Ordinarily, discussions of a laptop’s built-in webcam would be placed in the hardware section for good and obvious reasons — or ignored entirely. But if the MateBook X Pro is known for one thing, it’s for a pop-up webcam sited in the middle of the keyboard’s function row. Placed between the F6 and F7 keys, users have to push the dedicated key down to see the one-megapixel unit pop up into view.
The webcam is small and pleasingly dinky, with the usual green light to warn you when the lens is in use. Unfortunately, the lens is fixed in one place, and you can’t even make small angle adjustments to its placement or position. That means it’s still less useful than Dell’s implementation, which embedded the webcam in the bottom bezel of its display.
Armchair commenters have already said that the camera’s angle, which is low and pointed toward your face, is inevitably going to be unflattering. This is true, but only in part, because you can avoid showing the world your double (and triple) chin by sitting a bit further back. Although you won’t be able to do some sneaky typing, midcall, without the person on the other end of the line seeing it.
If you’re used to seeing your paranoid colleagues sullying their laptops with stickers to block their built-in webcams, then the pop-up camera is a welcome development. Even if it’s activated without your consent, the worst thing it’ll be able to see is the black darkness inside its own housing. On one hand, that should make it harder for hackers, and the feds, to spy upon you. On the other, if you’re paranoid about the CIA and FBI, you’re probably also nervous about the supposed close relationship between Huawei and China’s government.
Performance and battery life
My MateBook X Pro review unit is the top-of-the-line model, with a Core i7-8550U clocked at 1.8GHz, 16GB RAM and a GeForce MX150 graphics. It cold boots in about 10 seconds and was able to handle pretty much everything I threw at it without stuttering or slowing down. Running Edge and writing in Google Docs with only a couple of other tabs open was, however, enough to make the machine run a little warm. Not so much that it would burn you, but warm enough that you’d struggle to use this on your lap for long periods of time.
Benchmark-wise, the device certainly stands toe-to-toe with its peers and packs enough of a punch, although it’s worth remembering that this isn’t really designed for intensive video editing or high-end games. I did fire up Steam and play a few titles and, in a pinch, the unit would do for a quick game of Arkham Origins (don’t judge me) or Overwatch, so long as you weren’t maxing out the settings.
Huawei claims that the MateBook X Pro can get up to 12 hours of video playback in a single session, and that’s almost true. In our battery-rundown test, which involves looping a local HD video, the laptop lasted for a very impressive 11 hours and 7 minutes. That puts it well ahead of Dell’s XPS 13, and close to the 2016 MacBook Pro, making it ideal for long-haul flights where you need to keep yourself amused. When I used the laptop as my work machine during a trade show, doing tasks like image editing, its life fell to closer to the eight-hour mark.
Pricing and the competition
Huawei hasn’t spoken about US pricing or availability for the MateBook X Pro, probably because America’s political community is waging a war of words against the company. Right now, we have vague assurances that we’ll learn more at some point soon. And even if the X Pro does make it to the US, it may not be sold in many places, thanks to several retailers cutting ties with the brand.
Consequently, we only have European pricing for the base model, which is €1,499 ($1,840) for a MateBook X Pro with a Core i5 CPU and 256GB storage. Whatever the internal options, however, the machine is available in two colors: silver and dark gray.
If the machine ever arrives in the US, its price will likely be much lower thanks to the differences in sales tax compared to Europe. But if we use that figure as a rough benchmark, what are the alternatives?
If you’re looking for a premium ultraportable with a good display and weirdly-placed webcam, then our old friend the Dell XPS 13 is the natural choice. For $1,199.99 you can get a Core i7 with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD that has been paired with that skinny-bezel display. If you have a little more cash, however, you can push those specs to 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 4K version of the InfinityEdge screen for $1,999.99.
Another alternative, especially if you’re looking for a laptop from a stronger PC brand, would be Razer’s Blade Stealth. For $1,649.99, you can snag a 13-inch Stealth with a 3,200 x 1,800 display, 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and a Core i7 CPU. The Stealth, unfortunately, doesn’t have the option to add graphics options beyond Intel’s integrated system — you need to upgrade to the $1,659.99 Blade to get NVIDIA add-ons.
And, of course, for those users who aren’t tethered to Windows as a platform, you can also pick up Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro. The $1,499 model ships packing a Core i5, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, not to mention a webcam that sits where all webcams normally sit.
Because Huawei has been so reticent to talk about US pricing and availability, it’s hard to offer definitive recommendations. After all, it may be hard to find over here and may be available only in limited quantities in Europe, making it an import-only job for hardcore devotees. This is a shame because it really is a nice piece of kit, and one that deserves to be taken seriously as an alternative to other business laptops.
It has a pretty display and, thanks to its small-bezel design, one that’s far larger than you would expect on a device of this size. It solves, at least for now, the issues of backward compatibility as we transition to a new USB standard without being clunky. And, of course, there’s the pop-up webcam, a smart, if weird, solution to the privacy concerns people have regarding their computers.
There’s still the issue with that fussy trackpad, which may be a one-off or a total dealbreaker for some of you. And even if it did come to the US, even with a flawless trackpad, it still needs to be competitively priced. Only when we have firm answers to those questions can we say for sure if it’s worth splashing the cash on.