Huawei MateBook review: Hip, hip Huawei is just a little too stylish for its own good

The MateBook is a fine tablet in many ways, but its design involves some sacrifices.

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Note that we did see some evidence of thermal throttling within the MateBook, which will limit performance under prolonged load. I never experienced any unexpected BSODs (Blue Screens of Death) as a result of overheating, but the throttling—compared to tablets like the HP Elite x2, whose aluminum chassis appeared to dissipate heat quite well—would be a possible explanation for why the MateBook underperformed the Elite x2 on our HandBrake movie transcoding test, for example.

Huawei matebook handbrake

The MateBook’s performance holds up quite consistently across our tests—among the top performers, if never the best. The same holds true in our 3DMark Sky Diver score.

Huawei matebook skydiver

About the only test where we were truly disappointed was battery life. We test battery life by calibrating the display to a fixed luminosity, then loop a video repeatedly until the battery runs down. The MateBook just doesn’t hold up compared to the competition. The additional pixels the higher-resolution display must push could be a detriment. 

According to Huawei, we received a pre-production device. "The MateBook has been designed in a slim and thin form factor – and the production version that goes for sale in stores will have a longer battery life as compared to competitive products," a Huawei representative said in a statement. "Based on our tests, the MateBook supports up to 9 hours using Microsoft Office, 9 hours of video, or 29 hours of music."

 The MateDock available in stores will be updated, and be able to maintain a charge and run an external display at the same time, a Huawei spokeswoman added.

Huawei matebook battery life

A line in the sand

Hundreds to thousands of components combine to form the tablets, notebooks and desktops we use every day. Certain features are so integral to the system that any flaws are immediately noticeable. A tablet’s display may be its defining feature, but a keyboard follows close behind. It’s the difference between buying a tablet and a notebook.

Microsoft’s Surface tablets, the Elite x2, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 tablet, and others feature adjustable kickstands that recline the tablet as you see fit. The wraparound keyboards of the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S and Apple iPad Pro—and now the MateBook—seem to put a higher priority on protecting a product than using it.

Kudos to Huawei for its lovely, artfully designed hardware. But I’m not willing to accept the poor ergonomics of a floppy fixed-angle keyboard, not when so many of its competitors offer better solutions. A single USB-C slot, the lack of an SD reader, optional accessories that are essentially required equipment—these are all sacrifices that I might grudgingly make. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and these poor excuses for keyboards are it. Samsung and Apple could have done better. Huawei, too, could do better.

This review has been updated on July 8 to include Huawei's statement that production units will be improved over the current review units, and that the MatePen will work with third-party chargers. We've also added additional details about the fingerprint reader that were accidentally omitted from the original review.

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At a Glance
  • Huawei's MateBook convertible Windows tablet offers good performance packaged inside luxurious faux-leather cases. But the company leaned a bit too much toward fashion, sacrificing utility in the process.

    Pros

    • Solid performance, among the upper echelon of convertible tablets.
    • Luxurious faux-leather cases exude quality
    • Some artful design touches, including "nests" to store expansion cables

    Cons

    • Foldable keyboard doesn't offer the stability of a kickstand
    • Battery life is disappointing
    • Eliminating the SD card slot is a risky move
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