Huawei MateBook 13 full review

Huawei’s MateBook X and MateBook X Pro are some of the best looking laptops on the market, but they each came with a few compromises - and hefty price tags. That’s all the more reason to to be excited about the MateBook 13, which promises to bring the same style at a friendlier price.

Announced at CES 2019, the MateBook 13 looks an awful lot like the X and X Pro - with a few compromises, to be fair - but shaves a few hundred off the price, turning it into a competitive rival to the likes of the MacBook Air or the new Dell XPS 13 and potentially one of the best laptops of 2019.

Price and availability

The MateBook 13 is out now, and comes in two models - with specs varying slightly between regions. In the UK, the base model is £899 (available from Amazon or Currys) and comes with a Core i5 processor and 256GB of storage. The higher end model - the one we were given to review - costs £1099 (from Amazon, Currys, Very, Argos, or AO) and includes a faster i7 processor and double the storage, 512GB. Both models have the same 8GB RAM and integrated Intel graphics.

Specs in the US are almost the same. The base model is the same - a Core i5 processor and 256GB storage, though it comes in a silver finish - and will cost you $999 (from Amazon, B&H, or Newegg), but the pricier version is a little different. In addition to the i7 processor and 512GB storage, the US model includes an Nvidia MX150 graphics card for $1299 (from Amazon, B&H, or Newegg).

Considering that the MacBook Air starts from £1,199/$1,199 for a model with less storage than Huawei's, while the XPS 13 starts from £999/$899 for an i3 processor, that pricing is already seriously competitive, and anyone looking for a compact, portable laptop around that price point should at least be considering the MateBook 13.

Apple-ish aesthetics

If you’ve seen any of Huawei’s recent laptops then the MateBook 13 will appear immediately familiar. There’s the same grey finish (with silver on the cheaper American model), with minimal bezels, an expansive touchpad, and all-metal construction.

It will probably also appear familiar if you’ve seen Apple’s latest MacBook and MacBook Air, and it’d be hard not to admit that Huawei’s designers owe a debt to Apple’s. That’s partly what will fuel the inevitable comparisons to the new Air, and the MateBook comes out surprisingly well.

The 13in, 2160 x 1440 touchscreen display is in the same 3:2 aspect ratio Huawei’s favoured for a few years. It’s a squarer, boxier format than you might be used to, which results in a lot of letter-boxing when you watch movies or TV, but leaves you with plenty of vertical screen real estate when you’re working or browsing the web. That makes it ideal as a work device, if less optimal for curling up in bed with Netflix.

The keyboard is pretty lovely, with comfortable key spacing and a really responsive, short action. These are very low-profile keys, which might take a little getting used to for some, but undeniably easy to type on. The trackpad is a bit less appealing - the size is great, but there's a very slight stickiness to it, with just a bit too much drag for my liking. It feels slightly wrong to me, in a way that's hard to pin down, and I'd recommend trying to check the laptop out in person if you can to make sure it won't bother you.

You also get a fingerprint reader built into the power button, so you can turn the device on and unlock it with just one touch. It gets a bit confused sometimes when waking the laptop up from sleep - press the button when you mean to just read your fingerprint and you might end up accidentally putting it back to sleep - but once you get the hang of it it does tend to be fairly responsive.

At 1.3kg it’s not super lightweight, and this is clearly where the corners were cut to keep that price down - it's not heavy, but it's got a bit more heft than it looks like it should. For comparison, it's the same weight as the larger MateBook X Pro - which has a 13.9in display and a bigger battery to justify the size - though in fairness it’s still only fractionally heavier than its Apple rival.

It's still fairly slim though, which in turn comes with a disadvantage: ports are limited, with just two USB-C ports (one for charging) along with a headphone jack. Expect to need dongles aplenty if you hope to connect anything else up to it, though Huawei at least includes a free adapter for USB-A, HDMI, and VGA - though ethernet is omitted.

Undercutting the competition

Specs are surprisingly impressive for the price, and this is where the MateBook 13 really pulls away from its Apple and Dell equivalents. The fact that the base £899/$999 model packs an i5, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage is undeniably competitive.

The premium model is arguably even better value, especially in the US. In the UK you're looking at £200 extra for the i7 and double storage, while in the US it's an extra $300, but that also gets you the MX150 graphics card. That makes the MateBook 13 one of the cheapest ultrabooks with a discrete GPU you can find. The only real downside here is the RAM - 8GB isn’t bad, but it lags behind the rest of the specs, and may put off anyone hoping to use it for proper video or photo editing on the go.

The webcam is also a bit of a letdown. Megapixels aren’t everything, but a 1Mp camera is, well, not good. That’s the sort of compromise I’d be perfectly happy to make because I never really use my webcam much anyway, but for anyone regularly using their laptop for video calls it’s likely to feel like a real limitation.

Battery life is also a bit of a concern. I use the original MateBook X as my daily laptop, and there are a lot of things I love about it, but battery life ain’t one of them. The MateBook 13 has a similar capacity, and it shows - it lasted nine hours in our continuous video playback test, two hours less than the XPS 13. In daily usage, I've probably been getting 5-6 hours from it - not terrible, but it's undeniably lagging behind the competition. At least the fact that it uses USB-C for charging means it's easy to top up anywhere, and will work with any USB-C PD battery pack.

Verdict

It may sound a bit obvious to compare the MateBook 13 to the MacBook Air, but it’s hard not to. With such similar designs there’s little to tell the laptops apart on aesthetics, and as soon as you look at the internals Huawei’s laptop pulls sharply ahead.

The base model offers double the storage of Apple’s for £300/$200 less, while the more expensive one manages to include a faster processor, double the storage, and a discrete GPU in the US, and still comes out cheaper than Apple’s £1,399/$1,399 SKU.

The only real compromises are on webcam picture quality and battery life, though the latter could be a dealbreaker for anyone seriously considering switching from San Cupertino.

Specs

Huawei MateBook 13: Specs

  • Windows 10
  • 13-inch 3:2 (2160 x 1440) touchscreen display
  • 8th Generation Intel Quad Core i5 or i7 processor
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620 or Nvidia GeForce MX150 (US-only)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB or 512GB SSD
  • 41.8 WHr battery (built-in)
  • 2x USB-C 3.1
  • 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 1MP webcam
  • Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard
  • Windows Hello fingerprint reader
  • 14.9mm x 286mm x 211mm
  • 1.3kg