The original MateBook was a tentative toe in the water for Huawei.

The 2-in-1 tablet that ran Windows, rather than the more familiar Android OS, was a pretty decent first effort, though. Clearly it did well enough to justify a sequel, and it has just been made official.

The MateBook E is a refresh, rather than a rethink, with upgraded internals and a redesigned keyboard cover that should fix the few problems that the original model faced. But is that going to be enough to see off the likes of Microsoft's Surface?

I went hands-on with one ahead of the official launch to find out.

Huawei MateBook E design & build

On first look, the MateBook E doesn't look all that different from the original tablet. It's still got a 12in screen, skinny bezels, an aluminium frame, and a detachable keyboard cover. You'll still spot a fingerprint reader embedded in the power button, speaker grilles along the top sides, and a meagre one USB-C port for charging and connectivity.

On the bottom, though, the magnetic keyboard connectors have been reduced from seven to three. Huawei reckons it's easier to detach now, but I'd argue it's made it a little easier to accidentally knock off, too.

At 600g detached, or 1.1kg together, the MateBook E should easily be light enough to throw in a bag and forget about it. It's just 6.9mm thick, too, so you can happily hold it in one hand when you just want to relax with a bit of Netflix binging.

The tablet itself feels sturdy enough, as you'd expect from an all-metal frame. You get the choice of titanium grey and champagne gold colours, with the accompanying folio keyboard coming in blue, brown or pink.

The big change is the cover itself, which is bundled in with the tablet now instead of being sold separately. It's got a hinge that's good for 160° of adjustment, so you can find the perfect angle for working - even when you're crammed into an economy seat on a long distance flight. It looks pretty slick, too, and a welcome step up from the original.

Huawei MateBook E screen & sound

That 12in screen has a respectable 2160x1440 resolution. Anything higher would put a big drain on the battery, and anything lower wouldn't really do justice to your photos and videos. Huawei has got it spot on here.

The panel itself is vibrant, with bright colours and lots of contrast. Viewing angles are excellent, too, but I'd still want to try it outdoors first before passing judgment. Huawei says it's good for 400nits of brightness, at least.

The accompanying speakers fire sound upwards, and do a pretty decent job: they're not overly loud, and you'll still want a pair of headphones for any critical listening, but are fine for catching up on YouTube clips from the sofa.

Huawei MateBook E Performance & battery life

For such a skinny slate, it's no real surprise that you're limited to low-power versions of Intel's latest CPUs. The base model has a Core M3 chip, or you can step up to a Core i5-7Y54 if you need some extra grunt. 

It's the same deal with memory and storage. The standard version arrives with 4GB and 128GB respectively, but you can upgrade to 8GB of RAM, or 256GB/512GB of SSD storage if you think you might run out. 

That's absolutely fine for desktop working, so if you stick to spreadsheets, web browsers and Word documents the MateBook E should cope well. Throw anything tougher at it, though? That's when I'd expect it to struggle - but I'll have to wait until a full review to see if it can handle the heavy stuff.

At least there's still room inside for a decent battery. Huawei says it should manage nine hours of video playback, which hopefully equals an entire day of work away from the mains.

Huawei MateBook E keyboard, touchpad & usability

The hinged keyboard cover makes a huge difference to the MateBook E in terms of usability - you don't feel like you're going to knock it over every time you prod the screen, now, and the keys themselves are a lot more comfy to type on. 

It's a Chiclet-style layout now, rather than the flat style we saw last year, and each key has plenty of travel. It doesn't feel like you're tapping on a plank of wood any more, which is nice. I'd happily use the MateBook E's keyboard all day

Everything is in the right place, with no errant keys, and the shortcut keys are built into the function keys to cut down on duplicates.

The whole thing is backlit, so you can work in the dark, although white light on white keys isn't exactly easy to read during daylight hours.

There's a touchpad, too, but it feels a little small compared to the expansive 12in screen. It picks up multi-touch gestures accurately, though, so I wouldn't think you'd need to pack a mouse in your bag whenever you take the MateBook E on the move.

Huawei MateBook E initial verdict

As much as the original MateBook had decent hardware, the flimsy keyboard cover let it down. The MateBook E fixes that, and it makes a huge difference to how usable it is as a work machine.

The firm hinge keeps things stable, even when you're typing 100 words a minute, and you don't have to pay for it separately any more. Having it bundled in the box makes the MateBook E a one-stop Surface rival, instead of a Windows tablet with optional extras.

It's thin, light, easy to carry around, and with a great screen to match. The only mystery right now is price.

If Huawei can undercut microsoft's hybrid, it could be a compelling alternative. If not, I'll need to see both side-by-side to see which is worth your cash.

Tech Specs 
12in 2160x1440 IPS LCD
Intel Core M3 / Core i5
4GB / 8GB
128GB / 256GB / 512GB
9 hours (estimated)