Huawei MateBook 14s (2021) full review
There’s a familiar refrain when it comes to reviewing Huawei laptops: forget about the Chinese company’s ongoing Android problems, because the Windows laptops are great.
That's always been followed by a crucial caveat though: except for the webcam. The company’s laptop line has been let down by the continued use of a hidden under-keyboard webcam – a great idea when webcams weren’t widely used, less so now.
The 14s makes a few changes to the MateBook formula, with a new keyboard, 90Hz refresh rate display, and upgraded fast charging – but it’s the choice to move that webcam back above the display that ultimately proves most welcome.
And look – there isn’t even a notch. Take that, Apple.
Design and build
- Slim – but not ultra-slim
- Plenty of ports
- Restrained aesthetic
Huawei reserves its ultra-slim design for the premium MateBook X and X Pro series, while the numbered models like this tend to be just a little chunkier.
With the lightest spec weighing 1.43kg the MateBook 14s is certainly still portable, but feels much more substantial than the lightest laptops on the market, some of which go below the kilo line. There is a slightly smaller MateBook 13s too, but it's not launching in every market - including skipping the UK.
The footprint is compact, with a slim bezel around the 14in display preventing the laptop as a whole from getting too big. And it’s thick enough to fit in a few ports, but the aluminium alloy body is still fairly slim.
Speaking of, you’ll find a single USB-A 3.2 port on the right-hand side, with a 3.5mm headphone jack, HDMI, and two USB-C ports on the left. They can be used for data, DisplayPort, and charging, and if you buy the top-spec model – look for an Intel Evo certification to be sure – then one of them also doubles as Thunderbolt 4.
In Space Grey the MateBook 14s looks smart but undeniably restrained, though there’s more spark in the pale ‘Spruce Green’ finish, which looks a little less corporate.
Keyboard and trackpad
- Fantastic, redesigned keyboard
- Windows Hello IR webcam – in the bezel
- Fingerprint sensor power button
I’ve been a big fan of the keyboards in recent MateBooks, so I was concerned when Huawei declared that it had redesigned the keys this time around.
Luckily, I needn’t have been concerned. The updated backlit keyboard features a longer travel of 1.5mm – fairly deep for a laptop. This certainly isn’t in desktop mechanical keyboard territory, but there’s a really natural, satisfying sensation to input here. It’s soft and quiet without ever feeling mushy – my biggest keyboard pet peeve – and honestly might be my new favourite laptop keyboard.
I’ve already mentioned one other big change, which is to remove the webcam previously hidden inside a fake Fn key. Curiously it’s been replaced by a real key that still sits between F6 and F7, and is dedicated to activating a dictation mode using Microsoft’s built-in speech recognition. I can’t imagine I’ll use it much, but I’m sure some people will appreciate the option.
The webcam itself has now moved up into the bezel above the screen. This not only gives it a much more flattering angle on the user, but has also allowed Huawei to pack in infra-red tech so that you can use Windows Hello face recognition to login – though there’s also a fingerprint sensor packed into the power button.
Disappointingly the webcam itself doesn’t impress hugely – it's 720p, and fairly grainy. With Huawei’s smartphone camera prowess well established I’d hope to see more of that extend to the laptop business, but thanks to the placement alone this is certainly an improvement.
Finally, the touchpad is spacious and comfortable, and I’ve no real complaints. It’s a small shame that it doesn’t feature the innovative pressure-sensitive haptic technology used in the latest MateBook X models, but you do still get the company’s Huawei Share tech built-in if you want to connect the laptop to other bits of Huawei kit.
Display and audio
- 3:2 aspect ratio and 2.5K resolution
- 90Hz refresh rate
- Quad speakers & mics
Display is one of the areas where Huawei laptops often stand out, and the 14s is no exception.
This is a 14in touchscreen display – 14.2in to be precise – in a high 2.5K (2520 x 1680) resolution, already a step above much of the competition. It’s LTPS LCD rather than OLED, so you won’t get the inkiest blacks around, but there’s really very little to complain about from the bright, vibrant colours here.
Testing using a SpyderX, I found the laptop delivered 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, along with 77% of AdobeRGB and 76% DCI-P3. That's not at the absolute top-end of colour accuracy you'll find in creator devices, but for a regular consumer laptop this is about as good as it gets - helped by a punchy 423 nits of brightness at max.
Like many Huawei laptops this uses a 3:2 aspect ratio, which essentially means the display is taller and boxier than you might be used to. That might not necessarily sound appealing, but in practice it means that you get extra vertical screen real estate, which is great for everything from scrolling through Twitter to working through spreadsheets and Word documents – though you’ll get extra letterboxing when watching TV or film, so this is better suited to productivity than content consumption.
The big change this time around is the upgrade to a 90Hz refresh rate. Faster refresh rates are now commonplace on smartphones – the tech even made it into this year’s iPhone 13 Pro – but on the PC side it’s mostly been limited to gaming laptops and monitors.
You certainly will see the benefit if you use the 14s for gaming, but it also makes the laptop feel smoother in all sorts of ways during everyday use, even just flicking the cursor around the screen.
You can switch between 60Hz and 90Hz with a quick Fn+R keyboard shortcut, but Huawei says that when using the higher speed the refresh rate isn’t locked in, but instead scales depending on the app - a common way to mitigate the additional battery drain. Still, it’s the sort of setting I’m happy to leave on and enjoy the benefits of – and right now it’s a feature that makes the 14s fairly unique.
As for audio, Huawei has squeezed in four speakers, with two downfiring from below the laptop and two upfiring through the chassis. Laptop audio is always limited, and this won’t match a half-decent speaker or headphones when it comes to music. Still, these are impressive enough for YouTube or Netflix, and strong by laptop standards.
There are also four microphones included, which Huawei says can pick up your voice up to 5 metres away. Built-in noise cancellation and voice enhancement algorithms help to isolate your voice from other audio, and the result is fairly crisp, clear audio on calls, which goes some way to making up for the lacklustre webcam quality.
Specs and performance
- Intel H-series Core i7 or i5 (only in some markets)
- Up to 16GB RAM and 1TB storage
- No discrete GPU option
- Intel Evo certification – but only on the top spec
If the slightly chunkier design, plentiful ports, and higher refresh rate didn’t give it away, Huawei is positioning the MateBook 14s as a laptop for those who need power, whether that’s for productivity, creative work, or even light gaming.
To that end it uses Intel’s more powerful H-series processors. My review sample is equipped with a Core i7-11370H – the only option available in the UK – but some markets will also have the option of a less powerful Core i5 version. Either way, it can be paired with up to 1TB storage and 16GB of RAM, so you can kit this out pretty impressively if you so desire.
In benchmarks, this is one of the most powerful laptops we’ve tested other than dedicated gaming kit – though it is beaten on pure CPU performance by some of Huawei’s other AMD Ryzen-powered models.
The MateBook 14s pulls ahead on the graphics-focussed 3DMark test though. While there’s no discrete GPU, the integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics tech here outpaces almost every other laptop with integrated graphics we’ve tested.
Benchmarks are one thing, but day-to-day performance matters more. The MateBook 14s is powerful enough to breeze through my regular Photoshop work, and can also handle some gaming. It’s a far cry from a dedicated gaming rig with an Nvidia GPU, but if you just want to play some Forza and don’t mind dropping the settings down from max, you’ll be able to get smooth performance here.
Huawei’s cooling system seems to be doing its job too, with no sign of over-heating leading to throttled performance during our testing, while the laptop stayed at a lap-friendly temperature during all day-to-day work.
It’s worth noting that you might see the 14s advertised with an Intel Evo certification, but this only applies to the top-spec model. That seems to be because Thunderbolt 4 is one of the Evo requirements, and Huawei has only opted to include that support on one SKU in the UK at least: 1TB storage, 16GB RAM, and an i7 in Space Grey.
Don’t worry about this too much though. Beyond Thunderbolt, every other requirement of the Evo certification – fast charging, long battery life, instant wake, Wi-Fi 6, and a slim design – all feature on every version of the 14s. So it’s really just a question of whether you care about getting Thunderbolt 4 support or not, which you’ll miss on lower spec SKUs.
Battery and charging
- Comfortable battery life
- Fast 90W charging
The 60Wh battery here provides what’s essentially all-day battery, so long as you’re not using it for gaming. I felt comfortable taking the MateBook 14s into the office for a day of internet use, writing, and light photo editing while leaving the charger at home. I wouldn’t try to stretch it to multiple days, but for the most part you won’t have to worry about leaving the power lead at home.
In our synthetic battery benchmarking test, the laptop lasted 13 hours and 18 minutes of continuous HD video playback - above average, but nothing record-breaking.
It helps that this charges via USB-C, so you can use any compatible USB-C PD charger to top the laptop back up.
More impressively, the charger Huawei supplies with the laptop is capable of delivering 90W of power, which translates into some pretty nippy speeds. In fact, here it is record-breaking: the 14s topped up to 57% in just half an hour, making it the fastest charging laptop we've ever tested.
Just as helpfully, you can use this charger to top up your phone, tablet, headphones, or other USB-C devices at what will almost certainly be their max speeds.
- Ships with Windows 10
- Eligible to upgrade to Windows 11
- Smart sharing features with other Huawei tech
While you may have heard about Huawei’s ongoing issues getting Google onto its phones, rest assured that there’s no such issue with Huawei laptops.
This runs a full version of Windows 10, with no unexpected limitations or software blocks – including Google. It’s also eligible for Windows 11, so you can either wait to be offered an upgrade or manually install Windows 11 as soon as you set the laptop up. Or just stick with 10 if you prefer, of course.
The other notable element of the software is Huawei Share. I already mentioned that this tech is embedded in the trackpad, but it’s essentially a quick way to pair the MateBook 14s with Huawei phones, tablets, monitors, and more for easy file sending and screen-sharing.
It will only help if you’re willing to invest elsewhere in Huawei tech, but once you’re embedded in the ecosystem this does offer some fantastic ways to use your tech in tandem. Apple is the only company out there that can rival Huawei for cross-compatibility like this, though sadly it remains slightly limited by the other issues that come with using the company’s smartphones and tablets in the West.
Price and availability
The MateBook 14s is available across much of Europe and Asia now, though there are no plans for a north American release.
- i7+16GB+512GB: £1,199/€1,349
- i7+16GB+1TB+Thunderbolt 4: £1,299/€1,549
That jump to double storage and improved connectivity makes more sense in the UK where it comes at a £100 premium, but the €200 jump in much of Europe makes this less appealing unless you really need TB4.
There are cheaper i5 versions of the laptop available in other markets, so check local pricing and availability to check what’s on offer where you live.
The price reflects the pitch that this is a powerful, performance-focussed laptop. This is a few hundred more than the regular MateBook 14, and thanks to price drops the 1TB model is the same price as the 2021 MateBook X Pro – a considerably slimmer and more attractive piece of hardware, albeit one with less power, fewer ports, and that unflattering old webcam.
Looking outside of Huawei’s own hardware at other great laptops around the same price, this is getting close in price to the cheapest 13in MacBook Pro and Dell’s XPS 13 and 15, along with close competition from LG, HP, and others. Check out our pick of the best laptop deals for the best savings we've found across the market.
If you don’t need the full power of the H-series Intel chip here, or all the ports, then you’ll likely be able to find a cheaper laptop that does the job. But if power is your priority then you’ll struggle to find more of it for less without also making some big compromises elsewhere.
The MateBook 14s is a solid upgrade to the company’s laptop line that simultaneously fixes other MateBooks’ biggest flaw and packs in more power than ever.
The new webcam is far from the best around, but moving into the bezel and unlocking Windows Hello facial recognition is a welcome move that undoes what for many was a deal-breaking fault in the old design.
With an H-series i7 processor and 16GB RAM this is a seriously powerful machine for its size, even when it comes to graphics-heavy workloads – though if you’re not looking for a powerhouse then you can save money elsewhere, even on other Huawei MateBooks.
With plenty of ports and a killer keyboard this is a capable all-rounder though, best suited to anyone who prioritises performance but isn’t willing to give up on portability.
Huawei MateBook 14s (2021): Specs
- Windows 10 (Windows 11-compatible)
- 14.2in 2520x1680 LTPS (touchscreen), 3:2, 213ppi, 90Hz
- Intel Core i7-11370H or i5-11300H
- 8/16GB RAM
- 512GB/1TB SSD
- 720p IR webcam with Windows Hello
- USB-A 3.2
- USB-C x2 (Thunderbolt 4 optional)
- Headphone jack
- Fingerprint power button
- Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2.4/5GHz 2x2 MIMO
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Quad speakers
- Quad microphones
- 60Wh non-removable battery
- 90W USB-C charger
- Space Grey or Spruce Green
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