Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021) full review
At what point does something need fixing even if it ain't broke? That's the question Huawei needs to answer as it trots out the fourth iteration of its MateBook X Pro flagship laptop with the exact same design.
An upgrade to 11th-gen Intel chips is the biggest change year-on-year, along with revamped cooling and an upgraded trackpad. Those have all taken their toll on battery life though and, with no discrete graphics card option and webcam placement that's never felt worse, there are flaws here that any prospective buyer should factor in.
Even on its fourth outing, the design still outclasses most of the competition; the keyboard and display remain among the best out there. The MateBook X Pro is undeniably still a good laptop - but is it still a great one?
Design & Build
If Huawei has resisted the urge to mess with the formula this year, that’s nowhere more apparent than the MateBook X Pro’s build, which has remained identical since 2018.
The 14in laptop is super-slim at just 14.6mm thick and it weighs 1.33kg. That’s far from the lightest laptop around – some sneak in just below a kilo – but it’s lightweight enough to make this extremely portable, especially considering the spacious screen.
The whole body is built out of an aluminium alloy, which means it’s fairly sturdy too, and the all-metal finish ensures a premium feel. The model Huawei sent for review had a slight creak to the chassis to the right of the trackpad, but that’s really the only complaint I could make about the build quality, and it’s a small one.
Beyond how it feels, the MateBook X Pro looks the part too. The design is simple, sparse, and minimalist, with plenty of uninterrupted metal in your choice of colour, Space Grey or Emerald Green – the latter being my favourite laptop finish from any brand.
Ultimately, even four years in, the MateBook X Pro still looks and feels like a slick, high-end piece of tech, and can rival any laptop out there on looks alone.
Ports & Connectivity
Slim as it may be, Huawei has also done a decent job of fitting in ports here. The left-hand side of the device includes two USB-C ports (both capable of charging), along with a 3.5mm headphone jack, while on the right you’ll find a single USB-A 3.2 port – a welcome and increasingly rare feature on ultrabooks like this.
Neither USB-C port boasts the Thunderbolt logo, nor does Huawei list Thunderbolt in the specs, but it does claim that they’re capable of 40Gbps data transfer and running dual 4K monitors at 60Hz – the exact same specs as Thunderbolt 3. Huawei’s US trade ban may have prevented it from licensing the Thunderbolt brand, or perhaps it simply didn’t want to pay for it, but either way this looks to be Thunderbolt by another name.
On the wireless side you get Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6, which are pretty much the latest versions you can expect to find in a laptop right now.
Huawei has also included an updated version of its own Huawei Share tech, which lets you screen-share and transfer files between the laptop and a compatible Huawei or Honor smartphone - I tested it out with the foldable Mate X2. The updated version is hidden underneath the trackpad, and has both a larger detection area and longer range than previous versions.
This will only appeal if you’re also a Huawei phone owner of course, which has its own challenges right now, but this is by far the best attempt at building a laptop/phone ecosystem. It’s cool, it’s easy to use, and it’s genuinely useful. Even Apple should be taking notes.
Keyboard, Trackpad & Webcam
Huawei Share isn’t the only secret hidden inside the X Pro’s trackpad, which uses the same Free Touch haptic tech debuted in 2020’s regular MateBook X.
A series of piezoelectric plates hidden under the trackpad essentially deliver subtle vibrations in response to clicks and touch input. That might sound a little odd, but what it really does is add a clickiness and tactility that no other trackpad I’ve used can match. It’s subtle, but undeniably welcome.
The trackpad is also big. Unfortunately it doesn’t feature my favourite design touch from the MateBook X, where the pad extends right to the bottom edge of the laptop, but this is still a pretty enormous area.
The keyboard is another strong point. This is unchanged from the 2020 model, but that’s no bad thing. Huawei’s top-end laptop keyboards sit only behind Dell’s in my estimation, and even that is a close-run thing. Expect a smooth action and comfortable travel, with spacious keys that extend almost edge-to-edge across the chassis.
The keyboard also boasts a now-familiar Huawei quirk: a hidden webcam, built into a key in the top row. This means that the 1Mp, 720p camera is both hidden from view and physically blocked when you don’t want to use it – ideal for privacy. It also saves space around the display to keep the bezel slim.
There’s a pretty obvious downside though. With the camera so low down you’re stuck with an extraordinarily unflattering camera angle, and if you ever need to type anything while on a call then your fingers are all that the other person will see.
Once upon a time these compromises made sense, but not any more. It’s clear that Huawei knows as much too, telling us that it’s researching “a better solution to the webcam in the next generation of our laptops,” but for now this is what you get - so consider an external webcam to make up for it.
With the webcam blocked most of the time, you can’t use it to unlock the laptop with Windows Hello, but that's understandable. Instead, a fingerprint reader is built into the power button above the keyboard. This at least is fast and reliable, and lets you turn the PC on and unlock it with a single button press.
Display & Speakers
The display is another area that Huawei hasn’t touched this year, and once again that’s a pretty good thing.
The tall, square-ish panel comes in a 3:2 aspect ratio, which gives you extra vertical space. That means letter-boxing when you want to watch a movie, but the shape is almost certainly worth it all the rest of the time. Whether you’re reading emails, working on a spreadsheet, or editing photos or videos, the taller screen makes everything feel more spacious.
The touchscreen panel is LTPS, rather than OLED, and the 3000 x 2000 resolution falls a little short of 4K. That hasn’t felt like too much of an issue before, but as panels improve elsewhere the implementation here is beginning to feel a touch dated. For most people I still think that won’t be seen as a negative at all, but if Huawei wants to retain its appeal with creative professionals we’re probably due an upgrade here next time around.
When I mentioned the keyboard earlier I said it’s almost edge-to-edge. That’s because you’ll find the laptop’s punchy speakers sitting along the actual edges.
Audio quality remains an afterthought for most laptop buyers, but sound here is pretty strong. It won’t compete with a real speaker, but for basic music listening or watching Netflix in bed these will do the job.
Specs & Performance
The biggest change to the MateBook X Pro this year is probably the simple upgrade to the latest 11th-gen Intel chips, with all the performance boosts that entails – though I’m sure some will be disappointed that there’s no equivalent AMD model.
The laptop is designed for either the i7-1165G7 or the i5-1135G7, though in the UK at least only the i7 model is available, so you may not get the choice. RAM is locked at 16GB DDR4, while storage is either 512GB or 1TB – again, with actual availability varying by market.
Interestingly, unlike in previous years there’s no option at all for a discrete Nvidia GPU, so no matter which CPU you opt for you’ll be stuck with Intel’s integrated Iris Xe graphics.
Setting graphics aside for the moment, there’s a significant performance boost from the jump to 11th-gen here. Compared to last year’s X Pro, Geekbench results have improved by 41%, with PCMark 10 benchmark performance jumping by 22%.
This is impressive stuff, and really a reflection not only of Intel’s improvements, but also Huawei’s refined cooling design. This seems to have reduced throttling and allows the laptop to really make the most of the new power without any appreciable heating issues. This holds true for day-to-day use too – I had to push the X Pro pretty hard to get it to heat up at all.
Performance in the 3DMark Night Raid benchmark is understandably a little more limited – there's only so much the laptop can do without a 'proper' GPU. Results here are roughly in line with rivals, though there is a fair bit of variation. Either way, the bottom line is that this will keep up with photo editing – I've done plenty of basic Photoshop work during testing – but for serious video rendering or gaming you’ll probably want to use that not-a-Thunderbolt port to hook up an eGPU.
Battery & Charging
The upgraded processor and improved cooling may have some clear performance advantages, but there is one big downside: battery life.
Huawei has included the exact same 56Wh battery as last year, but curiously runtime has dropped markedly. The company touts only 10 hours of video playback – down from 13 – which matches the 9 hours and 43 minutes it managed in our battery test. However, last year’s model over-performed by lasting nearly 15 hours, so it's actually down about 5 hours and 15 minutes.
This is especially disappointing as battery life was already one of Huawei’s laptop weak spots, and to see it get even worse rather than improve is a little concerning.
You should still get the best part of a workday out of it with relatively light use, but anyone hoping to use the laptop for long-haul travel or for more demanding work should probably hesitate here.
Fortunately charging is at least a highlight – the included 65W USB-C power adapter is compact and lightweight, and will also happily charge most smartphones, power banks, and the Nintendo Switch. So if you are worried about the battery, it isn’t too much of an inconvenience to keep the charger on you, or use a USB-C PD battery pack to keep the laptop topped up.
Finally, an important note on software. You may be aware of Huawei’s travails in the phone market, where its devices are no longer able to run the latest Android versions with full Google services support.
Fortunately, there is no equivalent problem here. The MateBook X Pro ships with Windows 10 Home, and has full ongoing support from Microsoft, just as you’d expect from any Windows laptop.
There’s nothing you have to give up in order to use this device, and instead you also gain perks like the Huawei Share feature mentioned above. In fact it’s a better software experience than many rivals, as other than Huawei’s lightweight PC Manager software there’s no pre-installed bloatware to speak of at all.
Price & Availability
The MateBook X Pro 2021 is available in several European and Asian markets right now, though don’t expect a North American release.
In the UK it costs £1,599 for the i7 model with 1TB of storage, available either from Huawei itself or Amazon, while those in Europe will pay €1,599 for an i5+512GB model or €1,899 for the i7+1TB version.
Those prices are £100/€100 cheaper than last year’s, but this makes more sense when you remember that the older models include an Nvidia GPU, something that's missing here.
I won’t pretend that this is a cheap laptop, and you can certainly find similar – or even more powerful – specs elsewhere for less, not least in Huawei's own MateBook 14. Factor in the premium, lightweight design and overall quality of the trackpad and keyboard and the price begins to make more sense, putting this roughly in line with other flagship laptops like the Dell XPS 15 or LG Gram 16.
The MateBook X Pro was one of the absolute best laptops around, and it still felt that way last year. In the fourth year of the same design it’s beginning to feel a little long in the tooth, most notably because of the ill-placed webcam that's totally out-of-step with the market for 2021.
Performance at least has improved year-on-year, but the loss of the discrete GPU will no doubt put some off, as will the significant decline in battery life at a time when rivals are improving dramatically here.
The X Pro 2021 still feels as slick as they come, and the keyboard and trackpad are among the best out there, but the overall package doesn’t feel quite as compelling as it used to. This will be a fantastic purchase for some, but the few significant flaws mean it definitely isn’t for everyone.
Huawei MateBook X Pro (2021): Specs
- Windows 10 Home
- 13.9in 3000x2000 LTPS touchscreen, 260ppi
- Intel Core i5-1135G7 or i7-1165G7 processor
- Intel Iris Xe Graphics
- 16GB LPDDR4 RAM
- 512GB or 1TB SSD storage
- Pop-up 1Mp web cam
- 1x USB-A 3.2
- 2x USB-C
- Headphone jack
- Fingerprint Power Button 2.0
- Wi-Fi 6
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Quad speakers with Dolby Atmos
- Dual microphones
- 56Wh battery
- Space Gray or Emerald Green
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