Earlier in the year, I reviewed Huawei’s MateBook X Pro, fast forward a few months and there’s now a series of laptops from Huawei to chose from. The new 2020 MateBook 14 is focused on performance, featuring a dedicated Nvidia GPU, while the X focused on experience and the D line focuses on value.
After living with the Huawei MateBook 14 for the past couple of weeks, it’s definitely a great representation of what a modern ultrabook should be. Of course it’s light and portable, but it’s great performance addresses one of main drawbacks of ultrabooks. For many of us PCs are just not an option, given the need to be mobile and as we consider more flexible working arrangements, having a laptop that’s comfortable to carry to and from the office is incredibly important.
While the ultimate portable performance can be achieved in a large, heavy gaming-style laptop, that’s just not a practical solution for most people and the battery life often isn’t enough to get you through a day. I think the mix of performance and portability Huawei has achieved with the MateBook makes for a really compelling offering.
Now its time to evaluate if this should be your next laptop.
Metallic Body with a chamfered surface
The MateBook 14 features a full metal body cool to the touch and the curved edges make it comfortable in the hand. Huawei designers have leveraged a metal blasting process to achieve a ‘smooth to the touch’ finish, avoiding the harsh edges sometimes found on aluminium chassis.
To add a little bit of flair, and visually enhance the product, Huawei used a diamond cutting technique to bring a shining metallic luster to the edge of the laptop, allowing light to naturally reflect across the edge of the product. It’s a subtle thing that you won’t notice at first but does actually give a little more premium feel to the hardware.
Once you open the laptop, its the display that is easily the star of the show. It features a massive 90% screen to body ratio with just 4.9mm bezels on the top and sides, and only slightly larger 11.6 mm on the bottom.
In Australia, we get a choice of a single colour, Space Grey, which thankfully is a really slick finish. The aluminium body tips the scales at just 1.53kg and 15.9mm, which houses a full-sized backlit keyboard and an ultra-responsive trackpad.
In terms of design, the laptop really is a well-executed ultrabook and during my review, I found moving it around the house, between the office, the kitchen bench and the couch, was a breeze. I’d be happy to carry this between home and the office or to meetings as the weight is really not noticeable in your average backpack.
How does it perform ?
While design and portability are important, let’s face it, the way you justify the price tag, is through the functionality a laptop’s performance can deliver you. In the professional space, this can save you time and when time equals money, every second counts. Sure the ultimate performance would only be achieved with a desktop, but some roles require you to be portable, in fact in 2020, almost all demand that.
When it comes to performance, Huawei has included a 10th gen Intel Core i7 (10510U) processor and 16GB of RAM, or in the Core i5 variant (10210U), you get 8GB. Our review was the more performant edition and surprisingly, both editions come with a dedicated GPU, an NVIDIA GeForce MX350 2GB GDDR5, that offers around 2.5x performance of standard integration graphics.
To keep things cool, Huawei engineers have come up with Shark fin 2.0 design, delivering 18% more air flow compared to traditional fans. It’s one thing to install better cooling, but that’s not really the whole equation. The device also needs to be as quiet as possible, while keeping internal components in their thermal envelopes. Thanks to an intelligent filtering solution, Huawei walks the fine balance between managing access to performance and reducing noise.
When it comes to Benchmarks, PCMark 10 revealed a very healthy score of 4,251, chiefly helped by that GPU. As a comparison, the giant Dell 17″ Gaming Laptop I reviewed last year scored a 5119 in the same benchmark. The Acer Predator Helios 300, a 15″ gaming laptop only managed 2,949, so comparatively, the MateBook 14 performs incredibly well for its size and weight.
Practically I found work tasks like video editing, even with 4K footage from a GoPro, were not a problem for the MateBook 4 and some pretty moderate gaming was also very acceptable.
Stand out features of this device.
The display on the MateBook 14 is definitely bright and vibrant, great colour, but one of the best attributes is the 3:2 aspect ratio of the display. This is certainly not unique in the industry, with Microsoft’s SurfaceBook also sharing the same aspect ratio. The reason this is a big deal is the extra vertical resolution provides more space for viewing web pages, or productivity software like Adobe’s Photoshop, or Premiere. This display features a 2K resolution of 2160 x 1440, has 300 Nits of brightness and a 1000:1 contrast ratio.
Like the MateBook X, Huawei has positioned the camera in the keyboard, which enables them to minimise the bezels around the screen, achieving a 90% screen to body ratio.
Huawei continues to use the power button as a fingerprint reader that is Windows Hello compatible. This means you can wake the device and authenticate into Windows with a single button press. This was intentionally positioned outside the keyboard to avoid accidental presses.
When it comes to I/O ports, these include a USB 2.0 + USB3.0 port on the right side of the body, with the left featuring a USB-C port, full-sized HDMI and 3.5mm audio jack. This is a decent set of ports, however I would have loved to see another USB-C port, given we’re in the later stages of 2020, and most of my peripherals are now switched over to USB-C.
When it comes to that camera in the keyboard, this move was primarily a response to customer privacy concerns. We see this from a number of manufacturers, with HP now including hardware camera covers in many of their models. We saw Dell try a lower-angle camera in the XPS and received plenty of feedback the angle wasn’t great and I feel the same is true with this camera. It’s a nice solution to the privacy challenge, but positioning a camera that low, means you need to position your laptop not at desk height, but find a way to raise it up.
When it comes to charging the MateBook 14, Huawei include a fairly sizeable charger, but the tradeoff in size, is that you get a 65W USB-C fast charger, this will charge your laptop to 50% in just 30 minutes. If you’ve ever been to an all-day conference, you’ve likely been nervous about making it through the day. If you could charge up at lunch, that stress would be mitigated thanks to this fast charging.
In terms of battery life, Huawei use a 56 Wh battery, which they say is good for as much as 14.7hrs of 1080p video playback. While I never found a need to play video for almost 15 hours straight, I found that I was able to get through the day with moderate use, so unless you plan on heavy workloads, you’ll likely make it through the day without a charge. Huawei predicts you’ll get 13.6hrs of Office Work, in my testing, I found it to be closer to 10-11hrs, still far more than the regular 8hr day.
Huawei Share is back with the MateBook 14. This means you can tap a Huawei smartphone like the P40 Pro, and have photos transfer wirelessly to the laptop for editing and sharing.
Not everything’s perfect
My biggest issue is definitely the location of the camera. Being underneath the screen, angled up at you, rarely represents your best angles. I appreciate what Huawei was trying to do here, by hiding the camera beneath a key, it completely removes any opportunity for the lens to see any part of your environment if you have it closed.
Personally, I don’t share the same paranoia that some do around malware that could potentially open up your webcam to being turned on when you don’t want it to be. I’m never doing anything interesting, just staring at the screen while I type reviews like this, or scrolling through social media.
I do understand an OEM wanted to address this issue, to appeal to as many people as possible. If this becomes a must-have feature for a buying, then they need a response. Personally, I’d trade a larger top bezel for a better webcam position (and better quality) every day of the week.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The Huawei MateBook 14 is available now (Tuesday October 6th, 2020) from Huawei directly, or from select electronic retailers. The Core i7 – 16GB RAM version reviewed here costs – A$2,499.
While everyone wishes prices were lower, this feels well priced for the performance, design and features on offer here.
With all things considered, what Huawei have assembled with the Huawei MateBook 14, is a really compelling offering. The hardware is thin, light and powerful, while also delivering more than adequate battery life. That’s so rarely the case in laptops, there’s so often compromises in any one of these columns and often a couple.
What’s maybe the most impressive takeaway of the MateBook 14, particularly the Core i7 version reviewed, is that regardless of the productivity task thrown at it, the laptop was up to the task, fast, responsive and happily accommodating our modern, multitasking workflows.
If you’re in the market for a new laptop, then I’d definitely recommend a the MateBook 14, just make sure you’re ready to grab an external webcam, or a laptop stand to elevate it to a position where the camera is positioned at a better angle.
- Great trackpad/keyboard
- Dedicated GPU
- Camera position
- Only 1 USB-C port