Huawei MateBook D 15 (2020) review: Stylish and solid, but battery life disappoints

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Minimal-bezel screen
  • Camera embedded in Fn key row
  • Solid industrial design
  • Screen sharing with compatible Huawei and Honor smartphones

Cons

  • Average battery life
  • Only 256GB of SSD storage
  • Camera angle is awkward for video calls
  • 802.11ac rather than 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)

When you think of Huawei you probably don't think of laptops, but the company's MateBook D has just been released in a new 2020 iteration. Powered by an AMD Ryzen processor it comes in 14-inch and 15.6-inch sizes. I was sent the larger £599.99 (inc. VAT) model to review. 

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The 15.6-inch MateBook D 15 has a solid metal chassis and weighs 1.53kg. It's powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage.

Image: Huawei

This 15.6-inch laptop is svelte and metal-clad. That metal does make this a rather weighty laptop at 1.53kg, but it's solidly built with very little flex in the lid section, despite its slimness. You could transport this laptop without a protective sleeve, although you'll probably want to protect the metal chassis from scratches.

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The pop-up webcam in the keyboard's Fn key row is clever and secure, but does give an unfortunate 'up-the-nose' camera angle on video calls.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The MateBook D 15 takes a minimalist and unpretentious approach to laptop design. The dark grey outer shell has a large Huawei brand marker on the lid, but apart from that things are very restrained. But it's not lacking in panache. There's a long divot in the bottom edge, beneath the touchpad, that makes lifting the lid easy, and the fingerprint reader is housed in the on/off button, located on the right of the keyboard. This helps to keep the wrist-rest area clear of clutter, in line with the minimalist theme.

In one respect, this minimalist ethos causes an ergonomic problem. Huawei has located the 720p webcam beneath a pop-up button on the Fn key row. This means there's no need for a privacy cover, and Huawei has been able to go for broke with thin screen bezels. But it also results in an unfortunate 'up-the-nose' camera angle for video conferencing, which is not ideal.

Huawei has managed to keep the chassis compact at 357.8mm wide by 229.9mm deep by 16.9mm thick. This is largely down to those small screen bezels, which on three sides measure just 5.3mm (if you opt for the 14-inch model they are even shallower at 4.8mm). This makes for a rewarding viewing experience, and even the bottom bezel, while considerably deeper, is relatively shallow.

The 15.6-inch screen is an FHD (1,920 x 1,080) non-touch IPS panel. The finish is matte, which will please users who prefer not to see their own reflection while working. The colour temperature controller includes an Eye Comfort mode that filters out blue light and makes a discernible difference. Viewing angles are billed as 178°, but seem a little underwhelming on the vertical plane. Still, it's not a deal-breaker.

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The stereo speakers output through grilles on the underside of the chassis. Volume is adequate for private listening at around 30% and should be fine for presentations or movie watching at around 65%. Beyond this level, distortion becomes increasingly noticeable.

Huawei has incorporated a new collaboration feature that's a development of OneHop. Compatible phones can connect and share the laptop's screen, and users can drag files from one device to the other. It's a great way to move photos around or share work documents if you don't have immediate access to cloud services. You can also use a mouse or other peripheral connected to the MateBook to navigate and interact with the smartphone screen -- for example for texting. Not all Huawei phones are supported and there's a list of compatible phones from both Huawei and Honor, and details of the features supported by different Huawei laptops, here.  

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The keyboard offers a comfortable typing platform and the touchpad is large and responsive. There's a fingerprint reader built into the power button to the right of the top row of keys.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

This 16:9 laptop provides plenty of space for the keyboard, whose large, well-spaced keys are comfortable to use. They deliver a slight 'thunky' and don't depress very far, but I was able to touch-type at my normal speed. The touchpad is a good size and very responsive. 

There are only two iterations of the MateBook D available at the time of writing.

My review sample, the 15.6-inch model, comes with a 256GB SSD and costs £599.99 (inc. VAT). It's less expensive than the 14-inch model, which has a 512GB SSD and costs £649.99 (inc. VAT). It's not clear why Huawei doesn't offer both storage options at each screen size. To add to the confusion, my 15.6-inch review unit was actually equipped with a 512GB SSD.

The remainder of the specifications are the same between the two models: an AMD Ryzen 5 3500U mobile processor, 8GB of RAM and discrete AMD Radeon Vega 8 graphics. The wi-fi is 802.11ac rather than the latest 802.11ax (a.k.a Wi-Fi 6). Both versions of this laptop run Windows 10 Home.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)    

Connectivity is limited but adequate: two USB 2.0 ports and a 3.5mm audio jack on the right and USB-C, USB 3.0 and (full-size) HDMI on the right. The USB-C port supports charging and data, but not Thunderbolt.

There is a large fan grille on the underside, and Huawei is proud of its Shark Fin Fan, which has undergone a design revision so that its new s-shaped fan blades deliver more efficient cooling. Throughout testing the underside of the laptop was cool every time I checked.

Huawei doesn't provide an estimate for the life of the 42Wh battery. During testing, with the screen set at the default 80% brightness and workloads involving web apps, music playing and occasional video viewing, the battery dropped by around 40% over several 2.5-hour periods, being fully recharged in between. It's unlikely that a full eight-hour day is achievable under that regime, so if that's a key consideration you might want to look at the 14-inch model, which has a larger 56Wh battery.

Huawei has given plenty of thought to the charging system. First off, the charging brick is relatively small, with one retracting pin making it easier to drop into a bag. Then there's the charge cable, which is USB-C at both ends, so it can be removed from the brick and carried separately. The charger is a 65W unit that can fast-charge from zero to 53% in 30 minutes, and also supports fast charging for phones. Finally, it has an overheating protection system that will cut charging out after a certain temperature is reached.

Conclusions

The Huawei MateBook D 15 (2020) has some compelling plus points, including a solid metal chassis and a minimal-bezel IPS screen with an effective blue-light filter. Users of compatible Huawei and Honor smartphones may appreciate the screen-sharing and file-transfer capabilities. Fast charging is also welcome.

However, battery life could be better, more flexibility on storage capacity would be good, there's rather too much speaker distortion at high volume, and the view from the pop-up camera in the keyboard isn't optimal.

Overall though, considering the price, this laptop is an interesting proposition. The screen-sharing capability might just be enough to sway owners of compatible handsets in its favour.

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Specifications

System
Notebook Type 2-in-1

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