Huawei MateBook E review

With Microsoft finally succeeding in the hardware space with the Surface Pro, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for another manufacturer to step up and challenge that company’s dominance in the 2-in-1 market. Apple’s iPad Pro aside, it’s great to see Huawei improve 2016’s MateBook with its new MateBook E, part of an expanded MateBook line that also includes the X ultrabook and D laptop.

Huawei has made remarkable gains on its competitors in the smartphone market and its continued foray into computing is exciting to see. The MateBook E takes an admittedly Surface-heavy approach in its design, but how differently can a hybrid be when it’s this size and runs Windows 10?

Let’s leave aside whether or not you want a 2-in-1 and assume that you dig them. The MateBook E is one of the best out there.

UK price and availability

It’s still unclear when the MateBook E will get an official UK release but Huawei tells us it will be along in Summer 2017. So, soon, hopefully.

It will be available in Europe starting at €999 – though an actual release date is yet to be confirmed. That’s also pretty expensive considering the base model has a Core m3 processor and 4GB RAM.

Our Core i5 review unit with 8GB RAM retails at €1299, which represents better value given the boost in specs. The equivalent Microsoft Surface Pro costs £1249, so at least Huawei can compete on price.

Design and build

Huawei has done an incredible design job of the MateBook E. It is pure premium quality, with great attention to detail and a surprisingly robust keyboard folio case that offers full device protection.

The tablet itself is a svelte 12in device with a great in-hand feel, though as a tablet that doubles as a laptop the 3:2 screen ratio is different to an iPad’s. Think more widescreen, so in portrait mode this will feel too tall (but you’re never going to use it portrait so don’t worry). The bezels are of a thickness you’d expect, and the top one houses the front-facing camera.

On the top edge there are dual speakers and two mics alongside the power/lock button. The right edge retains the volume rocker/fingerprint sensor key that works brilliantly with the Windows Hello biometric set up. Further down the right edge is the USB-C port, with pogo-pin connector on the bottom edge and finished off with the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top left edge. All these are very unobtrusive.

The tablet clips easily into the newly improved (and thankfully included) leather keyboard folio cover. Our review unit cover was blue, though there are also brown or pink variants if you opt for the Champagne Gold tablet. Our tablet is a conservative but attractive Titanium Grey.

Everything clunks into place in laptop mode nicely thanks to the magnetic back panel that the tablet rests on; the action screams premium. Huawei has changed the pogo pin connectors to three pins instead of seven on the bottom edge of the device, allowing even easier docking for typing than before.

The back of the case has a solid hinge that allows for 160 degrees of adjustment that is brilliant for tweaking the viewing angle. It’s also impressively sturdy, so while the design still isn’t great for lap work, it is brilliant on a table. The keyboard itself is also excellent and sits flat on the surface you place it on, not slightly raised like the Surface Pro’s.

The keys are well spaced and have a pleasing feedback and travel to them considering the shallow unobtrusive form factor of the case they sit in. Also welcome is a two-level backlight for dark environment typing, a feature that also with the rest of the keyboard is powered directly from the MateBook itself so it doesn’t have to rely on its own battery.

The one thing I didn’t like about the keyboard case was the trackpad. It does work well and the action is good, but if you opt to tap to click rather than physically click then the pad moves slightly and feels a bit cheap. It’s nitpicking, but only because it’s the one design flaw in the whole thing – so overall, not bad going.

Carrying the MateBook E around is a breeze, and I like that the folio is a full cover unlike the Surface Pro or iPad Pro’s. You can throw it in your bag and not worry, though it would have been good to see somewhere to clip the optional MatePen. I frequently misplaced my review sample of the pen that you charge via USB-C.

While you have to pay extra for the MatePen (around US $30), included in the box with the keyboard is the updated MateDock. If you are annoyed by USB-C, then this will soften the blow by offering a USB-C port to charge, with also one each of USB-A, VGA and HDMI. For Huawei to include this and the keyboard in the box is commendable and beats Microsoft, who decide to include nothing but the tablet.

I think Huawei has nailed the design here. The obvious inclusion of a touchscreen is necessary for something you can use as a tablet but I think the fact I didn’t use it much as one is proof that the keyboard case is outstanding. When hooked up with a Bluetooth mouse this is a laptop.

Features and specifications

The MateBook E’s specs are high-end for a 2-in-1 hybrid device. Our review unit has a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 7Y54 processor, while the base version features a Core m3-7Y30. It’s important to note that the former is not the full fat i5 found on some laptops and PCs. It’s a mobile-specific chip that has low power consumption for improved battery life in this limited tablet form factor.

It is a 1.20GHz chip that is able to max out at 3.20GHz. It ran many programs simultaneously without noticeable lag, but chuck a few Chrome tabs, Slack, Word and Spotify at it and it’s pretty much running at full. And remember, our review unit had 8GB RAM, so expect less from the base 4GB model.

This means that, basically, even the most expensive MateBook E isn’t a workhorse. I threw a lot at it, and it coped admirably with multi-tasking and a full day of my work. However you won’t want to try and do any video or music editing on this thing without tearing your hair out, but I managed to image edit on Photoshop with no issue.

Models either come with 128, 256 or 512GB storage depending on your needs, and all have Intel HD Graphics 615 on board. It’s a capable GPU for the hardware and had no problem with basic gaming in our tests, but don’t expect to run anything as graphically intensive as say GTA 5 without some frustration.

The front facing 5Mp camera is good enough for Skype calls and integrates well into the OS. It sits atop a 12in IPS display with 2160 x 1440 resolution and 215ppi. Windows 10 Pro looks beautifully sharp, and the backlight is great with superb viewing angles that show little distortion.

The dimensions of the tablet are 6.9 x 278.8 x 194.1mm. 6.9mm is insanely thin for a Windows 10 Pro device, but it never runs too hot for comfort and the 4430mAh battery powers the unit efficiently. At full tilt with brightness high, mouse plugged in and a full work day underway though I did not achieve the 9 hours battery life that Huawei claims – though its test are with local video not streamed, and at 50% brightness.

At a more pedestrian pace the MateBook E manages a decent stint, and if you’re using it to check emails, browse the web and get through some serious word processing then you’ll be fine. As a Netflix machine it’s also in it for the long haul.

Huawei also offers optional accessories in the new Bluetooth mouse and updated MatePen. The mouse is a standard affair, but the pen is the more interesting addition. Taking obvious cues from the Surface Pro, it is a responsive tool that worked well in my testing with the preinstalled SketchBook software. The pen still has more delay than the iPad Pro, but artists will be happy with the capabilities of the device, which offers shading and 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity.

Huawei has also made a point of showcasing its Dolby speaker partnership with the MateBook E. It doesn’t pack the Dolby Atmos Sound System of the MateBook X ultrabook, but the dual speakers on the top edge here are decent for the unit’s size. Watching a whole film on here is perfectly acceptable in terms of audio, if not room filling. Headphone quality is also great through the 3.5mm jack.

Performance

For the number crunching, we ran Geekbench 4 and PC Mark 8 on the MateBook E. Check out in the below chart how it compares to the iPad Pro 12.9in, Surface Pro 4 and Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, three comparable hybrids. Bear in mind the TabPro stats are the m3 version while the Surface Pro 4 is the more comparable i5, though a previous generation to the MateBook.

The MateBook outpaces the Surface Pro 4 in the framerate tests but still scores lower on the PC Mark score – though you won’t notice in everyday use.

These scores help give you an idea of the competition, but if you’re considering a 2-in-1 in the first place, hopefully you understand that you are sacrificing power and battery life for better design and portability.

Software

Our review unit of the MateBook E came with Windows 10 Pro, showing that Huawei is trying to push this stylish hybrid into the business market. I can see the MateBook tucked into an executive’s briefcase and on boardroom tables, just as the Surface Pro is currently. The fact it runs the same software helps level the playing field.

Windows 10 is still awful to use in the optional tablet mode, but to be honest this is a product best enjoyed in laptop mode. Hybrid devices like this are best enjoyed when they perform excellently as laptops - sure, you can use it as a tablet but really it's built like this because it looks beautiful and it has a touchscreen, not necessarily because it should be used as both. The option to unclip the tablet for presenting or video watching is a mere convenience of flexible engineering.

The 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen means black bars appear on the left and ride sides when viewing standard 16:9 videos, but as a laptop this thing performs exactly as you’d hope. I had no problem moving straight to it as my main device, save for the downsize in screen from a desktop.

Huawei pleasingly does not clog the MateBook with bloat, adding only a relatively inoffensive MateBook Manager tool that helps you clear up trash and keeps an eye on your security. Otherwise this is pure Windows, which works well in the form factor and is attractively reproduced on the good quality 2K screen.

Huawei MateBook E: Specs

  • Windows 10
  • 12in 2160x1440 IPS touchscreen, 216ppi
  • BL-W09: 7th generation Intel Core m3-7Y30
  • BL-W19: 7th Generation Intel® CoreTM i5-7Y54 processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 615
  • 4/8GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 128/256/512GB SSD
  • 5Mp front facing camera
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4/5GHz 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 4430mAh non-removable battery
  • 6.9 mm x 278.8 mm × 194.1 mm
  • 640 g (without keyboard), 1100 g (with keyboard)
  • Windows 10
  • 12in 2160x1440 IPS touchscreen, 216ppi
  • BL-W09: 7th generation Intel Core m3-7Y30
  • BL-W19: 7th Generation Intel® CoreTM i5-7Y54 processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 615
  • 4/8GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 128/256/512GB SSD
  • 5Mp front facing camera
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4/5GHz 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 4430mAh non-removable battery
  • 6.9 mm x 278.8 mm × 194.1 mm
  • 640 g (without keyboard), 1100 g (with keyboard)

OUR VERDICT

The MateBook E is a clear improvement from the first generation and is on par with the Surface Pro as the best Windows 10 hybrid device. The well-built and included keyboard cover is the quiet star of the show here, as there’s not much you can do to jazz up the tablet itself.

It is expensive but given the keyboard is in the box alongside a dock represents better value than most rivals. It is a sleek, desirable piece of modern technology that impresses by actually being a viable laptop. As long as you understand the trade offs in power and battery life, you’ll be happy with it.

It won’t replace your laptop because we’ve reached the point where it actually is one.