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Bill Bennett

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For years personal computers or PCs dominated business and home technology. In recent times sales have fallen as people replace old models less often or switch to using tablets and mobile phones as their main device.

How Huawei Matebook 13 compares with MacBook Air

Huawei pitches its 2020 Matebook 13 as an Apple MacBook Air alternative. That’s not my words, this is a quote from Huawei executive who said this at a recent industry function.

Comparisons with Apple are a big deal at Huawei. The company wants to be China’s Apple.

While there are similarities, it’s not a direct comparison. Few people who choose one of the other.

Apart from anything else, Huawei runs Windows 10 and the MacBook Air runs MacOS. Switching between operating systems is not something you’d want to do every upgrade.

Matebook 13 versus MacBook Air

How does the comparison work in practice?

The review Matebook 13 sells for NZ$2200 and uses an Intel i7 processor. It has an Nvidia MX250 graphics processor, 16GB of Ram and 512GB of storage.

The nearest MacBook Air costs NZ$2350, had the same 512GB of storage. You get 8GB of Ram and an i5 processor.

Given the specifications, it is no surprise the Matebook does processor intensive work better than the MacBook Air. To be fair, Apple doesn’t sell the Air for this work, the company points power hungry users at the MacBook Pro models.

In testing the Matebook beat the Apple for video editing. Otherwise there was less difference that you might expect give the different processors.

Simple versus complex

If you use a laptop for simple tasks like, writing or answering emails, then any performance gap between the two is academic. The Matebook 13 does a better job with, say, manipulating large Excel spreadsheets or complex calculations.

The MacBook hard drive is much faster than the Matebook 13’s drive. The MacBook Air could send large files to a server in about half the time it takes on the Matebook 13.

When it comes to graphics, the MacBook Air beats the Matebook 13. The 13.3 inch screen has 2560 by 1600 pixel resolution. The Matebook screen is a fraction smaller at 13 inches and has a 2160 by 1440 resolution. If you compare the two side by side, Apple’s display is far more impressive.

Apple wins by a long margin on battery life. You can work on a MacBook Air for ten hours between charges. In my testing the Matebook 13 ran out of juice a few minutes before the six hour mark.

Huawei Matebook 13

Portability

One strange point of comparison is with weight. Huawei’s specification sheet says 1.3kg. That’s as near as it can be to the MacBook Air which Apple’s tech sheet says weights 1.29kg.

When I picked the two computers up, the Matebook 13 felt heavier than the MacBook Air despite these specifications. I weighted them on our, not accurate but still indicative kitchen scales. The MacBook Air was 1.3kg and the Matebook 13 was 1.4kg.

That goes part way to explaining the practical difference, but not the whole way. The Matebook 13 is smaller than the MacBook Air. It measures 286 by 211 by 14.9 mm. The Air is 304 by 212 by 16 mm. Which means the Huawei computer feels heavier because it is denser.

This could be nitpicking, until you put the two computers in bags and carry them around all day. Both are light and easy to carry. Yet you’ll notice the Matebook 13 a fraction more than you’ll notice the MacBook Air.

Small and neatly formed

Both Apple and Huawei take a pride in build quality. The Matebook 13 almost hits the MacBook Air standard.

There are two places where it fails. First, the power button which doubles as a fingerprint reader. Apple’s square Touch ID sensor sits at the top right of the keyboard. It feels like any other key. Huawei’s round button sits north of the top right of the keyboard and doesn’t feel as solid as Apple’s key. There’s a small amount of wobble here. You can live with it, but it shows Huawei doesn’t have the same attention to detail.

A more obvious annoyance is the Huawei Share sticker on the keyboard’s bottom right. This is next to the as disfiguring and tacky Intel advertising sticker.

It’s amazing, computer makers go to extreme lengths to design sleek, beautiful hardware and then spoil the effect with stickers. Many are needless aesthetic wreckers, the Huawei Share sticker is not. It has a function.

Integration

Huawei Share lets you connect your Matebook 13 to a Huawei phone. The idea is loosely similar to the features that let Mac owners swap files and photos with iPhones or iPads. When you’re working with a Matebook, these Apple-Huawei comparisons are never far away.

Unlike Apple’s phone-computer integration, Huawei Share mirrors your phone’s screen on the laptop screen. I can’t think of why this might be useful, but you might.

It has to be a Huawei phone. That’s an oddity right there. Huawei may be New Zealand’s third favourite phone brand, but it enjoys, at best, a ten percent market share. If you draw a Venn diagram of the New Zealanders who have both a Huawei laptop and phone, it’s unlikely the overlap would be more than a couple of hundred.

A few last comparisons that don’t fit elsewhere. On paper both the Matebook 13 and the MacBook Air have the same Wi-fi specifications. In practice, the MacBook’s Wi-fi works better over longer distances. I connected both to remote servers via home Wi-fi and saw better speeds on the MacBook Air. I can speculate on why this is, but a proper answer is beyond the scope of this review.

Like Apple, maybe because of Apple, Huawei has gone for port minimalism. There are two USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. You can only charge the computer using the left-hand USB-C port.

Matebook 13 versus MacBook Air verdict

You get more computer for less money with the Huawei MateBook 13. You’ll be hard pressed to tell the performance apart despite the specifications. That is unless you run demanding apps. If that’s you, then you’ll appreciate the more powerful Matebook.

Apple’s MacBook looks and feels nicer, it has a better screen and way more battery life. Which means if you don’t need more processing grunt, it could be a smarter buy.

And yet few would choose between a Matebook 13 and a MacBook Air on these criteria. If you prefer Windows 10 or have to use it for work, the Matebook 13 gives you the most-MacBook Air-like Windows laptop experience.

Toshiba calls it a day: Sayounara

Toshiba portegeAt The Register Simon Sharwood writes: Toshiba has finally and formally exited the laptop business.

The Japanese computer maker had a long run. It made its first laptop in 1985. As Sharwood says:

Toshiba “…claims to have been the first to make a mass-market computer in the now-familiar clamshell form factor. By the 1990s the company was producing solid workhorses in the Satellite range and started to make meaningful stretches of mobile work possible with the small, thin and light Portégé range.”

It’s no accident that the first tiny, portable computers came from Japan. In the 1960s and 1970s country was ahead of the world when it came to miniaturisation. This is the culture that introduced the world to the Sony Walkman.

Space saving Toshiba

There’s another reason laptops took off early in Japan. They take up less room. Japanese homes and offices have far less space than elsewhere in the world. Even senior managers would have small desks. A desktop computer, which in those days meant a large and heavy CRT display along with a hefty main box, wouldn’t leave much space for anything else.

Toshiba enjoyed an early success in New Zealand. For years it was one of the top five PC brands. In September, 1993 I interviewed an IDC analyst who told me Toshiba was a leading brand here because its products “allowed executives to take work home with them”. The NBR published this story.

For year I bought Toshiba laptops. For myself and for family members. In their day they were great, but as Sharwood reminds me in his story:

“As the 2000s rolled along Toshiba devices became bland in comparison to the always-impressive ThinkPad and the MacBook Air, while Dell and HP also improved. Toshiba also never really tried to capture consumers’ imaginations, which didn’t help growth.”

Toshiba’s fortunes waned. Japan’s followed. The country was never more than a bit player in the PC business after that. NEC faded from sight, at least in New Zealand. The last I heard of Toshiba was six years ago.

Sharp picked up the Toshiba brand two years ago. By then Japan’s remaining visible laptop maker, as far as New Zealand is concerned, was Panasonic with its range of hardened Toughbook models.

Intel chip dominance ends not with a bang but a whimper

Intel is considering outsourcing chip manufacturing. The move marks the end of a chapter for the semiconductor sector. American chip foundries no longer dominate.

It matters for the PC sector. Yet the implications go much further and could affect international trade, even politics.

Intel was the world largest chip maker for decades. Although it didn’t always have the best designs, it had the best sellers and the key relationships. The company’s ‘Wintel’ partnership with Microsoft defined the PC.

Apple’s role

When Apple switched from PowerPC to Intel, the dominance looked complete. That relationship lasted 20 years. Now Apple is moving back to its own processor designs. This means Apple can build faster computers and lighter laptops. Devices will be slimmer or have a longer battery life.

Intel was one of America’s key industrial giants. It continued to make chips in the United States long after other manufacturers, including high tech companies, moved their factories off-shore or outsourced to Asian factories.

In its prime the chip giant seemed incapable of making an error. It was relentless.

Economies of scale

One reason for Intel’s might was the economies of scale. The first of a new line of processors would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Towards the end of the run, it could measure the cost per-chip in pennies.

Scale meant it got the best engineers, the best scientists.

And then it all stopped. Apple’s iPhone was the turning point. Intel missed out on making chips for mobile phones and tablets. Instead computer makers turned to companies like Qualcomm. Apple decided to design its own.

Either way, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company or TSMC, got to make the chips. It became better at the job than Intel. If Intel does outsource manufacturing, TSMC is the most likely candidate for the job.

TSMC now makes more processor chips than Intel. It has the economies of scale. It has sharper skills, competitive pricing and everything needed to be market leader. At least when it comes to making processors.

Intel’s designs remain first class. But its rivals have caught up. Take AMD: For years it trailed far behind Intel. That’s changed. AMD’s Ryzen can deliver better performance while using less power than Intel processors.

Intel slow to 7nm

Unlike Intel, AMD is working with 7nm technology. That is, more advanced chip technology. We need to be careful here, 7nm refers to the size of chip components, but different chip makers have nuanced uses of the term.

If losing Apple wasn’t enough, last week the company announced it would delay moving to its 7nm process. The company slipped behind when it was late to market with 10nm technology. Now the 7nm line is at least 12 months behind schedule.

Intel isn’t going away. It managed to grow revenue 20 percent in the last quarter. The company sold almost US$20 billion worth of kit. Even the PC chip business, that’s the bit everyone worries about, was up seven percent.

Yet, it does look as if Intel is no longer the world’s leading chipmaker. It’s brand is no longer a name to conjure with.

When a desktop computer makes more sense than a laptop

The entire work model we built the concept of laptops around not only doesn’t exist anymore, it may not ever exist again.

Source: Rob Enderle Why a Desktop PC Makes More Sense than a Laptop Today – eWEEK

Enderle has a point when he says that laptops were built for a world we no longer inhabit. He is talking about the way we work has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic upended the idea of heading daily to offices and travelling to work meetings.

AMD Ryzen Pro

While he has a point, it is overstated. That may have something to do with the AMD Ryzen Pro advertisement that shows on the page. It may not. Let’s take the story at face value.

The AMD Ryzen Pro is a range of high-end processors for desktop computers. As always with AMD, there is a focus on performance. Beyond that the new processors are optimised for working from home on desktop computers.

Make that, working from home on a desktop computer when you work for an organisation with IT professionals. Ryzen Pro processors include a dedicated security processor and full memory encryption. They support remote management tools.

Is there really a trend away from laptops?

It’s all interesting enough, yet we’re not here to talk about that. The subject of interest is the trend away from laptops and back to desktops.

Enderle thinks it is a big thing. He writes: “I’m coming around to the idea that laptops as a trend are over, that the new trend will be desktop computers.”

In my book the trend is real enough. I’ve done exactly the same myself. Look out for a post on this when I have some time. In my case I switched before the lockdown and for a different set of reasons.

Yet dumping the laptop is not for everyone. Not by a long chalk.

Sure, we will work away from home less often. For some people it will stop and that’s it. For others there will be less working away from home. Not zero working away from home. When that happens, the laptop is still the right tool most of the time. You could use an iPad if you have a desktop. Many people would prefer to have the one device that works in both cases.

Some prefer laptops

The second reason why there won’t be as big a shift as Enderle suggests is that many people prefer laptops regardless. This may be because people prefer the physical form of a laptop. It maybe because laptops take up less room and do not need a dedicated desk and chair. Not everyone lives in a spacious mansion with a fancy home office.

According to this Statista graph, computer makers sold 166 million laptops in 2019 and 88 million desktops. In round numbers that’s two laptops for every desktop. In 2010 it was 200 million laptops and 157 million desktops, roughly four to three. The blue shows desktops, the dark blue is laptops and the grey shows tablet sales.

There has been a long term drift towards laptops. It stretches back beyond the graph. It’s possible the pandemic trend may halt the drift. Numbers may even drift back a little. But I’m certain desktops are not about to outsell laptops any time soon.

 

The PC: Reports of its death an exaggeration

It is more than a decade since people started telling us we are in the post-PC era. I’m guilty1. From memory the idea took off soon after crowds first queued to buy the original Apple iPhone.

There is something in the idea. PC sales peaked in 2011 at 365 million. In big picture terms it has been downhill ever since. Last year people bought 260 million PCs. In comparison phone hit 1.5 billion sales. That’s roughly six new phones for every computer2 .

Yet, to steal Mark Twain’s joke, reports of the PCs’ death are an exaggeration.

Who you gonna call?

Nothing illustrates this better than the response to the Covid–19 pandemic. Phone sales dropped when companies, schools and whole communities moved into lockdown.

Meanwhile PC sales are up 11.2 percent year-on-year. That’s according to IDC’s preliminary PC sales numbers for the second quarter of 2020.

All the big brands saw strong growth of notebooks and desktops. Apple, Acer and HP all saw double-digit year-on-year growth. Apple is up 36 percent on the year earlier. HP remains in the top slot with 17.7 percent growth. Dell was weakest with only a 3.6 percent increase.

Reports say HP took a punt early on in the quarter and increased its notebook orders with its suppliers. The bet paid off.

Notebooks notable

Notebooks were the biggest winners. Channels around the world reported selling out of many models. It didn’t help that China, where most computers are made, was in lockdown during the period and the logistics firms moving hardware around the world had reduced capacity.

The main driver was the shift away from offices to working from home. Schools sending students home to continue learning online was another major cause. Both of these were obvious to anyone watching events. Less obvious was the number of people buying home computers to help relive lock-down boredom.

An untold story of the quarter was the shift from retail computer sales to online stores. Customers couldn’t shop, but they could click online. It’s possible this change may stick as the world moves on from lockdowns. This may have wider implications.

Relevance

The PC may not be dead. Yet despite the new relevance, sales are still nowhere near the peak. And most analysts see the recent strong result as a one-off. The long slow decline may, or may not, have bottomed out, but no-one sees long term recovery.

Indeed, a worldwide recession is likely to have an impact on future PC sales. Mind you, the impact could be worse for phone sales.

Still, the key point here is that when the going got tough, people didn’t reach for phones, they reached for PCs. That should restore some confidence to the market.


  1. A previous, long dead blog of mine used the term post-PC an August 2011 entry IBM CTO: PC dead, we bailed long ago. ↩︎
  2. Tablets change things a bit, but you get the picture here ↩︎