Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Huawei MateBook 13 review: Acing the affordable ultraportable

Roland Moore-Colyer
29 Jul 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
900
Starting price

What the MateBook 13 lacks in flourish it makes up for in price and performance

Pros 
Excellent value
Solid performance
Attractive design and display
Cons 
Trackpad feels cheap
Difficult to find the top-spec model
Lacking in ports and Thunderbolt 3
Advertisement

There are more ultraportable laptops on the market than you can shake a stick at, but that’s not stopped Huawei from throwing one more on the pile. The MateBook 13 is, rather obviously, the Chinese company's take on Apple’s 13in MacBook Pro, and it's also the smaller sibling to the acclaimed MateBook X Pro and lesser-known MateBook 14.

The question is, can Huawei compete against other ultraportables, or is it better off fighting in the smartphone arena than battling it out in laptop land?

READ NEXT: The best UK laptop deals

Huawei MateBook 13 review: What you need to know

A quick gander at the MateBook 13 and you may shrug it off as a run-of-the-mill Windows 10 ultraportable laptop; that’s because it is. With a 13in touchscreen display and a slim chassis that holds the latest eighth-generation Intel mobile processors, it’s hardly breaking the mould.

There’s a trio of models on offer in the UK: an entry-level model with a Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage; a Core i7 model with 8GB of memory and 512GB of SSD space; and a top-end model that adds Nvidia’s GeForce MX150 dedicated graphics into the mix.

Our review unit is the mid-spec version, albeit with a 256GB SSD, which isn’t a combination you can buy in the UK.

If you’re worried about the current US trade ban hampering Microsoft’s support of Windows 10 on Huawei laptops, then fret no more: the US tech giant has confirmed that it will continue to provide software updates to all current Huawei Windows 10 machines.

Huawei MateBook 13 review : Price and competition

As Huawei doesn't sell directly to customers in the UK, pricing for the MateBook 13 varies. The entry model can currently be had for £750 from Amazon, down from £899, while the mid-range machine will cost you £929, reduced from £1,099. The version containing Nvidia GeForce MX150 dedicated graphics is trickier to find in the UK, but starts at around £1,000. The MateBook 13’s rivals had better look out because these are seriously competitive prices.

Dell’s excellent XPS 13 comes with a similar spec but prices begin at around £1,020, and there’s no dedicated graphics option. It’s a similar story for the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, one of our favourite ultraportables, which starts at £979 for a Core i5 model.

If you’re after a slim laptop that’s readily available and has MX150 graphics, then the Razer Blade Stealth 13 is a strong choice. You’ll need to shell out a hefty £1,500 to get one, though.

Speaking of expensive laptops, I can’t ignore the MateBook 13’s muse: the 13in MacBook Pro. It’s had a recent refresh and offers an OLED Touch Bar plus the latest Intel chips, but prices start at a steep £1,299. Compared to the quartet of laptops above, the MateBook 13 is actually a bargain for the specification it offers.

Huawei MateBook 13 review: Design

There's no doubt that the MateBook 13 draws design inspiration from the MacBook Pro 13. Its minimal industrial lines look like they were plucked out of the mind’s eye of Cupertino's engineers. And that’s no bad thing, as in its light grey or dark grey colour options - the latter of which resembles Apple’s Space Grey - it’s pleasant to behold, and the silvery textured Huawei logo on the lid stands out nicely too. Build quality is decent as well, but the finish isn’t quite up to Apple’s exacting standards.

Measuring 286 x 211 x 14.9mm (WDH) and weighing in at 1.3kg, it’s not the smallest or lightest ultraportable around, but it’s easy enough to pop into a backpack or laptop bag and forget about until you need it. You will have to factor in carrying a dongle, however, as the MateBook 13 only has a brace of USB Type-C ports (one with DisplayPort) and a 3.5mm headphone jack for connectivity.

Those USB Type-C ports are disappointingly both USB 3.1, meaning there’s no Thunderbolt 3 compatibility for connecting high-performance peripherals or external graphics card enclosures. Also annoying is that only the left-hand port can be used for charging, which seems an oversight to me. The bundled dongle adds a USB Type-A and additional USB Type-C port to the equation as well as HDMI and VGA - remember that? - connections. There are more elegant dongles around, but at least Huawei included this in the package rather than charge extra for it like Apple does.

Unlike on the MateBook Pro X, the MateBook 13’s 1MP webcam hasn't been hidden under a keycap and instead is back in the traditional top bezel of the screen. Those bezels aren’t as thin as on the MateBook X Pro, but the MateBook 13 still offers a respectable 88% screen-to-body-ratio.

There’s not much more to say about the MateBook 13’s design. It looks good, yes, but it’s far from an aesthetic knockout; there’s no XPS 13-style InfinityEdge display, no Alcantara-covered keyboard as seen on the Surface Laptop 2. But then it looks like Huawei was going for attractive function over fussy form with the MateBook 13, and I can appreciate that.

Huawei MateBook 13 review: Keyboard and trackpad

Lift the MateBook 13’s lid and the similarities to the MacBook Pro 13 abound. The keyboard looks the same and the touchpad is reasonably large too, though not quite as expansive as the Force Touch trackpad. But functionally, the keyboard and trackpad are quite different from the MacBook Pro’s.

Travel on the chiclet keyboard is shallower than that on the Dell XPS 13 for example, but at 1.2mm it has a lot more actuation than the Butterfly mechanism keyboards on modern MacBooks. Touch typing on the MateBook 13 is a pleasant experience, if not as tactile as the Surface Laptop 2’s keyboard, which is the best out of any current ultraportable I’ve tried. The keycaps don’t feel particularly premium compared to more expensive laptops, but there’s no discernible flex in the keyboard deck which will be a boon for heavy-handed typists.

One neat addition is the built-in fingerprint reader within the power button in the top right-hand corner, which works with Windows Hello for biometric signing in. Things get less positive when it comes to the trackpad. It’s a good size, offering more vertical and horizontal space than the trackpads on many rival 13in laptops. But it didn’t feel especially smooth or responsive; the use of Windows Precision drivers means the cursor goes where you want it to, but there’s a feeling of drag to the trackpad’s surface, likely down to the lack of glass coating.

It might look like a Force Touch trackpad, but the MateBook 13 uses a traditional diving board mechanism rather than haptics. This is fine, but there’s a good deal of play when physically pressing on both the left and right buttons, with the latter emitting a noisy ‘clacking’ sound. That’s hardly a deal-breaker but it can get a bit irritating and, arguably, it shows where Huawei cut corners to achieve the MateBook 13’s competitive price. A little more refinement would have been welcome.

READ NEXT: The best lightweight laptops

Huawei MateBook 13 review: Display

The most impressive thing about the MateBook 13 at first glance is its 13in 2,160 x 1,440 IPS display; due to the minimal bezels, the screen fills up most of the laptop’s top half. With a 2K resolution, which translates to 200 pixels per inch, text and icons on the screen are clear and sharp. The Dell XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth 13 offer 4K panels, but on 13in displays, the additional sharpness isn’t really noticeable unless you’re equipped with eagle-like vision.

Colour reproduction on the screen is pretty good, with the MateBook 13 achieving an sRGB gamut coverage of 91.9% and an sRGB gamut volume of 96.9%. I measured a contrast ratio of 938.61 and a maximum brightness of 333.32cd/m2, both of which are perfectly decent for everyday use, but for watching movies on the go the contrast is a tad lacking.

Then again, with its 3:4 aspect ratio providing more vertical screen real-estate than the XPS 13’s 16:9 display, there’s an argument that the MateBook 13’s display is centred more around productivity than video watching. I’m a fan of 3:4 aspect ratios on ultraportables as they make scrolling through webpages and documents a nicer experience than a laptop with more horizontal screen space.

As the MateBook 13’s display has a reflective rather than matte finish, it’s not ideal if you happen to be sitting directly under a bright light source. And all of the laptop’s rivals beat it in our screen tests for colour accuracy, brightness and contrast. Nevertheless, the MateBook 13 has a solid display and its minor shortcomings can be overlooked thanks to the narrow bezels and useful aspect ratio.

Huawei MateBook 13 review: Performance and battery life

Given our MateBook 13 is using a quad-core Whisky Lake generation Core i7-8565U with a base clock speed of 1.8GHz and a boost speed of 4.1GHz, paired with 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM - a fairly standard spec for an ultraportable in 2019 - it’s no surprise its performance is practically on-par with its rivals.

It managed an overall score of 99 in our in-house benchmark test, roughly in the same ballpark as the Blade Stealth 13 and XPS 13, and sitting pretty with 15 points more than the Surface Laptop 2. In the Geekbench 4 benchmark, the MateBook 13 achieved a single-core score of 5,081 and raked in 17,354 for the multi-core score. In these tests, it’s the fastest of the ultraportables, though the difference isn't vast and is a tad arbitrary, as in real-world use the machines perform equally well.

The fan noise does ramp up and the chassis gets a little warm when the MateBook 13 is pushing itself, but never unbearably so. It’s about as loud as the XPS 13 when running hard, and during benchmarks, the processor temperature hit a maximum of 93°C on one of the four cores, which is acceptable and didn’t lead to any noticeable CPU throttling.

As our review unit doesn’t have the optional GeForce MX150 GPU, graphical performance has to be handled by the processor’s integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics accelerator. Throwing the GFXBench car chase test at it, the Huawei MateBook 13 managed to deliver 21fps on-screen, which is slower than the XPS 13 and a good way behind the Razer Blade Stealth 13 with its dedicated MX150 GPU. This translates to a graphical performance that’ll run casual and older games, but it’s certainly not a machine to pull gaming as well as general productivity duties; you’ll want the MX150 model for that, and even then it won’t be suitable for proper gaming performance.

Despite its seemingly run-of-the-mill NVMe SSD, the MateBook 13 delivered read-write performance that beats the competition. In the AS SSD 4K benchmark, it delivered a sequential read speed of 45.87MB/s and a sequential write speed of 148.64MB/s. You’re not likely to notice much difference in load times between the MateBook 13 and its rivals, but it’s good to know there’s speedy storage if you need to transfer large files in a short time.

At exactly 7hrs of looped video playback, the MateBook 13 is simply fine when it comes to battery life; the XPS 13 managed over 10hrs in comparison. The MateBook 13 will still last most of a working day, longer if you’re careful with brightness settings and aren’t doing any demanding tasks, but it’s no device for road warriors.

Huawei MateBook 13 review: Verdict

Huawei could have done more with the MateBook 13, say by offering a better port selection and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, or using a design language that doesn't scream Apple. But Huawei played it safe instead, creating a laptop that’s the sum of its parts and nothing more.

The solid spec, decent display, and neat keyboard and design add up to make a good, if uninspired, ultraportable laptop. And shortcomings such as the so-so trackpad and meagre USB Type-C port, are more than compensated for by MateBook 13’s wallet-friendly price.

If you’re in the market for a neat, slim laptop with enough performance for everyday tasks and a sub-£1,000 price tag then you could do a lot worse than the MateBook 13.

Laptop Name specifications
ProcessorQuad-core Intel Core i7-8565U,
Whiskey Lake, 1.8GHz (Base),
4.1GHz (Turbo Boost)
RAM8GB LPDDR3
Additional memory slots0
Max. memory8GB
Graphics adapterIntel UHD 620 Graphics
Graphics memory1GB
Storage256GB PCIe SSD
Screen size13in
Screen resolution2,160 x 1,440
Pixel density200ppi
Screen typeLCD IPS
TouchscreenYes
Pointing devicesTouchpad and touchscreen
Optical driveNo
Memory card slotNo
3.5mm audio jackYes
Graphics outputsUSB Type-C 3.1 (DisplayPort)
Other portsUSB Type-C 3.1
Web CamHD 720p 1MP
SpeakersStereo speakers
Wi-FiWi-Fi 802.11ac
BluetoothBluetooth 5.0
NFCYes
Dimensions (WDH)286 x 211 x 14.9mm
Weight1.3kg
Battery size41.8 Wh
Operating systemWindows 10 Home
Operating system restore optionWindows restore partition