Huawei MateBook 14s review: Huawei’s best compact laptop
Huawei’s range of laptops hasn’t changed much in the last few years, at least not physically. Granted, the processors have been updated but if you were to put the 2019, 2020 and 2021 models of the MateBook 14, MateBook X Pro or MateBook D15 side by side, you would find it difficult to determine which was which.
The MateBook 14s, however, is something new rather than an update of an existing model, with fewer Huawei idiosyncrasies and a new specification screen.
Huawei MateBook 14s review: What you need to know
The 14.2-inch MateBook 14s slots into the Huawei hierarchy just below the range-topping 13.3in MateBook X Pro and above the 14in MateBook 14, and with similar specifications and prices – thanks to the discounts Huawei offers – deciding which machine to go for isn’t easy.
That’s not necessarily a problem, though. All of Huawei’s lightweight laptops have something to be said for them, including high-quality touchscreen displays, good keyboards and commendable build quality.
Like the rest of the MateBook range, the Huawei MateBook 14s is a machine designed for productivity and media consumption rather than gaming or overly demanding creative tasks, although it’s worth noting that Intel’s latest integrated GPUs are not the gutless wonders they once were. Reasonably intensive graphics tasks and a little light gaming, therefore, are not wholly out of the question.
Huawei MateBook 14s review: Price & Competition
At the time of writing the new MateBook is available from the Huawei website at a price of only £1,200. That’s for the version with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The sample sent in for review has a larger 1TB SSD and official Intel Evo accreditation (which means Thunderbolt 4 support) and costs £1,300. This model wasn’t available to buy, however, at the time of writing.
Both are good prices for the specification but Huawei is offering a series of extra sweeteners if you buy the laptop from its website. First up is a free 24in Full HD monitor and Bluetooth mouse, worth a total of £150.
On top of that, you can choose a further free gift of either a Huawei Watch GT 2, a pair of FreeBuds Pro wireless earphones or the Huawei Gentle Monster Eyewear II smart glasses. Depending on what you choose that’s between £400 and £500 of free kit and an offer not to be sneezed at.
Putting all the free stuff to one side, for similar money, you can have your pick of very good 13 or 14-inch laptops including the likes of the Razer Book 13, Apple MacBook Pro 13, Acer Predator Triton 300SE and Lenovo’s Yoga Slim 7. It’s also worth checking out Huawei’s other models which also currently carry significant discounts.
As for alternatives, they mostly look worse value than the MateBook 14s. The Razer Book 13 starts at £999 but to get a model with a 512GB SSD, 16GB of RAM and a touch screen you’ll need to shell out £1,499. And, no matter how much you spend you’ll have to make do with a 60Hz 1,920 x 1,080 13.2-inch display, too. The Razer 13 is a lovely machine to behold and use and I like it a lot but there’s no denying it looks rather expensive alongside the new MateBook.
If you fancy one of the new 14in MacBook Pro machines, you’ll need even deeper pockets because they start at £1,899 but you do get a 3,024 x 1,964, 254dpi mini-LED display with support for refresh rates up to 120Hz and Apple’s latest M1 Pro processor.
We’ve recently tested the 16in MacBook Pro (2021), which has a similar spec and it’s a corker of a laptop, although the 13in M1 MacBook Air is more comparable with the MateBook 14s and it only costs £899 right now.
If you fancy a 14in machine with discrete graphics for work or play then the Acer Predator Triton SE could fit the bill. It’s a bit bigger and heavier than the other machines here but it has a lovely 14in 144Hz FHD screen, an Nvidia GeForce RTX3060 GPU and a 1TB SSD. For £1,299 there are very few more omnicompetent laptops.
Lenovo’s Yoga Slim 7 is the obvious choice for the more budget-conscious. Available now for just £749 you get an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, 8 GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. The battery life is excellent as is the Dolby Atmos speaker system and the 14in Full HD display is pretty decent too.
Huawei’s own MateBook X Pro also deserves a mention. With a very high quality 3,000 x 2,000 display it’s currently on offer for £1,249, reduced from £1,600. For that sort of money, I’ll forgive even a webcam that looks up my nose.
Huawei MateBook 14s review: Design & build quality
I’ve often criticised Huawei for its lack of adventure when it comes to design. For the last four years, each successive model in its laptop range has looked much the same as the previous one. Its bloody-minded refusal to ditch the ludicrous positioning of the webcam below a fake function key was another stick I repeatedly beat it with.
Thankfully, the winds of change are blowing through Huawei’s design department because while the MateBook 14s has a strong family resemblance to the likes of the MateBook X Pro and MateBook D15, the webcam has been moved to the more traditional position above the display.
You can choose from two colours – Spruce Green (512GB model) or Space Grey (1TB model) – and both look rather classy; the satin finish in particular doing a great job of not showing fingerprints.
The chassis is built from CNC-milled aluminium alloy and it feels sturdy and well-made as a result. Both the base and lid heroically resisted my efforts to twist them and solicit a creak or a groan. And that solidity hasn’t come at the expense of weight, either. At 1.43kg, the MateBook 14s is far from the lightest 14in laptop we’ve ever come across, but it is lighter than a MacBook Pro 14. At 314 x 230 x 16.5mm it’s also very similar to the Apple machine in size.
Connectivity could be better. On the left-hand side of the 14s you’ll find an HDMI 1.4b output, two Type-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports (both with DisplayPort support) and a 3.5mm audio jack while on the opposite edge is a single Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 port. The 1TB model also supports Thunderbolt 4 through one of the Type-C ports, but there’s nothing in the way of a memory card reader.
And, as you might expect from a laptop this compact, upgrade options are limited: Take the bottom panel off and the only component you can swap out is the SSD.
Huawei MateBook 14s review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam
Like the chassis, the keyboard deck is thoroughly solid and demonstrates hardly any flex, even when you poke the centre. It has a precise and clean 1.5mm action, and a two-level backlight, although this is a little dim even on the brighter setting. The touchpad, on the other hand, is large and generally faultless with a satisfying click-action.
While the extra key between F6 and F7 conceals a pop-up webcam in other Huawei laptops, here it launches Microsoft’s speech recognition software, which is something I found far more useful. I found myself dictating text far more often than usual thanks to this handy feature and the laptop’s four noise cancellation microphones did a creditable job of picking up what I was saying, no matter how much background noise there was.
Speaking of webcams, the MateBook 14s’ 720p camera is pretty poor in terms of video quality but it does at least support Windows Hello IR recognition and, if that’s not your biometric bag, there’s also a fingerprint scanner built into the power button.
Huawei MateBook 14s review: Display and Audio
The MateBook 14s has a 14.2in, 2,520 x 1,680 3:2 LTPS display and it’s something of a triumph. Not only is it as sharp as a tack at 213dpi but it has a 90Hz refresh rate and excellent sRGB gamut reproduction at 98.9%. Add to that a good maximum brightness of 432cd/m2, an excellent contrast ratio of 1,820:1 and solid colour accuracy with a Delta E average of 1.78 (lower is better) and you have a winner on your hands.
The panel has a high-gloss finish but still manages not to be overly reflective, while the narrow bezels and touch interface are cherries on an already rather scrumptious cake. Usefully, there is also an ambient light sensor that can adjust the brightness of both the display and the keyboard backlight to match your surroundings.
The quad-speaker system is just as technically impressive as the screen, pumping out plenty of volume and a decent dollop of bass. It runs the speaker system in the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 a very, very close second. The 14s is the first Huawei notebook to feature Huawei Sound, an in-house developed sound processing system which, judging by this maiden implementation, is something worth looking out for in future.
Huawei MateBook 14s Review: Performance & Battery Life
Inside the Huawei MateBook 14s, you’ll find a Tiger Lake Core i7-11370H processor, a chip we’ve already seen in the Asus TUF Dash 15 and Acer Predator Triton 300SE. It’s a quad-core component with a maximum clock speed of 4.8GHz and it strikes a good balance between power and efficiency.
The Expert Reviews’ in-house media benchmarks returned a score of 178 which is on a par with other class leaders like the M1-powered Apple MacBook Pro and the AMD Ryzen 7-powered Lenovo Yoga Slim 7. The same proved true in the GeekBench 5 tests, the MateBook keeping up with the best of them. It also performed reasonably well in our battery run-down test, lasting 11hrs 8mins. That’s short of the 15:40 that the Lenovo managed but better than the Razer Book 13.
In our performance tests, the MateBook 14s was put into Performance mode which ups the processor TDP to the maximum 45W and runs the fans harder. For the battery test, it was put into Balanced mode but the screen refresh rate was set to 90Hz rather than the less power-hungry 60Hz. You can swap between refresh rates by simply hitting Fn+R.
With only integrated Intel Xe graphics, the MateBook 14s lacks the power to make full use of that high refresh rate in a gaming context but it will still play titles like Doom at a reliable 50-60fps and 90Hz just as long as you knock the resolution back to 1,280 x 720.
The 1TB SSD performed solidly enough being neither remarkably faster or slower than the competition but, rather irritatingly, it was divided into two partitions: one 120GB “Windows” drive and one 815GB “Data” drive. I only noticed this when Steam informed me my drive was out of space, necessitating a time-wasting reorganisation of files. Thankfully you can use the Huawei PC Manager to store files in the Data partition by default.
Huawei MateBook 14s Review: Verdict
Even if Huawei was selling the MateBook 14s on its own for £1,200, I’d rate it as a great buy. But the fact that you’re getting it with a load of free gear, including a free monitor and mouse, makes it even more tempting.
It’s a lovely machine to look at and use, the display and sound system are both top-notch and the performance can match any other 14in compact laptops in its price bracket. Add to that the clever quad-microphone set-up and Huawei’s overdue realisation that putting webcams under fake function keys is a silly idea and you have a machine that can be strongly recommended.
Huawei MateBook 14s
|Processor||Intel Core i7-11370H|
|Additional memory slots||No|
|Graphics adapter||Intel Iris Xe|
|Screen size (in)||14.2|
|Screen resolution||2520 x 1680|
|Pixel density (PPI)||213|
|Screen type||LTPS LCD|
|Memory card slot||No|
|3.5mm audio jack||Yes|
|Graphics outputs||HDMI 1.4b. DisplayPort/Thunderbolt over USB-C|
|Other ports||USB 3.2 Gen 1 x 1, USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2 x1 Thunderbolt 4 x 1|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)|
|Dimensions, mm (WDH)||310 x 230 x 17mm|
|Weight (kg) – with keyboard where applicable||1.43Kg|
|Battery size (Wh)||60Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 11 Home|