A NOSE(CAM) SHORT OF GREAT
Huawei laptops have been hard to come by in the United States for years. However, they’ve always been wonderful devices, with sufficient performance and build quality to compete with MacBooks. So, even though it may not be on the radars of our American readers, I decided to review Huawei’s latest flagship notebook, the MateBook 16. Consider this a resource for people who live in countries where Huawei is still active, as well as a brief reminder of what the rest of us are missing out on.
On the outside, the MateBook 16 resembles a MacBook Pro in appearance. Huawei has nailed the colors and overall mood. Of course, whether it performs as well as a MacBook is another matter. The MateBook 16 has a lot of outstanding features, including a quick and comfortable keyboard, all-day battery life, a large 3:2 display, and surprisingly strong speakers. I know people who have switched from MacBooks to MateBooks as their primary driver, and I imagine the everyday experience is very similar for most office employees.
The primary difference is that when I use a MateBook, I periodically run into strange situations. They’re hardly deal-breakers, but they’re weird problems for such a lovely laptop to have. And they add together to produce a product that is good but not quite as good as it could be.
Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that the MateBook is only available in a handful of countries. As of this writing, you can only get it directly from Huawei’s website if you’re in China or Germany. (Given Huawei’s ties to the Biden government, I doubt it will be available in the United States anytime soon.) If you live outside of those nations but are willing to ship one, I’ve spotted models for as little as $1,259 on AliExpress. My test device, which includes a Ryzen 7 5800H processor, 16GB of memory, and 512GB of storage, costs $1,469 on AliExpress right now.
If you can get your hands on one of these, it comes with a slew of benefits. At 4.39 pounds, it’s relatively light for a 16-inch notebook. The trackpad is smooth and spacious, however palm rejection was occasionally an issue. The keyboard is solid and silent, and it’s the closest thing to a MacBook keyboard I’ve ever used on a Windows laptop (and I mean the recent models, not the god-awful butterfly ones). There are two USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, and HDMI on board. The speakers are extremely powerful, albeit the bass is a little lacking. It has a professional, inconspicuous appearance.
The display is the device’s highlight for me. It’s not only 16 inches, but it also has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is my preferred laptop aspect ratio. (It’s true that I have a favorite.) There’s a lot of vertical space, and I was able to work comfortably in numerous windows side by side; as someone who usually works on a 13-inch screen, the extra space seems wonderful. While the panel itself isn’t nearly as good as a MacBook’s, it nevertheless produces vibrant colors and crisp details with little glare. It was enjoyable to look at.
Now for the strange stuff. The MateBook’s mics have Huawei’s Ai noise canceling technology, which is designed to eliminate echo and ambient noise, but coworkers say it made me sound strange on Zoom calls. While I was speaking, it was plainly processing my speech; someone claimed I sounded like I was underwater. They could still hear and understand me perfectly, but it’s a strange quirk with such a beautiful laptop. This is something I’ve inquired about with Huawei.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF THIS DEVICE IS
Another strange occurrence: the SSD is partitioned? On the MateBook 16, there are essentially two drives. I’ve asked Huawei why this is the case, but I’m not sure why this is required on a consumer laptop. It appears to be likely to cause unnecessary confusion and hassle — I had several downloads interrupted in the middle because they were dumped into a partition that didn’t have enough space, and I had to rearrange a lot of things to accommodate a large folder I was trying to load that was well under 512GB but too big for either partition. It was also more difficult to locate files and applications because I couldn’t always recall which drive they were on.
Finally, there’s the webcam. When you press down on the MateBook’s nosecam, it pops out of the top row of the keyboard. This is the equivalent of not having a webcam to me; I’d rather be a black square on Zoom calls than have coworkers peering up my nostrils. So that’s a thing as well.
Huawei fans can link the MateBook 16 to a Huawei phone or tablet via a Multi-Screen collaboration capability. You may then drag and drop files between the tethered devices, switch between respective apps, or utilize the latter as an external display. I couldn’t try it because I didn’t have any Huawei phones or tablets, but it sounds useful and similar to Apple’s Sidecar feature. Every time you connected a device, it appears that you must input a passcode, which would definitely drive me insane after a while.
The MateBook also pairs effortlessly with Huawei earbuds; according to Huawei, the two devices will prompt you to link them automatically if they are placed close together. Huawei is certainly working toward a well-developed ecosystem, but whether or not users buy in will likely be determined by how effectively the features operate as new products are released. Regardless, as someone whose Bose 700 disconnects from her Surface Book at least once a week, it’s something I envy.
The MateBook’s eight-core Ryzen processor performed admirably as a workhorse. Under a sea of Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming, and Zoom calls, the fans were deafeningly quiet. I never had to worry about anything crashing or slowing down, and nothing ever got too hot. By hitting FN+P, you may enter a specific Performance Mode, though I’m not sure where a user without Huawei’s reviewers’ guide would obtain that knowledge.
The MateBook performed admirably on multi-core benchmarks but lagged behind a little on single-core devices, as we would anticipate from AMD Ryzen 5000 systems. It didn’t blast any graphical jobs out of the water, either, as AMD’s integrated graphics haven’t been updated in a few years.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran at an average of 15 frames per second at the MateBook’s native resolution of 2520 x 1680 and 28 frames per second at 1920 x 1080. Neither of these laptops offers a great gaming experience, and they’re far inferior to the 13-inch M1 MacBook Air.
MATEBOOK 16 BENCHMARKS
Our 4K export test took the MateBook 13 minutes and 44 seconds to complete. This isn’t a bad result for AMD computers with integrated graphics, but it does highlight the difference between this system and a more powerful creative workstation (which people often expect 16-inch laptops to be). Even the 14-inch MacBook Pro took less than three minutes to complete the identical test. The MateBook also trailed Apple’s devices in the Puget Systems Premiere Pro benchmark, including the very similarly priced MacBook Air. None of this is to argue that the MateBook is a poor laptop; it’s merely to point out that if graphics performance is a priority for you, you can get a better laptop for less money.
However, what AMD’s CPUs lack in single-core performance, they more than make up for in battery life. The MateBook has an 84Wh battery, and with the screen set to 200 nits of brightness, I got just over 10 hours of continuous use. (Huawei claims 12.5 hours of “continuous local 1080p video playback,” so keep that in mind if you do a lot of video playback.) That beats the MacBook Air (though not by much) and a lot other Intel laptops in this small range.
The MateBook’s battery life is, in my opinion, the biggest reason in favor of purchasing it. It should easily get you through a workday, which is particularly amazing given the large high-resolution screen. I’d love to be able to take this to a conference and not have to worry about charging it, and have so much space to work with everytime I opened it.
While the MateBook 16 appears to be a laptop with broad appeal, the people I’d most recommend it to are still overwhelmingly Huawei devotees. Nothing from Apple or Asus can compete with the MateBook’s compatibility with other Huawei goods. For folks who currently possess Huawei devices, I can see that benefit outweighing the strange negatives.
For everyone else, I think the MateBook would make a good work laptop, but there are alternative laptops with similar features and none of the oddities around the webcam, speakers, or drive. Even if MacBook Pros are out of your price range, many Ryzen devices offer comparable performance and battery life, as well as a working webcam and microphones. The MacBook Air is almost same (although, as terrible as its webcam is, I’ll take it over a nostril shot any day). Basically, I believe the MateBook has a chance if you really, really want the 16-inch, 3:2 screen.