If you want to buy a sleek, lightweight, and premium laptop, consider the Huawei MateBook 13 2019 or the Apple MacBook Air 2018. Although there are newer models, these older configurations are not yet outdated Stone Age laptops. They're still relevant and cheaper than their hot off the press 2020 siblings.
Here we look at these two older models to see which is the better buy. Be it the differences in operating system, processor, display, or performance, there is a lot to consider when considering both. Still, only a laptop can run away as the winner.
If you're curious about the latest models, check out our review of the MacBook Air, released in early 2020.
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
The 2019 Huawei MateBook 13 and the 2018 MacBook Air are similar, but with subtle differences. Both devices are equipped with thin and light aluminum surfaces. However, Apple's MacBook Air is available in space gray, gold, and silver. The MateBook 13 is only available in Mystic Silver (with integrated graphics) and Space Gray (with dedicated graphics).
The Huawei MateBook 13 is 11.26 inches wide and 0.59 inches thick. That's just a bit thinner and smaller than the MacBook Air, which is 11.97 inches wide and 0.61 inches thick. Apple made good use of that extra thickness, however, as the MacBook Air feels stiffer than its rival. The MateBook 13 has a certain amount of flex in the lid and in the middle of the hinge.
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The keyboards differ between the two devices. Apple's MacBook Air features the third generation butterfly keyboard from the 2018 MacBook Pro. The Huawei MateBook 13 has an edge-to-edge keyboard with a total of 1.2mm of key travel, which some might like due to the better spacing between the keys. We found the MacBook Air keys to be a little too flat when typing.
Finally, both the MacBook Air and MateBook 13 have fingerprint readers on the power button. On the MacBook Air, it's in the upper-right corner next to the F12 key on the keyboard. On the MateBook 13, it's in the upper right corner outside of the keyboard area. Both allow for quick and accurate logins without having to mess around with passwords. However, Apple is more reliable and responsive overall.
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Aside from the fact that the MacBook Air runs on macOS and the MateBook 13 uses Windows 10, there are other important differences between the two.
Although all variants come with 8 GB of RAM, Huawei has two models of the 2019 Matebook 13. The first is a Mystic Silver option with the 8th generation Intel Core i5-8265U processor and a 256 GB NVMe PCIe SSD. The other Space Gray model is equipped with the 8th generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor and Nvidia GeForce MX 150 graphics. These processors are quad-core Whiskey Lake CPUs that are optimized for better performance.
The base model of the 2018 MacBook Air is equipped with the 1.6 GHz dual-core processor of the 8th generation Intel Core i5 Y series. This isn't as powerful as the chip in the MateBook 13, and we've found it to be a bit sluggish for more demanding tasks like watching video on a secondary 4K monitor. The Apple MacBook Air doesn't have an option for dedicated graphics like the MateBook 13.
Riley Young / Digital Trends
When comparing performance, the MateBook 13's more powerful CPU and optional discrete GPU are the main differences. In our benchmarks, the Huawei was significantly faster in every test we carried out on every machine.
Both devices offer impressive displays, although the MateBook 13 outperforms Apple in terms of screen-to-body ratio and touch support. The touchscreen Matebook 13 from Huawei offers a resolution of 2160 x 1440 or 200 pixels per inch, while the MacBook Air offers a resolution of 2560 × 1600 for 227 pixels per inch.
Of course, the MacBook Air has more pixels, but the Matebook 13's screen has an aspect ratio of 3: 2, which is great for productivity work. That gives it a screen-to-body ratio of 88 percent (versus 82 percent and 16:10 on the MacBook Air) and more room for multitasking.
According to our colorimeter, the MateBook's 234 nits screen was slightly less bright than the 291 nits of the MacBook Air. While the MacBook Air had a wider gamut and more accurate colors, it showed less than half the contrast of the MateBook 13.
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
In terms of portability, there is a slight difference between the two. As mentioned, both are thin and light, but the MateBook 13 is a bit heavier. It comes in at 2.82 pounds on the device with the integrated graphics and 2.86 pounds on the device with the discrete GPU. That's a little more than the MacBook Air, which weighs 2.75 pounds.
With ports and connectivity, the two laptops have a similar foundation. You'll find that the MacBook Air has two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, while the MateBook 13 has two USB-C ports without Thunderbolt. Dongles are required in both cases, but unlike Apple, Huawei includes a dongle in the box that extends connectivity to VGA, HDMI, and conventional USB-A.
The MacBook Air also offers significantly better battery life than the Huawei laptop. In our tests, we got about eight hours of web surfing and ten hours of video playback on the MacBook Air. However, the MateBook 13 only managed about six hours of web surfing and 6.5 hours of video with at least the MX150 installed. If you skip the discrete GPU, you'll likely get better results, although the MacBook Air is still the more portable of the two.
The 2018 MacBook Air is winning by a hair
This one is close. On the one hand, the MateBook 13 is a more powerful device with its own sense of attractiveness. However, the MacBook Air is the better device overall. It's not intended for those in need of a workhorse, but the longer battery life, better build quality, Thunderbolt 3 support, and better touchpad make for an overall better laptop experience.
However, if you live in North America, you cannot buy a MateBook due to restrictions imposed by the US Department of Commerce on Huawei. Sure, you can find some used MateBook 13 Signature Edition models on Amazon, but all other models must be purchased and imported outside of the US. This will likely cost you more than the 2018 MacBook Air from Apple or other local retailers.
Overall, the comparison between these two older laptops is close. If you've been a long-time Windows user and you're ready to break the macOS learning curve, you're guaranteed to be happier with the MacBook Air. The MateBook 13 is a great competitor, but it ultimately loses that battle.