Chuwi MiniBook 8: The Netbook Makes a Comeback?
The Chuwi MiniBook 8" does more than revive the netbook: it takes that form factor and packs a much more useful computer inside.
Netbooks didn’t last all that long the first time around. These cheap, portable devices weren’t supposed to be powerful, but they were incredibly affordable. Their deficiencies when it came to specs also meant they weren’t well suited to many computing use cases.
The rapid growth of popularity and power in phones and tablets sent netbooks to an early grave. Now we’re seeing a resurgence in the form factor, but there’s a difference. Models like the Chuwi MiniBook 8″ are far from underpowered, and this means they aren’t all that cheap either.
Chuwi MiniBook 8″ Hardware Specifications
Based on the form factor, you may not expect much in terms of specifications. That’s partially true. This is no monster desktop replacement. That said, it’s in line with what you’d expect from larger laptops in the same price range.
- CPU: Intel Gemini Lake N4100
- GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 600
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 128GB eMMC
- Battery: 26.6Whr
- Screen: 8″, 1920 x 1200 multi-touch IPS display @ 283dpi
- Dimensions: 201x128x19mm or 7.91×5.03×0.74 inches
- Wireless: Dual-band 802.11ac / Bluetooth 4.0
- Ports: USB-C, USB 3.0, USB, mini-HDMI, 3.5mm audio
- Expandable Storage: M.2 SSD Slot
The expandable storage is a nice touch, especially given the limited internal storage. If you’ve got a spare M.2 MSATA SSD lying around, you can easily double the available storage space.
Body and Design
The Chuwi MiniBook 8″ is small, and we’re talking seriously small. Before the review unit arrived, I knew I would be looking at a very small computer. I was still surprised by just how small it was when I took it out of the box. You can see the dimensions listed above, but the MiniBook may still surprise you when you see it in person.
Chuwi had to make some sacrifices to get the MiniBook as small as it is. Fortunately, not many of them seemed to affect performance. Instead, the MiniBook isn’t as sleek looking as some of Chuwi’s other models. After looking at the Chuwi SurBook Mini , this looks somewhat brutalist by comparison.
There’s a certain novelty to using the Chuwi MiniBook 8″ due to its small size. At times, the tiny computer just doesn’t seem like it should be able to manage the feats of computing it is achieving. This isn’t a toy, but sometimes you have to remind yourself of that fact.
That isn’t to say that the MiniBook is flimsy. The body is made of aluminum alloy which makes it both strong and lightweight. It’s also capable of pulling off some feats of gymnastics.
The MiniBook uses what Chuwi refers to as a 360-degree “Yoga” design. This means it can work as a standard laptop, in tent mode, or in presentation mode, just like larger 2-in-1 designs.
Display and Brightness
Given the 8-inch screen size, you might expect less than HD resolution. That isn’t the case. The Chuwi MiniBook 8″ has a resolution of 1920 x 1200, meaning that the display looks quite sharp, no matter how close you look.
The combination of screen size and resolution give the MiniBook a pixel density of 283dpi, well within what Apple would deem “Retina” if this was one of its computers. Of course, UI scaling in Windows means that everything can feel a little cramped, but it’s easy enough to get used to.
The colors are rich and well-represented on the display as well. The display is fairly bright, though you may have some difficulty using the MiniBook in direct sunlight. This has more to do with the glossy finish on the screen than brightness.
The touch screen supports 10-point multi-touch. Chuwi also sells a stylus to use with the display, though we didn’t have one handy so we weren’t able to test this.
How is the Keyboard?
I have a feeling the keyboard is going to be the make or break point for most people with the MiniBook 8″. It’s small, and there’s really no getting around that point. Some keys, like the Delete key, are almost absurdly small. On the other hand, it is backlit, which is nice.
I did start to get used to the keyboard after testing the MiniBook for a few days. The only problem is that once I felt comfortable typing on the MiniBook’s keyboard, there was a period of adjustment in going back to standard-size keyboards. I’m a touch typist, but if you aren’t you’ll likely have an easier time.
Fortunately, the keys you’ll use for the majority of your typing aren’t all that small. The Delete key, the split space bar, and the strange location of the Tab key are likely where you’ll run into the most trouble, assuming you do run into trouble.
What About the Pointer?
The small size of the Chuwi MiniBook 8″ makes equipping it with a standard touchpad impossible. Instead, Chuwi decided to outfit the MiniBook with what it calls a Super Optical Finger Navigation Module.
In practice, this works like a combination of a tiny trackpad with the TrackPoint made famous by IBM ThinkPads. Like the keyboard, using this effectively requires some patience. Once you’ve gotten used to the concept, basic navigation is easy enough.
Even once you’re used to the navigation module though, it takes a while to feel natural. During my time testing the MiniBook, I never quite felt at home using this. I would have felt more at home using a standard TrackPoint, but that could just be me.
This would be much more of an issue if the MiniBook wasn’t equipped with a touch screen. This makes working with the system much easier and could be partially to blame for why I never got along with the navigation module.
Chuwi’s marketing around the MiniBook 8″ makes it clear that this computer should be able to serve as your only PC, should you wish it to. This is a clear difference from the netbooks of old. Those were best used for browsing the web, as the name implied. The MiniBook can do much more.
Our review unit uses the Intel Celeron N4100 processor, while the MiniBook is also available with a Core m3-8100Y. Even though we’re looking at the less powerful model, the computer rarely if ever felt sluggish during standard use.
One worry with smaller computers or even larger laptops is thermal throttling. Fortunately, the MiniBook is equipped with fans to help keep this issue at bay. These fans rarely spun up during normal use, and even with more hardware-intensive tasks, they were never intrusively loud.
Running GeekBench 4.4.1, the Chuwi MiniBook 8″ got a CPU score of 1812 for single-core performance and 5510 for multi-core. The GPU received a score of 9050. That’s higher than both the Chuwi Hi13 tablet and the 14.1-inch Lapbook .
Operating System Options
The Chuwi MiniBook 8″ sent to me for testing arrived running Windows 10. Right now, that appears to be the only way you can order it. That said, an option on the box seems to indicate that Chuwi may one day sell the MiniBook preloaded with Linux.
If you’re inpatient or looking to dual-boot, you can always install Linux yourself. Early reports on the web look like you’ll encounter trouble with some distributions. The good news is that Chuwi has made a version of Ubuntu 18.04 available that works with the MiniBook 8″.
Chuwi equipped the MiniBook with a 26.6Whr battery. I routinely got around eight hours of use off of a charge, though this lowered somewhat when running benchmarks and other hardware-intensive apps. You may get more or less depending on your usage.
This 2-in-1 doesn’t seem to sip much power when the lid is closed. Given the mobile focus of the MiniBook, that’s handy. You shouldn’t need to worry about fully shutting the computer down to save power.
Another handy thing when it comes to mobility is how the MiniBook charges. It uses a standard USB-C plug for charging, with a 7.6V input for fast charging using the PD standard. This means you can easily top up the battery with a battery pack. Chuwi says the MiniBook supports anything above 12V.
When it comes to recharging the battery, the fast charging helps. From a completely drained battery, you can expect a recharge to take a little over three hours.
Should You Buy the Chuwi MiniBook 8″?
For most people, a single question can help you determine whether you should buy the Chuwi MiniBook 8″: How important is a small size for you? If mobility is your number one concern, getting used to the cramped keyboard and less-than-perfect mouse replacement won’t be a waste of your time.
That said, it may be tough to come to terms with the price. Considering the power that’s packed into its tiny frame, this computer isn’t overpriced. It just feels like it should cost less than it does, given the small size. Given the lower price of other Chuwi computers like the excellent 14.1-inch Lapbook , the price feels even more like an anomaly.
Don’t forget that this is a very capable computer, surprisingly so given the form factor. We’re talking about a computer the size of a large paperback novel that can easily run your day to day productivity applications. If you’ve been pining for the glory days of the netbook, this isn’t just the next best thing, it’s even better.
The Chuwi MiniBook 8″ is currently available as part of an Indiegogo campaign. The price is currently $434 for the N4100 model and $534 for the m3-8100Y model. Chuwi plans to begin shipping in September. Prices are set to rise in the future, so if you’re looking to get one of these, you may want to do so sooner rather than later.