HUAWEI MateBook first impressions: a Surface competitor that’s all about the accessories

“The HUAWEI MateBook is the company’s first 2-in-1 Windows PC. Here’s our first impressions from MWC”

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At MWC 2016, HUAWEI hosted a pre-show launch event. Instead of introducing a smartphone or wearable like it did last year, the company decided to go bigger, and launched its first ever PC in the form of the HUAWEI MateBook. The theme of the event was ‘The new style of business’, and true to its tagline, the MateBook is a device that’s targeted at working professionals. It’s not a regular notebook, and instead HUAWEI chose to go the hybrid way, and launch a 2-in-1 Windows 10 device that’s on the lines of the Microsoft Surface. Wielding powerful specs and an array of interesting accessories, the MateBook seems like a device that’s meant both for work and play.  

We were present at the launch event, and got a chance to check out the device at the demo zone after. Here’s what we thought.  

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The main component of the MateBook is the tablet, and at centre-stage sits the 12-inch 2,160 x 1,440 pixel display. The screen is sharp and clear, and was very responsive during our usage, whether it was for swiping and scrolling, or just using the stylus. It’s a very sleek tablet, measuring only 6.9mm around the waist, and lightweight too at 640g, despite it’s all metal construction. One of the highlights of the MateBook is that it features a fingerprint sensor, and HUAWEI says its the first to offer a side-mounted fingerprint sensor on a PC. Powering the show is the latest 6th-gen Intel Core m dual-core processor, with a clock speed of up to 3.1GHz. You get choices of 4GB or 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and 128GB/256GB/512GB of SSD storage. There’s a choice of Windows 10 Home or Pro as the operating system, and a 33.7Whr battery to fuel the device.  

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Disappointingly, there’s not much in the way of ports, with only a headphone jack and a single USB Type-C port that doubles up both for connectivity and charging. On the plus side, this means that you can charge the MateBook with a powerbank, and HUAWEI made a big show of the fact that you can use the same charger for both your smartphone and tablet. The included charger itself is also really small, and reduces the overall size of the package. The remaining features of the MateBook include a 5MP front fixed-focus camera, dual-band Wi-Fi, MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1 and dual speakers. Now, we know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t seem like much at all on paper. That’s because the MateBook on its own is just a glorified tablet. It only comes to life with the accessories, and unfortunately, none of these come as part of the package. The three accessories HUAWEI showcased at the event include the portfolio keyboard, the MatePen stylus, and the MateDock.

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The keyboard of the MateBook, similar to the Surface, comes in a portfolio case, and you can get the cases in multiple colour options, including a striking red. The keys are well spaced and offer decent travel, and the touchpad is roomy.  

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The keyboard cover attaches to the MateBook via a magnetic dock at the bottom, and the cover can fold inwards to function as a kickstand. The downside of the keyboard is that it’s flimsy, and we don’t think it would suffice for users who do a lot of typing.  

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One of the highlights of the MateBook is its stylus, with HUAWEI is calling the MatePen. You can use it to scribble notes on OneNote, or draw on AutoDesk, a software that’s incidentally being bundled with the MateBook for three months. HUAWEI is targeting its 2-in-1 at designers and artists as well, and the MatePen is one of its biggest selling points.  

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The MatePen, like the Surface Pen, responds to pressure, so you can use normal pressure for a regular line, and apply more pressure for a thicker line. Apart from drawing, the MatePen also integrates a laser pointer, which is a useful feature. Plus, it also functions as a presentation clicker, a feature that corporates will love. The MatePen can be charged via USB, and HUAWEI says a single charge can deliver up to 100 hours of use.  

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The final accessory for the MateBook comes in the form of the MateDock. In our book, this is too important a device to be termed as just as an accessory, because it brings the features that the MateBook lacks the most – ports. The MateDock looks like a powerbank from the outside, and features an attached USB Type-C cable to connect to the MateBook.  

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The device features two USB 3.0 ports, a LAN port, an HDMI port and a VGA port. At the demo zone, it was placed in a case which also had a slot for the MatePen, as well as a magnetic cradle which you can tuck the MateBook’s charger into. We hope you don’t need to pay extra for the case.  

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Coming to the pricing, the base model of the MateBook with 4GB RAM/128GB SSD is priced at $699, while the top-end variant goes all the way up to $1599. The accessories add an extra cost, with the folio keyboard costing $129, the MatePen costing $59 and the MateDock priced at $89. The MateBook is just an overpriced Windows tablet on its own, and you’ll definitely need both the keyboard and dock if you plan on using it for work, which is what HUAWEI wants you to do. The competition for the MateBook is mainly the Surface Pro 4, which starts out at $799 for a similar configuration, but includes the Surface Pen in the package, not to mention the kickstand and various ports that are integrated into the tablet component.
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