I tried Huawei's MacBook Air competitor before the company was blacklisted in the US. Here's what it was like to use.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business InsiderThe MateBook 13 is a great laptop, but the lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a deal-breaker.
  • I tried the HuaweiMateBook 13 laptop in January, well before Huawei was banned from doing business with US companies.
  • The MateBook 13 offers great specs for a great price, but a drawback is that it only has two USB-C ports, and no traditional USB ports.
  • The MateBook 13, astoundingly, does not support Thunderbolt 3, in what could be a major deal-breaker.
  • Regardless, it will be tough to justify MateBook laptops if Huawei is unable to do business with Microsoft – all Huawei laptops run on Windows software.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Back in January, I was on the hunt for the perfect Windows 10 laptop.

After seeing Huawei’s MateBook 13 at CES this year, I thought it could be a good contender. In the wake of the conference, the laptop had garnered a ton of buzz from show attendees and journalists who named it among the best in show.

This was well before Huawei ended up on a US government blacklist that banned the company from doing business with US companies due to security concerns. Being added to the “entity list,” as it’s called, means that any companies wishing to sell or transfer technology to Huawei must obtain government permission.

It’s a tricky situation for Huawei’s consumer devices, since the company’s smartphones run on Google’s Android operating system and its laptops run on Microsoft’s Windows.

Read more: Microsoft hasn’t said a word so far about Huawei’s ban in the US, but it removed Huawei laptops from its stores

But even before Huawei ran afoul of the US government, I found another massive deal-breaker with Huawei’s MateBook 13 that made it hard for me to live with.

The MateBook 13 has only two USB-C ports, and no other USB ports at all, which is fine. I can live without regular USB ports, which is something I’ve suffered through with my current 2016 MacBook Pro.

And Huawei also includes a USB-C adaptor with the laptop itself, for connecting regular USB accessories to the MateBook 13, which is a nice touch. But, somehow, the company didn’t grace the MateBook 13 with one of the only reasons for USB-C to exist: Thunderbolt 3.

Here’s why the MateBook 13 is a great laptop, and why the lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a deal-breaker:


Design-wise, the MateBook 13 isn’t especially exciting.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

The MateBook 13 is decidedly premium, however, with its all-metal build.


At first glance, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Starting at $US1,000 and going up to $US1,200 for the more powerful model, Huawei’s MateBook 13 looks like one of the best deals around.

You get:

  • A beautiful, sharp 2160 x 1440 display with narrow bezels that makes everything on the screen look good.
  • A slim, small, lightweight design.
  • A quad-core 8th-gen Intel i5 processor that will easily handle most people’s needs (the i5 8265U, if you’re wondering).
  • Or a quad-core 8th-gen Intel i7 processor for the $US1,200 model for those who want a little more power.
  • A great, comfortable keyboard, especially for the MateBook 13’s slim design.
  • A good trackpad.
  • A fingerprint scanner built into the power button.
  • Almost zero bloatware – it’s mostly a clean install of Windows 10, the way it was meant to be used.

But here’s the thing that kills the MateBook 13’s allure.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

The MateBook 13 comes with two USB-C ports on either side, and no regular ports.

I get that USB-C is the future, and Huawei is gracious to include a USB-C adaptor that lets you plug in a regular USB accessory, a USB-C accessory, an HDMI monitor, and even older monitors that use VGA cables.

But the USB-C port situation on the MateBook 13 is confusing and unfortunate. Here’s the most important part: Neither of the USB-C ports on the MateBook 13 support the Thunderbolt 3 standard.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Thunderbolt 3 is the standard that lets you connect a charger, accessories/peripherals, and displays all to a single USB-C dongle, which then plugs into a single USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port.
  • It’s useful for people like me who plug their laptops into a desk workstation, as I simply need to plug in a single adaptor into the USB-C port when I arrive at my desk.
  • Without Thunderbolt 3, the MateBook 13 is essentially a laptop that ditched the more useful, more-widely-used HDMI and USB ports, in favour of the still-uncommon USB-C standard.
  • To boot, only the left USB-C port on the MateBook 13 can charge the laptop, and only the right USB-C port supports display. That means I’d have two cables sticking out of the MateBook 13 at any given time while at my desk.
  • There’s no point of having USB-C if the computer doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3.
  • The MateBook 13 might as well come with regular USB and display ports to make it easier to plug in your accessories, not USB-C ports that make it more difficult.

The battery life isn’t very good, either.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

I got between seven and eight hours of battery life with the $US1,200 Core i7 model of the MateBook 13, which is below average these days. That’s still plenty of battery life for most people, but it could be better.


The fans can get a little noisy when you’re using it on your lap.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Huawei designed the MateBook 13 to breathe in cool air from intakes at the bottom of the laptop, which is fine if you’re using it on a desk. But the moment you place the MateBook 13 on your lap, the intakes become mostly – if not entirely – blocked.

It meant that the fans ramped up from time to time while I was using the MateBook 13 on my lap, even during low-power tasks like browsing the web. It mostly happened when the MateBook 13 drew more power while it was plugged into the charger. Otherwise, the fans didn’t ramp up as often when it was running on battery power.

The fans aren’t offensively loud by any means, but it just seems inefficient to have the air intakes on the bottom of the laptop, where they can be blocked by your lap.


It’s also unfortunate that you can’t get more than 8 GB of RAM in the MateBook 13.

Tech Insider/Jeff Dunn

8 GB is table stakes for RAM these days, and it’s a shame you don’t get the option for more with the MateBook 13.

To be fair, 8 GB is enough for most people, but anyone who wants more won’t find what they need in the MateBook 13.


Most people will be happy with the MateBook 13, but the USB-C thing is a deal-breaker for some.

Huawei

The MateBook 13 lets me get my work done, edit photos, browse the web, and watch my YouTube videos without a problem. And it should do the same for you.

But if you ever plug your laptop into a desk workstation, the MateBook 13 isn’t for you. There are better options out there that come with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, as well as regular ports, from pretty much every Windows computer maker out there, including Huawei itself and its MateBook X Pro.

If you don’t plug your laptop into a desk workstation, then the MateBook 13 might be a great laptop for you. But I don’t wholeheartedly recommend it.


Beyond the hardware itself, there’s another key reason not to buy Huawei’s laptops.

Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Given its placement on the US government’s blacklist, Huawei must now obtain government permission to do business with US companies. Microsoft and its products, including its Windows operating system, are subject to those regulations.

Preventing Microsoft from licensing its software and other products to Huawei would essentially ruin Huawei’s laptop business, as all of Huawei’s laptops run on the Windows operating system.

Huawei could develop its own computer operating system,as it’s doing for its smartphones.

Still, even if Huawei develops its own operating systems for computers and mobile devices, consumers won’t get access to the apps they’re used to. Without the apps they want, consumers aren’t likely to buy – and maybe even shouldn’t buy – Huawei devices.

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