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Huawei MateBook E (2022) review: An impressive Surface Pro 8 alternative with a top-quality OLED screen

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The 12.6-inch Huawei MateBook E with Smart Magnetic Keyboard and M-Pencil (2nd Generation).


Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

Huawei’s Matebook E (2022) is an Intel-based 2-in-1 device comprising a 12.6-inch tablet and an attachable keyboard that incorporates a kickstand. The company’s benchmark for this Windows 11 2-in-1, as with other leading OEMs, is Microsoft’s Surface Pro range, which is currently at Surface Pro 8. The MateBook E starts at €649 in Europe for a tablet-only Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage (~$720). 

The MateBook E’s outstanding feature is its superb OLED display (the first on a Huawei tablet), which along with support for Huawei’s optional 2nd-generation M-Pencil turns this device into an excellent vehicle for note-taking and creative content-creation applications. 

The MateBook E, which runs Windows 11, also supports Huawei’s Super Device technology, which enables connection to, and communication with, a range of the company’s other devices. 

Like

  • Superb 12.6-inch OLED display
  • Solid build quality
  • Good audio and webcams
  • Magnetic attachment for M-Pencil stylus

Don’t Like

  • No kickstand for the tablet
  • Only one USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port
  • Moderate battery life

Design

The MateBook E tablet is thin (7.99mm) and light (709g), and has a footprint measuring 306mm wide by 215mm deep in landscape mode. Although there’s no formal MIL-STD certification or IP rating, it feels sturdily built, with a magnesium alloy frame, rounded corners and an unobtrusive matte-grey (Nebula Grey) livery. The screen and glass-fibre-coated backplate do pick up fingerprints, though. 

By comparison, Microsoft’s 13-inch Surface Pro 8 is 9.3mm thick, weighs 891g and has a footprint measuring 287mm by 208mm. 

The 12.6-inch screen sits within moderately thin bezels that, Huawei claims, deliver a screen-to-body ratio of 90%. Our calculation, however, puts it much lower (70%), and also lower than the Surface Pro 8 under the same method (84.2%). Still, although it’s no ‘minimal-bezel’ device, the MateBook E doesn’t look in any way old-fashioned.

My review unit came with the standard Smart Magnetic Keyboard, which weighs 440g, bringing the 2-in-1’s total weight to 1.15kg. The keyboard attaches magnetically to the tablet, in landscape mode only, via a 3-pin connector and incorporates a kickstand that can support the tablet at a reasonable range of angles. The keyboard lies flat on a table or desk, with no mechanism to raise it to a more convenient typing angle. 

The tablet is not self-supporting – that is, it has no integrated kickstand as on many other 2-in-1 devices. In tablet mode, the MateBook E is handheld only. 

I also had the Huawei M-Pencil (2nd generation), an optional extra costing €99. This stylus supports 4,096 pressure levels and tilt sensitivity, has 2ms latency and charges wirelessly when magnetically attached to the top right edge of the tablet. 

Features 

The MateBook E is based on 11th-generation Intel Core processors, rather than the latest 12th-generation chips. There are variants running Core i3-1110G4, Core i5-1130G7 and Core i7-1160G7 processors with 8GB or 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM and 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. Graphics are integrated: Intel UHD Graphics on the Core i3 model, Iris Xe Graphics on the Core i5 and i7 models.  

My review unit had the Core i5 processor with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, and came with the Smart Magnetic Keyboard and the M-Pencil (2nd Gen), a combo that currently costs €1,199 in Germany (~$1,300). Other European countries will follow in due course, but the MateBook E is not expected to be officially available in the US.

As noted earlier, the 12.6-inch OLED display is a standout feature of the MateBook E. It’s by no means the first OLED 2-in-1, but the implementation here is impressive. The resolution is 2560 x 1600 (16:10, 240ppi) and, like all OLEDs, it offers high contrast (1,000,000:1), along with good brightness (up to 600 nits), excellent colour gamut coverage (100% DCI-P3) and good colour accuracy (Delta E<1). If you select Natural Tone in the Display Manager utility, the screen’s colour temperature is adjusted to match the ambient lighting; there’s also a blue-light-reducing Eye Comfort setting here.

Wireless connectivity is good as far as it goes – Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.2 – but there’s no 4G or 5G mobile broadband option, which some prospective buyers might be looking for. There are other solutions, of course, such as tethering to your smartphone or investing in a standalone mobile hotspot. 

SEE: Best tablets 2022: The iPad isn’t your only option

There’s USB-C Thunderbolt 4 support, which is good, but only one port, in the middle of the tablet’s right side (in landscape mode), which isn’t so good. If you’re charging the MateBook E, for example, there’s no port left for data or video connections. Presumably you’re meant to use Huawei’s Super Device technology for various wireless connections, but that won’t help those who don’t go all-in on the Huawei ecosystem, who must either hang a dongle or docking station off that single port or go for the alternative backlit Glide Keyboard, which includes a USB-C port. 

Apart from the Thunderbolt port, the sides of the MateBook E carry a combined power button and fingerprint reader on the left side (near the top), and a volume rocker on the top edge (on the left side). I found it sometimes took a while before the tablet woke up when presented with a fingerprint, and occasionally had to resort to a PIN to authenticate Windows 11. 

There are two grilles on the tablet’s top edge, which service a sophisticated cooling system that includes a 79-blade Shark Fin fan, an air-cooled vapour chamber and super-conductive graphene.

The MateBook E has two cameras, 8MP at the front (in the top bezel) and 13MP, with flash, at the back. The front camera lacks IR for Windows Hello face recognition, so you’re limited to the fingerprint reader for biometric authentication. There are four mics, with AI-assisted noise cancellation and user voice enhancement, and 5-metre pickup range, plus four speakers. The latter deliver good-quality audio with a pleasing balance of bass and treble, and minimal distortion at top volume. The audio/video subsystems combine to make the MateBook E a capable platform for video calls. 

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The Smart Magnetic Keyboard has 1.3mm of key travel, but the keys are not backlit.


Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

The bundled Smart Magnetic Keyboard has a sensible layout, with a row of half-height Fn keys above the main array. Keys have 1.3mm of travel and deliver an audible but not intrusive ‘click’ to complement the tactile feedback. There’s a decent-sized touchpad below the keyboard, with support for multi-finger gestures and an integrated NFC detection area. 


Huawei Matebook E specifications

Colour

Nebula Gray

OS

Windows 11 Home 64-bit, Windows 11 Home S mode 64-bit

Dimensions

306mm × 215mm × 7.99mm (tablet)  

Weight

709g (tablet), 440g (Smart Magnetic Keyboard)  

Display

12.6-inch, OLED, 2560 x 1600 (16:10, 240ppi), 400 nits (600 nits in HBM mode), 10-point touch  

Processor

Intel Core i3-1110G4, Core i5-1130G7, Core i7-1160G7  

Graphics

Intel UHD Graphics (Core i3), Iris Xe Graphics  

RAM

8GB, 16GB (LPDDR4x)  

Storage

128GB, 256GB, 512GB (NVMe PCIe 3.0)  

Battery

3665mAh, 42Wh  

Connectivity

W-Fi6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1  

Ports

USB-C / Thunderbolt 4, 3.5mm audio in/out, 3-pin keyboard connector  

Buttons

power (inc. fingerprint sensor), volume  

Audio

4 mics, 4 speakers  

Stylus

Huawei M-Pencil (2nd generation); 4,096 pressure levels, tilt sensitivty, 10h battery life, wireless charging (10 mins in 30 seconds), magnetic tablet attachment • €99 option  

Huawei apps

Huawei Share, Huawei PC Manager, Huawei Factory Reset, Display Manager  

In the box

tablet, USB-C power adapter, charge cable, quick start guide, warranty card, Smart Magnetic Keyboard (Core i5, i7 models)

Price

€649 (Core i3, 8GB/128GB), €999 (Core i5, 8GB/256GB), €1,199 (Core i5, 16GB/256GB), €1,399 (Core i7, 16GB/256GB) 


Performance & battery life 

Powered by an 11th-generation Intel Core i5-1130G7 processor with 16GB of RAM, the MateBook E delivered pretty much identical Geekbench 5 CPU performance to Microsoft’s Core i5-based (Core i5-1135G7) Surface Pro 8:   

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Data: ZDNet and Geekbench / Chart: ZDNet

However, the MateBook E doesn’t match the Surface Pro 8 on the Geekbench 5 GPU benchmark (Compute), lagging behind by 19%:

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Data: ZDNet and Geekbench / Chart: ZDNet  

We also recorded an average score of 78.8 frames per second for the MateBook E under the OpenGL test in Cinebench R15.

Under the ATTO Disk Benchmark, the MateBook E’s 512GB NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD returned maximum transfer rates of 2.13GB/s (write) and 3.07GB/s (read).

To test the MateBook E’s battery life, we recorded the drop in the 3665mAh/42Wh battery’s charge from 100% over a three-hour period. Workloads included a mixture of web browsing, streaming video, typing into a Word document and running various benchmark tests. After three hours, the battery ended up at 51%, which translates to around six hours of battery life in total. This means it’s unlikely you’ll get a full day’s work from the MateBook E on battery power, unless you reduce the brightness (from 70% in our test) or temper your workloads.

Using the bundled 65W charger, we saw battery life rise from 51% to 64% after 15 minutes, to 76% after 30 minutes, and 89% after 45 minutes. 

User experience 

In use, the MateBook E’s main highlight is its superb OLED display, which is as bright, sharp and colourful as you could wish for. I tended to use the screen in its default Native mode, but you can select sRGB or DCI-P3 in the Display Manager utility if required, although both options use more power. 

The M-Pencil stylus is lightweight (16g) and feels well balanced in the hand. It pairs automatically with the tablet, and the magnetic attachment with wireless charging is a good solution given that the MateBook E’s slimness rules out on-device garaging. The stylus works well for note taking in OneNote, although double-tapping on the concealed touch key just above the stylus tip, to fire up Windows 11’s snipping tool, was a bit hit and miss for me.

I found the Smart Magnetic Keyboard comfortable and responsive in use and didn’t mind its flat-on-the-desk typing angle, although some may differ on this. Like all kickstand devices, the MateBook E is not really ‘lappable’ in this configuration: to rectify that, you’ll need the Glide Keyboard, which is not yet available.

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Huawei Super Device in action: the P50 Pro smartphone, connected to, displayed on, and controllable from, the MateBook E.


Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNet  

We tested Huawei’s Super Device technology using the MateBook E and the P50 Pro smartphone. Connecting the two devices involved enabling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC on the phone and tablet, and opening Huawei PC Manager on the MateBook. Placing the phone near the tablet’s touchpad initiated a connection which, once confirmed, brought up the phone’s display on the MateBook, from where it could be completely controlled. 

There are plenty of use cases, including drag-and-drop file transfer, using the tablet’s touchpad and keyboard to navigate and enter/edit text on the phone, and answering phone calls (audio or video) on the laptop. You can open up to three mobile app windows on the tablet, and use the phone’s camera as an external webcam on the laptop. 

This was all interesting to explore, and Super Device could well prove useful to those who invest in the Huawei ecosystem – phones, laptops, tablets, monitors, printers – and build their workflows around it. 

Conclusions

Even if you don’t go all-in on the Huawei ecosystem – and many outside China still baulk at the company’s smartphones due to their lack of Google Mobile Services – the MateBook E is an impressive tablet-first 2-in-1 laptop. The OLED screen is the star, but it’s also well built, with capable cameras, mics and speakers, while the M-Pencil stylus is useful and well implemented.

Although performance is on a par with the competition, battery life could be better, and a second on-board USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port would be welcome. It’s also a pity that the tablet, once detached from the keyboard unit, has no way of standing up on its own. 

What does stand up is the pricing compared to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8. Our review configuration (Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Smart Magnetic Keyboard, M-Pencil stylus) costs €1,199 in Germany. On Microsoft’s German website, the nearest equivalent configuration we can find (Core i5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Surface Pro Keyboard and Surface Slim Pen 2) costs €1,659. 

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