A sleek and stylish MateBook once again undermined by battery life
Despite being relatively green in the space, Huawei has quickly cemented its MateBook range as one of the best laptop brands around. It's in stark contrast to its flagging smartphone business, as the Chinese firm's PC revenues continue to grow year on year.
The fourth instalment of its flagship ultraportable, the MateBook X Pro, launched in 2021 and it looks just as slick as ever. In fact, it looks almost the same as it did when it was first released in 2018. Which begs the question, what exactly is new about the Matebook X Pro 2021…
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Design
Each refresh of the MateBook X Pro has very minor stylistic changes and the dimensions for the 2021 model are identical to last year's version, with a 14.6mm thickness and a 1.3kg weight. As such, it isn't the slimmest laptop around by any stretch, but it's small enough to go largely unnoticed in a rucksack.
Despite the lack of change, the 2021 model is still a very fancy-looking ultraportable, particularly in the Emerald Green shade our review unit came in. The green is a welcome addition that helps it to stand out in a market saturated with grey and black finishes. You can be boring and opt for the 'Space Grey' model, but the Emerald Green is simply too beautiful to ignore.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Display
Upon lifting the lid, our attention was almost immediately taken by the MateBook X Pro's glossy 14in LTPS LCD display, which has a 3,000 x 2,000 resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio. It's very much the same as the 2020 model, save for a slight reduction in bezel size with a 91% screen to body ratio. This is, however, still packing lots of colourful quality; with our calibrator, the X Pro hit 94.4% sRGB gamut coverage, which is just a fraction below the 2020 model.
There are other, cheaper 14in displays with better scores, such as the Acer Swift 5 (which managed 98.3%), but you'll not be disappointed with the X Pro. Whether you use it for work or streaming or even gaming, the display offers a very rounded experience. It's bright and vivid and has a peak brightness of 581 cd/m2. The only fault we found was due to the glossy finish, which can catch the odd glare of sunlight no matter how high you raise its brightness level.
Once again, Huawei has used a 10-point touchscreen on the MateBook X Pro and it's as responsive as ever. Unfortunately, the laptop doesn't flip back into a full tablet mode, but there are some pretty innovative touchscreen shortcuts. Swiping down the centre of the screen with three fingers enables a screen capture mode. From here you can capture the whole screen with a single digit or an app window by running a finger diagonally from corner to corner. You can also select a small part of the display by drawing a circle around it.
The latter doesn't always work and it doesn't automatically save what you capture; you need to go into the notifications bar and explicitly click save on the image, which is more exertion than most methods of screen capture, quite frankly.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Keyboard and trackpad
The MateBook X Pro includes a deliciously smooth keyboard with understated black keys, beautifully backlit for nighttime typing. The sound from the keystrokes is also nicely muffled for those that like a silent office.
It all gets a little more exciting when it comes to the trackpad, which is full of ingenious features (similar to the touchscreen controls) that differ depending on the number of fingers being used. For instance, three digits pressed in the centre brings forth other app windows a user might have open, or the search bar if only one window is open. There are a number of different variations here, though not as many as you'll find on the similar touch controls offered by macOS. That being said, the core operations on the MateBook are also very smooth with a very subtle click action and excellent cursor control.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Specs and performance
There's a complete change inside the 2021 Matebook X Pro, however, with an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 Tiger Lake chip and integrated Iris Xe GPU, rather than the Nvidia M250 card that was found in the 2020 version. This is matched with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, and from our in-house benchmark tests, we can see an instant improvement. The MateBook's overall test scores jumped from 78 with the 2020 model, to 90 in the new version. The problem comes when you compare it to rival laptops, such as Samsung's Galaxy Book Pro (2021) which hit an overall score of 100 in the same test. Worse, Samsung's laptop is almost £300 cheaper. We're not going to cause further embarrassment with an M1 MacBook comparison – but suffice to say that Apple's notebook leaves this machine thoroughly in the dust.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Battery life
Our experience of using the MateBook X Pro was relatively positive; it's snappy and handles multiple tasks with ease. But you don't get long to enjoy all that if it isn't plugged into the mains. We're going to trash the battery here and deservedly so; it lasted a pitiful 8hrs 49min in our looped video test, which is just plain woeful. So much so, we actually struggled to find another machine from 2021 that had a worse life span. In day to day use, we didn't have the confidence to go very far from a plug socket because no matter what you do with the MateBook X Pro, it simply cannot make it through a standard eight-hour shift.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Features
Feature-wise, the MateBook X Pro has some very useful tools and a few that are a little tired, such as the popup webcam. This, which has been hidden between the F6 and F7 buttons since the series was first released, is an idea that was novel in 2018, but problematic now that we have constant video meetings. It does make sense if you're security conscious and want that webcam blacked out, but not everyone wants the unflattering view up the nostrils that the low angle provides. Thankfully this has been binned on other Huawei laptops, such as the MateBook 14s and also the upcoming MateBook X Pro (2022).
For connectivity, there is almost no change for the MateBook X Pro, with two USB Type-C ports for charging and data transfer, Wi-Fi 6 support, and a 3.5mm headphone and microphone jack. There is a USB Type-A port, but it's now the 3.2 version, rather than the 3.0 which was found in the 2020 model.
Sadly, there's no UK release date for the next iteration of MateBook X Pro as yet, but getting an older Huawei laptop doesn't stop you from enjoying some of its newest software features. This includes Super Device; a screen sharing programme that can be accessed with an upgrade to the latest version of the Huawei PC Manager (12.1) and by enabling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on both devices the user wishes to pair.
It's operated via a Super Device UI, where the main device (the MateBook) will appear as a central pebble in a pool with other available devices floating around it. Dragging one of the surrounding pebbles into contact with the main one links them together, and we tested this with the Huawei P50 Pro, where its UI appears as a floating box on the left of the screen. From here we could control the handset via the laptop, drag and drop files from one to the other, and even load up apps such as Netflix and Spotify from the phone to play via the laptop – which is exceedingly cool.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) review: Verdict
As mentioned earlier, Huawei has other MateBook models, and even a 2022 X Pro model coming soon, with even more features and design changes. So at £1,600 exc VAT, our Emerald Green review unit is arguably too expensive to make it worthwhile.
Even leaving this aside, however, the very short battery life is too hard to ignore. No matter how good the display or design is, no one wants a laptop they can only use for half a day. Unfortunately, this is a Mate with no staying power.