Huawei MateBook vs. 12-inch MacBook

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We compare two ultra-light, ultra-thin, ultra-compact ... and slightly questionable for work products, the Huawei MateBook (left) and Apple 12-inch MacBook

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A Surface-inspired 2-in-1 might not seem like an obvious rival to Apple's 12-inch Macbook, but once you get past the different form factors, there's quite a bit of overlap. See for yourself, as we help you choose between the Huawei MateBook and (2016) 12-inch Retina MacBook.

Size

Height and width are very similar, with the MacBook measuring just 2 percent taller and less than 1 percent wider.

Thickness is a bit of an apples and oranges situation, as this spec measures the Huawei MateBook as a tablet alone, while the MacBook's measurement is for the closed laptop (and it also only counts the thickest point).

Weight

This is another uneven category, as it weighs the keyboardless MateBook against the full MacBook.

All you really need to know is that both are incredibly light for their respective form factors.

Tablet mode

Speaking of form factors, the MateBook is 2-in-1 tablet with a detachable keyboard (a la Surface Pro 4), while this MacBook is an ultra-sleek take on the classic notebook.

That also means the MateBook has a touchscreen, whether in tablet or laptop mode, while the MacBook doesn't.

Screen angles (laptop mode)

This is the biggest reason to hesitate about the MateBook. While the Surface Pro 4 has a dynamically-adjusting kickstand, which makes it great to use on lap or table, the MateBook has a keyboard cover that can only be set in two angles; in our experience, neither was very good on lap.

Like any classic notebook, you can angle the Macbook's screen just about any way you want.

Trackpad

The MateBook's keyboard cover has a (decent enough) built-in trackpad, but we find the one on the MacBook to be much better. So, while the MateBook gives you the fun and versatility of touch and tablet mode, it's significantly weaker when used strictly as a laptop.

Build

Both have aluminum unibody builds, though that means slightly different things considering the form factors. Only the MateBook itself (tablet) is aluminum – it's positively iPad-like. Its keyboard, meanwhile, is made of a leather-like plastic. The Macbook, on the other hand, is aluminum all over, including keyboard base (the keys are plastic and the trackpad is glass, but you get the picture).

Colors

With the addition of a pink ("rose gold") option with this year's model, the MacBook now ships in four different colors.

Display size

Despite those (sometimes deceiving) diagonal display measurements being equal, the Huawei MateBook has about a 3 percent bigger screen, owing to different aspect ratios.

Display resolution

Pixel densities are similar. Normally this would be an advantage for the Macbook, since you don't need to hold it close to your eyes (no tablet mode = farther from eyes), but Huawei did a great job of making the MateBook's display quality transcend what you'd expect from its specs. It, like the MacBook, looks terrific.

Stylus

Huawei sells a $59 stylus ("MatePen") that's very similar in build and quality to Microsoft's excellent Surface Pen. Huawei's version, though, has a laser pointer built into its backside, handy if you regularly engage in shady underground PowerPoint circuits.

Processor

We're looking at the same processor options, apart from a (US$250 more expensive) Core m7 configuration that you can order for the MacBook. As far as the options you'll see in stores, though, both have identical options.

The latest Core m series chips are still very much mobile chips – significantly less powerful than Intel's high-end Core i series. But they are inching a little closer, and have the advantages of being fanless and allowing ultra-portable form factors like these two.

Fanless

Just to reiterate what we already said, both of these Core m machines are fanless. You can work and watch video without any hurricane-force winds kicking in to distract you.

Graphics

You get the same (Core m standard) integrated graphics with both machines.

RAM

The Macbook has the advantage on the entry-level, starting with double the RAM. Only the two highest tiers of the MateBook (starting at $999 for the tablet alone) jump up to 8 GB of RAM.

Storage

The MacBook also starts with double the storage of the MateBook. Be sure to keep RAM and storage in mind when we look at pricing, in a moment.

Ports

Old-school PC owners, you may now commence with your gag reflex. Both Huawei and Apple are going all-in on the supposed future where all we need is one stinkin' USB Type C port. This approach lends itself to these sleek designs, but it also means you'll need adapters if you use many accessories.

At least Huawei had the courtesy to throw a few adapters in the box with the tablet. Apple did no such thing, and is happy to take even more money as you pay for them separately.

Standalone charging port

Our least favorite part of the port situation? That lone USB-C also doubles as the charging port. So you won't be able to use any accessories while charging unless you – you guessed it – use an adapter. But hey, it's the simpler and more minimal future, right? ... right??

Battery

The MacBook has a bigger battery, but our MateBook review unit did just fine with our daily workflow.

Webcam

You get a much sharper front-facing webcam in the MateBook, compared to the piddly 480p one you'll find in this 12-inch MacBook.

Fingerprint sensor

The MateBook has a lightning-fast fingerprint sensor built into the tablet.

There's no biometric hardware on the current MacBooks, but with the upcoming macOS Sierra update, owners of the Apple Watch will be able to unlock their Macs just by wearing the watch in proximity of the notebook. The same update will allow iPhone owners to use their phone's Touch ID sensor to authorize Mac-based Apple Pay payments in Safari.

Software

Speaking of software, the MacBook is still running OS X El Capitan, though we went ahead and threw in the new "macOS" branding, which takes effect when the Sierra update launches later this year.

The MateBook runs Windows 10.

Release

The MateBook starts shipping next week, while this 2016 version of the 12-inch MacBook has been out for around three months.

Starting price

You can save some money on the MateBook (even after factoring in the necessary keyboard cover and optional stylus), but remember that it starts with half the RAM and storage of the MacBook. The least you'll pay for an 8GB RAM/256GB SSD MateBook (core m5), including accessories, is $1,187 – or just $112 cheaper than the MacBook.

... and you can't forget the MateBook's sketchy keyboard cover. It can work for some people (it wasn't quite a deal-breaker for us during our time with it), but let's just say it's far from ideal.

For more, you can read our full reviews of the Huawei MateBook and 12-inch Macbook (2015 version, one generation behind this model). Or, for a much more powerful and versatile (and still not terrible thick or heavy) MacBook, you can revisit our latest MacBook Pro review.

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