Despite the whole controversy around the Huawei company, it’s hard to deny they still make some of the best value notebooks on the market. Thus, if you’re fine with buying a Huawei product (it’s up to you, but as long as you’re not working in intelligence or a Government institution, I don’t see why, at this point, this aspect would steer you away), the Matebook 13 that we’re analyzing in this review should be on your list of competent ultraportables to get at the $900-$1100 price range.
This is one of the more unique products on the market primarily because it comes with a 3:2 aspect-ratio touchscreen, something few other devices offer these days, like the Microsoft Surface laptop or Huawei’s own higher-end MateBook X Pro.
That aside, the MateBook 13 is also compact and portable, well made, powerful for its class and a competent typer, as well as competitively priced, starting at under $900 as of June 2019. On the other hand, potential buyers would have to accept that this is not as thin or as light as some of the alternatives out there, includes a small battery and limited IO.
We’ll get in depth on all these aspects in the review down below, so by the end of it you’ll know if the Huawei MateBook 13 is the right product for you or not.
Specs as reviewed
||Huawei MateBook 13
||13 inch, 2160 x 1440 px, IPS, touch, glossy, Chi Mei CMN8201
||Intel Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U CPU, quad-core
||Intel UHD 620 + Nvidia MX150 25 W (GeForce 430.86)
||8 GB LPDDR3 2400 MHz dual-channel (soldered)
||512 GB M.2 NVMe SSD (80 mm – WDC PC SN720 SDAPNTW-512G)
||Wireless AC (Intel AC 9560), Bluetooth 5.0
||2x USB-C gen2 (left – data and charging, right – data and video), mic/headphone
||41.7 Wh, 65W charger
||358 mm or 11.26” (w) x 239 mm or 8.31” (d) x 17 mm or 0.59” (h)
||2.93 lbs (1.33 kg)+ .44 lbs (.2 kg) charger and cables, EU version
||backlit keyboard, HD webcam, stereo speakers, finger sensor in the power button, ports adapter included
Our review unit is the highest specced version available over here in Europe, alongside the base-level model that you can also find in stores, with the Core i5-8265U processor, still 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage and no dedicated graphics.
Update: The 2020 MateBook 13 builds on the same design and characteristics, but gets significantly more competent Nvidia GeForce MX350 graphics.
Design and first look
Aluminum is used for this laptop’s entire case, but the construction is not unibody like on the X Pro, instead is a plastic chassis dressed in metal outer-sheets, like with most other mid-range computers.
This build particularity means that the MateBook 13 is not as sturdy as a MacBook Air, for instance, however, my only major complaint is with the fact that the chassis squeaks and creaks when picking up the laptop. I would also advise on placing this inside a protective sleeve when throwing it in your bag, because, while the screen’s frame feels strong, pressing hard around the middle of the lid, next to that Huawei logo, does push some ripples into the panel. Now, I’m definitely nitpicking here, as I’m confident most users won’t even notice these aspects with daily use, but I report on what I found and it’s better to pamper this than regret later.
These aside, the MateBook 13 is nicely crafted and a beautiful piece of hardware. Huawei went with dark-grey themes, of which the one on our test unit they’ve unashamedly called Space Grey (the other is Deep Grey), and it looks professional and clean, doing a good job at hiding smudges and smears.
Practicality is another area where the MateBook 13 checks most boxes. With the 3:2 screen, the footprint is taller than with most other 13-inch laptops, and that leaves room for a properly sized keyboard, arm-rest and clickpad, as well as for a power button with a finger-sensor in it. The screen can be lifted up and adjusted with a single hand, and goes back to about 160 degrees, which is alright even for couch-use, while the grippy feet and the low-profile tapered front-lip and rounded corners make this comfortable to use on a desk as well.
The design pushed the speakers on the bottom, though, unlike on the 14-inch MateBook X Pro, and they’re still alright, but easy to muffle on the lap. It also made this MateBook 13 a bit thicker and heavier than other devices in its class; I’m still fine with the total weight of 2.9 lbs and the overall thickness, but there are lighter options out there, and I would have hoped for better IO at this thickness.
In this case, there are only two USB-C slots, of which the one on the left supports data and charging, and the one on the right support data and video. There’s also a headphone jack on the left edge and a tiny status LED, but nothing else, and no Thunderbolt 3 support either, if that’s something you’re interested in.
Huawei does include a nifty port-extender in the bundle, though, which gives access to USB-A, VGA and HDMI, so will cover most needs.
All in all, it might seem that this MateBook 13 comes short in the overall craftsmanship quality and even in practicality when compared to other ultraportables on the market, but don’t forget this is also a fairly affordable product, which makes the sandwiched design and limited IO quirks most users won’t mind accepting, when they come with a price cut of several hundred dollars over the other options.
Keyboard and trackpad
Huawei didn’t compromise on the keyboard, unlike others do on their mini-laptops, and as a result, this computer is a fast, quiet and once you get used to it, an accurate typer as well.
This does take a fair bit to get used to, though, for two main reasons: the keys are a 16 x 16 mm in size, so a bit larger than on most implementations, but with narrow spacing between them, thus rather unforgiving, and the travel is very short and again leaves little room for errors. As someone used to this kind of shallow keyboards, I do like the feedback and the overall layout, but those coming from a desktop keyboard on an older laptop will have a harder time to adapt to.
The keys are also backlit with white LEDs and three brightness levels to choose from. They get bright enough at their max settings, and there’s little light creeping from underneath thanks to their short height, but the keys turn off very quickly (I couldn’t find a way to adjust that) and the illumination system doesn’t light up with clickpad swipes, like on the premium laptops, you need to actually press a key to do it.
Down beneath, centered on the frame, Huawei implemented an excellent and spacious clickpad. It’s a plastic surface with Precision drivers, and it’s fast and accurate with swipes, taps and gestures. The surface rattles with taps, even with softer ones, though, and the physical clicks are also clunkier and noisier than I’d want.
Huawei also puts a finger-sensor within the power button, and it’s a smart implementation integrated with Windows Hello, which captures your fingerprint when you press the button to power on the laptop (as long as it’s one of the fingers registered in Windows), and uses the data to log into Windows without requiring an extra swipe.
As already mentioned in the intro, the MateBook 13 comes with a 13-inch IPS touchscreen with a 3:2 2160 x 1440 px IPS panel. The 3:2 aspect ratio is the main selling point here, allowing an increased vertical working area that can get very useful with everyday browsing, text-editing, and other chores. Of course, this leaves black bars at the top and bottom when watching movies, but for everything else, the 3:2 panel is a great addition and I wish more laptops would come with this kind of screens. This article does a good job explaining why 3:2 screens are more practical than the standard 16:9 panels used by most OEMs.
As of right now, the Microsoft Surface laptop and tablets, the Huawei MateBook X Pro and a bunch of Chromebooks are the only other options with 3:2 screens, but hopefully that’s going to change in the future.
Back to our MateBook 13, Huawei went with a mid-quality panel on this model, with middling brightness and contrast levels, but excellent sharpness, viewing angles and pretty good colors. Here’s what we got on our test unit, with the Sypder4 sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN8201(P130ZFA-BA1);
- Coverage: 100% sRGB, 71% NTSC, 76% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.2;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 277 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 620:1;
- White point: 6800 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.44 cd/m2;
- PWM: No.
The panel came well-calibrated out-of-the-box, but you can use this calibrated profile for small extra tweaks.
This aside, it’s worth noting that Huawei implements an aggressive light-sensor on this laptop, which turns down the brightness in order to save-up energy, and you’ll most likely want to disable it from the settings. We disabled ours during the tests, but even so, our sensor returned a fairly low brightness level, compared to what others got in their reviews.
I should also add that we haven’t noticed any light bleeding or uniformity issues on our sample, so overall this is a great quality screen, and my only major nit is with the somewhat limited visibility in very bright environments, where the 300-nits panel is just not bright enough to compensate for the outer light and the glare introduced by the glossy layer of glass on top of the touchscreen. In comparison, the MateBook X Pro gets a brighter and richer 500-nits panel, and even most 16:9 alternatives get brighter panels these days.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Out test versions is a higher specced configuration of the Huawei MateBook 13, identical to the models you’ll find in stores, with the Core i7-8565U WhiskeyLake processors, 8 GB of RAM and Nvidia MX150 graphics, in the full-power 10De 1D10 25W variant, and not the lower-power 10De 1D12 option you’ll find on most other ultraportables.
It also gets only gets a Western Digital SN720 512 GB SSD, hooked up via a PCIe x4 connection, and excellent performer that should satisfy even the most pretentious among you. The drive is nonetheless upgradeable, in fact, it is the only components you can upgrade once you get inside.
Unfortunately, the MateBook 13 does not come with more than 8 GB of RAM on any of the available configurations; 8 GB should be enough for most users right now, but if you’re planning on running more demanding software that benefits from more and even faster memory, you’ll pretty much have to go with something else. And that’s actually a pity and perhaps a cheeky way to oversell you the higher-end MateBook X Pro model, as the MateBook 13 performs excellently in demanding chores, once tweaked, as you’ll find out down below.
But first, here’s how it deals with daily chores, while running fairly cool and perfectly quiet, as the fans inside switch off with movies and light-browsing.
Of course, if you only need a laptop for browsing, movies, and daily multitasking, you can stick to the base-level Core i5 configuration, and opt for the i7 + MX150 if you plant to run more demanding CPU + GPU loads, of course, within the limitations of an ultracompact computer.
The Core i7-8565U Whiskey Lake processor, with four cores and eight threads, can deliver excellent performance with a proper thermal implementation. We test the CPU’s behavior in demanding loads by running Cinebench R15 for 10+ times in a loop, with 2-3 sec delay between each run, which simulates a 100% load on all the cores. For our tests, we used the High-Performance mode in Windows.
Out of the box, the CPU settles for around 2.3 -2.5 GHz after several Cinebench runs, scores of around 510 points, a TDP of 15+ W and temperatures of around 66-70 degrees Celsius. These are slightly subpar results for this processor, but don’t forget it’s implemented inside a compact chassis, and Huawei set low CPU temperature limits in order to allow thermal room for that 25W GPU.
Undervolting significantly increases these results. We couldn’t’ install XTU on this laptop, so went back to the trusty Throttlestop and stably lowered voltages by -120 mV. In this case, the CPU settles for around 2.7-2.8 GHz after several Cinebench runs, scores of 630+ points, a TDP of 15+ W and temperatures of around 70 degrees Celsius, which is a roughly 15-20% improvement over the stock settings, without any impact on the temperatures.
Our sample performed excellently on battery as well, pretty much mimicking the behavior while plugged in. The makes the MateBook 13 one of the best options for performing demanding-chores while on battery, just keep in mind you’re not going to be able to run those loads for more than 1.5 to 2 hours, due to its small battery, but you can use power-banks for longer runtimes.
Despite this behavior in the Cinebench loop test, the CPU actually runs at very high frequencies with games and benchmarks, especially once undervolted, as you’ll see below.
We first ran our set of standard benchmarks on the default profile, and here’s what we got:
- 3DMark 11: P4883 (Graphics – 4650, Physics – 7508);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 3304 (Graphics – 3660, Physics – 9756);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1213 (Graphics – 1099, CPU – 2961);
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 2547;
- GeekBench 4.1.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 5059, Multi-core: 16382;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 667 cb, CPU Single Core 178 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1289 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 –163.96 fps, Pass 2 – 37.01 fps.
Then we reran even more benchmarks on the -120 mV undervolted profile, which allowed a quite significant increase in CPU related tests and, as expected, pretty much no changes in GPU scores:
- 3DMark 11: P4935 (Graphics – 4640, Physics – 8611);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 3276 (Graphics – 3600, Physics – 11021);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1215 (Graphics – 1099, CPU – 3050);
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 2525;
- PCMark 10: 4387(Essentials – 8820, Productivity – 7036, Digital Content Creation – 3692);
- PassMark: Rating: 4419, CPU mark: 8563, 3D Graphics Mark: 2737;
- GeekBench 4.1.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 5442, Multi-core: 17678;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 762 cb, CPU Single Core 190 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1538 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 –179.18 fps, Pass 2 – 41.5 fps.
The Undervolted profile leads to 10-15% CPU performance gains, and solid overall results for an implementation with a TDP limit of 15 W. Many of the other thin-and-lights do allow the CPU to run at higher TDP with demanding loads, and as a result, return better performance.
The GPU scores did not increase with undervolting, but as you’ll see down below, undervolting actually allows the GPU to run at slightly higher clocks with games, as it lowers the CPU temperatures and allows extra headroom for the graphics chip.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some gaming results. We ran a couple of DX11 and DX12 games on our test-unit, at the native 2160 x 1440 px resolution (unless otherwise specified) and Low/High details, and compiled the results in the following table.
|Far Cry 5
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
|Rise of Tomb Raider
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- The Witcher 3 – recorded with Fraps in campaign mode
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities
- * ran at 1920 x 1080 px
- ** ran at 1600 x 1200 px, native resolution not recognized
This is what we got in terms of CPU and GPU speeds in Witcher 3, a very taxing title for this kind of hardware.
Undervoting the CPU leads to a drop in CPU temperatures and an increase in GPU frequencies, that’s why it’s totally recommended on such a laptop. Details below.
Gaming on battery is barely possible and only in older games that put little strain on the CPU, as the processor throttles down to .8 GHz in this case.
All in all, the MateBook 13 handles games better than I expected. Huawei did a good job at implementing a 25W variant of the Nvidia MX150 chip inside such a small platform, and that allows it to run older or casual games at the native resolution and playable framerates. Newer titles are too tough for the platform to crack, though, even at very low graphics settings.
The 2020 MateBook 13 update now gets a more capable MX350 dGPU, and should be well worth your attention if you’re looking for such an ultraportable that can game in the spare time.
It is, however, essential to note that this laptop gets a 2160 x 1440 px screen, which translates into two aspects that you should keep in mind. Firstly, despite the fact that the GPU is more powerful than the 10W version you’ll mostly find in compact ultraportables, the performance gain is lost to the higher resolution and the MateBook 13 pretty much return the same fps counts as a normal laptop with the 10W MX150 GPU and a 1920 x 1080 px screen. On top of that, there’s a good chance you might run into compatibility issues with older games that might not properly recognize the 2160 x 1440 px resolution, which means you’ll be forced to play them at a different resolution that will significantly flaw the overall experience.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Huawei uses a competent thermal design of the MateBook 13, with two fans placed between the CPU and GPU, and a single, but fairly thick, heatpipe, that draws heat from both components. This is one of the most competitive designs in this segment, and similar to what other OEMs use on their models.
The fans stay quiet with casual everyday activities, and only kick on with multitasking and heavier browsing. I also haven’t noticed any coil whine on my unit, but it’s been reported by some owners, so it’s a matter of luck.
The two fans spin faster and averagely loud with gaming, at up to 43-44 dB at head level. The outer case gets warm, but only hits temperatures in the mid-40s on both the top and the bottom, which are pretty good for a compact laptop with this kind of hardware. The WASD keys get to about 42-43 degrees Celsius, while the arrows hit 37-38 degrees with longer gaming sessions, both barely at a comfort level for a pleasant gaming experience.
*Daily Use – running Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, fans ~36 dB
*Load – playing FarCry 5 for approximately 30 minutes on ultra FHD settings, fans ~43-44 dB
For connectivity, there’s an Intel 9560 wireless module inside this laptop, with Bluetooth 5.0, pretty much the go-to solution for an above-average ultraportable these days. It performed well with our setup, both near the router and at 30 feet with obstacles in between.
As far as the speakers go, there’s a set of them firing through cuts on the lateral sides of the underbelly, and they’re about average. We measured fairly low maximum volumes of about 72-73 dB at head level, but the sound comes out clean and without distortions. It does lack a fair bit in the low end, with bass only noticeable from about 115 Hz, and the placement also makes these speakers easy to cover and muffle when using the laptop on the lap or pretty much everywhere except on a flat surface.
There’s also a 720p camera on the MateBook 13, placed at the top of the screen, with rather washed out image quality. The mic pins are surprisingly placed on the underbelly as well, so they’re not the best at catching voices and can also be covered fairly easily when the laptop doesn’t sit on a desk.
There’s only a 41.7 Wh battery inside this Matebook 13, smaller than what you’ll find with most other options in the niche.
Huawei’s implementation is actually very efficient, even with the i7 and the higher-resolution screen that take their toll, but even so, this just won’t last as long on a charge as other devices with larger batteries.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~30 brightness).
- 6.5 W (~6+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5 W (~8 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5 W (~8 h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 11.9 W (~3 h 30 min of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 28.5 W (~1 h 20 min of use) – Gaming – Shadow of Mordor, Max Performance Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON, fps limit of 40.
Huawei pairs the MateBook 13 with a compact 65 Wh USB-C charger, which is barely enough to keep the hardware at bay with demanding loads. Keep in mind that you’ll need to hook this up to the laptop’s left port, as the USB-C port on the right does not support charging.
The battery does not discharge with games, but at the same time will charge very, very slowly, since the charger’s capacity is nearly on par with the system’s energy demands in this case. There’s also no quick-charging implemented, as far as I can tell, so a 10 to 100% recharge will take anywhere from a little under two hours with light use, to many hours if running demanding activities.
Price and availability
The Huawei MateBook 13 is widely available across the world, in two main configurations:
- Core i5-8265U, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD
- Core i7-8565U and Nvidia MX150 25W, 8 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD
The former is available for under 900 USD in the US at the time of this article, or 900 EUR in Germany/France and 900 GBP in the UK. The latter is pretty much a 200 USD/EUR/GBP upgrade, and it’s worth the difference for the gaming abilities of that MX150 chip and the increased (and very fast) storage space.
Follow this link for updated prices and configurations at the time you’re reading the article.
There are quite a few mini laptops with gaming capabilities, based on Intel Core U Whiskey Lake hardware and Nvidia’s MX150 and the updated MX250 graphics chips. Of course, some perform better than others and each has its particularities.
Huawei’s MateBook 13 main selling points are the high-res 3:2 touchscreen and the competitive pricing. It also gets the 25W version of the MX150 chip, while most other ultracompact models stick with the slower and more efficient 10 W variant, but its gaming advantage is negated by the screen’s higher resolution, that’s why, if gaming on a thin-and-light laptop sits high on your list, you’ll be better off with something like the Razer Blade Stealth 13 or even the MSI Prestige PS42, both with FHD screens, competent cooling and 25W versions of the MX150 and MX250 GPUs. Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is another option to consider if you’re OK with a slightly larger and more expensive computer, but with a brighter screen, improved IO and a larger battery, and Asus’s ZenBook UX392 is another great option in the premium segment, with a lighter chassis, brighter screen, and larger battery.
The MateBook is nonetheless a well-balanced product and a good allrounder, thanks to that screen, its fast and quiet keyboard, the performance and the competent thermal module, that allows for good acoustics and thermals in most situations. Huawei did skimp on a few aspects, though, so potential users will have to accept the squeaky chassis, the small battery life, the limited IO and the awkwardly placed and not very loud speakers.
And then there’s the whole controversy around Huawei products. As of June 2019, unless you’re working/learning in places that expressly prohibit Huawei products, I don’t see why you wouldn’t buy a Huawei notebook. However, that might change in the future, if the US software manufacturers decide to limit support for Huawei laptops, just like it happened with phones recently, so I understand why some of you might want to stay on the safe side and just go with something else altogether. The decision is yours, all I’m saying is that there’s very good value in this MateBook 13, and a particular set of traits and features you’re not going to find in another similar product, except for the higher-tier and more expensive MateBook X Pro.
With that in mind, we’ll wrap up this review of the Huawei MateBook 13 here, but the comments section is open for your thoughts and questions, so get in touch.
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