Huawei MateBook D 15 (2021) review: Still stylish and solid, but issues remain

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Light weight for a 15.6-inch laptop
  • Good build quality
  • Good connectivity with some Huawei (and Honor) handsets
  • Fast charging

Cons

  • Poor webcam location
  • Disappointing battery life
  • Disappointing speakers
  • Screen brightness and viewing angles could be better
  • No Thunderbolt support

Huawei has become an established laptop seller (outside the US, at least), and last year its MateBook X Pro (2020) and MateBook D 15 (2020) both impressed -- albeit with a couple of caveats. The 2021 refresh of the MateBook D 15 doesn't make any fundamental changes -- this is more of an update than a reworking.    

Anyone looking for a laptop whose specifications they can configure at purchase time should look elsewhere. There's just one choice for purchasers in the UK, with an 11th-generation Intel Core i5-1135G7 with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, for £749 (inc. VAT). In other territories, you can get 16GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. 

The dark grey chassis colour, which Huawei calls Space Gray (I'd call it slate), is rather appealing. It won't look out of place in an office environment. 

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Apart from upgrading to an 11th-generation Core i5 processor and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), the 2021 MateBook D 15 is little changed from its 2020 predecessor.

Images: Huawei

A key feature of the Huawei MateBook D 15 (2021) is its marriage of a large screen with light weight. The 15.6-inch screen sits in a chassis measuring 357.8mm wide by 229.9mm deep by 16.9mm thick. These dimensions are exactly the same as those of last year's model. It weighs 1.56kg (up 3g from last year). The aluminium alloy chassis helps to keep the weight down, and although the size and weight will be noticeable in a backpack, that large screen may make the slight inconvenience worth your while. 

Huawei states that the MateBook D 15 has undergone various tests, including the ability to withstand 40°C temperature and 90% relative humidity, along with tests for the durability of the USB-C port and fingerprint key, and life tests on the keyboard, screen hinge and touchpad. However, there's no formal MIL-STD certification. 

The 15.6-inch screen sits in small upper and side bezels measuring 5.3mm, although the bottom bezel is rather deeper. This results in a claimed screen-to-body ratio of 87% (we calculated 81.5%). The upper bezel isn't deep enough to house a camera, so the same convention is used here as was found in last year's MateBook X Pro (2020) and MateBook D 15 (2020), with the pop-up camera located in the keyboard, under a Fn row key. 

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The HD (720p) webcam pops up from the centre of the Fn key row, delivering an unflattering camera angle for video calls.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet  

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The camera pops up easily when needed, but the positioning is far from ideal. With video meetings now likely to remain a fact of life for many of us, the 'up-the-nose' camera angle delivered here is less than satisfactory. It's one of two significant issues with this laptop that might be a deal-breaker. 

The screen is a 15.6-inch IPS panel with FHD (1920 x 1080 pixels, 141.2ppi) resolution. It's not touch responsive and has a maximum brightness of only 250 nits, which means that outdoor use may be compromised on sunny days. Viewing angles on both the horizontal and vertical planes are not great. Having said all that, the screen is perfectly usable for everyday writing and productivity tasks at home or in the office. 

The speakers, whose grilles are on the underside of the chassis, just as they were in last year's model, deliver good volume, but there's some distortion at the top of the range, and bass tones could be stronger. This is a missed opportunity, as a better audio subsystem would greatly improve this laptop. Instead of sticking with last year's chassis design, Huawei could have pushed the speaker grilles up onto the keyboard area, where there's plenty of unused room to the left and right. 

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The keyboard is a comfortable typing platform with large, well-spaced keys. The power button (top right) has an integrated fingerprint reader.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The keyboard itself is comfortable to work with. The keys are large and well-spaced, with a slightly textured finish that makes a nice change from smoother keys. The Fn row keys are relatively big, as are the cursor keys -- the left and right cursor keys are full sized. I had no trouble touch-typing at my normal speed. 

The touchpad is large and responsive, and there's a fingerprint sensor embedded in the power button, which sits to the right of the keyboard, level with the Fn key row. 

Huawei incorporates its PC Manager software, which is a hub for checking on driver updates, making power management settings, troubleshooting features like the fingerprint sensor and wireless connectivity (both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 6), and for managing a phone connection. This is also where laptop users access Huawei Share

SEE: Microsoft: Here's how to shield your Windows servers against this credential stealing attack

Huawei Share is key feature of Huawei laptops. It allows up to three phone apps to be displayed and used on the MateBook's screen, and includes support for drag-and-drop file exchange. Any files updated on the MateBook are also automatically updated on a connected handset. You can also initiate and take voice and video calls coming into a connected handset on the MateBook's screen.  

Huawei Share isn't supported by every Huawei handset. It's compatible with phones in the Mate 40 and Mate 30 series, P40 series and Nova 6 series, as well as with a small number of Honor handsets. You can check compatibility and details on which functions are supported by which handsets here.  

The Huawei MateBook D 15 (2021) runs on Windows 10 Home. As noted earlier, it's available in just one configuration in the UK, with an 11th-generation Core i5-1135G7 CPU with integrated Intel Xe Graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. This configuration costs £749.99. Some territories have access to 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. 

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Left side (top): USB-C, USB 3.2, HDMI. Right side (above): 3.5mm audio in/out, 2x USB 2.0. 

Image: Huawei

As with the chassis design, the array of ports and connectors is unchanged from last year. There's a pair of USB 2.0 ports on the right edge, alongside a 3.5mm headset jack. The left side has a USB 3.2 port, a USB-C port with power delivery, and a full-size HDMI connector. There is no Thunderbolt support, which is disappointing.  

I mentioned the webcam location as one of two potential deal-breakers. The other is battery life. Tested under my usual workload of writing into web apps, streaming some music and video, and keeping a lot of web pages open at once, the 42Wh battery slipped to 44% from a full charge in three hours. All-day working on battery power may not be possible. 

The MateBook D 15's saving grace may be its fast charging capability. Huawei supplies a 65W USB-C mains charger, which it says will provide two hours of life from a 15-minute charge. Charging the battery from 25%, I found that it rose to 43% after 15 minutes, and to 61% after half an hour. 

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Image: Huawei

Conclusions 

Huawei has updated its MateBook D 15 for 2021, but its shortcomings from last year have not been addressed. The chassis design is unchanged, which means that the speakers still fire downwards rather than using space to the left and right of the keyboard, and the webcam is still a pop-up in the Fn key row. The ports and connectors are the same as in 2020, and Huawei has not provided Thunderbolt support, arguably missing an important upgrade.  

The battery won't get you through a full day's use, although fast charging may come to the rescue if you can access a short burst of mains power. 

It would have been good to see Huawei try harder with its MateBook D 15 2021 refresh.

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Specifications

System
Notebook Type 2-in-1