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Huawei matebook 14s review: A blisteringly fast Windows 11 laptop for serious work

Finally the weird webcam is gone, but is the latest model from the Chinese brand better than its rivals?

Steve Hogarty
Wednesday 02 February 2022 15:24
<p>The Windows PC is available in standard configuration and a faster Evo mode</p>

The Windows PC is available in standard configuration and a faster Evo mode

Huawei is fast becoming better known for its laptops than its phones. While the Chinese manufacturer’s smartphone division hit a speedbump when it was effectively banned from using Google services on its mobile devices, Huawei’s laptops have faced no such obstacles.

The result? Huawei’s expanding range of laptops now includes some of the best Windows PCs you can buy, with recent highlights to be found in the stylish and powerful Huawei matebook X pro (£1,599.99, Huawei.com) and the more modest Huawei matebook 14 (£899.99, Huawei.com).

The Huawei matebook 14s (£999.99, Huawei.com) launched in 2021 to fill the gap between the manufacturer’s top-end and mid-range devices, and to make the most of new Intel Alder Lake CPUs and the latest Windows 11 operating system. It’s a smart and lightweight 14.2in laptop with a strong resemblance to the MacBook pro, in terms of both its unfussy aesthetic and its specifications. It’s also competitively priced and comes bundled with your pick of a Huawei freebie.

Right now shoppers can choose between a pair of Huawei freebuds 3 (£69.99, Huawei.com) or a matepad T10 tablet (£139.99, Huawei.com), or to bundle the laptop with a heavily discounted smartwatch or computer monitor.

How we tested

We subbed in the Huawei matebook 14s for our regular laptop for a few weeks, using it for daily work as well as watching movies, streaming TV shows and generally wasting our time online. We use PCMark 10 for technical benchmarking and comparison against similarly priced ultrabooks.

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Our daily tasks include writing in Google Docs, juggling dozens of open Chrome tabs and picture editing in Photoshop. We also threw the matebook 14s a few more processor-intensive jobs such as audio and video rendering. Games played include Hades and Disco Elysium, as well as the more graphically demanding Metro Exodus, which pushed the integrated GPU to its limit.

Huawei matebook 14s evo: £999.99, Huawei.com

If you want the faster Evo model, you have to go with the space grey colour option

Huawei sent us the top-end Evo configuration for review. Evo is a strict standard set by Intel for ultrabooks, and guarantees a laptop is lightweight, starts up in seconds and lasts at last nine hours at 1080p resolution. The Evo model is only available in space grey with a 1TB hard drive and 16GB of RAM.

  • CPU: Intel Core i7 11370H
  • Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
  • RAM: 16GB
  • Screen: 14.2in, 2520 x 1680p
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Pros: Bright 90Hz display, fingerprint scanner and face unlock, great call quality
  • Cons: On the expensive side, extra features only work on Huawei devices

Design

Huawei’s matebook 14s is a serious-looking device for serious people. The space-grey, aluminium-alloy chassis feels premium under the fingertips, with close attention paid to the smaller details many low and mid-range laptops overlook.

The base has a subtle taper, for example, becoming thinner towards the edges and disguising the laptop’s thickness with the magic of optical illusions. When the laptop is opened, a sliver of the bezel gets tucked away behind the hinge, decreasing the apparent thickness of the borders around the display. It feels worth every penny Huawei’s charging for it.

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Its trackpad is wide and spacious, roomy enough for comfortably navigating the 14in screen without a mouse. It doesn’t have the clever haptic feedback of the Huawei matebook X pro – which like a smartphone uses a tiny vibrating motor to deliver an artificial “click” once you apply enough pressure – but the traditional, physical clicks are snappy and responsive. It’s a smart looking and well built machine all round.

The keyboard has been upgraded with deeper travel, giving the typing experience a little more heft over last year’s model. This means working on the matebook 14s feels closer to working on a dedicated keyboard rather than on an ultrabook, but like the clickety trackpad, whether this can be counted as an improvement is down to personal preference.

When done right, we enjoy the light springiness of a wafer-thin board as much as the rock-steady firmness of the keys. In either case it’s a lovely set of letters to tap away on, and by getting rid of the numpad, it doesn’t feel cramped or constrained.

The webcam on the matebook 14s no longer points at your chin

The most noteworthy design change since the older Huawei matebook is the long-awaited migration of the webcam from the bottom of the screen to the top. The webcam’s old home – hidden under a pop-up function key on the top row of the keyboard – treated your remote colleagues to an unenviable view straight up your nose. In its new placement atop the screen it provides an infinitely more flattering angle, and finally puts paid to one of the wackiest design choices in the laptop world.

Display

This laptop’s standout feature is the display. It has a crisp 2520 x 1680p touchscreen with 100 per cent sRGB coverage, meaning colours are rich, accurate and dynamic. The 400 nit max brightness is comparable to the MacBook air, while the 1,500:1 contrast ratio produces deep, inky blacks and an overall better image.

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The ambient light sensor does a great job of seamlessly adjusting the display to suit the room you’re in, while the lightly glossy finish is comfortable enough to use in daylight or next to a bright window when working from home.

The optional 90Hz refresh rate, activated with a keypress, is a giant improvement too. Your eyes get treated to 50 per cent more frames per second, which produces smoother scrolling and more natural motion on screen. It’s a subtle visual upgrade that has to be seen to be appreciated, and makes the matebook 14s feel immensely zippier whether you’re browsing social media, scrolling through spreadsheets or even just moving the mouse curser around the screen.

There’s an HDMI port, a 3.5mm audio jack and two Display Port compatible USB-C ports. The 1TB model supports ThunderBolt 4 on a single USB-C port.

Audio

The four speaker array of the matebook 14s is impressive for a laptop of this size and weight, producing a deceptively big sound from a slim chassis. Thanks to the laws of physics, very small speakers tend to sound tinny and will often overcompensate for this by boosting lower frequencies. This increases the volume of bass and usually leads to a stuffy, submerged sound.

While they’ll never compare with a set of dedicated speakers or headphones, the two pairs of built-in speakers provide good results across music genres and for entertainment, and especially while video conferencing. Similarly, a set of four microphones on the laptop can isolate your voice from distracting background noise for better clarity and focus during calls.

Performance and battery life

The matebook 14s is no slouch when it comes to performance. Both the standard model and the Evo model are powered by the 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor, placing it in the high-end ultrabook category and opening up the potential for doing CPU-intensive work on the go. In its “performance” mode it sucks more power from the battery and kicks the fans into a higher gear, enabling the laptop to more comfortably deal with more demanding jobs such as photo editing and video rendering.

The matebook 14s drops to a 60Hz refresh rate if your battery is running low

The Intel Iris Xe GPU isn’t designed with serious gaming in mind, but these types of integrated chip aren’t the hardware bottlenecks they used to be. It can handily chuck a few polygons around when it needs to, and by dropping the resolution to a more sensible 720p we managed decent framerates out of mid-range games like Subnautica and No Man’s Sky.

In its “balanced” power configuration, the matebook 14s is better able to extend its battery life to reliably last a full day away from a power socket. A little more juice can be squeezed by dropping the swishy 90Hz refresh rate down to a more standard 60Hz, which in our testing got us around 12 hours of battery life.

The verdict: Huawei matebook 14s evo

The matebook 14s evo is the smartest-looking device Huawei has ever made, more austere and straight-laced than the fashion-conscious matebook X pro without looking too boring. It’s a powerful all-rounder too, backed by chipmaker Intel’s newest Evo credentials which guarantee fast boot-up and all-day battery life, and handily keeps up with a similarly priced MacBook air when it comes to performance.

Huawei’s device is almost always discounted too, and right now comes bundled with a free Huawei tablet or earphones worth around £120. If you’re in the market for Huawei accessories that’s an enticing offer, especially as owning a Huawei tablet unlocks seamless file-sharing and multi-screen desktop functionality. If you’re not surrounded by Huawei stuff already, you might consider looking towards the similarly speed Dell XPS 13 (£1,099, Dell.com).

Huawei MateBook 14s

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