Mobility

Chuwi's Hi13: An affordable, acceptable alternative to the Microsoft Surface

If you can't afford the Microsoft Surface, one alternative to consider is the Chuwi Hi13. Jack Wallen takes a look at the pros and cons of this $399 tablet.

chuwihero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

Anyone who's read my work long enough knows I am no fan of the Windows ecosystem. But every so often I need to take a peek behind the Microsoft curtain to see how things are coming along on the other side. The glimpse usually comes by way of reviewing a piece of hardware that includes the latest iteration of the Windows platform. Every time it seems the same frustrations rear their ugly heads:

  • Painfully slow updates
  • Awkward, non-intuitive interfaces
  • Necessary antivirus/anti-malware systems bogging things down
  • More painfully slow updates

My recent foray into the Windows platform (10, to be exact) was no exception. The only consolation is that it came at the hands of some fairly enjoyable (although decidedly mid-range) hardware, by Chinese manufacturer, Chuwi. The specific piece of hardware is the Chuwi Hi13. This is a Windows-based tablet with the following specs:

  • 13.5" Surface book 3k retina display
  • Intel Apollo Lake processor (4C4T up to 2.2 GHz)
  • 9th gen Intel graphics
  • Internal Storage: 64GB
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Dual cameras
  • Dimensions: 13.14"x8.74"x.36"
  • Weight: 2.42 pounds
  • All metal design
  • Included detachable keyboard
  • Battery 37Wh, 7.4V

To be fair, my object of comparison for laptops is a Pixel 2, which offers some of the finest hardware ever pieced together for a laptop. That being said, anyone looking for a cost-effective replacement for the costlier Microsoft Surface, could certainly do worse than the Chuwi Hi13. Is it perfect? No. Is it worth the asking price of $339 USD? If you must have a convertible Windows machine (and can't afford a Surface), I'd say yes.

But before you hop on over to purchase the Chuwi, let me offer up the pros and cons of this little device. You can then make a more informed decision.

Pros

Before I really dug into working with the device (Figure A), the first thing I did was set it up so that I could make it work a bit more like the ChromeOS. I initially tried to work with Microsoft Edge, but we didn't get along so well and, being a hard-core Google Drive user, I figured my best plan of attack would be to install Chrome and be done with it. And so I made my way to the Chrome download page and installed my browser of choice.

Figure A

Figure A

The Hi13 in action.

Once logged into Chrome, everything was in sync and I was good to go (more on this in a bit). It was time to start experiencing the Hi13. I'll be honest, I wanted to continue the love-to-hate affair I have with Windows on the new device. And for the most part, I did. But once I had my Google-friendly and open source tools in place (I also installed LibreOffice and The GIMP), I didn't completely hate Windows 10. This eventuality came due to the fact that Windows started fading into the distance as I used Chrome with the Google tools (as I would with my Chromebook). The added bonus here was I could depend upon the other applications I work with on a daily basis.

Yes, Windows still seemed a bit unstable at times, but understand I'm used to working with either Chrome OS or Linux—both of which blow Windows out of the water, when it comes to stability. Even so, the Chuwi performed admirably.

Beyond the device convincing me that I could (in a pinch) work with Windows 10, what did I like about the Hi13?

  • The screen is very nice— even at 50% brightness (to save battery), the screen is easily readable (on par with every mobile device I own, minus the Pixel 2)
  • Battery life is serviceable (with claims of 7 hours usage on a full charge)
  • Included active pen works perfectly
  • The included keyboard has nearly perfect spacing to make typing a joy
  • Once the initial round of overly-frustrating and lengthy Windows updates were done, the operating system faded into the background
  • The keyboard hinge is sturdy, preventing accidental closure
  • Keyboard is reversible, so it can be attached such that the Hi13 can be used in tablet mode without leaving the keyboard behind

Cons

It's a rare device that slips by without a few negatives; and the Chuwi Hi13 isn't without fault. Windows issues aside, the biggest drawback to the Hi13 is that although Chuwi might claim this is a Surface screen, it's a bit deceiving. Instead of opting for scratch-resistant Gorilla glass, they go with standard glass. This cut corner means the Hi13 will scratch. Considering this device can be used as a tablet, that's a considerable drawback.

The other misstep Chuwi made is that, although you can charge with the USB-C connector, you must use the included charger. When mine was shipped, it was delivered with European power connectors, so I attempted to charge the device with my go-to USB-C charger (the one I use for all of my type C devices). No go. Fortunately, I had a cable I could attach to included charger, so I could actually charge up the device. From my perspective, if you're going to make use of what is considered a universal port, it should be just that — universal. And considering the included Micro USB port is for data only, this issue glares a bit brighter. With my Pixel 2, I can plug it into nearly any USB-C charger and be done with it (even charge the laptop with another device, so long as the second device supports two-way charging).

Next, there is the unavoidable issue of internal storage. Had Chuwi included an SD or microSD slot, I wouldn't dock them for the low-end 64GB internal storage. But without the ability to make use of external storage, you're limited. Yes, this is a tablet and 64GB isn't out of the ordinary (for low- to mid-range devices), but as the Hi13 uses a full version of Windows 10, users will be so inclined to install applications, which take up space. I'm good with storing everything in the cloud (as I do with my Chromebooks), but when you have a device that can run standard applications, the inclination will be to install and use them. Even worse, after connecting Chrome to my Google account, Drive immediately gobbled up the space on the device until there was none left. Had the Hi13 had external storage, I could have moved Drive (on the device) to that location and not concerned myself with running out of storage. As is, I cannot sync Google Drive to the device. I can, of course, use Google Drive, just not locally. The simple inclusion of external storage would have solved that issue.

As for performance? When you're paying less than $400 for a convertible device, you expect not to be working with high-end hardware. The Chuwi Hi13 doesn't disappoint there—applications are a bit sluggish, but not frustratingly so. With performance in mind, the Hi13 is the epitome of mid-range.

There's one last tiny issue to be had with the Hi13 — one it sort of overcomes. If you look at the tablet itself, there is no standard USB port. Take a look at the keyboard, however, and you'll find one standard USB port on either side (Figure B). So if you have the tablet attached to the keyboard, you have two USB ports. No keyboard, no USB.

Figure B

Figure B

One of the USB connectors on the keyboard.

Is it worth your dollars?

If you need a convertible Windows device, and cannot shell out the higher cost for the Surface, the Chuwi Hi13 is certainly a serviceable option. This device gets the job done, with a very nice (although prone to scratches) display, a comfortable keyboard, and mid-range-esque performance. The Hi13 would serve well for anyone working on a mid-range budget and not needing high-end specs.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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