Chuwi SurBook

Chuwi’s SurBook began its life as an Indiegogo campaign, pitched as an affordable 2-in-1 Intel-based PC tablet which looked like an almost exact replica of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 – but without the hefty price tag.

The campaign ended in July 2017 and proved to be wildly popular, raising more than $1 million from over 2,600 backers, 26 times more funding than was expected. Chuwi is a regular on TechRadar Pro with the LapBook 12.3, the Hi10, the Hi13 and the LapBook coming through our doors recently.

Design

The SurBook has the same diagonal screen size (12.3-inch) and the same display resolution (2736 x 1824 pixels) as the Surface Pro 4. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to find that it sports a very similar, indeed almost identical design, one that embraces the same brushed-metal appearance, as well as the kickstand that deploys all the way to around 135 degrees.

The chassis itself is made of magnesium alloy, which is light, strong and a very good heat conductor – definitely a good thing. You will notice that there are no fans on the SurBook and therefore no grilles; the only ones you will find are the two speaker grilles located on either side of the tablet. So heat spreads in the entire chassis which then acts like a giant heatsink.

The screen, which sports a 3:2 aspect ratio, is surrounded by a bezel with a width varying between 15mm and 18mm; thin enough to be almost inconspicuous. You will need a sizable bezel on any tablet of this girth to help when handling the device as a slate (to give you somewhere to hold).

The top edge of the device hosts the volume rocker and the power button. Four ports (two USB Type-A, an audio jack and one USB Type-C port) are located on the right. There are no HDMI ports and you will need to get an adaptor to hook up an external monitor.

A keyboard connector rounds things off and is a Type Cover (Surface Pro) lookalike. The tablet weighs just under 1kg (957g to be precise) while the keyboard adds an extra 309g. Together, the bundle weighs 1263g which is roughly the same as the Dell XPS 13.

Its footprint (297 x 203mm) is slightly smaller than an A4 sheet and at 9.4mm without the keyboard, this slate is well within the limits of what one can call portable. A microSD card slot can be found underneath the kickstand.

Specifications

One of the ways Chuwi managed to keep the price down was opting for cheaper components (compared to the Surface Pro 4).

Swapping the processor alone saved a whopping $174 (around £130) – other corners cut include the storage (eMMC rather than SSD) and the memory (cheaper DDR3 rather than LPDDR4). Note that there are no (free) M.2 slots should you want to upgrade the storage.

The display is excellent, probably on par with the Surface Pro 4; not a surprise given that it is the exact same screen. Expect vibrant colors with great viewing angles and outstanding image quality throughout.

There’s a pair of cameras (5-megapixel at the back and 2-megapixel in front). The keyboard is reasonably pleasant to use and accurate, with large keys and decent feedback; the touchpad is also usable but neither will stand the comparison with a traditional keyboard/touchpad combo for a laptop.

Expect some significant flex when touch-typing vigorously, and some frustrating moments when using the touchpad.

Usage and performance

We noted that the USB Type-C port used by Chuwi is slightly longer than average; this means that standard Type-C connectors (from adaptors, for example) will have a hard time staying in the port. Other than that, the device itself is very well constructed, and also sturdy thanks to the magnesium alloy. Overall, it oozes quality.

The stylus pen has a small tip, and according to Chuwi, it can be angled at up to 30 degrees, doesn’t require physical contact with the screen and offers 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. The display supports 10-point multi-touch and is not a fingerprint magnet as one might fear, despite the material used.

The device is an average performer on single-core tests but excels when all four physical cores are used. It is let down by the on-board storage – as expected – with some abysmal scores here.

Battery life isn’t as good as we’d like to see, either, barely reaching four hours in our standard test (running a YouTube count-up video at 100% brightness with default battery saving settings until the device shuts down).

The graphics chip, which is (integrated) Intel HD Graphics 500, seems to struggle to deliver the sort of firepower needed to handle the 4.99 million pixels on the panel (that’s more than two Full HD monitors put together).

Competition

The tablet doesn’t include the price of the stylus or the companion keyboard. Adding them will bump the asking price to over £400 ($530), and that’s for the 64GB model. Switching to the 128GB model adds another £60 ($80) to the price. Still, a fully-loaded SurBook costs about half the price of a similarly configured Surface Pro 4.

Another potential competitor is the Cube Mix Plus which uses the same core components as the cheapest Surface Pro 4 (Intel m3-7Y30 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD). It doesn’t have the same screen, though, opting instead to stick to a classic 16:9 Full HD model, and eschewing the Type Cover for a more traditional keyboard, giving it a blander look.

On the other hand, it is far cheaper than the Chuwi SurBook and should also score higher in benchmarks thanks to the use of an SSD rather than eMMC flash storage.

Neither HP or Dell have anything comparable in this price range: the HP Elite x2 and Dell’s Latitude 7285 cost around three times the price, but they are completely different beasts. Lenovo has the attractive IdeaPad Miix 700 which costs under £800 ($1,050) and comes with a rear 3D camera and a folio case keyboard (add £29 – around $40 – for an active pen). And of course there could be deals to be had on any of these machines come Black Friday.

Final verdict

Amidst rumors that Microsoft could kill the Surface brand in 2019, Chuwi and a few others could benefit significantly should the Redmond-based company call it a day. The SurBook shows that there is still plenty of life and potential in a market created almost single-handedly by the Surface brand.

At less than £500 ($660), the Chuwi SurBook is a bargain, but there is one caveat to bear in mind: aftersales service is likely to be a bit of a pain as you have to send the device all the way back to Shenzhen, China. If you’re ready to take that risk, then the SurBook is a cracking deal, on par with the aforementioned Cube Mix Plus.

There are some issues with this hybrid, notably the battery life and the problematic USB Type-C port. The lack of HDMI connectivity could also hamper its adoption in a business setup where more and more firms are adopting a flexible approach offering a docking station with monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Overall, Chuwi has identified a potential opportunity in the market and delivered a product that aspires to fulfil it. The Surface 3 was one of the more successful Surface products, and the SurBook is essentially a souped-up Surface 3 (that incorporates some features from the Surface Pro) at a Surface 3 price.

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