptop with a simple touch. It’s even better than before, though, in that you can now power up the laptop from cold and log in by pressing it once, instead of clicking it to boot up, then tapping it once again at the login screen.
And then there’s that popup webcam. It’s innovative, yes, but is it any good. Sadly, no. It captures grainy, rather lifeless video that’s an absolte age behind the excellent webcams built into Apple’s laptops; if you work a lot from home and rely on your laptop to take part in online meetings, this is not the laptop for you.
There is, however, a decent selection of physical connectivity, with two USB Type-C ports on the left edge, one Thunderbolt 3-enabled, the other USB 3.1, with both capable of outputting a video signal and accepting power. Much better than the original X’s weird arrangement, which required you to connect the charger and display output to separate ports.
You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack and, on the opposite side, is a full-sized USB A port. Don’t have an adapter for that hard disk or card reader? No worries: just plug it straight in with a regular cable. It’s a much more flexible arrangement than the USB Type-C only MacBook Pro. Wireless connectivity comes in the shape of an Intel Wireless AC-8275 chip with support for 2X2 MIMO and Bluetooth 4.2.
That’s not all for the improvements, though. The Matebook X Pro also gets better speakers than before: a quad-driver array supporting Dolby Atmos with treble produced by speakers either side of the keyboard and “bass” notes emerging from slots beneath at the sides firing downwards. These sound great: not super bassy, but able to produce a broad, detailed sound with plenty of volume. They’re absolutely perfect for listening to podcasts or radio in your hotel room or for watching programmes that don’t demand sound on a huge scale.
There’s also a quad-microphone array offering a range of effects for enhancing recordings and audio pickup in various situations. Beamforming focuses the microphone on your voice and suppresses other effects, AEC helps reduce feedback echo, far-field pickup boosts Cortana sensitivity and there’s also a keystroke suppression mode. These work with varying efficiency. The keystroke suppression mode seems largely ineffective – there’s no audible difference with it on or off.
Beamforming works well, cutting out all sound that isn’t immediately in front of the laptop while suppressing all others. The other two effects simply amplify voice frequencies to a greater or lesser degree and both appear to improve voice recognition accuracy, but you still can’t talk to Cortana from across the room without her completely mangling your words. You’ll also need to be careful to disable these effects if you want to record a meeting while taking notes as they’ll tend to squish background audio, rendering voices completely unintelligible.[gallery:9]
Huawei Matebook X Pro review: Performance and battery life
As for performance, that’s as impressive as the rest of the Matebook X Pro. There are three configurations available: the more powerful with an Intel Core i7-8550U, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD plus discrete Nvidia MX150 graphics; plus a couple of less potent Core i5-8250U models with integrated graphics and 8GB of RAM, and either 512GB or 256GB of SSD storage.
I have the more powerful of the two setups here, which is also (you won’t be surprised to discover), the most expensive. But it’s not THAT expensive. Huawei is still quoting prices in Euros but it boils down to a price of around £1,650 for the top-end model and around £1,300 for the Core i5.
That’s pretty darned competitive when you consider that the equivalent MacBook Pro models will set you back £2,399 for a Core i7 and £1,449 for base Core i5 (non-touch bar) with a 256GB SSD.
You’re getting a lot more for your money with the Matebook X Pro, as you can see from the table below. It’s better value than even the new Dell XPS 13.
Huawei Matebook X Pro
Apple MacBook Pro 13in
Apple MacBook Pro 13in
Dell XPS 13
1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core)
2.3GHz Intel® Core™ i5-7360U (dual-core)
3.5GHz Intel Core i7-7567U (dual-core)
1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core)
512GB NVMe SSD
512GB NVMe SSD
512GB NVMe SSD
512GB NVMe SSD
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650
Intel UHD Graphics
£1,650 (1,899 Euro)
So how does it perform? In a word: brilliantly. In our 4K benchmarks, the Matebook scored 76 overall, 113 in the image processing test, 79 for video conversion and 62 in the multitasking component. All these are about what we’d expect for this lineup of components and they put the Matebook X Pro out in front of the equivalent price MacBook Pro 13, and the older Kaby Lake Dell XPS 13.
The 512GB NVMe SSD is nippy, too, ensuring Windows 10 boots up in a matter of seconds and apps launch without delay. I measured 2.3GB/sec and 471MB/sec sequential reads and writes.
And performance in everyday use is excellent as well. I’ve been using the Matebook X Pro for a few weeks now, and I’ve found it quick and responsive, delivering power when I need it and longevity, too. I’ve not once cursed it for slowing down, overheating, running out of battery at a critical moment or spinning its fans up to annoying levels. It’s quietly competent, and that’s exactly what you need from a high-end ultraportable such as this.
Combine this with the sort of battery life that puts all its rivals to shame (yes, even the Microsoft Surface Book 2 with its two batteries) and you have an absolute star buy.
Huawei Matebook X Pro review: Verdict
If the first Matebook X was a triumph of design and a big surprise given Huawei’s inexperience in the laptop field, the Matebook X Pro is a firm consolidation of its position as a serious contender in the industry.
Remember, this is still only the company’s second ultraportable laptop. Its second and yet it’s already contending with Dell, Apple and HP for the crown of best ultraportable. In fact, I’d argue that on many counts it has the whip hand over the competition: that glorious edge-to-edge display is the crowning glory, of course, but it nails the design in so many other areas that it’s hard to pick out any significant weaknesses.
The disadvantage Huawei has compared with the opposition is that it doesn’t look at this point as if it will be on sale officially in the UK. Importing it from Europe shouldn’t be too problematic but you if you do that you won’t get a UK-specific keyboard. That’s not a big problem for me, but I guess it might irritate some.
Otherwise, the Matebook X Pro is a class act and well worth putting at the very top of your shortlist if you’re in the market for a thin, light powerful laptop.