Chuwi SurBook Review: Just Okay As Tablet, But Great As Work Laptop – Forbes

Ben Sin

The Chuwi SurBook

Chinese tech companies seem to operate in one of two modes: they either have very, very ambitious dreams (like Huawei proclaiming a couple years ago its goal to overtake Apple) or they settle into that “we’re not going to try to top the big names of the west, but we’re going to do the same thing almost as well for a fraction of the cost.”

Shenzhen-based Chuwi belongs in the latter group. The budget tablet maker has made a name for itself in the past two years producing tablets and laptops that are very obviously respectively inspired by the Microsoft Surface line or Apple’s MacBook line. And while Chuwi’s products are almost certainly not superior, they do get close enough to being as good that their eye-opening price tags become hard to resist.

The latest product out of the Shenzhen factories of Chuwi is the SurBook, a 2-in-1 tablet/computer that can be looked at as Chuwi’s answers to the Surface Pro. The SurBook’s 12.3-inch 2736 X 1824 display is the exact same LCD panel used by Microsoft’s device, and the image quality of Chuwi’s device is as good as Microsoft’s flagship. The entire device, in fact, is very well constructed: the tablet is metal and glass, with bezels that aren’t small but not too large either. The keyboard cover case has well spaced keys that offer quite good travel, though the felt material easily collects dust and dirt. Even the trackpad is not bad. I’d still prefer to use a mouse, but it’s large and responsive enough to get by. I am typing this review on an airplane right now using the keyboard and trackback, as a matter of fact. The tablet plus the keyboard cover case combines to weigh a little more than 2 pounds, so it’s very portable.

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The Chuwi SurBook weighs 2 pounds.

The SurBook, much like the Surface series, stands on its own via a hinge. The SurBook’s hinge is sturdy and can open up to a very wide angle for those who like work standing up. The tablet has five metallic pins that attaches that allows the keyboard case to snap into place. It’s only got four ports, but they’re the crucial ones: two USB 3.0, a headphone jack, and a USB-C port that is used to transfer data, output display, and charge the tablet.

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The hinge of the SurBook is sturdy and can prop the tablet up at various angles.

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You get all the key ports on the SurBook.

The Apollo Lake Intel Celeron N3450 chipset inside the SurBook is where Chuwi’s budget roots reveal themselves, but while the processor can’t compare to the Surface Pro’s i5 or i7, it is good enough to handle casual computer tasks — the 6GB of RAM inside the SurBook helps. The SurBook can’t handle large games or Photoshop too well — framerate stutters in the former and photos load really slowly on the latter — but everything else like web browsing, YouTube/NetFlix watching, and basic photo editing in Paint works perfectly fine.

So far I’ve only talked about the SurBook when used as a laptop computer, because I think that’s the best way to use the device. As a tablet, the SurBook suffers from the usual problem that plagues Windows tablets: Microsoft’s software is awesome as a computer, terrible as a tablet. Even when switched to “tablet mode,” buttons and icons are still mostly in small sizes meant for mouse arrows, not fingers. Take Chrome, for example. When trying to open a link in a new tab, the menu that pops up is so small it’s difficult to hit with fingers. Swiping on the tablet’s touchscreen is also noticeably not as smooth as the same action on an iPad.

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Icons and menu selections are usually too small on Window tablets for the average finger.

If you use the tablet as just a media consumption device, then it’s fine — the dual speakers on the left and right side pump out respectable sound and the display is vibrant and offers above average viewing angles and brightness. I just wouldn’t advise using the tablet to surf the web.

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The keyboard case folds up into a folio like folder.

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But the felt material of the keyboard case gets dirty very easily.

The Surbook surprisingly comes with a front-facing webcam (2-megapixel) and a rear-facing main camera (5-megapixel). While neither camera are able to capture clean, vibrant images, they are passable for most people. The front camera only records videos in 720p and they come out rather flat with muffled sound. Again, it’s not a big deal, but if you rely on a tablet to take photos when you’re out and about or if you make a lot of video calls, then this may be annoying.

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Photos quality from the rear camera is serviceable, but nothing Instagram worthy.

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The selfie camera takes blurry photos but is okay for videos.

With 128GB of storage and a light Windows 10 software that only takes up about 8GB of space out of the box, the SurBook should have enough storage for most users. For those who need more, they’d be happy to hear that the SurBook supports SD card support. Battey life is one are that disappoints. With a 10,000 mAh battery I expected the device to last me a full eight hour work day of just word processing and web surfing, but the SurBook usually would be in dire need of a charger after about four hours at 75% brightness. Worse, even though the tablet is charged via USB-C port, the required voltage is so high that none of my mobile phone chargers could charge the SurBook — you’ll most likely have to rely no the charging brick that came with the device. This is a big disappointment, as I was hoping to be able to use my Anker portable battery (a powerful one that can support QuickCharge 3.0) to add juice to both my smartphone and SurBook when I’m doing the freelance writer thing at coffee shops.

But overall, the SurBook is a very capable device and its $420 price tag makes it quite a better deal than the Microsoft’s Surface Pro. There are some odd flaws in addition the lackluster battery life, such as the USB-C port and headphone jack being too high up on the tablet (so if you charge and use your device at the same time, the USB-C cable is just dangling weirdly near the top right corner, draping all over the right side of the device) and its mid-range chipset being too underpowered to play graphic intensive games without severe framerate drops, but for pure office productivity or general web surfing/YouTube watching, the Chuwi SurBook is excellent.

 

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