“The Huawei MateBook 13 wants to compete with the MacBook Air, but doesn’t have the juice for it.”
- Beautiful 3:2 touchscreen
- Affordable price
- Comfortable edge-to-edge keyboard
- Can play most 3D games
- Cheap, plastic touchpad
- No Thunderbolt 3
- Disappointing battery life
It’s not hard to see where Huawei laptops take inspiration. Just as the MateBook X Pro aped a lot from the MacBook Pro, the new MateBook 13 doesn’t exactly scream “original.” But this time, Huawei has its sights set on a new target. The MacBook Air.
Boasting a starting price of $1,000 along with a sleek new design, the MateBook 13 looks like it has what it takes to challenge the Air. Is it just another copycat, or is it the real deal?
The new MacBook — I mean, MateBook
When we say the MateBook 13 resembles the MacBook Air, we aren’t kidding. It has a silver aluminum chassis, thin profile, glossy screen, limited port selection, and black chiclet keys. There’s even a “Space Grey” color variant. Seriously. Apparently, Apple never trademarked that name.
But those are all surface-level comparisons. And these days, what thin-and-light laptop doesn’t have a little bit of Mac DNA in themit It’s hard to ding the MateBook 13 too much for the influence it wears on its sleeve. And the MateBook 13 does do a little to set itself apart.
We like the way the keyboard stretches nearly edge-to-edge on the deck. The thinned-out bezels framing the screen look nice, too. Even the textured logo on the lid adds some much-needed spice to the laptop’s simple finish. What really stands out, though, is the display. Its 3:2 aspect ratio gives the laptop a boxy look that feels tailor-made for productivity.
It’s not quite as refined as the MacBook Air, though. The lid has a little bit of give in the center, and there’s the slightest amount of flex near the center of the hinge. Huawei’s effort doesn’t feel cheap, but the Air certainly feels most robust.
What really stands out is the display.
Because of the taller rubber feet and chunkier lid, the MateBook 13 is lifted and appears thicker than it is. It’s actually thinner than the MacBook Air, and only a hair thicker than the Razer Blade Stealth and Dell XPS 13. Meanwhile, the MateBook 13 weighs 2.8 pounds, just slightly heavier than its competitors.
You’ll find just a few ports along the edges of the chassis. There’s two USB-C ports and a headphone jack. The left side is for data transfer and charging, while the right side is for video output. That should take care of most of your needs, though we do miss being able to charge and connect to an external monitor over a single cable. So, what else is missing? Well, a microSD card slot for starters. The lack of Thunderbolt 3 is also a bit frustrating. Nearly all laptops over a thousand bucks include it now, including the XPS 13, MacBook Air, and Razer Blade Stealth.
A frustrating touchpad
Not everyone cares about touchpads as much we do, especially not if you typically use a mouse. But as one of the primary surfaces you interact with on a laptop, the touchpad’s quality influences your overall impression. For the MateBook 13, that’s bad news.
For whatever reason, Huawei decided the touchpad was where corners should be cut. It’s not as glass surface, unlike most premium laptops. Gliding your finger across the touchpad creates uncomfortable friction that prevents smooth tracking. It’s most obvious in click and drag actions, such as highlighting text or dragging windows. It reminds us of a budget Chromebook. The touchpad is also a slightly different shade of grey than the chassis, which makes it look out of place.
The keyboard fares much better. It’s comfortable, there’s a healthy amount of travel, and the backlighting is uniform. It’s a great typing experience, especially compared to the MacBook Air, which features Apple’s low-travel butterfly mechanisms. That’s a trend we were happy to see Huawei avoid. The layout isn’t too strange, though there are a couple of dedicated buttons in the function row that seem out of place. Instead of quick access to Timeline or some media control buttons, the MateBook 13 has an unhelpful Huawei PC Manager key at the F10 location.
The touchpad isn’t glass, unlike most premium laptops.
One positive aspect of the function row is the webcam. The experimental idea to hide the webcam under a function key in the MateBook X Pro has been abandoned in favor of returning it to the top bezel. While that means the bezel is slightly bigger, we think it’s a better choice for most people. It doesn’t include an infrared camera, however, so facial recognition is a no-go. A Windows Hello-powered fingerprint scanner is built into the power button at the top of the keyboard deck.
You’ll love this display
We’ve already gushed about the MateBook 13’s 3:2 screen. If you’re coming from a typical 16:9 (or even a MacBook’s 16:10) size, you’ll notice the difference immediately. The taller screen provides ample screen real estate, perfect for browsing the web, multitasking, and word processing. More of your work and content is available, which makes an otherwise small 13-inch laptop feel larger.
The MateBook 13’s 2,160 x 1,440 screen isn’t an upgrade. It comes standard. It might not be as a sharp as the MacBook Air’s retina display (nor any of the 4K options out there), but it’s great for a base model. The same goes for the touchscreen capabilities, which usually come as an upgrade for higher-end configurations.
As for quality, none of the readings from our calibration tool gave us pause. Contrast, color accuracy, and color gamut are average. They’re not top of the class, but they’re competitor overall.
The one aspect we noticed right away was brightness. At a max brightness of just 243 nits and a glossy screen to boot, it sometimes had a hard time overpowering our brightly-lit office. When looking at darker images, we saw our reflection staring back at us. On a glossy screen like this, we like to see brightness of at least 300 nits. The Razer Blade Stealth, MacBook Pro, or Surface Pro 6 will crank up past 400 nits.
The speakers are located on the underside of the laptop, which has become standard. The MacBook Air, Razer Blade Stealth, and Lenovo Yoga C930 have moved them to the front, which produce louder and clearer audio. Still, music on the MateBook 13 sounds dull. It’s fine for the occasional YouTube video, but bass absent. Turn it up to loud and the speakers start to sound shrill.
Performance that pops
There’s not a lot to complain about in terms of performance. The MateBook 13 features the top-of-the-line specs we’d expect see. Updated Intel 8th-gen Core i5 or Core i7 processors of the ‘Whiskey Lake’ product line are available. Both configurations come with 8GB of RAM. We like to see that as a compliment to a four-core processor.
The MateBook 13 pushes some impressive numbers, especially in a synthetic benchmark like Geekbench. The MateBook 13 even surpassed the XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth in multi-core scores. When compared to the MacBook Air, which has a weaker dual-core processor that can’t handle multitasking quite as well, there’s no contest.
We pushed the Core i7 harder in a video encoding test, measuring how long it would take to transcode a 4K movie trailer from h.264 to h.265. It finished nearly a minute faster than last year’s MateBook X Pro, despite that being a spendier laptop. It’s always nice to see meaningful improvement year-over-year.
Both Matebook 13 configurations come with a super-fast NVMe SSD, for quick read and write speeds. In this case it’s a Western Digital PC SN720, which excels at write speeds, boasting speeds of over 1,300 MB/s in our tests. Unfortunately, the capacity tops out at 512GB. The XPS 13 allows for expansion up to 2TB of storage in comparison. Both memory and storage are soldered on, so no expansion is possible in the future.
Yes, you can Fortnite
Huawei has included an interesting component that gamers will appreciate. The Nvidia GeForce MX150. It’s an uncommon GPU to see these days, especially as add-ons to 13-inch laptops. What’s significant about this one? Well, it’s a 25-watt version of the card. The recent Razer Blade Stealth is the only other laptop we’ve seen use it, though the Razer’s model also had 4GB of VRAM. The MateBook 13 only has 2GB. But as you’ll see, there’s hardly a difference.
Let’s start with 3DMark. The MateBook 13 tests well here, landing scores substantially higher than its bigger brother, the MateBook X Pro, which uses the 10-watt MX150. The MateBook 13 even beats out the Razer Blade Stealth in the Fire Strike benchmark. Looking good so far.
We also tested the MateBook 13 in a couple of games such as Rocket League and Fortnite. Whereas the Razer Blade Stealth could average over 60 FPS (frames per second) with graphics turned up, the MateBook 13 only hit 52 FPS. That’s most likely due to the higher screen resolution of the MateBook. That’s still a significant lead over laptops without a discrete GPU like the XPS 13 or MacBook Air.
Fortnite is playable. Barely.
But, what about Fortnite? We know you’re all thinking it. The world’s most popular game is, in fact, playable. Barely. We turned down the settings to Medium, which just barely got us into the 60 FPS range. It wasn’t the game’s finest hour, but it is possible to play the game at a smooth framerate without reducing the screen resolution. While it’s not a gaming powerhouse, remember that the Razer Blade Stealth is $300 more expensive when equipped with the same GPU. Score a win for Huawei here.
For people who don’t want to buy a chunky, budget gaming laptop, the $1,300 MateBook 13 can serve as an everyday laptop that just so happens to play Fortnite on the side. Good deal.
There is, however, a catch.
With great power comes short battery life
As with the Razer Blade Stealth, that 25-watt Nvidia MX 150 is a killer on battery life. The MateBook 13 should be a long-lasting thin-and-light laptop just like its competitors. Instead, it can’t get you through a full day.
In light web browsing, the MateBook 13 lasts just under six hours on a single charge. Meanwhile, the MacBook Air will get you over eight, while the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 will net you over twelve. That’s twice as much battery for an $850 laptop. The MateBook 13 does even worse in the video loop, where it lasted five and a half hours running a repeating 1080p clip until it died. The ZenBook lasts eight hours longer in the same test!
The Matebook 13’s small 41-watt hour battery is certainly to blame here. A larger battery is needed to help the 25-watt Nvidia MX150 graphics chip. Huawei claims the version without the discrete GPU will do better, and we believe them. How much better, though, we don’t know.
Every laptop has compromises. The best balance these traits to create an overall satisfying product. For a small group of people out there, a 13-inch MacBook that can play Fortnite will make sense. The MateBook 13 is that. The $1,000 base model is also a compelling option because of its price point. We like the 3:2 screen and keyboard. But with shortcomings in battery, touchpad, and port selection, other laptops are a better option.
Is there a better alternative?
The Huawei MateBook 13 undercuts a lot of laptops in this category by a few hundred dollars. The XPS 13 with a similar configuration, for example, will cost you $1,200. The XPS 13 is a better laptop in nearly every way, but you do pay for the advantage. The same goes for the Surface Laptop 2, which has a similar 3:2 screen but costs $1,200 for a similar configuration.
What about the MacBook Air? Well, the MateBook 13 is a decent competitor to it, but it’s not about to deter Mac lovers anytime soon. Its screen is less sharp, its touchpad isn’t glass, its battery life is worse, and the build quality isn’t up to snuff. Those quality-of-life differences are what Apple fans live for.
If you’re really trying to save a few bucks without sacrificing quality, check out the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333. It has ultra-narrow bezels, fast components, and insanely good battery life for just $850.
How long will it last?
The MateBook 13 is a premium, well-made laptop. The components will feel up to date for more than a few years, and the USB-C ports keep it futureproof for peripherals.
Huawei offers an inudstry-standard one year limited warranty, which will cover the price the parts and labor. Beyond that, you’re on your own.
Should you buy it?
No. The ability to play Fortnite or Rocket League may tempt, but the overall experience isn’t quite there. We have hopes that the thin-and-light laptops of the future will be able to play games, but for now, some compromise is required.
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