Stuck between a generation of Intel hardware that is starting to get a bit long in the tooth, and supply issues preventing AMD from providing true competition in the space, Huawei has found themselves in a real awkward spot.
It’s just not a great time to buy a laptop. That’s the unfortunate reality surrounding the 2020 model of the Huawei Matebook X Pro, a laptop which was a genuinely affordable, groundbreaking combination of power and portability when it launched in Australia.
When it first hit Australia, the Matebook X Pro was sold at a staggering $2299. That combination got you a top-tier Intel i7 CPU, 512GB storage, 16GB RAM and a discrete Nvidia MX150 GPU. Most thin and light laptops would charge over $3000 for that package, if they could compete on the whole package to begin with.
These days, the latest Matebook X Pro package — amidst the turmoil that Huawei’s laptops and mobile phones have found themselves in — is a decidedly less attractive $3298.
You are, to be clear, still getting a good mix of hardware for the price tag. The storage in the top-tier MateBook X Pro has been upped to 1TB, and the MX150 GPU has been swapped out for the slightly more efficient Nvidia GeForce MX350. The MX350 is basically a cut down GTX 1050, but the light form factor and lack of cooling means you won’t be playing AAA games at strong frame rates.
If you can put up with the noise from the fans, the MateBook X Pro can handle a nice mix of games at 1080p on low, or lowest settings. The 60Hz screen isn’t well suited to games like Fortnite or Overwatch, but with their resolution scales, you can get a relatively stable 60fps in most major battles. Not ideal for competitive play, but if you just need to knock out something casually after a long day of work, it’s an option.
The physical stylings of the Matebook X Pro aren’t much changed from its earlier iterations. The screen is still the big, bright 14-inch 3000×2000 panel as previous years, with touchscreen functionality if you like getting fingerprints over everything. The keyboard has decent travel distance and the touchpad is comfortable and responsive enough.
It’s not as refined as, say, the keyboards or touchpad from HP Spectre or Dell XPS series, or even the newer Macbook models, but it’s more than sufficient to do the job. And the fingerprint sensor located in the power button is a nice touch as well. You could try Windows Hello, but with Huawei sticking to the webcam-hidden-in-the-keyboard design again, the fingerprint sensor’s a much better bet. (If you leave your finger on the power button while the machine’s booting up, Windows will automatically login, which is nice.)
There’s support for the Huawei Share functionality, transferring files and projecting your Huawei smartphone onto the laptop via NFC. But given how impossible it is to recommend a Huawei phone to anyone in Australia, or anyone outside of China who relies on Google apps, it’s hard to get excited about.
A nice design feature, and one that I’m continually shitty that more laptops don’t implement, is the addition of a USB-A port alongside multiple USB-C options. There’s only one USB-A port, and both the USB-C ports are on the same side which is a bit weird. It’s nice to be able to swap what side you’re charging from, especially if you’re using the laptop in bed or the USB-C charging block and cable can only reach so far. But it’s not the end of the world.
What I’m really getting stuck on is the fact that the Huawei Matebook X Pro isn’t a bad laptop at all. It’s just suffering from a few major flaws, and none of them are really Huawei’s fault.
The first is the same problem that’s plagued all laptops this year. With 8 core, 16 thread laptops being a genuine game-changer, it’s hard to get excited about — or recommend — laptops with half the core count. 2020 isn’t like previous years: If you buy a laptop today, it’s going to age really badly, really quickly.
Comparing the Matebook X Pro to the recent AMD-powered Zephyrus G14 is a great example. Even taking the GPUs out of the equation, the G14 absolutely leaves the Matebook X Pro in the dust. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing: web-based workloads, using the Adobe suite, or even just synthetic tests like Geekbench. The benefit of those extra threads makes the Ryzen-based laptop a faster, more responsive system. So it’s no surprise that Intel will start pushing 6 and 8 core CPUs into thin and light laptops from next year.
Once they do that, any device from 2020 or beforehand is going to look real long in the tooth. And that makes it hard to recommend anything that isn’t really well priced, which is the Matebook X Pro’s second problem. $3299 is the kind of price tag you drop on a big, reliable name brand. Huawei’s simply not in the position to reliably charge that right now. A full $1000 less made the Matebook X Pro — and the attractive prices on the smaller Matebook D and Matebook 13 laptops — a lot more attractive in 2018, because the value compared to the competition was so good.
But how many people do you know would take the plunge on a Huawei device today, priced at the same amount as a HP Spectre x360, the ever-solid Dell XPS 13 series, a Surface Laptop and so on? There’s the service element too. Other brands have much bigger support and repair staff available in Australia should anything goes wrong. And while that’s not a knock against Huawei directly, it’s something that factors into the mind of the consumer when you’re going toe to toe with more established laptop manufacturers.
If you charge the same price as their flagships, then you’d better be beating them across the board on all fronts.
Again, it’s not like the Matebook X Pro isn’t a decent in isolation. The screen’s great. The battery life hits around 8 hours at half brightness and a regular, Chrome-based daily workload. The MX350 is an excellent addition, although it can chew through your battery a little faster depending on what programs you use.
But it’s just hard to recommend anyone taking the plunge. The concerns around the US trade ban, and what that could mean for future Windows support at any point, is already a step too far for a lot of people. And just knowing that 6 and 8 core thin and light laptops are around the corner makes it hard to pull the trigger today — unless you’re in a spot where you have to buy a laptop now.
If you’re in that spot, my commiserations. It’s a really bad time to buy a laptop right now, just when the industry is on the verge of massive, genuine competition for the first time in decades. If you’re going to look at anything, it’s Huawei’s cheaper options that actually make a lot more sense.
The Huawei Matebook 13 isn’t sporting a Ryzen 4000 series CPU, but for $1197 it’s combination of RAM, storage and the form factor is a real nice choice. Alternatively, HP has finally gotten stock of the Ryzen 4000-series ENVY x360 laptops in Australia, which might actually be the most exciting laptop in the country right now given its price and form factor.
The Envy’s the one I would probably go with today, if pressed to make a decision. But if you can, you’re honestly better waiting until Intel sorts out their process node problems — and AMD sorts out their supply chain so more AMD-powered laptops can become available. Once those two things happen, just about any laptop choice you make will last you a lot longer than the Huawei Matebook X Pro. It’s not Huawei’s fault that they’re stuck in the worst possible part of the competitive cycle. But that’s never been the consumer’s problem.