When Microsoft first announced the Surface lineup, it did so with the intention of creating a blueprint for a modern-day computer that other companies could copy with abandon. Just like the Intel Ultrabook program, Microsoft gave its partners the basic outline and the blueprints for what the best Windows PC should look like, and waited for their responses. To date, it’s been rather mixed, with some awkward 2-in-1 devices from Dell and HP, and the only good Surface clone to date was the Lenovo Miix 2. Until now, that is. At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016, Huawei, one of the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers, stepped up to the plate and revealed their Surface-like device. It’s called the MateBook, and it looks awesome.
The tablet portion of the device is dominated by a 12-inch IPS display with a native resolution of 2560 x 1440, and Huawei boasts that it has a screen-to-body ratio of 84%, the highest in the industry. Internally it’s powered by Intel Core M processors, namely the Core M3-6Y30, the Core M5-6Y54, and the Core M7-6Y75, along with up to 8GB of DDR3L memory and your choice of SSDs ranging up to 512GB in size. None of these hardware setups will beat what you can typically find in a Microsoft Surface Pro or a Surface Book, but they’re all more than enough computing horsepower for this product.
Huawei claims “all-day” battery life of up to ten hours from a 33.7Wh battery, which seems fairly plausible. The device is fanless and Huawei will most likely configure the TDPs of the processors to the optional 3.5W mode, so ten hours should be easily achieved with light workloads. Because the chips are based on Skylake, there will be reasonably strong graphics performance, but probably only just enough to play DOTA 2 at 720p at 30 frames per second. Anything more would require active cooling, and gaming isn’t really this device’s intended use anyway. For security, there’s a fingerprint reader on the side of the device near the volume rocker, which is compatible with Windows Hello.
Along with the tablet, you’ll need to buy the keyboard, the docking station, and the Wacom digitiser separately, just like other offerings from Microsoft and Apple with the iPad Pro. The keyboard uses a magnet connector to hook up to the MateBook, and features a longer key travel than the Surface Type Cover (1.5mm vs 1.3mm) in addition to the main selling point, which is that the keyboard is also backlit and spill-resistant.
The MateDock and MatePen come together in a leather pouch (the same pouch with identical materials and finish comes with the MateBook), and offer some port expansion using a USB 3.0 Type-C connector. On the front of the dock there are two USB 3.0 ports, one of which is for charging phones at 900mA, along with a gigabit Ethernet port. On the back, there’s a D-Sub VGA connector and a HDMI 1.4a port. The included pen has pressure sensitivity of up to 2048 levels, and charges up using a mini USB 2.0 port. Huawei quotes a month’s worth of battery life from just an hour of charging. The pen also integrates a laser pointer at the top, which is useful for holding presentations and entertaining cats (mostly the latter, I’ll bet).
The MateBook has several price tiers, but the starting price is $699 (approx. R10,600) for the Core M3 model with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The mid-range tier will be offered at $999 (approx. R15,000), which includes the Core M5 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. A top-end model is available for $1599 for the Core M7 chip, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, but I expect most people to aim for the base Core M5 model. The keyboard is available separately for $129, the MatePen for $59, and the MateDock for $89.