Laptops are exercises in compromise, with companies sacrificing what they deem to be unnecessary features on the twin altars of portability and longevity. The decisions on what to keep and what to ditch will ultimately be how the hardware is judged in the real world. Huawei's fourth traditional laptop, the MateBook X Pro, manages to avoid most of the pitfalls around cramming decent hardware in a slender, good-looking body. In fact, it might even be good enough to make laptop buyers think twice about simply running back to the usual cluster of brands.
Gallery: Huawei MateBook X Pro | 18 Photos
Gallery: Huawei MateBook X Pro | 18 Photos
Huawei MateBook X Pro
- Well-engineered USB-A port is a welcome addition
- Beautiful 14-inch display in a 13-inch frame
- Good battery life
- It’s expensive in Europe and may be pricey over here
- We still don’t know if and when it’ll actually arrive in the US
- Webcam placement will annoy some people
- Potential trackpad issues that we need to examine further
Huawei's MateBook X Pro illustrates the curious way that we talk about laptop sizes (and other screens), defining them by their display measure. It's 11.97 inches wide but packs a screen that measures 13 inches from corner-to-corner, making it a 13-inch laptop. Huawei has further compounded the confusion by inserting a 13.9-inch display into a chassis that measures just 11.96-inches wide. So, basically, it's a 14-inch laptop in a 13-inch body.
Huawei has never paid attention to the critics who say that its devices crib too many design features from Apple. Last year's MateBook X was a, uh, loving homage to Apple's suffix-less MacBook, and the Pro clearly draws plenty of inspiration from its Californian namesake. But Huawei wasn't content to simply rip off Jonathan Ive's work and pass it off as its own: The company has also done its best to improve upon it.
On the left-hand side, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a pair of USB-C ports; one for power, the other Thunderbolt-compatible. Down the right side, however, is a traditional USB-A port that just about fits without breaking the device's clean lines. It's a wonderful little addition for all of us who don't want to spend big on replacing all of their existing USB accessories.
Bigger laptops, like Lenovo's new X1 Carbon still come with USB-A and HDMI-out ports, for sure, but it's a testament to Huawei that it included the port on a device measuring just 14.6mm thick. And it's one in the eye for Dell's new XPS 13, which is surely the first machine people think about for a 13-inch ultraportable. Sure, there are different trade-offs to consider with that machine, because at 11.6mm, it's so much thinner. But we still live in a USB A world, so I like having at least one port on my work machine.
Weighing in at 2.9 pounds means that you'll just about feel its weight when carrying it around, but it's certainly not the heaviest machine you'll ever use. Build-quality, too, seems about right for a machine that's expected to be taken on the road -- and while I'd try not to drop it, it feels solid enough that it can take some punishment.
Display and sound
It won't be long before all laptops ship with bezels so thin that they are no longer worthy of comment, thanks to companies like Dell and, now, Huawei. The skinny bezels around the MateBook X Pro are how the company has crammed a 14-inch display into such a small space. And it does make a difference. It feels like you're basically gazing at your work (or TV show) rather than something in a bulky frame.
The X Pro's 3K touchscreen is very, very pretty, with eye-popping colors and crisp font reproduction that you'll enjoy staring into for hours at a time. The 450 nit backlight is very strong, although the reflective coating on the screen means that you'll struggle to use it in very bright sunlight. But then, the same could be said for pretty much any laptop at this price.
In the sound and vision stakes, the Huawei MateBook X Pro really does punch well above its weight. The laptop's stereo speakers have been tuned with Dolby Atmos 2.0 and it really does make a huge difference compared to other small laptops. Close your eyes and you could easily believe that you were listening to a dedicated soundbar rather than tinny laptop speakers. At higher volumes, you'll get the odd rattle when the bass (or low-talking dialogue) gets too much, but otherwise, I'm impressed.
The laptop does ship with a touchscreen, but since you can't flip it into either a stand or tablet mode, its utility is limited. Unless you're really, really into getting smeary fingerprints all over a glossy laptop screen when you're trying to work and can't be bothered to use the touchpad.
Keyboard and trackpad (and camera)
If there's one thing that a laptop like this needs, it's a rock solid keyboard -- especially if you spend your days typing and editing documents for a living. Huawei chose not to reinvent the wheel here, opting for a chiclet keyboard that is generously-sized and spaced with short, but decent, amounts of travel. There's a satisfying click at the bottom of each keypress that lets your fingers know you've successfully typed each letter. Coming from a 2013 MacBook Air, there was precisely zero learning curve to getting on this keyboard, and that's a good thing. Nestled above the delete key on the right-hand side is a fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello that worked pretty well most of the time.
I have fewer kind things to say about the trackpad, which is generously-proportioned but more than a little bit frustrating. No matter how much I messed with the sensitivity settings, I couldn't get the damn thing to work as well as I wanted. Switching between browser tabs often saw the pad misinterpret my drags as taps, meaning that I wound up dragging tabs out of windows. Palm rejection is another issue, and grazing my (admittedly meaty) hand across the pad often sent the cursor lurching up my documents. The company is concerned that it may be a production issue on this early hardware, and so will be sending over a replacement. If the problems go away, I'll update this section accordingly.