Huawei’s answer to laptop privacy: A keyboard with a pop-up webcam
Mixed reviews and price outrage met the Matebook X, Huawei's first true ultrabook, when it debuted last year. But the Chinese company isn't giving up on PCs: it debuted the Matebook X Pro at this year's Mobile World Congress. The new laptop is slightly larger than its predecessor, and Huawei attempted to right some of the Matebook X's wrongs with a wider array of spec options, discrete graphics, and a tiny hidden webcam.
Let's talk about that webcam. Upon opening the Matebook X Pro, you're met with a 14-inch, 3,000 x 2,000 touchscreen with nearly nonexistent bezels on all four sides. According to Huawei, the Matebook X Pro has a 91-percent screen-to-body ratio. That's much higher than other ultrabooks considering most fit a webcam somewhere near the display panel, typically embedded on the top or bottom bezel.
To glean the most immersive screen experience possible, Huawei got creative with the webcam placement. A recessed camera lies under a camera button on the top-most row in the middle of the keyboard—give that button a press and a tiny camera pops up from the chassis.
My reaction to seeing this for the first time was mixed: a camera button is an incredible gimmick, but it does solve Huawei's webcam problem. Not only did the company want to make the Matebook X Pro's screen as large and impressive as possible, but it also wanted to take into account user habits. The company's research found that a small percentage of users video chat with a laptop webcam regularly, and those who don't often place a cover on the webcam for privacy reasons. This pop-up camera allows users to only have the camera available when they want it—when they don't, it waits in the laptop's chassis, where prying hacker eyes can't use it to spy on you as easily.
Nevertheless, it's a pretty novel solution that will have some users pressing the camera button over and over just to see the lens pop up. There's also the angle issue—Huawei claims the webcam is tilted to give a "passport photo" look to your webcam feed, but I didn't find that to be the case. In the short time I had to play with the Matebook X Pro, I tested the webcam and found the angle similar to that of Dell's XPS laptop family: an unflattering up-nose shot with maybe slightly less double-chin action than anticipated. But I'd have to spend more time with the camera to know if its placement is truly better or worse than lower-bezel webcam placements.
Aside from the peculiar recessed camera, the Matebook X Pro has a familiar design. Built from aluminum alloy, the new notebook comes in gray and silver colorways, each with a sandblast finish and diamond-cut edges. It measures 14.6mm thick and weighs 2.9 pounds, but the X Pro has good reason for not being the embodiment of svelte. Whereas the original Matebook X had just two USB Type C ports, the Matebook X Pro has one USB Type A port in addition to a USB Type C and a Thunderbolt 3 port. Huawei didn't want to force the future on every Matebook user by eliminating Type A ports, which is a pleasant change considering most OEMs are switching over completely to USB Type C before many users are ready for it.
Adding to its dimensions and weight is the optional Nvidia GeForce MX150 discrete graphics card available for the Matebook X Pro. Huawei teamed up with Nvidia to create a graphics card thin enough to fit into its intended ultrabook chassis, making the Matebook X Pro one of the only notebooks with such a thin frame that includes a discrete GPU. Users who don't opt for the Nvidia GPU will get a model with Intel UHD Graphics 620.
While the Matebook X Pro's keys are now black and not the same color as its chassis, the rest of its design is similar to the original notebook. The Matebook X Pro has a full-sized keyboard with a self-adjusting backlight and a water-resistant design (yes, that means the camera should be protected from spills, too), as well as an extra large trackpad. Bookending the keyboard are speaker grills that pump out sound from the quad-speaker inside the device, which now supports Dolby Atmos sound.
There are also four far-field mics inside the Matebook X Pro, allowing Cortana to pick up your voice from across the room. The combo power button/fingerprint reader remains at the top-right corner above the keyboard and is still the only form of Windows Hello biometric authentication on the Matebook X Pro.
Huawei hopes to entice US customers by offering more configuration options than before. The Matebook X Pro will be available with 8th-gen Core i5 or i7 processors, 8GB or 16GB RAM, and 256GB or 512GB of PCIe storage. All models come with a 3K touchscreen, a 57.4Whr battery that should last up to 15 hours, and an included MateDock 2.0. Through a partnership with Microsoft, the Matebook X Pro will run Windows 10 Home Signature Image Edition, and US customers will get one year of Office 365. Huawei hasn't released pricing or availability information yet, but we'll update this post when it does.