Huawei is showing off its design chops and proving that it has what is needed to take on Apple and Microsoft in the premium laptop space. Ahead of Huawei’s launch of the new MateBook laptops and convertibles in Berlin, I was able to spend some time with two of three products at Dolby Laboratories—an important launch partner as Huawei tries to differentiate itself from rivals in the competitive computing space—in San Francisco, California.
Even though Huawei is the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer, its presence in the US is still a bit obscure, and the company is looking to change Americans’ perception with its premium PC products. With the launch of the three new MateBook products, Huawei is focused on design, performance and a great user experience to address consumers’ needs for mobility and connectivity, Ankit Jhaveri, Huawei’s Director of Strategy and Sales, told me.
Huawei’s flagship MateBook is the MateBook X, a model with a 13-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, making it a natural competitor to Microsoft’s newly announced Surface Laptop and Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro products. The MateBook X is machined out of aluminum, and Huawei will be offering this notebook in “Prestige Gold” and “Space Grey” colorways.
At 2.31 pounds and 0.49 inches thick, the MateBook X is one of the slimmest notebooks on the market, which definitely helps Huawei’s mission of keeping consumers mobile and connected. As with the trend with modern laptops today, the MateBook X comes with extremely narrow 0.17 inch bezels, giving it a nearly edgeless display. Huawei claims that this results in an 88 percent screen-to-body ratio for the display.
Screen resolution is 2K, which keeps things sharp. At 350 nits, the display seems brighter than most Ultrabooks in this category. Unfortunately, though, there is no touchscreen option on the MateBook X. Without a touch experience, the MateBook X feels more like a competitor to Apple’s MacBook Pro than Microsoft’s non-convertible notebook.
What makes the MateBook X unique is that it uses Intel’s 7th Generation Kaby Lake processors, up to a Core i7, but doesn’t come with a fan. This translates to a whisper-quiet experience, since you won’t be interrupted with fan noise, and by eliminating fan vents, Huawei is able to create a very sleek and slim profile for the MateBook X. According to Jhaven, Huawei is able to achieve a fanless Core i7 system—a first for this category—by using a patent pending technology called PCM.
PCM works to absorb heat when the system is under load, and then when the system is not being taxed, heat is slowly dissipated, which keeps the laptop cool. It’s similar to liquid cooling, Jhaven said.
Other specs include 4GB or 8GB of memory and either 256GB or 512GB SSD for storage.
And in spite of its good looks and positioning in the consumer space, Huawei has brought some technology that will please SMB and enterprise users looking to adopt the MateBook X. The island-style keyboard is splashproof and has 1.22mm of key travel.
In my brief hands-on time with the MateBook X, I found key travel to be pretty good—there is more key travel than the shallow keys of Apple’s MacBook, but keys are stiffer, requiring a bit more actuation force to give the illusion that the keys go in deeper than in reality. There’s also a generous Precision touchpad on the notebook.
Similar to Apple’s new MacBook Pro, the power button on the MateBook X integrates a fingerprint sensor, which works with Windows Hello authentication. The one-touch operation allows you to turn on your PC and log into Windows, and Jhaven noted that Huawei and Microsoft worked closely on this technology.
In terms of ports, you’ll get two USB Type-C ports, which can be used for data and power. Huawei is also releasing a new slimmer, more portable MateDock 2.0 that includes access to USB Type-A ports, Ethernet and a full HDMI port.
Another first for the MateBook X is that the MateBook X comes with the Dolby Atmos Sound System. According to Dolby representatives at the event, this is different from existing Dolby system since Dolby created the speaker hardware and software, including the speaker grill design, port, placement of speakers and amplifier design.
By being able to design the software and hardware for audio, Dolby was able to deliver robust sound and bass, explained Kevin Brennan, Dolby Laboratories Senior Director of Product Management. Typically, in compact systems, you’ll have to choose between louder volume or better bass, but being able to control hardware and software, Dolby was able to deliver on both important sound qualities users look for. Dolby’s work on the MateBook X works with the built in speaker found just above the laptop’s keyboard and with headphones plugged into the audio jack.
In an audio demonstration Dolby’s claims are largely accurate, and the system was able to produce deeper bass and louder volumes than similar system at this size. With Atmos technology, the MateBook X also gives you directional sound, and I was able to experience virtualized sound from overhead, similar to how Atmos works at theaters. To take full advantage of directional sound, movies need to be encoded to work with Atmos, but the technology allows the MateBook X to virtualize the audio experience and deliver a rich listening experience if films aren’t encoded with Atmos, explained Jermiha Douglas, Senior Product Manager, PC at Dolby.
When pressed if Dolby’s Atmos Sound System will be coming to other notebooks, Douglas said that it is launching first on Huawei’s products and that we won’t see it on any new products for some time. Douglas also informed me that because Dolby was so deeply involved in the Dolby Atmos Sound System software and hardware turnkey design, this does add to the cost compared to systems where PC manufacturers work on the hardware and Dolby steps in to tune the speakers to make it sound better.
In addition to biometric security, the MateBook X also supports TPM authentication for enterprise users.
The MateBook E Series is a refresh of Huawei’s current generation MateBook. As a refresh of its detachable form factor PC, Huawei showed that it listened to consumer feedback, and the MateBook E offers a lot of iterative refinements, including a new keyboard cover, 2K display and Intel’s latest Core M series architecture.
The faux leather keyboard cover has been redesigned, with a stronger and more stable connecting mechanism. Huawei changed the number of pins required to connect the keyboard to the tablet, moving from seven pins to just three for ease of use. And this year, like Microsoft’s Surface Pro series, the cover offers more versatility, with up to 160 degrees of tilt.
The keyboard is backlit, and this year there is a smart backlighting system that adjusts the level of brightness on the keyboard depending on how much ambient light is around you, meaning the keyboard will glow brighter in darker environments.
In terms of specs, you’ll get to choose between an Intel Core m3 or i5 processor—the i5 processor, Jhaveri said, is part of Intel’s Core M series but appears as a Core i5 due to Intel’s new and confusing naming convention for its processors—with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage. The MateBook E is available in either grey or gold colors, with keyboard covers in dark blue or brown hues. A fingerprint reader is integrated into the side of the tablet, making it easy to log into Windows.
Huawei did not have a MateBook D on hand in San Francisco, and I did not get a chance to experience the device. However, executives informed me that the MateBook D will be a 15-inch model with options for discrete graphics.
Like other models in the MateBook family, the MateBook D will be an all-metal unibody notebook that measures just 0.67 inches thick. You’ll be able to configure the MateBook D with an Intel 7th Generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processor.
Pricing and availability of the MateBook X, MateBook E and MateBook D will vary by region. Huawei did not provide me with pricing or availability information at the hands-on event, but company representatives said that the products will be competitively priced.