Over the years, I’ve greatly appreciated those ultrabooks that could run silently with daily use, with video streaming and text-editing and even browsing. Very few can, though, and most that can are actually fanless and passively-cooled implementations.
However, passively cooling current mid-range ultrabook hardware platforms in compact designs is a lot more complicated than it sounds, and that’s why the vast majority of available fanless laptops ran on lower-performance hardware, with a lesser or greater toll on the everyday experience, and limited abilities in sustained loads.
With that in mind, here enter the Matebook X 2020. Earlier this year Huawei announced their updated late-2020 MateBook X series, a passively cooled 13-inch ultrabook built on an Intel Core U hardware platform. A 10th gen Comet Lake platform, so not the latest available at this point, but even so, it sounded promising for a casual-use premium ultrabook, especially since the MateBook X also includes a 3:2 3K touchscreen, good inputs, uncompromised build quality and weighs only about 1 kilo.
Intrigued, I asked Huawei for a review loaner in order to experience for myself this holy grail that nobody pulled off in the past: a proper fanless Core U Windows laptop. However, given my past experience with this sort of products, I was skeptical about the performance and battery life, even more since the hardware had to run a 3K panel from just a 42Wh battery.
After using this MateBook X for the last weeks, it proved I was right to be skeptical, as you’ll find out from the review down below, but at the same time it also proved that the MateBook X is rather unique in the current Windows-based ultrabook market, and an option some of you could consider buying. Just make sure you understand the compromises.
Specs as reviewed
||Huawei MateBook X late-2020 model
||13 inch, 3000 x 2000 px, 3:2 aspect ratio, IPS, touch, glossy, JDI RWLPM130M364C panel
||Intel Comet Lake Core i5-10210U, 4C/8T
||16 GB LPDDR3x 2133 MHz dual-channel (soldered)
||512 GB M.2 NVMe SSD (Samsung PM981 MZVLB512HBJQ-00000)
||Wireless 6 Gig+ (Intel AX201) 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0
||2x USB-C gen2 (with data, DP, and charging), mic/headphone, HDMI/USB-A/VGA with included adapter
||42 Wh, 100W USB-C charger
||284 mm or 11.18” (w) x 207 mm or 8.15” (d) x 13.6 mm or 0.53” (h)
||2.2 lbs (1 kg)+ .44 lbs (.2 kg) charger and cables, EU version
||backlit keyboard, HD webcam, quad bottom speakers, finger sensor in the power button
As of right now, Huawei only offer this MateBook X series in this single configuration.
Design and first look
This might well be one of the nicest ultrabooks of this generation. It’s entirely crafted out of metal, with a sturdy unibody construction, but with this sort of friendly softer coating and blunted inner edges, so not as aggressive as on the MacBooks.
The lighter color scheme also does a better job at hiding smudges and fingerprints, and I’d reckon shouldn’t scratch that easily either. Our sample is a few months old, and doesn’t show any wear signs whatsoever, despite the fact that it has been tested by other reviewers before it got to me, so was not pampered as I’d expect your own device would be.
That aside, this MateBook X is thin and lightweight and highly portable, weighing less than a kilo and measuring about half of an inch in thickness. It’s nor the thinnest or the lightest ultrabooks out there, but it’s overall a well-balanced portable package, especially considering that it accommodates a 3:2 touchscreen. Huawei made sure to shink the bezels all around it, but that meant the camera is still inconveniently implemented into a key, and I would have gladly accepted a thicker forehead with a properly-placed camera instead.
For what is worth, here’s the MateBook X next to the Apple MacBook Pro 13 and a mid-tier 13-inch ultrabook, the Asus ZenBook UX325.
I do have some small gripes with this laptop. Among them, there’s the screen’s limited back angle, which only goes back to about 140 degrees, and a full 180 display would have been greatly appreciated on this kind of an ultrabook that might not be used on the desk that often, but rather on the go, in cramped spaces, or while lying on the sofa. And even when placed on the desk, the small and slippery rubber feet on the bottom provide very little grip.
These aside, though, there’s nothing else to complain about. I like the form-factor, the overall build quality, and how this feels with daily use. I also appreciate the full keyboard and spacious glass clickpad, plus the separate power button without any pesky lights in it, but which doubles down as a finger-sensor.
As for the IO, well, there are only two USB-C ports on this laptop and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, so you’ll need to rely on adapters. Huawei includes one by default, which provides access to USB-A, HDMI, VGA, and another USB-C port. None of the USB-C ports support Thunderbolt here, but all support data, charging, and video, so you can comfortably plug in the charger or an external monitor on either side, according to your needs.
Keyboard and trackpad
The inputs on this thing are impressive and a lot better than I expected on this sort of a thin and compact laptop.
Huawei went with an uncompromised full-size keyboard layout, and although we’re looking at short-stroke keys with limited travel, the feedback is consistent and clicky once you get used to it. I can see myself typing on this laptop every day just fine.
The nitpicker in me will mention that this is a bit noisy, especially the bigger keys such as Space, Backspace and Enter keys. I don’t think it will cause any complaints at the library or in silent environments, but it could have been a little more damped.
That aside, the illumination system is fairly dim even at the highest setting, but I do appreciate that little light bleeds out from under the keycaps, the overall brightness uniformity, and that Huawei implemented physical CapsLock and NumLock indicators. Unfortunately, they still didn’t do anything about the illumination timing off quickly, in about 15 seconds, and the fact that you can’t reactivate it by swiping your fingers over the clickpad, but only by hitting a key. That a no-no in this price range.
Speaking of the clickpad, this MateBook X gets a large glass surface with Precision drivers, which physically depresses for regular clicks. A few articles mentioned some kind of force-touch technology, like on MacBooks, but this seems to be more of a standard clickpad that responds very quickly to physical clicks across the entire surface. It also handles swipes, taps, and gestures just fine, so I can hardly complain about anything here.
Well, except for one thing. You probably noticed that the shape is rather odd, as the clickpad stretches all the way down to the front lip. That can get annoying if, like me, you often use the laptop while lying down on the sofa or in bed, and resting the laptop on your thighs. In this case, the clickpad might occasionally register some accidental clicks. It hardly ever happens, but still something you should keep in mind if you’re using your laptop in this particular way.
As for biometrics, there’s no IR camera on this MateBook X, but you do get a fine finger-sensor integrated into the power buttons, which works well with Hello, with only sporadic miss-reads.
As mentioned already, this late-2020 MateBook X gets a 3:2 touchscreen with a 3K IPS panel. That’s a solid choice for everyday use and productivity, thanks to that taller form-factor and the overall good quality of the panel itself.
It’s not nearly on par with what Huawei offers on their X Pro, but it’s perfectly fine for daily use, with solid contrast and viewing angles, up to 400-nits of brightness and fine colors, at around 70% AdobeRGB.
Here’s what we got in our tests, with a X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: JDI RWLPM130M364C;
- Coverage: 94.5% sRGB, 65.8% AdobeRGB, 68.0% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.31;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 397.40 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 9.57 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1579:1;
- White point: 6300 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.25 cd/m2;
- PWM: No (to be further tested).
Flickering is not an issue here, and nor is light-bleeding around the edges, although that’s a random quick with modern laptops and something you should carefully look for on your unit. If present, light bleeding would be even more visible on this sort of 3:2 screen when watching movies, as the format leaves black bars on the top and bottom of the video. Luckily, that wasn’t an issue on our unit.
Finally, I should also mention that the screen came fairly well calibrated out of the box, with only minor Gamma and White Point unbalances. Once calibrated, we ended up with an evenly-lit panel and fair color-uniformity, again, perfectly fine for daily use.
Hardware, performance, and upgrade options
Our test version is the standard configuration available for the 2020 Huawei MateBook X, with the Intel Comet Lake Core i5-10210U processor, 16 GB of LPDDR3x 2133 MHz memory, a very fast 512 GB Samsung SSD, and the Intel UHD graphics chip embedded within the Intel processor.
We’re also running our tests on the software available as of late-December 2020 (BIOS 1.04, PC Manager 126.96.36.199).
So, Huawei went with older-gen hardware on this laptop, a Comet Lake mid-tier processor and slower LPDDR3x memory, but didn’t skimp on the storage quality, opting for a fast Samsung PM981 drive. The storage should be upgradable (at least I think so), but getting inside this laptop is not a simple task, with screws hidden behind each of the rubber feet (with a warranty sticker on one of them, at least in this market). Plus, once inside, there’s no accessible SSD, but merely that big thermal plate over the entire motherboard which I didn’t take out on this unit.
All these might be a deal-breaker for some of you, but hear me out before deciding.
If you’re looking for a fast compact ultrabook, this is definitely not the one to go with from the beginning. Not only does it run on older and less capable hardware by today’s standards, but it also throttles the hardware with sustained loads in order to passively cool it. As a result, this MateBook X is only OK for casual everyday use, for video streaming, text-editing, browsing, and the likes, but limited multitasking. In fact, running 10+ tabs in Edge and a few other apps in the background seem to choke this off quicker than I was expecting, so you should really not expect much in terms of performance if you decide on this MateBook X. Or in terms of battery life with multitasking, for what it’s worth, as we’ll discuss in a later section.
Long story short, it’s extremely important to understand and accept this fact before moving forward. This MateBook X is alright for casual light-use, but if you’re looking for a serious multitasker or a portable computer that can handle sustained loads, look elsewhere, this passively cooled model is not for you.
With that in mind, we’ve looked at the system’s performance in order to better explain what happens when you do decide to run more demanding loads. With the Cinebench R15 loop test, the i5 processor kicks in hard at almost 30W, but only for a few seconds, and then drops at 15W and lower for the reminding of the test. That’s only for the first run, though, as the sustained TDP further drops and stabilizes at around 7W after a couple of runs, with CPU temperatures of around 60C.
The scores drop inline with the TDP, stabilizing at a little over 300 points, which is a lot less than you can get on other laptops on their most quiet power profiles. I’ve added a few models below, for comparison, alongside the Cinebench and Prime95 logs which show how the CPU stabilizes at 7W.
Sure, none of those other laptops are fanless and completely quiet, but at roughly 30 dB noise levels, you can hardly hear those fans in a normal environment anyway, with a significant increase in CPU performance that also translates in those laptops feeling snappier with daily multitasking. Furthermore, once you require the power to run more demanding loads, you can opt for the increased-power profiles while sacrificing the noise levels, making those options far more versatile with everything that you might throw at them.
For what is worth, we also ran (or at least tried to run) some games on this MateBook X. Just like in the Cinebench loop-test, the laptop kicks in fairly strongly at around 15W of power, CPU Clocks of around 4 GHz, and GPU clocks of around 1 GHz. That only lasts for about 30 seconds though, as the system quickly and gradually throttles afterwards, stabilizing at around 7W of combined power after about 10 minutes of gaming, with CPU speeds of only .8 GHz, GPU clocks of around .6 GHz, and temperatures of around 60 degrees Celsius.
That means gaming is not an option on this laptop, much like any of the other sustained loads previously tested.
Finally here are some benchmark results. We ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks on the standard Best Performance profile in Windows. Here’s what we got.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 778 (Graphics – 864, CPU – 4848, Combined – 259);
- 3DMark 13 – Night Raid: 3394 (Graphics – 3554, CPU – 2705);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 304 (Graphics – 266, CPU – 1596);
- AIDA64 Memory test: Write: 31994 MB/s, Read: 31141 MB/s, Latency: 76.2 ns;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 795;
- PassMark10: Rating: 2341 (CPU mark: 3337, 3D Graphics Mark: -, Disk Mark: 27072);
- PCMark 10: 3216 (Essentials – 8228 , Productivity – 5451 , Digital Content Creation – 2013);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 4831, Multi-core: 13388;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 973, Multi-core: 2006;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 495 cb, CPU Single Core 157 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 583 cb, CPU Single Core 355 cb;
- CineBench R23 (best run): CPU 1655 cb, CPU Single Core 651 cb;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 124.74 s.
As expected, these aren’t much, and don’t forget we’re looking at best-run results in some cases, and the real-life sustained scores would drop a fair bit lower.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
The MateBook X is passively cooled, so it doesn’t get a spinning fan or any visible intakes/output air grills, just an internal thermal plate over the CPU.
This approach takes a toll over the performance, as explained in the previous section, in order to keep the thermals at bay. The laptop does run completely silent with daily use, without any noticeable coil winning or electronic noises, as well as merely warm. Furthermore, it remains completely silent with more demanding loads, while the external temperatures jump to 40s, which are still fine for this class. Details below.
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, Better Battery Mode
*Gaming – Better Performance mode – playing NFS: Most Wanted for 30 minutes
For connectivity, there’s WiFi 6 Gig+ and Bluetooth 5 through an Intel module on this laptop. It performed well with our setup and the signal and performance remained strong at 30-feet, with obstacles in between.
Audio is handled by a set of four speakers that fire through grills placed on the underside, on the laterals. These get relatively loud, at about 77-80 dB at head-level in our tests, and the audio quality is better than I expected, with good mids and decent lows for this class. The laptop comes with the Nahimic audio-control software preinstalled and pre-set on the Music profile.
I will also mention that I’ve noticed some slight vibrations pushed into the deck at maximum volumes, so you might want to adjust the speakers to under 70% with daily use, to get rid of them.
As for the camera, it’s HD and placed at the keyboard level, between the F6 and F7 keys, much like with the other recent Huawei laptops. As a result, it’s still one of the worst camera experiences in the segment, a true nose-cam that can barely even fit you in the frame without forcing you to slouch over the keyboard. The quality isn’t much either, and the mics are placed on the laptop’s front lip, just under the clickpad, so they can be muffled easily if not careful about it.
There’s only a 42 Wh battery inside this MateBook X, somewhat expected on an ultrabook of this size, but still smaller than what the competition offers these days. The power-limited Intel implementation runs somewhat efficiently, but the 3K screen takes its toll, so overall this laptop won’t last for very long on a charge.
Here’s what we got in terms of battery life, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 8 W (~5 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.5 W (~5-6 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~6 h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 12 W (~3-4 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
Huawei pairs the laptop with a compact and lightweight 100W charger that plugs-in via USB-C, rather overkill for this kind of a laptop. It’s a single-piece design with a compact brick and a long and thick cable USB-C, which can be detached from the brick. A full charge takes about 1.5 hours, with quick-charging that ensures about 2-3 hours of daily use in about 30 minutes.
Price and availability
This late-2020 version of Huawei MateBook X is only available in limited regions at the time of this article, mostly in Europe.
It’s expensive, though, listed at 1500 EUR in Germany or France, or over here in Romania.
We’ll update when we know more, and in the meantime, follow this link for updated prices and configurations in your region.
On a quick look, the Huawei MateBook X is an excellent portable ultrabook, and even more impressive once you take it out of the box. The craftsmanship and build quality, the lightweight and compact form-factor, the good-quality 3:2 touchscreen, the uncompromised inputs, or the fine audio for this size, all push this laptop above many of its peers. But despite all these, this is only a niche product meant for a tight segment of potential buyers, for three main reasons: performance, battery life, and cost.
First off, in order to properly passively cool this laptop, Huawei had to limit the performance of the Intel chip. As a result, this is alright for casual everyday use and limited multitasking, yet it doesn’t feel as snappy or as responsive as other modern laptops even with these sorts of light activities. On top of that, it chokes with heavier multitasking and demanding loads.
Then, this only realistically goes for about 3-4 hours of daily use on a charge, and about 5-6 of video, due to the smaller battery inside and the power-hungry display. This might not suffice for most of you.
Finally, the MateBook X is expensive. At 1500 EUR at the time of this post, this is pricier than most other mid and even top-tier ultrabooks with similar specs, but improved performance and longer battery life.
Sure, you’re paying a premium for the exquisite craftsmanship and that 3K 3:2 screen, but are those worth this kind of money, considering the sacrifices in performance or battery life? In the end, going with this MateBook X is entirely up to you, based on how much you value a fanless laptop with an excellent display and premium construction.
From where I’m standing, this MateBook X is a hard sell, despite the fact that I’ve always wanted a fanless ultrabook for my travels and despite it checking many of the right boxes, perhaps more than any other fanless ultrabook released before. I mostly blame the Intel platform that Huawei went with, it’s just not good enough to smoothly drive a 3K screen at the reduced power required by the passive thermal design. There’s a reason nobody properly pulled off a passive Intel U laptop in the past, and unfortunately, this MateBook X doesn’t pull it off either.
Now, if you must have a fanless ultrabook, perhaps one of those new M1 MacBook Airs might better fit your needs, they’re faster, cheaper, and longer-lasting. However, if Windows is also a must, well, tough luck, this MateBook X is your best bet right now, despite its shortcomings. Hopefully, though, that will change with future ARM Windows laptops at some point. Until then, I’d be happy with at least this MateBook X getting cheaper over the following months.
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