Huawei MateBook X Pro 2021 – slim and sexy (review)

To say the Huawei MateBook X Pro 2021 is a work of art is almost an understatement. From its narrow bezels on a 13.9” 3:2, 3K, 450nits/1500:1 contrast LTPS display to its bevelled edge, Space Grey, CNC aluminium body with quad speakers, it is a delight to the eye and to use.

And that is a good thing because Huawei is staying true to the MateBook X Pro formula that so sorely tempted me back in 2019 and 2020 – it is an almost perfect laptop.

Huawei MateBook X Pro 2021 with 11th Gen Intel Core i7-1165G7/16GB/1TB

WebsiteProduct page
PriceApprox $2800
FromHuawei Authorised Experience stores  in Sydney
Warranty12-months ACL if bought from Huawei Australia and approved resellers
Country of OriginChina
CompanyHuawei (pronounced Wah-Wei) is a Chinese multinational technology corporation headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China. It designs, develops, and sells telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics.
MoreCybershack Huawei news and reviews

Huawei and the U.S. Entities list

Huawei may have been in the wars over 5G in the US and Australia, but this device is not part of that. It is a Windows 10 Pro (upgradable to Windows 11), Intel i7-1165G7 based mainly on an Intel reference design.

But due to certain restrictions, it cannot call it an Intel Evo (which for all intents it is) nor claim Thunderbolt 4 (ditto).

Huawei has a PC Manager App that can automatically update the device. It collects PII if you let it. It is no worse than many brands that want a direct relationship with their users.

While it deserves to make heaps of sales, the lack of physical retail outlets and Sydney-centric support will probably limit its appeal.

First impression

It is a further evolution of the MateBook X Pro 2019 and 2020, which is not a bad thing at all. Because Huawei got it right the first time, the annual update has mainly been to the processor, ram, and storage.

The key take-home factor here is a 3:2 format, very nice bright screen that is terrific for productivity. If you are shopping, compare it with Dell XPS 13, Asus ZenBook 13 and Lenovo 82FG. All excellent laptops, but this is class-leading in a few areas.

Display – bright and accurate

It is a 13.9” 3:2, 3K, 3000 x 2000, 260ppi, 450nits/1500:1 contrast, 16.7m colours, 10-point touch, 100% sRGB, 60Hz IPS display. The lid opens to 150°. It has a slight gloss to the screen, but it is not highly reflective.

It is a Tianma model TLX1388 which departs from the Japan Display Inc model used in the 2019 and 2020 models. Nevertheless, it performs quite well with good, even colours and brightness.

Test largely confirm the specs, but it was a little down on gamut

  • 95% sRGB (and no adjustment available)
  • 67% DCI-P3 movies
  • 67% AdobeRGB
  • Contrast 1520:1
  • Nits – from 460 to 502
  • 38ms G-t-G (slow for gamers)
  • Pulse-Width Modulation – none
  • No stylus support

In all an excellent screen.

Processor – throttled

  • Intel I7-1165G7 2.8/4.7Ghz 10nm 12-28W TPD. Geekbench 5 single/multi-core 1489/4206.
  • Intel Iris Xe 96EU Open CL 17690 Vulkan 17941. It will play most 1920 x1080 games to 18fps low to standard quality. It supports four displays.
  • Ram is 16GB LDDDR4X dual-channel 1066Mhz (soldered dual channel)
  • SSD is Samsung PM981a 1TB M2.2280 PCIe 3.0×4 NVMe (user upgradable). Sequential read/write 3391.74/3014.57MBps – fast and over 2000MBps for larger files.
  • Dual fan cooling (up from a single fan is 2020). Noise is 25 (idle) to 38dB (100% load). The temperature under the unit reaches 43° – warm.

Throttling

On mains power at 100% load, you can hear a slight whine from the fans, but it maintains about 65° CPU temperature. On battery, it immediately throttles to 80% under load, and battery life reduces to about 2-hours screen-on.

It seems that Huawei has reduced the overall throttle threshold compared to other i7-1165G7 devices for thermal management. This is not for 100% load for prolonged periods.

Comms – great

  • Wi-Fi 6 Intel AX201, VHT 160, 2400Mbps with a good solid 5Ghz signal strength to 10m from the router
  • BT 5.1 SBC codec

Ports

  • 2 x Thunderbolt 4, 40Gbps (TB4) backwards USB-C 4.0 (20Gbps) and 3.1/2 (5/10Gbps)
  • 1 x USB-A 3.2 5V/1A
  • 1 x 3.5mm 4-pole earphones/mic

We tested with the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Dual Display Docking Station with 60W Host Charging, but any Intel Titan Ridge-based dock will work. It supports 2 x 4K@60Hz monitors and multiple USB-A and C ports. That still leaves one TB4 port, and you could connect another Plugable dock or USB-C dock.

Windows 10 Pro

Huawei states it can upgrade to Windows 11, but it does not display the upgrade message yet. We ran the Windows 11 PC Heath Check, and it is hardware compatible.

It supports Windows Hello fingerprint (Goodix) on the power button but not IR face detection.

Battery – better than an office day’s use

It has a 56Wh Desay AP16L5J battery. Huawei claims (at 150nits) 11 hours web, 10 hours video and 11 hours of office work. Fast charge gives 4 hours use in 30 minutes.

The charger is PD 2.0 9V/2A/18W, 12V/2A/24W, 12V/3A/36W, 20V/3.25A/65W. It uses 60-65W to about 35% to fast charge, then drops back progressively lower wattages to prevent thermal issues. Apart from the initial fast charge, it averaged 40-50W.

Tests

  • PC Mark Office use 150 nits: fail
  • PC Mark Office use 350 nits: fail
  • Video loop, 150 nits, aeroplane mode: 8 hours 12 minutes
  • 100% load screen on: <3 hours
  • 0-100% charge: 2hours (with a 65W P.D. charger)

Our best estimate is 10  hours for typical use.

Note

The two-pin charger supplied with the review unit is not RCM C-Tick certified, so it is illegal to use it in Australia. Make sure you get the correct certified A.U. charger. As the notebook is a D.C. device, it does not require certification.

Keyboard/trackpad – needs work

It is backlit, auto-on/off (one level). Unlike the 2020 model with 1.2mm travel and 60g activation, this is closer to <1mm and 30g – it is not a delight to type on. Designers need to pay more attention to throw, actuation, haptic and auditory feedback as this is the key to getting information into the PC.

The Fasttouch trackpad is 12 x 78mm, and it is smooth and accurate. But the lighter touch can mean unintended clicks. You can adjust this in the app.

Camera/mic – outdated

It is the same pop-up 720p@30fps camera between F6-7. The video is quite ‘noisy’. Great for privacy but murder on double chins, a.k.a. nose cam. Great idea but flawed execution.

There are two far-field (5m) front deck mics with some noise-cancelling – down from four (4m) in 2020.

Sound – OK but messy

It is stereo 2.0 using four speakers and a simple frequency cutover to handle bass/mid in one pair and treble in the other. It has a maximum volume of 80dB (good) and decent left/right separation.

But the sound is, for want of a better word, messy. We use a White Noise generator to find the native sound signature. There is a good read here on what that means.

There is no low, mid (<100Hz), and very little high bass (<200Hz). That means no ‘oomph’. Sound starts at 200Hz (low-mid) but is uncontrolled with peaks and toughs pretty well to 10kHz and then drops off to 20kHz.

In short, it lacks any significant definable ‘character’ – somewhere between a Mid to Bright Vocal sound signature for clear dialogue.

The messy character extends to cabled and B.T. headphones.

Why messy?

The 2019 version had Dolby Audio and sounded superb. The 2020 version lost that due to the US Entities list, and it has a mid-signature (although you can sideload a DynamicIQ app to boost the bass).

As best as we can tell, 2021 uses a standard Realtek (Intel) SST sound system with an overlay of the Nahimic Senary Driver and App. This has pre-sets for music, movie, communications, and gaming, and frankly, we do not like it.

It cannot increase the native signature but induces a faux psychoacoustic surround sound. Note that this is not currently Windows 11 compatible. Huawei would be better off simply using the Intel Realtek drivers.

Build

304 x 217 x 14.6mm x 1.33g plus charger. It has a metallic sandblasted ‘tactile’ finish and diamond-cut edges – very well made.

You can replace the SSD – easy. The battery NHWHB4593R1ECW22A56WHB4 is on merchant sites for around $100.

Cybershack’s view – Huawei MateBook X Pro 2021 desirable, if a little flawed

The Huawei MateBook X Pro 2021 is a very ‘Applesque’ Space Grey design that appeals to its primary market. I have coveted one since the 2019 original – call me Shallow Hal.

So, on a hardware front, it is an excellent Windows 10 Pro ultra-light laptop with Thunderbolt 4 (sorry can’t call it that).

Competition

This is a Windows device, so we won’t compare it with Apple MacBook M1 and macOS.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 with a faster i7-1185G7 and 16/512GB is the closest competitor at around $2000. However, it lacks Thunderbolt ports. The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 i7-1185G7 16/512GB is $2649 plus a keyboard. It has dual Thunderbolt 4 ports.

Then it has to compete with the other Intel Evo branded notebooks from $2000.

If Huawei had major retailer support and shelf space, it would do well on looks alone.

Huawei MateBook X Pro 2021

Approx $2800
8.5

Features

9.0/10

Value

8.0/10

Performance

7.5/10

Ease of Use

8.0/10

Design

10.0/10

Pros

  • Elegant and well made
  • 3:2 3K screen format is perfect for productivity
  • Decent 10 hour battery life
  • 2 x Thunderbolt ports (don’t call them that)

Cons

  • Keyboard throw is too shallow and actuation too light
  • CPU speeds are about 20% lower than comparable i7-1165G7 brands/models
  • Webcam is long overdue for an upgrade
  • No bass and messy uncontrolled sound signature.


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