Huawei MateBook 13 2020 Review: Gunning for the Air

I recently reviewed the Honor MagicBook 14, the Honor rebadge of the Huawei Matebook D14, and when I heard that Huawei was releasing a variant of the Matebook 13 with the same AMD Ryzen 5 3500U I asked for it to review and a week or some later a laptop turned up at my door. Except it wasn’t quite the laptop I requested. Whereas the AMD variant is the lowest end and least expensive model costing £579 currently, the model that Huawei sent is the highest-end Intel Core i7 variant topping £1099 currently, I will say, it’s a lot of laptop.

Huawei MateBook 13
+ FOR
  • 3:2 Screen is great and touch
  • 16GB of RAM is very cushty
  • SSD easily replaceable and sips power
  • Comfortable keyboard and trackapd
- AGAINST
  • Underwhelming battery life
  • Only charges from one side
  • Comet Lake is underwhelming

Buy on Amazon UK – £649

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

Disclaimer

Huawei provided this laptop for review. They have not seen an advance copy of the review prior to go-live, nor has there been any monetary compensation for my time. The model I was sent is the Core i7 10510U, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, an Nvidia MX250 GPU and a Touchscreen, but there is also a cheaper version with a Core i5 10210U, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD without the touchscreen £799. I have been testing this unit for 2 months.

Specifications

  • 13” IPS- Like Screen
    • 3:2 Aspect ratio
    • Touchscreen
    • 2160×1440
    • 300 nits 
  • Intel Core i7 10510U
  • 16GB LPDDR3-2133Mhz
  • 14.9mm thick
  • 1.3kg
  • 41Wh battery
  • 2x USB-C ports
    • USB 3.1 Gen1 (5gbps)
    • Only left port for charging
  • Combo microphone and headphone jack port.
  • Nvidia MX250 (25w variant)
  • 512GB PCIe 3.0×4 SSD

For a more complete look at the specifications hit up the Huawei site here

Hardware

Let’s get the obvious out of the way here, the Huawei MateBook 13 2020 is very heavily inspired by the now-discontinued 12” Macbook, a very thin laptop, with minimal ports, keyboard going edge to edge and the rest being taken up by a trackpad. Despite that, this is a very attractive laptop.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

This is an aluminium shell, sadly it isn’t a single block of aluminium that has been CNC’d into the lower body shape, this is just multiple panels that have been adhered together to make the body, it is fine, but running your fingers over the seams they do feel a bit sharp and very obvious, not so much of an issue if you’re buying the £599 AMD Picasso version, but on the £1100 Comet Lake model I have here, that’s Dell XPS 13 and Macbook Air territory, and speaking of Macbooks, the colour Huawei is calling this model is, of course, Space Grey, because why not.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

With the lid open we see the spacious keyboard, which takes up practically the entire width of the keyboard deck, and below that is a generously sized trackpad, without going insane like newer Dell models or Razer laptops. Above the keyboard is the power button with an integrated fingerprint scanner, and much like the MagicBook 14 I reviewed a few months back, this caches your fingerprint so tapping it with the correct finger from power off stores your fingerprint until the device is logged in, and then the cache is wiped. The Power button has a chamfer on it as does the trackpad, this is a nice visual flair and makes the device look a bit more premium. What detracts from that premium look is the two stickers in the bottom corner, one of which is the standard Intel sticker, this one proudly proclaiming it has a 10th gen Core i7 in it which I would remove, the other though, that’s the Huawei Share NFC sticker and it is a lot more important and something pretty damn cool, but because NFC doesn’t really work through metal, a sticker it needs to be unless they begin to implement it in a key in the keyboard as they did on their tablet.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

The Display portion is quite nice. The 3:2 Screen is of-course the centrepiece here, with small bezels around the top and side, not as small as we have seen, but these slightly larger bezels allowed Huawei to place the webcam up top where it should go and not below the screen or in the keyboard like with other models. The problem with this display is, like with other Huawei Laptops, the maximum brightness is just too darn low, with the Matebook D14 getting one to hit the 250 nit listing was tough, this one claims 300 nits but I still think that is a bit of a stretch. It gets worse though, due to this being a touchscreen, it is a glossy display, unlike the matte display of the D14 and D15. This amounts to just not using it anywhere near a window or going outside with it because you’ll be squinting so hard you’ll likely induce a headache, trust me.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

I do want to say that Huawei does include a breakout dongle in the box, it has a USB-C to the laptop, then one USB-A, one USB-C for passthrough charging, one HDMI (likely 1.4b) and one VGA connector. Testing on my Philips BDM3270 1440p the HDMI worked fine, I actually could not find any VGA cables to try with. USB passthrough charging works fine but you have to remember this will only work on the right side as only the right side is wired for power. I also plugged in my Aukey CR-C58 USB-C breakout, with 4x USB-A, a USB-C and HDMI, this worked just as well but passthrough charging was a bit iffy and I’m not quite sure why it just seemed rather slow to me.

Huawei MateBook 13 ReviewHuawei MateBook 13 Review

 

Lastly, as with many touchscreen laptops with the keys being so close to the screen, the finger oils leave an impression and look like scratches when you open the screen, giving me heart failure every damn time I open the laptop.

Performance

The performance was one of those areas that I assumed was a given, it was a Core i7 and an MX250 GPU from Nvidia, and I almost came away disappointed, not because it was bad, the performance was actually rather good in places, but in many others, there was an almost laughably close gap between the Comet Lake Core i7 10510U and the last generation Ryzen 5 3500U, an APU that was not the highest tier when it launched and was actually panned by some reviewers (myself not included).

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

My performance testing is still not quite where I want it to be and am working with some people much smarter than myself to work on an automated solution. I have set up a few Tests that can be compared with my MagicBook 14 review from earlier in the year, that is DOOM 2016, video editing on Movie Studio Platinum 16, CrystalDiskMark, Cinebench R20, GeekBench 5.2 and Handbrake.

Starting with Cinebench R20, the MateBook 13 got 1356, this is surprisingly low as the R5 3500U, again a not very well received chip got a 1368. I re-ran the benchmark and got 1371, but once again, this is remarkably low. The Core i7 10510U is a chip from Intel’s 14nm+++, a highly optimised node and much further ahead than GlobalFoundries’ 12nm node used on the Ryzen 5 3500U. So what’s happening here? The 10510U is throttling down when on battery power incredibly quickly. The 10510U has a rated boost clock speed of 4.9Ghz for a single core and 4.3Ghz for all 4 cores, but the MateBook 13 I have when any real load is being put on the CPU will hit the high 3Ghz for maybe 10 seconds before settling down at just under 2.5Ghz. So whilst the Core i7 10510U can theoretically clock very high and maybe it can do so on much lighter loads, the thermal design of the MateBook 13 just isn’t suited to the amount of concentrated heat the 10510U can kick out so the chip reaches temperatures it is not happy with and limits its performance.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

Okay, so what about Handbrake? In my Handbrake test, I take a 1.3GB 4K H.264 video and turn it into a 1080p H.265 using both Intel’s QuickSync encoder and the standard CPU encoder. Using QuickSync at the standard-setting it took 12 minutes to encode this video, and for fun, I also ran it at 10bit colour depth on QuickSync, it took 13 minutes. On the pure CPU side it took 20 minutes, the CPU was pegged at 100% for the entire time with clock speeds at a high of 2.44Ghz and lows of 1.09Ghz, definitely, something going on thermally as the fans where audible but not nearly as much as I would have expected them to be, either Huawei has set the top speed of the fans conservatively and would rather lower clocks or the fans themselves are just very quiet at top speed. I would have tested with NVENC but the MX250 doesn’t support NVENC.

Moving on to CrystalDiskMark, in Sequential reads and writes are 3298.80 and 2938.33 respectively but the speeds seemed to drop quite considerably once the drive was more than half full. As with other Huawei laptops, the main drive is partitioned into 2 partitions, one for windows and the other for data, this is weird and as Windows still defaults to saving everything on the C:/ Drive so you’ll run out of the 80GB C:/ drive very quickly. The drive is a Toshiba/Kioxia KXG60ZNV512G, a 96 Layer TLC drive using Toshiba’s/Kioxia’s BiCS4 flash chips, this is a fine drive, but on something that costs as much as this does I would have liked to see a higher performance Samsung or Western Digital SSD in here.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

Checking out Geekbench 5  I tested the CPU score in 64bit only mode, and the GPU in all modes possible so OpenCL UHD and MX250, Vulkan UHD and MX250 and CUDA on the MX250. For the CPU score, the i7 10510U scored 1180 on the single-core and 3753 on multi-core, It is important to note these scores are taken whilst the laptop was plugged in. 1180 gets it is a single point ahead of the Core i5 10500 on the desktop which is impressive as that has 2 more cores and 4 more threads at a higher TDP. the Multi-core is within spitting distance of a Skylake Xeon of the same core and thread count, not all that impressive. Moving onto the compute benchmarks, in OpenCL, the Intel UHD graphics scored 5928 and on the MX250 11417, It would take far too long to write out here, so click here to check out the OpenCL results and compare to other products. For Vulkan, the Intel UHD graphics scored 5928 with the MX250 scoring 10410, and of course, click here to check out the other Vulkan results. Lastly is the CUDA results, which is obviously only stressing the MX250 because only the MX250 in this system supports CUDA, came out at 10584 and you can check other results here. Once again with Geekbench, I’m not all that impressed with the Comet Lake Core i7 here. I know this isn’t the top tier Core i7 10710U, but it shouldn’t need to be the top tier chip to be impressive, it has the core i7 name and that has expectations that come with it, and this whilst fast enough for everything I threw at it, never felt ridiculously fast and out of this world as other Core i7 laptops have in the past.

Next is DOOM 2016, just like in my Honor MagicBook 14 review earlier this year, I am still very bad at video games so to save me shame this is going to only be about 30 minutes of me playing DOOM from the start and having the frame rate in the top corner. DOOM is running at 720p in “I’m too young to die” mode. With Vulkan the MateBook 13 I was averaging between 58 and 73fps, which was much better than I was expecting given how quiet things were and how cool to the touch it was. Now do not get me wrong, the area in front of the hinge was warm, as was the palm rest on the right-hand side, but the WASD area was pleasantly cool and even the trackpad wasn’t uncomfortable, well other than the uncomfortable-ness of playing a game like DOOM with a trackpad.

Lastly is the video editing portion, and due to my trying to move away from Magix Movie Studio Platinum onto DaVinci Resolve, this test was run with resolve, but Resolve was also throwing up some major issues for me. I got my test media, which is 4 UHD video clips at 30FPS, I made a few minor cuts overlaid some text and inserted an image randomly, there are no extra effects, colour grading or anything like that, rather simple. I was going to use the MX250 and CUDA for this because CUDA generally has the best optimisation and compatibility, this time, however, at both 4K export and 1080p export, this froze and crashed at around 40%, switching to OpenCL still crashed at 4K, but at 1080p took 11 minutes to export, which works out just about 1:1 with how long the video came to (it was 11 minutes 34 seconds if you were wondering and a 12-minute 56-second video). Export times aside performance inside of Resolve was really good, scrolling was smooth, cutting files was too, very little drama, apart from, you know the export issues.

Keyboard and mouse

So how are the input devices on the MateBook 13? I have mixed feelings, but generally, they’re pretty positive. The Keyboard is full-sized without having a number pad on the right. Huawei opted to enlarge the left and right arrows instead of having an inverted T configuration which still messes me up every time I need to use the arrows. Thankfully they haven’t truncated the right shift, it is the proper size, even though I personally use the left shift more often.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

The bigger issue and even this is more of a personal niggle is the key travel. There isn’t a whole lot of it. It isn’t nearly as bad as MacBooks with the now-retired butterfly keyboards, but even low travel keyboards can feel nice to type on, look at Dell’s MagLev keyboards. This is a standard scissor-switch but the keys are less stable than I’m used to and it becomes obvious when attempting to type at speed, much like me trying to write this review, as yes, I am writing this entire review on the MateBook 13. It definitely took me longer than usual to get used to typing on this keyboard more along the lines of 7-10 days rather than 3-4 of most laptops, but once I got over the learning curve I was able to type at a relatively speedy clip, but what made typing a lot more comfortable and accurate for me was using my MOFT Stand, this is a foldable stand that adheres to the bottom of the laptop (there are other models without adhesive) and props it up at 10 or 25 degrees. The model without adhesive is recommended for laptops with ventilation on the bottom, like this one, however, I only have the Adhesive model, and I removed it when doing thermal testing.

I don’t want to say that no one will be able to just pick this up and use it straight away, because I think there will be people that can, but I think people that prefer a low-profile type of keyboard will be disappointed and people who prefer a more cushion-like Thinkpad style keyboard will definitely walk away unimpressed.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

The Trackpad is a Windows Precision trackpad, praise whatever deity you like for that one. It’s a glass trackpad with a smooth matte texture on top of it to help aid gliding over the trackpad instead of sticking. The trackpad is wider than many others, without getting into the ridiculous ones that Acer used to use, but it is about 30% wider than it is tall and it just looks odd. With a taller 3:2 screen, I feel like the keyboard could have been pushed up a few mm in order to get a slightly taller trackpad, I don’t want to imagine what it’d look like with a 16:9 screen.

On the software side of the trackpad, it is remarkably boring. I didn’t need to adjust acceleration or change the click speed to feel comfortable, it just worked. The only thing I changed was a 3 finger swipe gesture to adjust volume, and that was more of a convenience feature than a need to have, congrats Huawei.

Battery Life

This is a section I wasn’t all that excited for nor was I impressed by it. The battery in the MateBook 13 is rated at 41.7Wh which is on the smaller side of things even for a laptop of this size. Paired with the Comet Lake CPU which isn’t the most efficient chip, and the screen is not one of those fancy 1w panels that Intel has been showing off It was hard to see the MateBook 13 reach the up to 11.6 hours of local video playback.

Let’s start with that actually, I use a Blu-Ray rip of Avengers Endgame from my NAS transferred to the laptop and played in VLC. I set my brightness as close to 80% as I could and left all connectivity options as they normally are, so WiFi and Bluetooth on as most people just leave them active when watching videos, so I did. In my test of Endgame, a film which is 3 hours long, the Matebook 13 took 70% of the battery. Losing 70% in 3 hours is nowhere close to 11.6 hours. Maybe they set the screen to 100 nits or something uselessly low like that, but in my opinion with a screen that is quite dim such as this going much below 50% brightness is not a fun experience.

Next is how much battery we sapped whilst running Handbrake if you’re transcoding video whilst at a tradeshow, for instance, you might not have access to power, so if a transcode takes too much juice, you might be SOL. going from 4K to 1080p H.265 using the Intel QuickSync encoder took 17%. But if you use the CPU only encode, for whatever reason you would do that, it takes a monstrous 26% of your battery, do not, and I repeat do not use CPU encoding unless you absolutely have to. There is a slight quality hit for using QuickSync, but the power and time savings I think are worth the small trade-off in quality. Lastly is the video editing portion and this wasn’t pretty. Taking out the failed attempts, the 11-minute export took 20% battery. I feel like there is a bug somewhere as that seems excessive, but the other battery tests I’ve done show that this isn’t a great performer battery wise, but wow.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

Of course, I didn’t just run these once, all of this was done at least 3 times and averaged out, it still isn’t all that impressive.

Upgradability

This is a very simple and short section to write, there isn’t much. To be clear you can upgrade one thing, the SSD. the Toshiba/Kioxia KXXG60ZNV512G in my unit is a pretty decent unit, 3.3GB Random reads and 1.9GB Random Writes, but if 512GB just isn’t enough for you, or that performance just isn’t breath taking enough, swap it out for something like the insane 8TB Rocket Q from Sabrent (although it costs the same as the laptop) or many you want pure speed and go for the Samsung 970 Evo+ with its 3.5GB/s Random Reads and 3.3GB/s Random Writes. But that is it. The RAM is soldered on, the CPU isn’t socketed and the WiFi card is soldered to the board.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

Conclusion

So, what do I think of the MateBook 13? I actually love it. Yes, it is a shameless copy of the 12” MacBook/Macbook Air, but I don’t care. I even don’t care that it only charges on one of the USB-C ports, it is just a really nice laptop to use, and that’s important. Sure, it gets toastier than I’d like (Comet Lake is really pushing that 14nm Intel) and the Screen is dimmer than i9t really should be for this price, but I enjoy using it. I liked typing this review on it. I liked slicing my 3D printing files on this screen, I liked the included dock/dongle from Huawei in the box when I didn’t want to use my desktop. Specs are secondary to experience, and the experience of using the Matebook 13 is great.

Huawei MateBook 13 Review

On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend people buy the model I have. The model below this is a Comet Lake i5 (the 10210U for those that care) and 8GB of RAM, you also lose the touchscreen, but that brings it down to £849! At that price, the low screen luminance is somewhat more okay as are the wonky thermals. If you don’t want the discrete GPU sucking up extra power of an already small battery consider the AMD Variant, sure it is the older 3500U variant but it is only £649!

This is a good laptop with some weird compromises, but I enjoyed almost every moment of using it, and I’ll be sad to see it go back to Huawei.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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