Huawei’s MateBook X is Lean and Open-minded

Huawei released its MateBook X ultrabook to the U.S. market in early July. The China-based, multinational consumer technology and telecommunications manufacturer knows the U.S. market is walled-off in either a PC or Mac polity, and consumers want to venture out — but only so far.

Think of the MateBook X in the context of the “Get a Mac” ad campaign several years ago where the stiff PC suit and hipster Mac ambassador squared-off in a “battle rap” of features. Though the MateBook X would be a thinner, less-stodgier version of the PC rep—in a sports coat, dress shirt, a loosened tie, and skinny jeans.

MateBook X is a slight build with a Window’s consciousness and Mac’s fashion sense. Its shell resembles a MacBook with the same Bauhaus influenced design — fluid, modernist, chicklet keys, multifunctional trackpad, and a matte color palette (Space Grey, Prestige Gold, and Rose Gold). But Huawei had to work around Apple’s exclusive software ecosystem and embraced Window’s less restrictive barrier to entry and built MateBook X with Windows 10 operating system.

Huawei went beyond cutting and pasting, though, and invested in further usability testing. MateBook X is light as a Dorito at slightly over two pounds, which is enviable in the manufacturing push to produce lightweight devices. It runs on a seventh generation i5 Intel processor (available in i7 too), but it’s fanless — atypical of most ultrabooks, which need a fan to cool the chassis down with this level of processor. The MateBook X, however, is made with a state-of-the-art material used in aeronautics to prevent it from overheating — but it does heat up like a space capsule re-entering orbit when it charges. The battery life is reliable with six to seven hours of consistent usage without power saving and charges in minutes. But the power cord is short-sighted; there must have been ample outlets in user-testing environments, but most buildings are standing in the 20th century.

Its performance is reliable and can handle complex tasks, such as Photoshop demands. But if you need an ox to pull heavy video and gaming content, MateBook X isn’t equipped with a robust graphics card like most ultrabooks.

But Huawei was canny in upgrading overlooked design limitations of most ultrabooks. MateBook X’s display is 13 inches with only a 4.4mm bezel with razor-fine 2k resolution. And usually a janky, wafer, speaker-strip that’s supposed to produce sound somehow is thumb-tacked on to most ultrabooks and notebooks. In a unique collaboration with Dolby, Huawei packed MateBook X with Dolby Atmos Speakers, so audio cackles with vibrancy, presence, and authenticity.

One of its most innovative features, in tune with a mobile-first mindset, is fingerprint recognition on the power button; press your finger to it, and the desktop wakes without any startup drag.

Huawei also took advantage of a common Apple kvetch: with host products, Apple tends to accessorize necessary additional components a la carte, which should be reasonably packaged together.

A portable MateDock 2 is included in standard MateBook X models to connect other devices, e.g., two USB, an HDMI, and VGA ports. Apple sells a similar connector separately for $100. The additional dock piece, however, was a necessary trade-off to maintain the ultrabook’s agile appeal.

If you prefer to use Window’s OS, then the MateBook X is a lithe, dependable, and user-conscious alternative to the “two-party” OS systems. If you don’t like Windows, then you’re stuck with a MacBook. The MateBook X is tapping into a unique consumer-voice, but it certainly won’t be disruptive without a novel operating system and desktop environment. In the pioneering spirit, I almost wish Huawei would’ve engineered a singular, Unix-based operating system and desktop GUI (like OS X), but that wouldn’t be practical, as the U.S. market (or any other for that matter) isn’t ready. Huawei knows this, but its potential product distribution could illuminate other independent competitors’ designs and combined sales could herald such ventures.

In the meantime, if you’re adaptive, then the MateBook X is the best of both worlds.