Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) Review | PCMag

Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) Review | PCMag

Originally an excellent (albeit quirky) ultraportable laptop when it was introduced in 2018, the Huawei MateBook X Pro has seen few noteworthy positive changes over the past three years. But during that time, competing laptops have also made significant advances, and all Huawei products have become exponentially more difficult to buy in the US. The 2021 version of the MateBook X Pro is therefore merely an average premium laptop.

Can You Buy a Huawei MateBook X Pro in the US?

Before you decide whether or not the MateBook X Pro is worth buying, a brief discussion of Huawei availability in the US is in order. The Chinese tech giant, which is on numerous US blacklists as a result of alleged ties to the Chinese government, says it plans to rely on third-party sellers to distribute the MateBook X Pro and other products in the US this year.

The company says it is currently unaware of any restrictions that would prevent its third-party partners from selling Huawei devices in the US. Indeed, most of the restrictions are imposed on suppliers of American-made goods and services to Huawei—business-to-business (B2B) sales, in other words. Some companies, Intel and Microsoft among them, have been granted exemptions to these restrictions in the past. Intel’s exemption was revoked earlier this year, but the company says that Huawei is still a customer, and that it works with the US Department of Commerce “to ensure we have the necessary approvals to continue shipping in compliance with US export controls.”

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So what does this geopolitical situation mean for MateBook X Pro shoppers? In short, it’s complicated. Amazon currently lists a wide range of Huawei devices including handsets, PCs, tablets, and wearables available for American consumers to purchase. And while there were some high-profile incidents during the shipping of Huawei devices in 2019 when the bans were first imposed, logistical issues have largely been ironed out. We had no trouble receiving our MateBook X Pro review unit from the UK via DHL Express. Likewise, FedEx claims that it can transport Huawei products to or from any of its 220 markets, “as long as the shippers and recipients are not subject to any government restrictions.”

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But most of the listings currently on Amazon for Huawei products are from independent merchants—Amazon itself is not currently selling the MateBook X Pro directly, and a spokesperson declined to comment on whether or not that situation might change.

If You Can Find It, It’s Not Cheap

This complicated situation boils down to a single fact: pricing and availability for the MateBook X Pro for US customers will vary much more significantly than they do for its chief competitors like the Apple MacBook Pro, Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, and Dell XPS 13. For the purposes of this review, we’ll use the UK list price of 1,599 British pounds, approximately $2,200. US buyers aren’t subject to the UK's 20% value-added tax (VAT) baked into all goods prices, so subtracting that gets us to $1,760.

Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) Review | PCMag

For this sum, which is a few hundred dollars more than the circa-$1,000 starting prices of other premium ultraportable laptops, you’ll get a well-equipped but quirky machine. A cutting-edge Core i7-1165G7 from Intel’s latest Tiger Lake chip family serves as the central brain. It's coupled with Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. Those are some significant upgrades from the Core i5, 8GB of memory, and 256GB SSDs that are offered on the cheaper, entry-level XPS 13 and 13-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 4.

The Huawei’s display is also top-notch and befitting of the price. The screen's borders (known as bezels) are extremely thin, with the display occupying 91% of the laptop's total surface area, according to Huawei. The aspect ratio is a rather retro-looking 3:2, which results in more vertical space than 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen formats, and is therefore well-suited to reading documents and scrolling through web pages.

The best parts of the touch-enabled display are its resolution, brightness, and color accuracy. Its 3,000-by-2,000-pixel resolution isn't quite 4K, which would need to be 3,240 by 2,160 pixels at this aspect ratio. But the difference is small enough that my eyes don’t notice it. Colors appear brilliant, thanks to the ability to display the entire sRGB color gamut, and text is razor-sharp.

Two Color Options

Originally only offered in Space Gray, a color that mimics the finish of the MacBook Pro, the MateBook X Pro now has a refined Emerald Green color option. The latter in fact has a blue-ish tint, adding a welcome splash of color to my desk, which on a given testing day is typically full of gray or black laptops. I’d choose the green option over the gray one in a heartbeat, especially since this laptop is never going to blend in with the crowd anyway—a prominent Huawei logo etched into the display lid advertises to the world that you’re using a product from a controversial company.

The MateBook X Pro measures 0.57 by 11.97 by 8.54 inches and weighs 2.93 pounds. It’s a bit hefty to pick up, and it’s far from the thinnest ultraportable laptop, but these are perfectly average measurements for its category. The 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 is 2.84 pounds and measures 0.57 by 12.1 by 8.8 inches, for instance. The XPS 13 is similar, at 0.58 by 11.6 by 7.8 inches and 2.8 pounds.

But while most widescreen 13-inch class laptops measure 13.3 inches on the diagonal, the MateBook X Pro actually has a slightly larger 13.9-inch display. This is great for people who want to maximize screen real estate and view as much of their content on a single screen as possible.

Those thin bezels are how Huawei manages to fit in the larger screen without making the MateBook X Pro heavier or bulkier, but they come at a cost: a webcam that’s barely usable. With no room for a conventionally sized camera sensor in the top display bezel, Huawei has opted to place the 720p webcam in a hidden pop-up button in the keyboard, where your fingers block it while you’re typing.

The keyboard-placed webcam was an ingenious solution when the MateBook X Pro first debuted a few years ago, since you can pop the camera down into the keyboard when it’s not in use to thwart webcam hackers from spying on you. And back then, before social distancing banished so many social interactions onto Zoom calls, few people used laptop webcams regularly anyway. But now that privacy shutters and tiny webcams that fit into even the thinnest of bezels are available, and PC webcams are used all day long for working and learning from home, the MateBook X Pro’s webcam placement makes little sense.

Innovative TrackPad, So-So Keyboard

The MateBook X Pro’s keyboard offers an average typing experience for a premium ultraportable laptop. The key switches are sturdy and there’s no discernable flex in the keyboard deck, but I’m not a fan of the shallow key travel distance. To my fingers, typing on the MateBook X Pro is about as comfortable as using the magnetic key switches of the XPS 13, and a bit less comfortable than the redesigned Magic Keyboard on the MacBook Pro.

Above and to the right of the keyboard, there’s a fingerprint reader that doubles as a power button. Below the keyboard, you’ll find an innovative touchpad that uses haptic feedback instead of a physical clicking mechanism. Long used on Apple laptops, haptic technology is only starting to work its way into mainstream Windows machines, mainly from Lenovo. Huawei’s implementation is a bit better than what you’ll find on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, which is one of the only other examples currently on the market. I don’t find the clicking experience as polished as what the MacBook Pro offers. Clicks feel a bit chintzy, and there’s nothing in the way of software trackpad adjustments.

Two small speakers flank the MateBook X Pro’s keyboard, fitting into almost impossibly thin grilles, while two larger ones push sound through long, thin louvers along the left and right edges on the bottom of the laptop. To my ears, both the quality and volume of the sound that emanates from them are excellent. It’s easily enough to fill a medium-sized room, and while there isn’t a ton of bass, I was impressed by the richness of the output overall while watching a brief clip from an action movie.

While bloatware on the MateBook X Pro is minimal, there are several preinstalled apps designed to work with phones, tablets, and other devices from Huawei. One, called Huawei Share, is theoretically useful for people who have a Huawei phone, which can send and receive texts, transfer calls, and drag and drop files to and from the MateBook X Pro. Not many American buyers have devices compatible with this feature, however.

USB-A Lives On in the MateBook X Pro

I appreciate that Huawei manages to fit a rectangular USB Type-A port on the MateBook X Pro’s left edge. This port is quickly disappearing from other comparably thin and light laptops, although the Surface Book 4 is a second notable exception. The MateBook X Pro also offers two USB-C ports, either of which can be used to charge the laptop. Both also support USB 4 and Thunderbolt, which means you can connect up to two external 4K displays with 60Hz resolutions, and transfer data at up to 40GBps. The MateBook X Pro has a 3.5mm headphone jack, too, should you want to connect wired headphones.

Meanwhile, wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). The MateBook X Pro has 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi support, and connection speeds were excellent in my testing.

Testing the MateBook X Pro: Standard Tiger Lake Performance

The MateBook X Pro offers no performance surprises. It will easily handle pretty much any basic computing task you throw at it, from web browsing to videoconferencing, and it should at this price. However, its performance on our benchmark tests doesn’t stand out when compared with that of similarly priced competitors.

The chart below shows how the MateBook X Pro’s processor, memory, storage, and graphics components compare with those of a few other competing laptops, including the Apple MacBook Air, the XPS 13, the Acer Swift 3X, and the HP Envy 14. A few of these models are slightly less expensive in the configurations we reviewed, especially the MacBook Air, but they’re all in the $1,000-and-up premium ultraportable category with similarly sized screens.

See How We Test Laptops

From the Windows-only PCMark benchmark, we can see that the MateBook X Pro’s general computing and storage performance is excellent across the board. It doesn’t top a score of 5,000 on the PCMark 10 test, as the HP and Acer do, but anything above 4,000 represents excellent performance. The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing.

PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. Most laptops with SSDs as their boot drives offer uniformly excellent performance here, and the MateBook X Pro is no different.

When it comes to more CPU-intensive workflows like image rendering and video transcoding, the MateBook X Pro is a bit slower, but it will still get the job done in a pinch. It’s the slowest of the bunch on our Cinebench test, a rendering exercise that’s fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads.

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-encoding trial, another tough, threaded workout that's highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. Here, the MateBook X Pro is slightly slower than the Apple M1-equipped MacBook Air.

The MateBook X Pro is a bit more competitive on our image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The MateBook X Pro is second only to the Swift 3X on this test.

We don’t recommend playing intensive 3D games on an ultraportable laptop with an integrated graphics chip like the Iris Xe. The results of the Windows-only Superposition and 3DMark gaming graphics tests show the MateBook X Pro distinctly behind the Envy 14, which uses a more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti discrete GPU.

Alas, This Pro's an Also-Ran

One of the most disappointing aspects of the MateBook X Pro is its short battery life. Huawei rates it for just 10 hours of local video playback. In our local video playback test, which involves setting the screen brightness to 50% and disabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it lasted for less than nine hours...

That’s significantly behind all of its competitors. The MateBook X Pro’s power-hungry, high-resolution screen can’t excuse it here, since the MacBook Air also has a high-resolution screen and manages to last for nearly 30 hours unplugged.

Battery life and camera quality are critically important in the work-from-home world we live in, where many people are chained to their laptops at home all day long and may need to negotiate office space and power outlet use with other family members. The MateBook X Pro offers decidedly subpar experiences in both of these critical areas, even if it’s otherwise a decent premium ultraportable laptop. Add in Huawei’s unique availability challenges, and the result is that most people would be better off buying a comparably equipped, Editors’ Choice-winning XPS 13 instead.

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