Huawei MateBook 2-in-1 first impressions: iPad quality, but with the added bonus of Windows 10

The new Windows 10 powered 2-in-1 feels more like an iPad than a Windows 10 tablet, and that's a very good thing.

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Huawei MateBook

The Huawei MateBook represents a lot of firsts for the Chinese hardware manufacturer. Not only is it the company's first Windows 10 powered notebook, but also its first 2-in-1.

With that in mind, I came to the MateBook with no preconceived notions whatsoever. Yes, Huawei has a reputation for making some solid smartphones - the P9 is a solid device - but portables are a different animal.

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Here are my first impressions of the MateBook and its accessories after about 15 hours of usage.

The MateBook

The device is built around a 12-inch 2160 x 1440 IPS LCD display with 10-point multitouch support outputting crisp and sharp text and images. Surrounding the display is a 10mm ultra-thin bezel, which means that the device boasts an 84 percent screen-to-body ratio, but despite the narrow bezel, I had no problems handling the device without triggering spurious screen touches.

The display is set in a smooth and sleek aluminum chassis with a darkened brushed finish, and the rounded corners and chamfering, which not only looks good but makes it more comfortable to hold for extended periods. There are no sharp edges, and protuberances such as the on/off switch and the volume rocker buttons are nicely machined and beautifully finished.

On the inside, you get the option of Intel Core M3, M5, or M7 processors, 4 or 8 gigabytes of RAM, and SSD storage options ranging from 128 gigabytes to 512 gigabytes.

All this is powered by a 33.7Wh Lithium Ion battery pack, rechargeable using a supplied USB-C fast-charge power adapter, which is enough to get it through a typical day. Huawei claims that the battery is good for 9 hours of Microsoft Office use or video playback, and 29 hours of music playback.

Right out of the box the MateBook oozes quality. The fit and finish is second to none and the 640g package feels flawless in the hand. To me it feels no bigger than a 9.7-inch iPad, and yet I'm getting all the benefits of a 12-inch display. True, the iPad has a better display on the pixel level, but unless I'm peering real close, I don't feel the difference.

Apart from the dock connector, the MateBook features a single USB-C port which handles both charging and connectivity. But don't worry if you don't have any USB-C peripherals just yet because not only does the tablet comes with a dongle you can use, but there's also an optional dock (more on that in a bit).

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Despite only being kitted out with an Intel Core M3 processor and 4 gigabytes of RAM, the MateBook feels nice and responsive. I understand that this is no powerhouse system, and that I'm not going to be playing Crysis on it, but as a mobile platform to get work done on it, it's worked flawlessly out of the box.

To me it feels like the iPad that I stopped using a few years ago, only much better. It's a quality tablet with a balanced hardware spec, but it offers the advantage of running Windows 10.

One hardware feature of the MateBook that I've grown to love is the fingerprint reader that's nestled between the volume rocker buttons. Having the fingerprint reader on the side of the device rather than on the front makes a lot more sense, and it makes unlocking the device so quick and easy that I wonder why other manufacturers haven't done this before. It's so nice and smooth and logical that it makes Apple's Touch ID sensor feel awkwardly placed.

I like the MateBook. A lot. It feels like Huawei has taken the long hard look at the iPad, figured out its strong points (the design, the weight, the overall fit and finish) and then added improvements of its own to it (such as the ultra-thin bezel and fingerprint reader).

For me, this is the closest thing to having an iPad that runs Windows.

The MatePen

Now, as most regular readers will know, I'm no fan of the stylus for general day-to-day use. I find them clumsy and awkward, and much rather use the meat nugget that's at the end of my hand for driving touchscreens.

That said, the MatePen works well. I've had no problems with connectivity and accuracy and the 2048-level pressure sensitivity seems very smooth and precise. And on the chewing end of the stylus is a laser pointer, which my cat seems to enjoy quite a bit.

It's a shame that there's no way to keep the MateBook and MatePen together physically, and that probably means I'm going to lose it pretty soon. I'm also not that keen on having to split the pen into two for charging - giving me two pieces to lose instead of one - but according to the specs I should only need to do that every 100 hours of use, so all is not lost.

The MateBook Portfolio Keyboard

The portfolio keyboard feels like the final design is a compromise. It's small and lightweight, only adding 450g to the tablet.

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The magnets that connect the keyboard to the tablet are nice and positive, and it's not at all fiddly to attach and detach the keyboard from the tablet. I also like the spill-proof design, and the backlit keys are a nice touch, and work really well in low-light (although there is a bit of light spill from along the bottom of the keyboard.

I also like the glass touchpad, which, as far as such touchpads go, is OK (just don't expect the sort of performance that you get from a MacBook touchpad).

But...

The whole package feels floppy and a bit cheap, and unless you're using it on a hard surface then expect to be frustrated no only by the tablet folding on you, but also by the way the keyboard caves in when you type on it. I think you could work with this on your lap, but I think it all depends on your patience (and I certainly don't have that sort of patience).

That said, these are complaints that can be leveled at most "portfolio-style" keyboards, but given the quality of the MateBook, I'd have expected Huawei to have maybe given it a little more thought and come up with a keyboard that's of similar quality to the tablet it attaches to.

The MateDock

Finally, the dock.

What can I say about this other than it's a dock that features two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI, and a VGA port to allow the MateBook to be hooked up to a variety of peripherals. The dock comes in a case that has a loop to hold the MatePen and storage slots for cables.

The dock does what is says on the tin, and whether you want on or not depends on how you plan on using your MateBook.

Final thoughts

I have to say that I like the MateBook a lot. The build quality is good, and it works pretty much right out of the box. If you like the iPad but wish it could run Windows 10, then this is the device for you.

The downside is that pricing is a lot higher than you'd expect for an iPad, but this has to be balanced out against the increased storage capacity.

It's swings and roundabouts.

Compared to other 2-in-1s, again, it depends on what floats your particular board. I like the display and the ultra-thin bezel, and I've really bonded with the fingerprint reader placement on the device (it feels so logical). That said, for some, the lack of a built-in full-sized USB 3.0 port and the reliance on a separate dock for anything beyond USB-C may be a deal-breaker.

As for the peripherals, the MatePen is good, the MateDock does what it says it's supposed to do, and the portfolio keyboard feels like a compromise and could, in mu opinion, do with being made a little more robust.

Pricing

According to Huawei the MateBook and its accessories will be sold in a variety of different bundles later this year, with prices ranging from $699 to $1,599 for the MateBook itself.

The optional keyboard, stylus, and dock will be priced at $129, $59, and $89, respectively.

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