Need something cheap but portable, that runs real applications? Can’t stand small screens and the bother of Bluetooth keyboards – or heaven forbid, a Chromebook? Chuwi thinks it has the device for you: a 14.1″ laptop running Windows 10 on the latest Apollo Lake chipset, for the absolutely reasonable price of under $300.
Read on to find out what we thought of the device.
Design and Specs
Not content with naming their device a more traditional laptop or notebook, Chuwi have opted to call it a Lapbook instead; I suppose it’s a better name than Notetop. Here’s the numbers that matter:
- Celeron “Apollo Lake” N3450 1.1GHz quad core CPU
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB eMMC storage
- 14.1″ IPS display
- 2MP front camera
- 9000mAh Lithium Polymer battery, charged via 12v 2A adaptor
- Connectivity: USB3, USB2, Mini-HDMI, 3.5mm headphone socket, Bluetooth 4, Wireless AC
The Chuwi lapbook crams a lot of computer into quite a slim and budget device, so compromises have to be made – starting with an all round plastic casing. From the outside, the white plastic actually looks surprisingly good – not at all like a “budget” device – though under long term usage is sure to stain, scratch and scuff easily. Once opened up, a deep black plastic bezel surrounds the screen, immediately betraying the budget build. Screen bezel aside though, it actually doesn’t look as cheap as you’d expect. They’ve clearly gone for a plastic Macbook Air vibe, and it really does work well.
One the underside you’ll find four black rubber feet, plus a rather annoyingly sharp plastic protrusion in the middle. Weighing 1.74kg or 3.83 pounds puts it about 33% heavier than a Macbook Air, but only marginally more than a similarly specced HP 14″ Chromebook. Though solidly built overall, the thin plastic case also means the screen can flex quite a lot with a twisting diagonal force, and won’t stand up serious manhandling.
On either side is an easily accessible full size USB2 and USB3 port, as well as a mini-HDMI, 3.5mm stereo port, and microSD card slot. I think we can all appreciate a world with less dongles, and we’re not at the point yet that the lack of a USB-C port is a disadvantage.
Using the mini-HDMI port couldn’t have been easier: although it required a small adaptor to get a regular HDMI port, Windows 10 immediately recognized my AV receiver and began screen mirroring, with audio also transmitted.
There’s no DVD drive. This isn’t a problem for myself, so this is almost an afterthought of this review, but there are still people who own DVDs, and purchase laptops on the basis of being able to watch them. If that’s you, this isn’t for you.
Storage and Initial Setup
Solid state storage is provided in the form of an eMMC drive. The performance would likely have been improved significantly with an SSD, but compromises have to be made at this price point. However, the inclusion of a microSD slot allows for a degree of storage expansion for those who need it, without adding to the overall cost for the majority of users who won’t.
Upon powering on the machine, you’ll find a preconfigured Chuwi user with no password set, running Windows 10 Home. Sign in and use as is, or continue to set up your own user. Unlike most budget devices, it’s completely clean of bloatware – well, except those ridiculous Windows Store universal app ads supplied by Microsoft itself, but that’s another topic entirely.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The relatively large form factor for a budget laptop allows for the inclusion of a nice, full-sized keyboard. It’s got good key travel, and feels surprisingly comfortable for extended typing sessions. I can happily use this for typing long documents, unlike literally every budget device keyboard I’ve ever used before, and most of this review was written on the device itself.
The trackpad is less than stellar, but is passable. It tended toward overactive clicking when I hovered my thumb over it, but using more deliberate movements and lifting my thumb further from the pad when not tapping solved this.
Media Playback and Display
Stereo speakers emit a relatively loud and undistorted, albeit tinny sound, from the speaker grills located underneath the device on both side. It might have been louder has they placed them on top, but it’s fine as is.
The full HD 16:9 display is an IPS panel, without glossy coating. Even in full sunlight, from a direct angle it remained easily visible at full brightness. However, the viewing angle is quite small, and visibility degrades rapidly in bright light when moving away from the central sweet spot. In real world usage, this shouldn’t be an issue – this isn’t going to be a central entertainment device for your whole family, but is just fine for a single user.
Performance and Battery Life
Set your expectations appropriately, and you’ll likely be impressed. The Celeron chip limits the Chuwi device from doing any serious grunt work, but the 4GB memory also prevents it from running sluggish; I experienced very little of the lag typical on budget Windows 10 devices. On the plus side, it runs completely silent, with no fans needed and only passive cooling systems employed.
Geekbench gave the device a rather respectable 64-bit single-core CPU score of 1343, multi-core 3210, and an OpenCL GPU compute score of 7797, which is helped by the latest generation of Intel HD Graphics 500.
The Chuwi Lapbook also wakes up from sleep mode quickly, an important factor for something portable designed for shorter periods of use.
We stressed battery life with a session of HD streaming BBC, at full volume and full brightness, with battery saver disabled. The 9000mAh battery managed a very respectable 6 full hours of playback. In light usage, you should be able to extend this to around 10 hours, with battery saver enabled and a lower brightness level. Standby time was also good, with no significant loss recorded overnight.
Should You Buy the Chuwi 14.1 Lapbook?
In simple terms: it does everything you would want a sub-$300 laptop to do. It won’t play demanding games, and it won’t run power hungry apps like Photoshop or Premiere particularly well; but it will playback videos, do light gaming, browse the web, and let you type away at some docs as you sit on the train. You can’t ask for much more.
Using the latest generation of Intel chipset gives it a performance boost over similarly priced models, and the big HD screen really is lovely. There’s a lot of computer for just shy of $300. While it might not impress with performance, it certainly won’t frustrate either – a problem endemic to other budget Windows devices.
Finally, a budget laptop that doesn’t frustrate at every opportunity. No prizes for performance, but a nice keyboard makes this a perfectly functional laptop for work, web browsing and media streaming.