It's the holiday season and you might be trying to find low-cost tech gifts to give. Or maybe you're just looking for an alternative to the likes of the Microsoft Surface or a MacBook.
Don't worry, Apple, you've cornered that market, such that "low-cost alternative" doesn't exactly exist. But for non-Apple hardware, there are always options. Enter Chinese company Chuwi. Formed in 2004, the company's goal is to create consumer-grade technology with low price tags. Most often companies reaching for such an idea fall flat fairly quickly—most often going under very soon after their first round of funding is spent. Chuwi has managed to remain, and even produce a few products that serve their purpose quite well. They aren't perfect, but at such low prices you shouldn't expect Apple-quality products.
As is, the products Chuwi produces do a commendable job of running the Windows environment. To many, Windows 10 is not exactly an operating system that conjures up much in the way of confidence (especially coming from either Linux or macOS). Even with that handicap, the new Chuwi LapBook air is a serviceable solution for anyone looking for a low-cost laptop to run Windows 10.
It would be really easy to walk through the usual bits for a laptop review—internal and external specs, weight, battery life, etc. However, small upstart companies like Chuwi don't learn much from such reviews. To that end, I wanted to take a moment to talk about how the Chuwi LapBook Air could improve—which could also serve as a baseline guide for other small manufacturers to use.
As a preference, it must be said this is nothing more than my opinion, so take this with a grain of whatever element from the periodic table you choose. With that being said, let's improve the Chuwi.
It begins with the boot
The first issue I had with the LapBook Air was the BIOS. After working with Windows 10 for any more than 10 minutes, the first thing I want to do is blow it away and install Linux. That should be a simple matter, but it's not with the LapBook Air. Out of the box, the BIOS is out of date, and doesn't allow the user to select a boot device. This means one thing—you cannot install an OS. This was a big disappointment, as I'd love to see how well the device works with Linux. No matter how much I searched, I could not find the means to successfully update the firmware.
It would behoove Chuwi to make the firmware update process available for the consumer. Giving users the ability to install an alternative operating system could very easily give the company a serious niche market (low-cost laptops for Linux). I have read reports that Linux performs really well with this particular device, and being able to successfully install the platform would be handy.
This is one issue that plagues low-cost hardware—and the review unit I was sent was no exception. Case in point, the trackpad on the LapBook Air was raised above the case (Figure A). It's not much, but in such instances, even the slightest offset matters. This poorly set trackpad made it jarring to use when sliding your finger off the trackpad and then back on, only to feel that rise.
Using the trackpad was also a bit problematic. Touch to tap worked fine—but if I had to physically click the trackpad because Windows wasn't so great at always recognizing the touch to tap—something I've also experienced on more costly hardware—the resistance of the hardware was far too great to be even remotely useful. After a day of physically depressing this trackpad, I'd be icing my fingers and wrapping them in heating pads to recover for the next day's usage.
Good thing touch to tap works just fine on the device.
The small things
The LapBook Air wants to be a MacBook Air knockoff. It really does. In some areas it does a good job of doing just that. Take for instance, some of the small touches that Chuwi has included—things that other manufacturers of low-cost hardware tend to ignore. For instance, the Chuwi logo on the back of the lid. By tapping [FN]+[ESC] you can turn on the dimly lit logo (Figure B) as well as the keyboard backlight. Need to save battery? Tap the key combination again to switch the lights off.
To make this even better, Chuwi should include the ability to dim the keyboard backlight. As it is, it's pretty bright. There may be times when it's necessary, but not at such brightness, which would have the added effect of saving battery. Give the user the ability to step up or down that brightness, and the feature would help the LapBook Air rise a bit above.
As you might expect, this hardware will not set you back nearly as much as those it tries to emulate. For a device with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal SSD storage, you'll be set back $399.99 USD. That's not bad for a piece of hardware that is more than adequate to run Windows 10. If Chuwi would make it easier to boot from a USB drive (so users could install Linux), the LapBook Air would be a seriously good buy. As it is, it's a passably good buy for anyone who doesn't mind working with low cost hardware.
For those that must have specs, here they are:
- Processor: Intel Celeron N3450 2.2 GHz.
- Graphics adapter: Intel HD Graphics 500, Core: 450 MHz, 18.104.22.16890
- Memory: 8192 MB
- Display: 14.1 inch IPS at 16:9
- Storage: SanDisk DF4128, 128 GB
- Weight : 3.09 pounds
- Battery: 4430mAh
- External storage: M.2 SSD
All-in-all, the LapBook Air is a solid entry for low-cost laptop fare. With just a few easy tweaks, this could rise above its station to be something even better. If you're looking to purchase the Chuwi LapBook Air, check out GearBeast.
- Chuwi's Hi13: An affordable, acceptable alternative to the Microsoft Surface (TechRepublic)
- CHUWI Hi10 Plus: Effective and efficient Android and Windows dual-booting (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft Surface Pro: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Why video editing forced one Linux devotee to buy a Macbook (TechRepublic)
- Chuwi Lapbook Air hands on: A slim, beautiful PC — but no touching (ZDNet)
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.