Huawei’s MateBook X and MateBook X Pro are some of the best looking laptops on the market, but they each came with a few compromises – and hefty price tags. That’s all the more reason to to be excited about the MateBook 13, which promises to bring the same style at a friendlier price.
Announced at CES 2019, the MateBook 13 looks an awful lot like the X and X Pro – with a few compromises, to be fair – but shaves a few hundred off the price, turning it into a competitive rival to the likes of the MacBook Air or the new Dell XPS 13 and potentially one of the best laptops of 2019.
Price and availability
The MateBook 13 is due out in the US from 29 January, and will cost $999 for the base model – which includes a Core i5 processor and 256GB storage – or $1,299 for a premium version with an i7, 512GB storage, and discrete graphics in the form of Nvidia’s MX150.
Considering that the MacBook Air starts from £1,199/$1,199 for a model with less storage than Huawei’s, while the XPS 13 starts from £999/$899 for an i3 processor, that pricing is already very competitive.
Huawei hasn’t yet announced pricing or release dates for the UK and other regions, but we’d be surprised the UK has to wait much longer than the US to get our hands on it.
Design and build: Apple-ish
If you’ve seen any of Huawei’s recent laptops then the MateBook 13 will appear immediately familiar. There’s the same choice of grey or silver finishes, with minimal bezels, an expansive touchpad, and all-metal construction.
It will probably also appear familiar if you’ve seen Apple’s latest MacBook and MacBook Air, and it’d be hard not to admit that Huawei’s designers owe a debt to Apple’s. That’s partly what will fuel the inevitable comparisons to the new Air, and the MateBook comes out surprisingly well.
The 13in, 2160 x 1440 touchscreen display is in the same 3:2 aspect ratio Huawei’s favoured for a few years. It’s a squarer, boxier format than you might be used to, which results in a lot of letter-boxing when you watch movies or TV, but leaves you with plenty of vertical screen real estate when you’re working or browsing the web. That makes it ideal as a work device, if less optimal for curling up in bed with Netflix.
At 1.3kg it’s not super lightweight, and this is clearly where the corners were cut to keep that price down. That makes it the same weight as the larger MateBook X Pro – which has a 13.9in display and a bigger battery to justify the size – though in fairness it’s still only fractionally heavier than its Apple rival.
That slim build does come with the usual cost though: ports are limited, with just two USB-C ports (one for charging) along with a headphone jack. Expect to need dongles aplenty if you hope to connect anything else up to it.
Specs and features: Undercutting the competition
Specs are surprisingly impressive for the price, and this is where the MateBook 13 really pulls away from its Apple and Dell equivalents. The fact that the base $999 model packs an i5, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage is undeniably competitive.
The $1,299 premium model is arguably even better value – not only does that get you the i7 and double the storage, but the jump to an MX150 graphics card makes this one of the most affordable ways to get a discrete graphics card in an ultrabook out there. The only real downside here is the RAM – 8GB isn’t bad, but it lags behind the rest of the specs, and may put off anyone hoping to use it for proper video or photo editing on the go.
The webcam is also a bit of a letdown. Megapixels aren’t everything, but a 1MP camera is, well, not good. That’s the sort of compromise I’d be perfectly happy to make, but for anyone regularly using their laptop for video calls it’s likely to feel like a real limitation.
Battery life is also a bit of a concern. I use the original MateBook X as my daily laptop, and there are a lot of things I love about it, but battery life ain’t one of them. The MateBook 13 has a similar capacity, and while Huawei claims it can support 10 hours of video playback, I won’t believe it until we can test it out for ourselves.
It may sound cliché to compare the MateBook 13 to the MacBook Air, but it’s hard not to. With such similar designs there’s little to tell the laptops apart on aesthetics, and as soon as you look at the internals Huawei’s laptop pulls sharply ahead.
The base model offers double the storage of Apple’s for $200 less, while the more expensive one manages to a faster processor, double the storage, and a discrete GPU and still comes out $100 cheaper than Apple’s $1,399 SKU.
The only real compromises are on webcam picture quality and potentially battery life, though the latter could be a dealbreaker for anyone seriously considering switching from San Cupertino.