The $400 Ultrabook: Chuwi LapBook Air Assessment

We mostly check premium laptops such as beefy slot machines or elegant ultraportables. Well, today we're going to the other end to talk about an entry-level laptop that was sent out of the blue to us by Chinese OEM Chuwi.

The Chuwi Lapbook Air is billed as an ultra-portable 14-inch machine at a price of just $ 430. This puts it in the range of some of the cheapest Windows laptops on the market of this display size. Chromebooks are also available for $ 400 or less. But let's put this in the fool's corner first, because we're mainly interested in real Windows systems.

What will you get for $ 430? If you're more familiar with premium laptop hardware, you may not have heard of the CPU used in the Lapbook Air. It is the Intel Celeron N3450, an Apollo Lake SoC that uses Intel's Goldmont microarchitecture and was developed for low-power, low-power systems. It is a 6 W SoC with four CPU cores and four threads, which is clocked at 2.2 GHz with a 1.1 GHz base, and Intel HD Graphics 500 with execution units clocked at 12 to 700 MHz.

The timing of Lapbook Air's release in late 2017 is somewhat unfortunate, as they appear to have only missed the newer Gemini Lake SoCs that use Goldmont Plus cores. The older Goldmont architecture used here relies heavily on Skylake, while Goldmont Plus gets improvements to Kaby Lake. Not a big difference, but still important to note.

The Lapbook Air also offers 8 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 128 GB SSD, which are not bad at all in an entry-level system, as well as a 14.1-inch 1080p IPS LCD. So far everything sounds pretty good and it gets even better if you look at the design.

If you've seen entry-level notebooks before, most pack boring, plastic, and generally terrible designs. They are only built to contain the hardware and the screen at the lowest possible cost. Not with the Lapbook Air.

The structure is very streamlined and the main feature here is the use of metal on all sides and glass that protects the display. It is rare for this type of building material to be seen on a low-end machine. Chuwi is therefore definitely aimed at those who want a beautiful design at the lowest possible price. Seriously, it wouldn't look out of place in a high-end machine and would perfectly clad the entry-level hardware inside.

Chuwi's marketing materials, however, exaggerate the dimensions of this laptop to a point where it is almost false advertising. Yes, this is a slim machine at this price, but it's nowhere near as slim as the product pictures show. This image makes it look like the front end of the wedge design sits flush on your desk, although it is actually raised by a bulge that Chuwi tried to obscure through curves and other standard visual tricks.

They later claim that this front part is only 6mm thick, which in my opinion is technically correct if you don't count the bulge. In my measurements, the actual thickness was around 14mm, which is still respectable for an entry-level system, but it would have been nice if Chuwi had presented a more realistic picture of the machine on its website.

However, this is not the only dubious stuff you can find on their website. In the performance area, they talk about the "Glodmont" architecture and how it is "faster". Later they show pictures that clearly misrepresent the bezel size. Again, the bezels are adequate for an entry-level product, but the Chuwi website shows that they are much slimmer.

That being said, the rest of the design is filled with decent inclusions. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a mini HDMI port, a microSD card slot and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, as well as a proprietary power connector. I would prefer a full size SD card slot over microSD, but that's just a sucker.

The keyboard is great too, with a surprisingly long travel distance and a great click response, which in my opinion is definitely not the most expensive laptop keyboard cap you can buy. Each key is the right size and I appreciate the large modifiers and full size arrow keys. It's a little annoying to have right up and down next to the enter and backspace keys and so on, but in general the typing experience is great. It's even a backlit keyboard.

The trackpad, however, is pretty bad. It lacks precision for subtle movements and feels quite sluggish as if the polling rate wasn't high enough for typical use. I didn't expect every aspect of this laptop to be great, and it's clear that the trackpad is a department that has received less than the attention it deserves.

I didn't expect the display to be particularly impressive, although this IPS panel performed better than I expected in some aspects. The brightness could be a bit higher, though 266 nits are not bad, but you get a decent 1150: 1 contrast ratio and great viewing angles. Chuwi also did well in terms of white balance and grayscale, resulting in a temperature average of 7100 K and a DeltaE average of 3.02. This is better than many more expensive notebooks.

The problem lies in covering the gamut. This is a standard area where manufacturers are trying to cut costs. Instead of generating 100% of the sRGB spectrum, as you would expect from a decent display, the Lapbook Air only reaches 67.4%, making the colors appear subdued and unsaturated. If this were a high-end device, I would go for poor color performance, but many entry-level laptops suffer from the same color gamut problems, so it's hardly a big problem in this device class.

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