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The Best Alternative to the MacBook Air Is $200 Less Expensive

Not a fan of the MacBook Air’s shallow keyboard?

The Huawei MateBook 13 was released in early 2019 and it’s the follow-up to last year’s MateBook X Pro, which many laptop-focused websites named as one of their “laptops of the year.” In many ways, the MateBook 13 is similar to the X Pro but it’s considerably cheaper, starting at just $999. Essentially, this is the lightweight laptop that Huawei wants you to buy instead of Apple’s $1,200 MacBook Air. Should you? We tested it for a month to find out.

Buy Now: $999+ (Amazon)

The Good: The MateBook 13 definitely has the MacBook Air beat on price. If you don’t need the high-end processor or graphics, then Huawei’s latest lightweight laptop is $200 cheaper. While its design might not be the most original — it looks very similar to a MacBook — it’s easier and more pleasant to type with, thanks to its edge-to-edge keyboard with deep and clickable keys. And its trackpad is wide and very responsive, too. It’s powerful, configurable with Intel’s latest processors. The touchscreen display is pretty, but it also has a 3:2 aspect ratio, so it’s taller and feels bigger (which is better for productivity). The fingerprint scanner over the power button is a clever touch.

Who It’s For: Anybody looking for an affordable alternative to the MacBook Air. They should also be comfortable using a PC. If you’re an occasional gamer, the higher-end MateBook 13, with a Core i7 processor and Nvidia graphics, is well suited for playing popular games like Fortnight or Rocket League.


Watch Out For: The screen isn’t the brightest (300 nits max), meaning it could be difficult to see if you plan on using the laptop outdoors. The battery life — less than 10 hours — isn’t quite as good as expected. The port situation is a bit screwy, too; both are USB-C, but one supports data transfer and one supports video output (to connect an external monitor). Basically, you need to remember which does which. Neither is a Thunderbolt 3 port, however, so you won’t get the fastest data transfer speeds. There’s also an elephant in the room: the U.S. government warns against buying Huawei devices.

Alternatives: There’s no shortage of alternative lightweight laptops out there. If you’re a creative professional, you could opt last year’s MateBook X Pro. (Huawei also just announced a new MateBook X Pro that’s even more powerful and comes with more storage, which will be released later this May.) If you want a PC that’s equally as versatile, yet looks a little sleeker, there’s the Dell XPS 13. And, of course, there’s Apple’s MacBook Air.

Review: A little over six months ago, when my colleague reviewed the Huawei MateBook X Pro, he wrote: “If there was ever a laptop to make me jump ship from my MacBook, this is it.” It was high praise, yet he wasn’t alone. A bunch of major tech websites published reviews raving about Huawei’s lightweight laptop. And this new one — the MateBook 13 — isn’t much different than the X Pro, in both look and performance. The biggest difference is the price. For $1,000, the MateBook 13 is cheaper than the MateBook X Pro (by about $200) and one of the most affordable lightweight laptops you’re likely to find.

Naturally, the cheaper price comes with some sacrifices. The MateBook 13 can’t achieve the same levels of screen resolution and peak brightness as the X Pro. It doesn’t have as many ports; the X Pro has an extra USB-A port, and one of its USB-C ports supports Thunderbolt 3. And then there’s battery life. The MateBook 13 gets about two hours less juice, which feels like a lot. That said, Huawei’s newer laptop packs its fair share of upgrades, such as better WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a webcam that’s located in the normal position — above the screen, in the bezel — instead of being integrated in the keyboard, as a pop-up key, which was one of the X Pro’s wackiest features.

As somebody who owns a MacBook Pro and has been using a MacBook Air for the last few months, I found the switch to the MateBook 13 pretty seamless. There were the obvious complications that come with switching from a Mac to PC, but the MateBook 13 was actually nicer in some ways. The keyboard and trackpad felt easier to type with, oddly enough, because the keys were deeper and clicky-er; and the trackpad was larger and felt a little more accurate. I also quite liked the design of the MateBook 13, how its keyboard stretched from edge to edge, and how the display was taller with slimmer bezels.

Verdict: The MacBook Air has some clear advantages over the MateBook 13. It’s thinner and lighter, and its Retina Display is beautiful. Its battery is also significantly better. Yet, the MateBook 13 still holds its own. It runs on the same Intel processors and has, in my opinion, a better-feeling keyboard and trackpad. And for several hundred dollars less, it’s a dependable alternative.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Having clearly watched from the sidelines for years, Huawei latest has exactly the kind of sensibility we’ve wanted from a luxury laptop. The Huawei MateBook 13 does what any flagship laptop can do – and more – for the same price or even less. For that, the Huawei MateBook 13 is our Best in Class laptop in 2019..” — Joe Osborne , TechRadar

• “Every laptop has compromises. The best balance these traits to create an overall satisfying product. For a small group of people out there, a 13-inch MacBook that can play Fortnite will make sense. The MateBook 13 is that. The $1,000 base model is also a compelling option because of its price point. We like the 3:2 screen and keyboard. But with shortcomings in battery, touchpad, and port selection, other laptops are a better option.” — Luke Larsen, Digital Trends

• “The MateBook 13 completely destroyed the XPS 13 (2018) and the Surface Laptop 2 on the 3DMark Sky Diver graphics benchmark, scoring a whopping 9,392 versus the Dell’s 4,901 and the Surface’s 3,977. It also killed both laptops on the 3DMark 11 benchmark, though it came in just two points under the Microsoft laptop on PCMark 7. To be fair, the MateBook 13 has a newer, faster Core i7 CPU than those other systems and packs a discrete NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card. Those are really nice guts for the price..” — Cherlynn Low, Engadget

Key Specs

Display: 13 inch, IPS, touchpanel (2,160×1,440, 200 ppi)
Processor: Intel Core i5 or Core i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 or Nvidia GeForce MX150
Ports: 2x USB-C 3.1
Weight: 2.87 pounds
Battery: approximately 9.6 hours
Memory: 8GB of RAM
Storage: 512GB SSD

Buy Now: $999+

Huawei provided this product for review.

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