Desktop Tourism Rightly or wrongly, Huawei has acquired a reputation for being a risky proposition, security-wise. It almost beggars belief, then, that the Chinese goliath’s flagship Matebook X Pro laptop contains a literal hidden webcam secreted under a fake function key on the top row of its keyboard.
Touch the key and it clicks lightly, then springs up to reveal the camera.
It’s a terrible place for the camera because when the laptop is flat on a desk and close enough to type on, the view it affords would probably please an ear, nose, and throat surgeon conducting a remote examination. Needless to say, that angle is not going to show your best side during a Zoom or Teams session. And you can’t change the angle without moving the entire laptop into odd positions or placing it too far away to type.
Your reviewer, as seen through Huawei’s webcam when the Matebook was in a comfortable typing position.
Click to enlarge – if you dare
Complicating matters further is that the laptop’s 3.5mm audio jack is positioned at the back of its left edge, which means wired headphones with a cord of average length have just that little extra distance to stretch as you work your way into a more photogenic position.
Huawei has decided to put the camera in this odd spot in the name of privacy protection, which is noble, but I found the camera popped up unintentionally when I opened and closed the laptop.
The camera has not been integrated with Windows at all – so when the key it hides under is down, using any camera-enabled app results in inexplicable blackness. Such a novel hardware design is easy to forget and surely deserved a little help from the OS.
Putting the camera under a key does allow the laptop a very thin bezel surrounding its screen. The result is a 13.9-inch screen in a 13-inch laptop. But the odd camera placement also means the laptop is hard to use for one of the main applications laptops are needed for these days.
At least it’s a decent camera, and a lovely screen – the 3K display has 3000×2000 resolution and is vividly bright and makes lovely distinctions between colors. I’ll happily work or watch movies on it all day – and I almost mean that literally, because the machine eased its way to six hours of unconnected usage.
The display’s touch sensitivity is sharp and swift, but Huawei’s swipe-to-screenshot feature didn’t work reliably for me despite the vendor advancing it as an important demonstration of its ability to add value in what is a very crowded laptop market.
The feature also feels redundant, given the Windows Snipping Tool does a fine job with a keypress many users will have memorized. The screen is so glossy that every touch leaves a mark and after a day or two the machine looks a mess, so swiping to take screenshots just adds to the smearing.
The laptop is powered by an Intel 11th-gen Core i7-1165G7 quad-core processor that can go through the gears from 1.2GHz to 4.7GHz. The laptop includes Intel Iris X graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid state drive.
The machine did decently on my go-to nasty job: running Handbrake to transcode a five-minute 4K video file down to 1080p, consuming six minutes and 20 seconds for the job. That was just two minutes slower than the Corei9-powered Asus laptop I used on my last Desktop Tourism adventure.
However, the Huawei struggled mightily running the same workload in an Ubuntu VM under VMware Workstation. The laptop’s fans got quite a workout as it struggled through the job in 16:11, more than double the time needed by the Asus.
The machine’s fans also kicked in at seemingly random moments, and unnervingly often. Connecting an external monitor sometimes taxed the laptop notably, but on other occasions did not impinge on performance. Some light workloads caused the machines to struggle – downloads were a bugbear – but on other days it hummed along impressively under heavier loads.
The machine wakes up feeling grumpy. Flipping it open often produced either a hung application or odd errors such as an inability to play audio. Other applications just didn’t get on with the machine. My preferred cycling metaverse, Zwift, limped into action and then hung – performance far worse than a much older Windows laptop that is my everyday workhorse.
At least the laptop’s biometric-enabled On button was swift and accurate, meaning the unusual number of restarts required to work with the machine were not made frustrating by bodgy biometrics. The touchpad is also pleasingly sensitive and generously sized.
A single USB-A port and dual USB-Cs is an adequate combination, but demonstrates PC-makers’ unfounded optimism about the prevalence of USB-C monitors. The laptop did not struggle with the no-name USB-C dongles I use for things like wireless keyboard dongles and HDMI.
The machine is very pretty, and is certainly thin and light.
But it is also eminently forgettable and you can do better for the $2,000 or so Huawei charges for it – perhaps with the 2022 version of the Matebook Pro X which is starting to dribble into stores around the world.
Sadly, Huawei won’t offer the version of the machine powered by its own motherboard and Kunpeng 920 processor outside of China. I say that as I came away from my time with the laptop thinking Huawei can do better, and perhaps controlling the hardware would be a factor that might allow it to address the imperfections that made this machine a hollow experience for your desktop tourist, rather than a trip to remember. ®