Like to look on the bright side? You should check out the new version of the Huawei MateBook X Pro (1,999 euros; U.S. price not set as of early April 2019), whose 450-nit screen makes it one of the sunniest ultraportables you can buy. The 13.9-inch display also has an unusual 3:2 aspect ratio, which lets you view more web or word processing content without scrolling than the more familiar 16:9 ratio, and the Huawei has received a component refresh since we called it an outstanding Apple MacBook Pro clone in May 2018. On the minus side, the webcam is still unusable for videoconferences, and the X Pro’s performance in our benchmark tests was unremarkable. It’s a contender, but not a dominator, in a strong field of under-three-pound laptops. We tested it in detail, but we’ll rate it once the final U.S. pricing comes in.
A Substantial Price Hike?
To answer your first question: 1,999 euros is approximately $2,240 at this writing, which seems steep compared to the $1,499 of last year’s model despite three minor upgrades. The first is a 1.8GHz Core i7-8565U processor, replacing a 1.8GHz Core i7-8550U. The second is a 1TB solid-state drive, replacing a 512GB unit. And the third is an Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU, replacing a GeForce MX150. Memory is unchanged at 16GB, and the 3,000-by-2,000-pixel touch screen is the same.
Huawei says there will also be a Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, priced at 1,599 euros (about $1,792 at this writing). The company also says that retail units’ solid-state drives will arrive as a single C: (Windows) partition, fixing a glitch that made me tempted to give my test system zero stars. The test model came with a D: (data) volume of 854GB and a C: drive of only 80GB, with just 40GB free to install new software at default settings. I had to use a third-party drive utility to merge the partitions to run our benchmarks.
Externally, the MateBook wears the same svelte Space Gray aluminum shell as the 2018 model; the only difference is that the Huawei logo has disappeared from the lid in favor of just the company name. At 0.58 by 12 by 8.5 inches, the system is a match for the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro but a fraction lighter (2.93 pounds versus 3.02 pounds). Neither is quite as compact as the Dell XPS 13 at 0.46 by 11.9 by 7.8 inches and 2.7 pounds, but all are easy, bordering on effortless, to carry.
The MateBook is short on ports. Its left edge holds an audio jack, a USB-C port (used with the compact AC adapter), and a Thunderbolt 3 port. On the right, there’s a lone USB Type-A port. You’ll look in vain for an SD card slot or an HDMI video output, let alone an Ethernet port to complement the built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Like last year, the X Pro’s screen bezels are so skinny that there’s no room for a webcam above the display. (Huawei boasts of a 91 percent screen-to-body ratio.) Instead, it’s between the F6 and F7 keys in the top row of the keyboard—press once to pop it up, again to conceal it. This flush-fitting design gives you security from webcam snoops, but also gives the camera a looming view of your neck, nostrils, and your enormous hands on the keyboard rather than your face. Its 720p images are crisp and well-lit, but frankly unsuitable for Skype calls or online chats.
Shallow But Snappy
The backlit keyboard has its cursor arrow keys in an Apple- or HP-style row (with half-size up and down arrows sandwiched between full-size left and right ones) instead of the inverted T that I prefer, and it lacks dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant surprise—short on vertical travel, but with a lively typing feel and smooth feedback as you accelerate to a brisk pace.
Equally smooth is the large, rectangular touchpad, which glides and taps without a hitch. Though it has no buttons, its bottom corners click with a gentle press. The power button above the keyboard doubles as a Windows Hello fingerprint reader, letting you switch the machine on and sign into the operating system with one push.
Huawei brags that the display’s 3,000 by 2,000 resolution and 260 pixels per inch top the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro’s 2,560 by 1,600 resolution and 227ppi, as well as offering touch-screen functionality that the Apple lacks. I’ve already noted the panel’s best feature, its exceptional brightness—even turned down a few notches to save battery power, it offers terrific contrast, with inky blacks and gotta-wear-shades whites. Colors are vivid and well saturated, and viewing angles are broad. Your eyes quickly adjust to the 3:2 aspect ratio and enjoy the razor-sharp view of fine details.
The MateBook’s quad speakers (two flanking the keyboard and two on the bottom edges) stir up a hurricane of sound, louder at 50 percent volume than many ultraportables at 100 percent. At max volume, it’ll not only fill a room but rattle its walls, without distorting or muddling overlaying tracks. Dolby Atmos software lets you tinker with presets and an equalizer. The system is generally free of bloatware except for Windows 10 Pro’s own (Candy Crush Friends, Cooking Fever, and so on) and a Huawei Share utility for zapping files between the laptop and Huawei smartphones.
Solid, if Unspectacular, Performance
For our benchmark tests, we matched the MateBook X Pro against four other Windows ultraportables. The Dell XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth have the same Core i7-8565U processor as the Huawei, the former with Intel integrated graphics and the latter with Nvidia’s GeForce MX150. Two other contenders also have integrated graphics: the Asus ZenBook S being another Core i7 system, and the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 chosen for comparison’s sake with a Core i5. You can see the challengers’ core specs below.
The X Pro wasn’t a standout in most tests, but it performed creditably enough to satisfy anyone seeking a traveling productivity partner. I thought its GeForce MX250 would outrun the Razer’s MX150 in our graphics benchmarks, but that proved not to be the case. On the other hand, its battery life was excellent.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). 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 work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The Stealth was the only ultraportable to surpass the PCMark 10 productivity score of 4,000 that we rate as excellent, while the XPS 13 missed it by a whisker and the MateBook X Pro was a little further back. The ZenBook S was a letdown. All five solid-state drives sped through PCMark 8’s storage test.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The Razer chalked up another win, while the Huawei finished last among the Core i7 laptops. But while it may not be a crackerjack 3D rendering or video editing workstation, it’s more than competent to handle a complex spreadsheet or database.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop 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 (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The MateBook placed in the middle of the pack here, taking an extra few seconds to perform each effect or filter. The delay won’t drive photo collectors crazy, but the lack of an SD card slot might, though the Huawei’s stunning screen makes up for a lot of sins in my playbook.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The X Pro trounced the three ultraportables with integrated graphics, which wasn’t surprising, but had to settle for the silver medal behind the Razer Blade Stealth. Neither is really adequate for more than light gaming as opposed to the latest fast-twitch titles, but both outshine the other three, which are strictly for casual or browser-based games.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
Neither the Huawei nor the Razer came close to 30fps, but the latter’s slight advantage despite having a theoretically inferior Nvidia GPU duplicated the surprise results from 3DMark.
Video Playback Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The Surface Laptop 2 joins the MateBook X Pro in having a 3:2 screen aspect ratio, and also joins it atop the battery chart. The Microsoft ultraportable is the clear winner at almost 16 and a half hours, but the Huawei’s stamina is nothing to sneeze at. Getting through a full day at work plus a Netflix movie at home should be no problem.
Stay Tuned for the Stateside Price
Obviously, I’d much prefer the MateBook X Pro at last year’s $1,499 price than at something over $2,000, so I can’t make a firm conclusion about that aspect of the laptop until the system is officially announced in the U.S. Even then, it’ll face formidable competition from the Razer Blade Stealth and Dell XPS 13.
I wish the refresh had brought an extra port or two and a conventionally placed webcam. Still, the Huawei’s eye-catching display will keep it in the top rank of ultraportables.
Editors’ Note: We are aware of the allegations presented by the U.S. Attorney General’s office on Jan. 28 regarding Huawei. Until we see evidence of how these allegations touch upon Huawei’s laptop business, we will continue to recommend its laptop products so long as their performance continues to merit our endorsement.