Huawei’s phone business may be looking more beleaguered than ever, but fortunately the same cannot be said of the company’s laptops, which remain some of the best – and most competitive – Windows devices around.
So it is with the 2020 version of the MateBook X, a slim and ultraportable notebook that packs in enough power for most into one of the slickest designs I’ve seen yet.
There are downsides, of course – chiefly limited ports and a webcam angle that it would be generous to call ‘unflattering’. If you can look past those however, there’s an awful lot to love here. If you can get hold of one that is, as with no official UK or US release, this laptop is import-only for us.
Design and build
The MateBook X is undoubtedly one of the most petite 13in laptops around.
At just 13.6mm thick and approximately 1kg, ‘thin and light’ feels like an understatement. There are thinner laptops around, and there are lighter ones, but there are few that nail both elements to this degree, which is a big part of the initial appeal when you pick this thing up.
Made predominantly out of a magnesium aluminium alloy the MateBook X still looks and feels premium – it’s not packed with cheap plastic to keep the weight down – and comes in a choice of two colours: silver or green. I’ve been reviewing the silver model, but I reviewed the 2020 MateBook X Pro in a similar green, and still think it’s the best finish I’ve ever seen on a laptop.
Still, there are downsides to the design choices made here. The first is ports: like all too many portable laptops, the MateBook X is limited to two USB-C ports (neither of which supports Thunderbolt) and a headphone jack. Huawei ships the laptop with a USB-C dongle to cover a few extra options, but it remains frustrating that the company couldn’t squeeze just one regular USB port into the chassis.
Perhaps the bigger challenge these days is the webcam. Huawei has long hidden the high-end MateBook’s webcams into a fake key in the function row; push the key down and a secret webcam pops up. That’s great for keeping a slim bezel around the display, and also welcome from a privacy perspective, since the camera is physically covered when not in use.
It’s just…not great when you actually want to use the webcam, which you probably are more and more these days. At 720p the video quality is acceptable enough, albeit not great, but it points up at a perpetually unwelcome angle. It’s not only unflattering, but also impractical; it’s difficult to frame yourself properly, and adjustments require moving or propping up the entire laptop, rather than tilting the screen a bit.
Speaking of the display, this at least does benefit from the dodgy webcam, with a slim bezel on all four sides of the touchscreen panel.
It’s an LTPS LCD rather than AMOLED, so it won’t deliver the inkiest blacks around. That shouldn’t put you off though – this is one of the better LCD panels I’ve used, with bright, punchy colours and loads of detail thanks to the 3000×2000 resolution.
It probably won’t need the needs of professional designers or visual artists in terms of colour accuracy – it covers 99% of sRGB but only 74% of AdobeRGB and 76% DCI-P3. If you’re not sure what that means though, then I promise it won’t bother you.
One of the other appeals is the aspect ratio. Huawei has been a major proponent of the boxy 3:2 aspect ratio, and I’m here for it. The screen is taller than most rival laptops, even those adopting the growing trend for 16:10 panels, giving you extra vertical real estate.
That extra space is fantastic when you’re working – there’s always a bit more of the Word document or Excel sheet on-screen than usual – but I honestly appreciate it even when I’m just working through emails or doom-scrolling Twitter.
The downside is that when you watch movies or TV you’ll have even more noticeable letterboxing – the black bars above and below the video – so bear that in mind if Netflix and YouTube dominate your screen time.
Keyboard and trackpad
With such a compact laptop body, it’s a relief that Huawei has done its level best to devote every inch of space it can to the keyboard and trackpad.
The typing space stretches fully from one edge of the laptop to the other, with comfortable, backlit chiclet keys that are a real pleasure to type on. If this isn’t the best 13in laptop keyboard around, it’s close enough that we’re splitting hairs.
The touchpad is also a bit of a coup. Huawei has extended it all the way to the bottom edge of the laptop to give you the most space possible; it’s a design choice that looks as good as it feels to use.
Huawei has also built in subtle haptic feedback whenever you click on the touchpad. It’s much subtler than you might expect – nothing like the vibration on a phone – but instead somehow helps each click feel a little bit clickier.
There’s another secret hidden here too. Huawei has taken its Huawei Share tech – which lets you connect the laptop to a Huawei phone or tablet and quickly screen share or swap files – and built it into the touchpad, freeing us of the ugly sticker that previously contained the tech and thus couldn’t be removed.
Specs and performance
The MateBook X is powerful, but not a powerhouse – which is only fair given the size of the thing.
The laptop ships with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD, and then a choice between an i5 or i7 processor – both 10th-gen, but from the lower power U-series designed for thin and light devices like this. Either way there’s no discrete GPU option – only Intel’s UHD graphics.
I’ve been testing the i5 model, and benchmark results are admittedly modest, especially in the 3DMark graphics test, though this is no surprise from a U-series i5.
As I said, this isn’t intended to be a powerhouse; the MateBook X isn’t really pitched for gaming or heavy duty creative work. Throw it at more typical day-to-day productivity tasks, streaming, and video calls, and it absolutely nails it though – it’s even moving smoothly with about 20 Chrome tabs open right now.
If your needs are substantially more demanding than running office software and Slack then you’re probably better off elsewhere. But for simple stuff, this laptop packs plenty of power.
With such a slim build I was worried about cooling, but to my surprise the MateBook X doesn’t run too hot. It gets warm, especially while charging, but never uncomfortably so – more than I can say for some similarly sized rivals. This is of course from testing an i5 model, so it’s possible that the more powerful model will run more of a temperature.
As for battery life, the MateBook X is distinctly average. It lasted a hair over nine hours of continuous video playback in our tests, which is at the low end of what I’d expect for a laptop like this, though it’s not too far behind the rest of the pack.
The size of the chassis is likely to blame here, as there’s only so big a battery you can fit inside a laptop this small, so the 42Wh cell included here isn’t unreasonable.
In practical terms, you can just about eke out a full day’s work on battery power, but it might be touch and go towards the end.
It helps that Huawei ships the MateBook X with a compact USB-C charger that will likely also work with your phone and other tech. It’s fast enough to top the laptop battery up by 38% in 30 minutes, so while you might want to keep the power adapter handy, you won’t need to feel chained to a plug socket.
The elephant in the room with any Huawei tech these days is the company’s US trade ban, which has all but crippled the company’s phone business in the West, where it can’t ship devices running Google software.
The good news is that the same doesn’t apply to the Huawei laptop line, so fear not: this runs a full version of Windows 10 with no compromises or missing features, and you’ll continue to receive updates and software support from Microsoft no matter what.
You also get the perk of Huawei’s own ecoystem integrations, but only if you use other Huawei tech. Chief among these is Huawei Share, which I mentioned in brief above – it lets you share files between a Huawei or Honor phone and your laptop, and even bring the phone screen up onto your laptop display as a full workspace – so you can open apps, reply to texts, and even answer calls all from your laptop.
It’s genuinely one of the best ecosystem implementations around, but it does hinge on using a current Huawei phone – and since those don’t ship with Google support these days, it’s sadly unlikely that you do.
Price and availability
The MateBook X is expensive, but not prohibitively so, at €1,599 for the i5 model and €1,799 for the i7 variant.
Sadly despite plans for a UK launch the MateBook X remains unavailable here, and that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon. It also won’t launch in the US.
Still, it’s widely available in Europe and other markets around the world, so prospective British or American owners can always import one from one of Huawei’s storefronts abroad.
Huawei used to make a habit of undercutting the competition on price, but it’s perhaps a sign of confidence in its laptops that the company no longer feels a need to. The result is that the MateBook X is priced comparably to the latest Dell XPS 13, and is in fact undercut by the HP Envy 13 and even the latest MacBook Air.
It’s worth noting that there are other Huawei laptops that you can buy direct in the UK – the even more premium MateBook X Pro starts from £1,399, while the 2020 MateBook 14 isn’t quite as slim, but runs much cheaper at just £749 – it’s also currently sitting pretty at the top of our best laptop chart.
The MateBook X is a pretty bit of kit, with an exceptionally slim and lightweight design and a keyboard and touchpad that make the laptop a joy to use.
That comes with compromises to ports, performance, and that webcam, but I think the trade-offs will be worth it for all but the power user.
With no official UK or US availability and a slightly steep Euro asking price this is by no means a value offering, but if you’re willing to pay a little extra for a premium machine, you’ll be rewarded.
Huawei MateBook X (2020): Specs
- Windows 10
- 13in 3000×2000 LTPS touchscreen, 278ppi
- Intel Core i5-10210U or i7-10510U processor
- Intel UHD Graphics
- 16GB LPDDR3 RAM
- 512GB SSD storage
- Pop-up 720p webcam
- 2x USB-C
- Headphone jack
- Fingerprint Power Button 2.0
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Quad speakers with Dolby Atmos
- Dual microphones
- 42Wh battery
- 65W USB-C charging
- Silver Frost or Forest Green