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As posted on Huawei MateBook X review: fanless and full-blooded MacBook Pro rival

Huawei’s new MateBook X laptop looks like a minimalist Apple MacBook on the outside, but brings full-power laptop specifications in a fanless design to create a beautiful, capable machine.

Huawei’s second Windows PC continues the trend of bringing smartphone-inspired design to the computer market. The MateBook X is a super-thin, light and powerful PC encased in aluminium. It’s a very attractive design that looks and feels like a premium product, bringing Huawei’s PC efforts right up with the best of the competition, including Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro.


The keyboard of the MateBook X is great, with enough travel to make typing comfortable for most people and without feeling spongey. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The deck of the laptop has a fairly large and accurate trackpad with all the gestures, a set of good feeling and well-made back-lit chiclet keys, a grille above the keyboard and the power button on the right. It’s all very minimalist.

The screen is great, with small bezels, good viewing angles and a fairly good anti-reflective coating that makes it easier to use than some rivals – including the Surface Laptop – in office or outdoors environments. It’s bright enough for most environments: it’s pin sharp and looks great. The screen’s 3:2 ratio means it’s easier to be productive with split-screen apps, but watching widescreen video isn’t as good because of the need for large black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. But it’s not a touchscreen, which is a shame as there are lots of things that are faster to do simply by tapping on the screen within Windows 10 and I found myself missing the feature that’s pretty much standard on every portable machine with Windows 10.

The webcam is in the right place at the top of the screen, not hidden down on the bottom like some thin-bezel designs, but it’s not Windows Hello enabled. The MateBook X has a fingerprint reader hidden under the power button instead.

The speakers are some of the best I’ve heard on any laptop and are hidden in the body. They’re loud, clear and while not quite what I’d call room-filling, they’re more than up to the task of watching a TV show in the kitchen over the sounds of a cooker hood fan going. Huawei partnered with Dolby on them and they are part of the new Atmos Sound System range, but don’t expect a cinema-like experience; they’re only laptop speakers.

With the lid shut it feels solid and its small frame, 1kg weight and rounded edges make it easy to cart about and slip into a bag.

Specifications

  • Screen: 13in LCD 2160 x 1440 ( ppi)
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 or i7 (7th generation)
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256 or 512GB
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home or Pro
  • Camera: 720p
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fiac, Bluetooth 4.1, 2x USB-C, headphones, TPM
  • Dimensions: 286 mm x 211 mm x 12.5 mm
  • Weight: 1.05kg

Full power, fanless body


The left USB-C port doubles as the charging port, with a small LED on the left of it that lights up to tell you the charge state. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Huawei has achieved something quite special by fitting in full-blooded laptop “U-series” seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 chips into a fanless design that dissipates heat using some clever phase-change materials. As such the MateBook X is completely silent at all times.

Most fanless designs, including Apple’s MacBook, have to use Intel’s lower-power Core M or newer “Y-series” Core i5 or i7 chips, which while capable of light duties, crunch when doing more serious image editing or processor intensive tasks for any amount of time longer than a few minutes.

Testing with the Core i5 version of the MateBook X, it stayed cool to the touch during office duties of browsing the web and using web apps in Chrome, image editing in Affinity Photo, using Evernote and Windows Mail, while typing into minimalist text-editing app Typora.

Downloading large games in Steam at around 30-60Mbps caused the bottom to heat up a little, running X-Com 2 caused it to heat up quite a lot meaning you wouldn’t want to play on your lap or for very long. But the MateBook X was eminently capable throughout and will be able to handle pretty much anything you’d want to throw at it.

Even playing some games with low detail levels was just about possible; the same that could be said of pretty much any laptop with a seventh-generation Core i5 and Intel HD 620 integrated graphics chip, but barely any of them are this thin and light while at the same time fanless.

Battery life


The top of the MateBook X is has simple polished Huawei logo in the middle. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Using the MateBook X for office duties, with under a dozen tabs open in Chrome, image editing in Affinity Photo, text editing in Typora and the odd bit of Spotify streaming, the laptop would last just under seven hours between charges with recommended brightness and power settings. That isn’t quite long enough to last a full work day or to leave the charger at home, but being USB-C means you can power it up using any higher-powered USB-C charger and the Huawei power brick is one of the smallest available. Charging the laptop to full battery while still using it took around two hours.

One issue that needs to be pointed out with the MateBook X is that not all versions of the machine come with a trusted platform module (TPM) – the small chip built into the machine that securely stores encryption keys. Those versions without a TPM will not be able to enable Microsoft’s hard drive encryption system, BitLocker, without circumventing security protocols. Whether that matters to you depends on how you view your data, but I would not use a computer that I could not encrypt the contents of the hard drive in case of theft, as I don’t want my photos, my data, emails and other personal bits of information falling into the hands for thieves.

USB-C-only


USB-C on one side, another USB-C and headphones socket on the other. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The MateBook X only has two USB-C ports. The one on the left of the machine doubles as the power port, the one on the right can accept the bundled dongle, which provides USB-C pass-through as well as a USB-A port, VGA and HDMI out, but not an ethernet port.

Having two USB-C ports is certainly better than just one and helps futureproof the MateBook X, while including an adapter dongle in the box helps ease the transition from legacy USB-A and other connections. Those with older peripherals will be confined to a life filled with dongles in the immediate future.

Windows 10 Pro or Home

The Matebook X either comes with Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro depending on location and model. The only notable addition to Microsoft’s OS is the MateBook Manager, which handles driver updates, enables some intelligent power-saving modes and flags power-draining apps, which in my case was always Chrome.

MateBook Manager also links up with Huawei smartphones to provide instant hotspots using a Huawei ID, can share files via Bluetooth to other Huawei devices, and handles system backups to external drives.

Fingerprint scanner


All you need is to tap the power button for the fingerprint scanner to work – it’s the best on a laptop to date. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The power button doubles as a fingerprint scanner, which is a great idea. Press it, put your finger on it and it instantly unlocks the computer. It’s the best fingerprint scanner I’ve used on a computer and easily as good as the Huawei’s smartphone fingerprint sensors – the best in the business.

Observations

  • There’s a small rough edge where the base plate meets the edge that’s only noticeable if you’re stroking your finger across it
  • The deck of the laptop is a bit spongey when pressed hard, but it doesn’t affect the feeling or typing experience of the keyboard
  • The trackpad moves a little before a click is registered
  • There’s a small LED next to the left USB-C port that shows you when the laptop is charging
  • USB-C power adapter isn’t much bigger than some of Huawei’s smartphone chargers making it easy to carry around

Price

The Huawei MateBook X comes in gray with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,099.99 (£851) and gold with a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for $1,299.99 (£1,005). Both models are available for pre-order in the US with UK availability still to be confirmed.

For comparison, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop starts at £979, Dell’s XPS 13 starts at £1,149 and Apple’s MacBook Pro starts at £1,249.

Verdict

The Huawei MateBook X is one of the best Windows 10 ultrabooks available. It’s thin, light, has a great screen, great speakers, good keyboard, solid trackpad, brilliant fingerprint sensor and gets all the basics right. It’s also fanless despite having a full, U-series Core i5 or i7 processor, making it completely silent but with full laptop power.

Some might bemoan the lack of ports with only two USB-C ports and no Thunderbolt, but the included adapter helps ease the transition. The lack of a touchscreen is slightly disappointing, while a TPM is a must if you value your data at all and want to easily encrypt it.

Overall the MateBook X is quite a special little machine, pushing the boundaries of what a super-slender, fanless machine can be.

Pros: thin, light, good keyboard, great screen, good trackpad, excellent fingerprint scanner, USB-C, fanless design, U-series Core i5/i7 processor

Cons: no USB-A ports, no touchscreen, can only charge on one side, trackpad has a bit of play, some models do not have a TPM, no 16GB of RAM option


The MateBook X weighs just over 1kg making it easy to cart about. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

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