Last year’s Huawei’s MateBook X Pro was a stunner of a laptop. Not only was it incredibly competent in all the major categories that matter — power, portability, design, build quality, keyboard, trackpad, even battery life — it was also incredibly cheap, offering that package for hundreds of dollars less than competing Windows laptops or even MacBooks. The MateBook X Pro easily became my recommendation for the best laptop of the year, and even now, more than six months later, it remains at the top of many shortlists.
So the bar for Huawei’s next laptop — the new MateBook 13, which was announced at CES earlier this month and is hitting Amazon and Newegg around the time this review is published — is unsurprisingly high. The MateBook 13 has dropped the “Pro” moniker, and it starts at an even lower price: $999 for the entry model and $1,299 for the upgraded version, both of which offer a considerable value. But it’s also lost some of the features of the MateBook X Pro, and it isn’t quite the slam dunk winner last year’s model was.
Great build quality
Excellent keyboard and trackpad
Compact design with 3:2 display
Powerful processor plus optional discrete GPU
Below-average battery life
Limited USB-C ports
No Thunderbolt 3 support
Overly aggressive automatic brightness sensor
7.5 Verge Score
Design-wise, the MateBook 13 is very similar to the MateBook X Pro, which means that it’s very similar to Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro: its full metal chassis comes in dark gray or silver, it weighs about 2.87 pounds, and it’s 0.59 inches thick. Even more impressive is the MateBook 13’s width. While it’s roughly the same depth as a MacBook Air, it’s three-quarters of an inch narrower, thanks to extremely trim side bezels and no speakers on the top deck. (Instead, they are on the underside of the computer.) As a result, the sound output from the MateBook 13 is not as impressive as the MateBook X Pro or a MacBook Air or Pro, but the sound quality and volume are adequate.
That design makes the MateBook 13 surprisingly compact; it feels more like I’m carrying around a Surface Pro with a keyboard attached than a clamshell laptop with a 13-inch display, full-size keyboard, and enormous trackpad.
The 13-inch touchscreen is noticeably smaller than the MateBook X Pro’s 13.9-inch panel, and it has a 2k (2160 x 1440) panel instead of the 3k (3000 x 2000) one found on last year’s computer. I don’t have much issue with the resolution or color accuracy of the MateBook 13’s screen, and I love the 3:2 aspect ratio, but the automatic brightness adjustment is annoyingly aggressive and dims the screen to nearly unusable levels. I eventually turned off the automatic adjustment and just used the brightness keys on the keyboard to manually tweak it as necessary. Once the automatic adjustment is disabled, the screen behaves much more like other premium laptops, with a maximum brightness of 300 nits that matches the MacBook Air but falls behind the MacBook Pro and other class-leading laptop screens.
The best change Huawei made to the MateBook 13 is moving the webcam from being hidden inside a pop-up key in the keyboard’s function row to the proper place above the display. It’s far less novel than the MateBook X Pro’s webcam, but it’s far more usable because it doesn’t get blocked by my fingers on the keyboard or provide a view of my chest to other parties of a video call.
Otherwise, the MateBook 13 has a very similar keyboard to the MateBook X Pro, with excellent key feel and travel, backlighting, and a power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello login. The trackpad below the keyboard is large and excellent (yes, it uses Windows Precision drivers) for both single finger tracking and multifinger gestures, though it did stop responding a few times during my testing, forcing a reboot of the computer.
Like the MacBook Air, the MateBook 13 has two USB-C ports. But unlike the MacBook Air, neither of them support Thunderbolt 3. Further, the left port supports data transfer and charging, but not video out, while the port on the right side supports data transfer and video out, but not charging. That means it’s not possible to connect the MateBook 13 to an external display and charger with just one cable, which is something every other laptop with USB-C I’ve tested is capable of. It’s a strange and frustrating limitation. The MateBook 13 also lacks any USB-A ports, but Huawei does include a small hub with USB-A, HDMI, and VGA ports in the box. Too bad you can’t use that hub to charge the laptop and connect it to an external display at the same time.
Under the hood, the MateBook 13 has either a quad-core Core i5 or i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of storage. The $1,299 i7 model I’ve been testing also includes an Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics card (rated at 25W TDP), which is capable of handling some light gaming or aiding with photo and video editing. Those components are considerably more powerful than what Apple offers in the MacBook Air, and the MateBook 13’s performance for day-to-day productivity work is impressive. I can switch between Chrome with dozens of tabs open, Slack, email, Word, Twitter, and more without skipping a beat or ever feel like I’m really stressing the computer. My only gripe is that I wish there was an option for 16GB of RAM, which the MateBook X Pro offered, for even better multitasking performance and an option for integrated LTE connectivity.
The MateBook 13 is not fanless, but its fans rarely come alive. Most of the time, it operates coolly and quietly. The only time the fans really do spin up to audible levels is when I play a demanding AAA game like Star Wars Battlefront II or import or export large batches of photos from Adobe Lightroom.
Sadly, while I’m very pleased with the MateBook 13’s performance, I’m less than thrilled with its battery life. While the MateBook X Pro had average, but passable battery life of between seven and eight hours, the MateBook 13’s stamina is below average, frequently conking out before the six-hour mark and averaging just five hours between charges. That’s far less than a full workday for me, and it’s less than I expect from a premium, ultraportable computer.
The biggest problem Huawei has with the MateBook 13 is that it’s just not as good of a computer as the MateBook X Pro. Without that comparison, the MateBook 13 is quite impressive, especially when you consider that it offers more specs for your buck than virtually anything else on the market. It has outstanding performance, an excellent display, a fantastic keyboard and trackpad, and surprisingly compact dimensions. The biggest issues it has are subpar battery life and weirdly limited USB-C ports.
At the time this review is published, I can get the MateBook X Pro for just $80 more and get a similar processor and GPU; the same amount of storage; more RAM; better battery life; better port selection; and a larger, higher-resolution display. The only real advantage the MateBook 13 offers is a (much) better webcam and a slightly smaller footprint.
If you are looking for the most compact premium Windows laptop with a 3:2 display, discrete graphics, and a great price, the MateBook 13 is it. But most people should just go with the MateBook X Pro instead.