Huawei MateBook 13 hands-on review

The Huawei MateBook 13 could be the MacBook Air killer we’ve always wanted

The Huawei MateBook 13 is the MacBook killer Windows fans always wanted.
The Huawei MateBook 13 is the MacBook killer Windows fans always wanted.
The Huawei MateBook 13 is the MacBook killer Windows fans always wanted.

Highs

  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Whiskey Lake processors bring high performance
  • Slim and light design
  • Lots of screen, less bezels
  • Affordable price

Lows

  • Low quality webcam
  • Battery life is questionable

Apple pioneered the thin-and-light laptop with the MacBook Air back in 2008, but these days, challengers come for that crown from every direction. Enter the MateBook 13, a new offering for 2019 which sits in between the ultra-slim MateBook X and the more budget-friendly MateBook D.

With features like a narrow-bezel display, Intel Whiskey Lake processors on the inside, and a beautiful aluminum alloy and metal unibody finish, the MateBook 13 looks to trump even Apple’s new 2018 MacBook Air. We spent some hands on time with the unit ahead of CES, and here is more on the overall experience.

A display built for the web

16:9 is the standard display size on laptops, though that’s beginning to change. The MacBook Air comes with a 16:10 scaled aspect ratio display, while laptops like the Surface Laptop 2 use the 3:2 size for even more screen real estate. The new MateBook 13 follows suit.

It’s something we’ve seen on Huawei’s MateBook X and MateBook X Pro before, so it isn’t new, but it was something we really enjoyed. Using multiple instances of Microsoft Edge side by side provides a much fuller view of the web. Considering this is still a 13-inch display, that was quite surprising. It really felt more like a 15-inch screen, with webpages extending all the way to the bottom of the display.

Combined with its 2,160 x 1,440 2K resolution, browsing the web and basic productivity looks fantastic on the MateBook 13. That still might be less pixels than the MateBook X Pro’s 13.9 inch 3,000 x 2,000 resolution display, but it makes web browsing really enjoyable.

Huawei is also packing an 88 percent screen-to-body ratio into the MateBook 13, meaning the bezels around the display are incredibly thin. That’s a higher ratio than the 82 percent on the MacBook Air. We didn’t have exact measurements on the bezels, but it is noticeably thin and felt almost as small as the Dell XPS 13.

The screen even supports touch, something that’ll you’ll never find on a MacBook Air. Though it felt a bit wobbly when we applied pressure, it made scrolling through webpages a breeze. Inking was fun and fluent, and our fingers were accurately tracked across the screen when drawing in Paint. There’s still no support for a stylus, however.

Thinner than the MacBook Air, but not by much

Another big claim from Huawei about the MateBook 13 is around size. It’s supposedly six percent smaller than the latest MacBook Air. Though the sides of the unibody initially looked thicker than the aluminum on board the MacBook, the measurements do actually it to be the thinner option. Coming in at 2.82 pounds in weight and a mere 0.58 inches thick, the MateBook is just a bit thinner but also heavier than the MacBook Air’s 0.61 inches of thickness and 2.75-pound weight. It was good enough for us to carry the MateBook around Huawei’s showroom floor with just one hand.

The display looks and feels a lot bigger than it is.

The MateBook 13 is offered in a variety of colors. Though not going for gold, there is the Space Gray option, as well as a Mystic Silver. The Space Gray colorway looks nearly identical to Apple’s offering, though the aluminum alloy finished on the top and insides felt smoother and cooler to the touch.

Another great element on the MateBook 13 is the comfortable keyboard. It is edge-to-edge, and the keycaps barely stick out into the chassis and have a nice smooth and slippery touch on the top that made speed typing easy. When we opened Microsoft sticky notes and typed up a storm, it wasn’t overly loud or clicky and the 1.2 mm of travel between keys meant few typos. The trackpad on the MateBook 13 also felt the same, and its smooth top helped make clicking through Windows easy, quiet, and familiar. That can’t be said for the MacBook Air, which sports a divisive low-travel keyboard that takes some time to get used to.

Huawei MateBook 13 review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Unfortunately, just like Apple, Huawei does have to sacrifice a bit on ports. Along with a 3.5 mm headphone back and mic combo, the MateBook 13 comes with 2 USB-C ports, with the left port supporting data transfer and charging, and the right port supporting DisplayPort and data transfer. This is a common trend in new laptops, but Huawei does some justice and is kind enough to include a USB-C dock right in the box, which expands the ports to USB-A, VGA, and HDMI.

More power with Whiskey Lake

Huawei has stuffed Intel’s quad-core Whiskey Lake processors in the MateBook 13, and we’re expecting some very positive results. Your options are either the 8th-gen Intel Core i5-8265 U processor or the Intel Core i7-8565U processor. In addition, Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB graphics come included on the Core i7 Space Gray model. This is the same option as was included in the higher-end MateBook X Pro. All configurations only come with 8GB RAM, but quad-core on the MateBook 13 should mean for more multitasking performance. That should be a serious step up over the MacBook Air, which runs on the dual-core Intel Core i5-8210Y processor, clocked at 1.6 GHz.

Huawei MateBook 13 review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We obviously couldn’t run our Geekbench tests on a hands-on unit, and more time is needed to tax the power of the processor, but general web browsing worked was fluid. When we opened 20 tabs in Microsoft Edge, everything worked near flawlessly. The browser was able to switch between YouTube, and other media-heavy sites with little to no lag. That draws a bit in comparison to the MacBook Air, which we found limits when those two cores were stressed.

Questionable battery life and webcam

Asides from the choice of processor and display, battery life and webcams are two other important aspects on a laptop. Here’s where the Huawei MateBook 13 still has something to prove.

Huawei promises the inbuilt 42 watt-hour battery on the MateBook 13 can last for 10 hours. On paper that seems a bit more than the 8 hours we experienced with the 2018 MacBook Air. However, that’s only for video playback testing, and not more demanding web-browsing benchmarks. We’re likely to see less in web browsing. That had us worried, especially compared to some Windows 10 options out there.

The spacious edge-to-edge keyboard makes typing easy.

In our brief hands-on time, we were a bit worried as our unit came to us with 36 percent charge and drained down to just 30 percent within minutes. We will need to do more testing before truly judging the its performance, but the 42 watt-hour battery is smaller than the 57 watt-hour battery on board the Matebook X Pro.

That device provided nine and a half hours on a charge in our web browsing tests, and 10 hours in video playback.

Finally, the 1-megapixel webcam is also a concern, as it isn’t as high quality as the one on the MacBook Air. Unlike on the MateBook X Pro, it’s in a more conventional location. It lives on the top bezel above the screen and not under a dedicated key on the keyboard. When we opened up the Windows 10 camera app, our face was a bit washed out and not clear, though we’ll have to test it more to know for sure.

Pricing and availability

The Huawei MateBook 13 with an Intel Core i5-8265U processor, 256GB SSD, and 8GB RAM will be available on January 29 at Amazon and Newegg with prices starting at an affordable $1,000.

Another variant with the Intel Core i7-8565U processor, Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics, and a 512GB SSD will also be available for $1,300.

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