A Surface Pro for $350? Not Exactly

Posted on April 30, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 22 Comments

A Surface Pro for $350? Not Exactly

You may have seen reports about a $350 Surface Pro 4 alternative called the CHUWI Lapbook 12.3. In truth, it’s not a 2-in-1 like Surface Pro 4. But it still may be interesting to those looking for a PC with a gorgeous, PixelSense-type display at a deep discount.

As I’m sure you know, Microsoft has mysteriously chosen to delay updating its own Surface offerings. But that’s OK, as we’re awash in Surface Pro clones and alternatives these days, with PC makers embracing the hybrid functionality that Microsoft first popularized. All of these clones PCs some advantages over the Microsoft offering, of course, and most are at least a little bit less expensive.

Some, however, are significantly less expensive, and these devices are potentially much better values. One incredible example—maybe—is the CHUWI Lapbook 12.3, which will cost just $349 when it arrives in May.

$350? Seriously?

You’re right to be dubious. And for starters, it’s not even a Surface Pro clone: Instead, this is a standard laptop form factor, a clamshell design. But the reason we’re comparing it to Surface Pro 4 is that this device offers a 12.3-inch PixelSense-like high DPI (2736 x 1824, or 267 dpi) display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Just like Surface Pro 4. We can debate the relative merits of laptops and 2-in-1 tablets, of course. But there’s no debating that there is currently a bigger market for traditional PC form factors.

No, this China-based offering will not deliver the premium quality seen in Microsoft’s products—and in most Surface Pro clones, as well—nor will it provide the same performance.

But I suspect CHUWI Lapbook 12.3 will still be of great interest to many readers. After all, $350 is about one-third the price of a typical Surface Pro 4.

So what is this thing?

“CHUWI Lapbook 12.3 finally has a price tag fixed at $349 and release date settled in May,” a CHUWI representative recently told me, while apologizing for the later-than-promised release date. (It was originally expected in April.)

(It’s worth noting, too, that CHUWI also offers a similar (and similarly priced) 13.5-inch device called the Hi13, that provides a Surface Book-like screen: 13.5-inches, 3000 x 2000 resolution, with a 3:2 aspect ratio. This company is going right for the Surface sweet spot, in a way.)

But the firm is cutting corners somewhere, of course. And as it turns out, those corners are basically everywhere but the screen: The CHUWI Lapbook 12.3 is “powered” by the latest generation (“Apollo Lake”) Intel N3450 processor and integrated Intel HD Graphics, for starters. That’s a mobile Celeron (read: Atom) part, by the way, and it does offer four processor cores.

The remaining specs are mostly low-end as well: The device ships with 6 GB of DDR3 RAM, 64 GB of internal eMMC storage with microSD expansion, a 37 Wh battery, dual-band Wi-Fi, a 2MP rear camera, “USB 3.0 +2.0” (which I take to mean a single full-sized port) and mini-HDMI for video-out.

I’ll consider reviewing this is there is enough interest. But you should look over the CHUWI website to see what else the firm offers. In some ways, these devices seem like the Moto G5 Plus of the PC world: Some premium features and build quality, lower-end components, and low prices. And they may thus possibly represent great value, in addition to some risk. I’m certainly curious.

 

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Comments (22)

22 responses to “A Surface Pro for $350? Not Exactly”

  1. wunderbar

    Hey Paul, the USB 3.0+2.0 appears does to mean 1 of each port. You can see 2 USB ports, one of them coloured Blue which usually means USB 3.0, on the shots of the product you posted. One on each side.

  2. dallasnorth40

    Unbelievable screen for the money!

  3. rakitik23

    There are many interesting information here. See more

  4. Jorge Garcia

    As the world shifts rapidly from Windows, these laptops are going to come with Phoenix OS as the default launcher/OS (and MAYBE Windows as the secondary OS.) Companies like ONDA and Digital2 already do this, and it's very smart, as nobody (outside of us nerds) want to deal with Windows anymore. With Phoenix OS, you can go to any of a number of Android App Stores and most likely find a mobile or tablet App that will "get the job done". That's what MATTERS to folks now, understandably.

  5. Jaxidian

    I really don't understand comparing this to a Surface Book when it's not a 2-in-1. At that point, it's just a metal laptop like 50% of the other laptops out there.


    While I'm definitely glad to see more premium bodies on cheap laptops, it's way past a stretch to call this a Surface Book clone as Paul and many commenters are doing. Maybe call it a Chrome Pixel clone, but that only works for 1 more day until the Windows Cloud machines are announced. At that point, it's just a modern netbook with a much better body and screen.


    And a 64GB eMMC for storage? EWWW!

  6. Waethorn

    I've dealt with Teclast and Onda before. Teclast seems to use more-generic drivers, but neither one of them has a download site. Instead, they put them on Baidu Cloud, which isn't in English, and is extremely difficult to make an account without utilizing multiple translation services. You also have to give them your cellphone number. To China. Even getting an account doesn't always solve issues - Onda's drivers are a complete mess and they most plainly and often DON'T WORK.


    I haven't bought anything from Chuwi or Cube before, but if the experience is the same with them, I would completely swear off Chinese PC OEM's altogether.

  7. gartenspartan

    I purchased the Chuwi lapbook 14.1 and am very happy so far a month in. Not a great touchpad, but everything else is way above what you would expect for under $300. This firm is doing some good things, check them out!

  8. rameshthanikodi

    Looks like the processor isn't quite an Atom, it's more like a newer Atom that fuses some of architecture from Kaby Lake (thus the name "Apollo Lake") into these low-end chips. It's a long way from the "Cherry Trail" Atom that the Surface 3 used. I've used a laptop running a Bay Trail Atom processor, I didn't think it was too bad as long your expectations are not too wild. The performance should be decent for the price.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to rameshthanikodi:

      The difference in this case is not one of architecture, but of TDP. Atom-based SOCs (like the one in Surface 3) target a 2W TDP, while the Pentiums and Celerons using the same architecture go up to 10W. The architecture is the same, but it looks like for Apollo Lake, Intel really isn't making Atom, just the Pentiums and Celerons.

      There aren't many Apollo Lake benchmarks out there, but from what I can find, you do see a good advance over Cherry Trail, but it still is nowhere near Core i3.

  9. digiguy


    The new Cube Thinker i35 is a surface book clone that is not detachable and that offers the same surface book screen with core M3 Kaby Lake, 8GB ram and 256GB of SSD for $600. And it works perfectly with the surface pen. And the first reviews say it's premium quality. That's a lot of value for the money....

  10. Darmok N Jalad

    Apollo Lake uses Goldmont cores, which is an iterative advance of Airmont before it. I think it brings some modest performance improvements above Cherry Trail and adds Gen9 graphics. In other words, it is indeed the same basic architecture as Atom, just updated to perform somewhat better.

  11. Thomas Parkison

    Are we sure that the firmware isn't bugged?

  12. obarthelemy

    I've played around with low-cost devices from Chuwi, Teclast and Cube among others, and found Chuwi and Teclast to be decidedly low-quality. That was 2-3 yrs ago so maybe things have improved since then, but typically compared to first-tier stuff, the killer isn't so much the specs as the off-specs stuff: tinny sound, iffy wifi, overrated battery, a screen with noticeable input lag, easy to scratch, and a very visible space between the glass and the LCD. Cube was usually the better of the 3.

    An interesting site that frankly reviews much of this stuff with an eye to the usual pitfalls is techtablets.com

    • Luka Pribanić

      In reply to obarthelemy:

      True, but in my experience with Chuwi 80$ tablet - you get more than what you pay for. For low cost devices you can't expect wonders, but these still provide good experience. Only real issue I had was that it didn't survive a drop to the floor by my GF... :)

      • obarthelemy

        In reply to Luka Pribanić:

        Mostly agreed. I'm happy with my Cube iWork8 (the main pain point is the battery: 4-6 hrs); less happy with my Teclast X16 Pro (battery + sound + a crash/week + weight + creaks). Both do work, at a fraction of the price of first-tier stuff, which I wasn't willing to pay anyway, so... good. Be careful to set realistic expectations though; a Surface they ain't.

  13. sgbassett

    I just ordered the Chuwi Hi13 with the keyboard and stylus for $400. I am interested to see how it compares to my Surface Book.


    I am not expecting miracles given the specs, but its design/form factor should work as well as my Surface Book for my use case (appellate oral arguments in legal matters).


    One advantage of the Chuwi Hi13 is greater battery life (purported to be around 6 hours) when the screen is detached from the keyboard. Unlike the SB, all of the battery is in the Hi13's screen section, none in the keyboard. That may make it better for my use as a tablet while at the podium in court. With the SB, there is some concern about running out of battery if the hearing runs beyond 2 hours or if I walk in with a partially depleted battery.


    Paul, I do think a review of either the Hi13 or Lapbook 12.3 would be of interest to your readers. Although my precise use case is rare, in the case of the Hi13, there may be others who could benefit from a stellar stylus-enabled touch screen large enough to render a standard 8.5x11 inch page full-size combined with more than two hours of battery life.


    Update: I've had my Chuwi Hi-13 for a couple of weeks now and have used it as my main portable computer during that time. I like it. It doesn't feel as "premium" as my Surface Book, but it does feel solid. Perhaps the weight makes it feel solid. It is heavy. It is noticeably heavier than my Surface Book.


    The weight is not a huge problem for me. When I use it in tablet mode without the keyboard, I usually have something to rest it on or against. It is either on a podium or resting against my abdomen. I do like the fact that the entire battery, not just a supplemental battery, is in the screen portion of the device. The two hour "detached" battery life of the Surface Book has always caused me concern, although in reality I have never run it down to empty in that mode during my courtroom use arguing appeals.


    The Chuwi screen portion is larger than the Surface Book's also because the side bezels are noticably wider. It is nice that the right bezel, which is the bottom in tablet mode, has an active Windows button.


    I like the keyboard that mates with the Hi-13. It doesn't feel or sound anything like the Surface Book keyboard, but it works just as well for me. It is louder, and that additional feedback helps my typing.


    However, the trackpad is a mess. In order to make is usable, I had to download and install two free utilities. One is called TouchFreeze which automatically disables the trackpad when typing. The other is AutoHotKey which, when you add a particular script to your startup folder (instructions here) disables the Windows 10 touch gestures for opening the Action Center and for showing the desktop. It was way too easy to inadvertantly trigger those gestures when typing.


    Another problem has been the H3 active stylus. I have tried two of them, and neither works as intended. While the rear of the pen activates when placed near the screen and then works as an active stylus, the front tip portion does nothing at all. It is odd that the tip of the stylus fails to work, but my fingers and an ordinary passive rubber-tipped stylus seem to work fine to draw on the screen.


    I've used the Hi-13 as my main portable computer since it arrived. I came with a cheap plastic screen protecter installed. I replaced that with a tempered glass screen protector, but botched the installation so that the area around the front camera doesn't fit flush against the screen. That was my fault. The upside is that the glass screen protector is clearer and makes the display, which is already outstanding (just a notch below the Surface Book), look even better.


    Another negative is the rather larger charging brick. A charger for an Apollo Lake class machine need not be much larger than a phone charger, but this one is. I need to find a smaller or slimmer compatible charger. I believe I need to find a 12v USB C compatible charger. There were a couple mentioned in a forum, but I have not ordered anything yet.


    At this point, because of the upsides (display, keyboard, and surprisingly decent performance using MS Office, Chrome, and Acrobat) being roughly in balance with the downsides (trackpad, weight, pen problems), I would give it a 2.5 stars out of five. Given the price, that is actually not a bad score if you want a portable Windows computer than can work as a tablet or laptop.

    • digiguy

      In reply to sgbassett:

      The problem with Hi13 is that it is also over 50% heavier than the tablet portion of the SB.... not very comfortable as a tablet... except maybe for something like sheet music (as you are not holding it)

      • sgbassett

        In reply to digiguy:

        For my use, the detached screen would be sitting on the podium most of the time, not held in the air. But I can see your point for users who would want to hold the screen above their work surface for more than a few minuets.

    • bbold

      In reply to sgbassett:

      I agree, I'm all for competition like everyone else. I wouldn't run out and buy one, by any means, but others might who are looking in that price range. (I have a Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, both low end models. They are thermal cooled and run beautifully, after 8 months of firmware headaches.) I would be curious for a SP4/5 refresh, don't mind upgrading and selling that, I use it mainly for school and love the portability. I'll be holding onto my SB for awhile, maybe 1-2 more years at least. Windows Central has some reviews up of the Chuwi devices and they are mostly positive. You just can't beat the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 right now, in my opinion, they are things of style, premium power and convenience.

  14. RobertJasiek

    Among the Surfaces and 117 Surface clones, 0 are for me because none offers a matte ca. 4:3 display. The tablets and 2-in-1s better than Surfaces and having matte displays and 100 other super features incl. replaceable battery (Toshiba Porteges) are also not for me because 16:9 is useless. Of course, Surface Pro 5 will be equally useless: mirroring display, repair or battery change costing €450 etc. I do not have the slightest hope for a mobile device that is a) mobile because a bright matte display allows unrestricted outdoor use, b) productive because the display ratio is low and the operating system Windows, AND c) can replace a PC because of being equally reliable, supported and long-living.

  15. Carlouiss123

    Well -- I had a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Until Saturday, when I accidentally nudged it off a desktop, resulting in a rather nasty crack across the screen. We use these at our office at Glasgow double Glazing

    Now, I admit I can occasionally be clumsy with my tech devices, but (except for a cell phone that fell in the ocean) on the whole, I've been lucky. I've dropped my various smartphones several times, but even when they hit a hard surface, they've tended to bounce insouciantly back with a surprising lack of problems. (I do have a slight dent in my Moto X , but that just gives it a bit of character). The Chromebook and the Mac have also suffered several indignities, but they are both still pushing through with élan.

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