Chuwi 12.3 Review: Budget Laptop with Same Screen as Microsoft Surface Impresses
The Chuwi 12.3 Is a Superb Laptop for the Price.
When I review budget devices, I constantly have to remind myself to grade on a curve because I'm trying to write from a consumer's point of view, and value-for-dollar (aka what you get for the price tag) matters more than anything for most. For example, neither the Xiaomi Mi 6's hardware design or camera compare favorably to the Samsung Galaxy S8, but because of the former's significantly lower price tag, I can't dock too many points off my total evaluation (unlike, say, a phone from HTC that has the gall to charge almost Samsung/Apple prices while delivering a product that's laughably outdated).
But the consumer tech industry – specifically the one in Shenzhen – is starting to reach a point where budget devices are getting almost as good as so-called "premium" devices, so much that I have to re-evaluate how to rate "expensive" products. The OnePlus 5, to use another example, is almost certainly a superior phone to the Samsung Galaxy S8 in every aspect except for the latter's stunning edge-to-edge curved display. Now, the "cooler display" aspect alone is enough to convince me to keep using the Samsung device (I'm superficial when it comes to gadgets), but I know damn well in my head that in terms of value, the US$479 OnePlus 5 makes the US$800 S8 look like a rip-off. So what should I do if I were to review the S8 right now? Should I knock points off of it because of the hard-to-justify price point?
This was a problem I kept asking myself during my three weeks of testing the Chuwi 12.3, the latest budget laptop from the Shenzhen-based company that keeps pumping out budget laptops or tablets. I've tested a couple of its products in the past year, and while I liked them, they were ultimately a bit too underpowered for me.
But the 12.3? The 12.3 fixes this. It's got a beautiful 12.3-inch 2K resolution (2736 x 1824-pixel) LCD display that's crystal clear with great outdoor visibility and viewing angles (though the bezels around the display are quite dated). It is, in fact, the exact same panel used in the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. The 12.3 also rocks 6GB of RAM (as opposed to the 4GB of RAM in previous devices), and the upgrade shows. Tasks that used to lag on previous Chuwi devices no longer stalls here. I've been using this laptop as my primary work machine for three weeks, and I haven't been frustrated with it the way I tend to with budget devices.
The build quality is mostly excellent, aside from the USB-ports that are upside down (not a big deal) and the slightly wobbly display (not a big deal) and the bottom-firing speaker (a big deal). The latter is unfortunate, since I used the laptop on a desk most of the time and the sound just comes out completely muffled. A workaround to which I resorted was when streaming NetFlix was to simply prop up the laptop slightly with a crumbled up ball of tissue. Even then, the speakers' bass is quite weak, though the mids and highs are clear. I've been spoiled, perhaps, by the Huawei MateBook X's Dolby surround stereo sound.
Now, onto arguably the most important part of a laptop -- the keyboard. I'm happy to report that the keyboard here is very good, with key travel of about 1.27mm. It's almost certainly the best keyboard I've used on a sub-US$300 device, and on typingtest.com I was able to reach 102 words-per-minute, which is close to my real speed on a full sized keyboard. Now there are areas that could use improvement. The "power" button and "number lock" are both located in the upper right corner of the keyboard, very close to "backspace." Very often my pinky would accidentally hit one of those buttons instead of "backspace," leading to my laptop either going to sleep or keyboards switching to the numeric pad. Luckily, this being a Windows 10 machine, I was able to turn off both "power" and "number lock" keys so that they do nothing when pressed.
The trackpad, however, is just average. Scrolling and moving the pointer around is actually fine and responsive, the problem lies with those pesky Windows 10 shortcut gestures like "swiping from the edge to activate the Action Center." In theory these shortcuts should make your navigation experience inside Windows 10 easier, but they mostly just get in the way. Plenty of times, when I'm trying to move the pointer from one end of the screen to another, I'd accidentally trigger the Action Center instead. Worse, there's no way to shut these off in settings, unlike on my Dell XPS. I prefer to use a mouse with my laptop anyway, but for those who don't like to carry a secondary device and just work off the laptop solely, the trackpad may annoy you.
The Intel Celeron N3450 processor here is obviously a mid-tier chip not in the same class as the Kaby Lake processor found in top tier laptops like Apple's MacBooks or the Dell XPS 13, but I had no issue using the 12.3 for almost all tasks. I'm not a gamer, but I did successfully run Overwatch, which ran at about 25 frames per second (nothing amazing, but serviceable). But the laptop did get very hot (like to the point that touching it with bare skin is uncomfortable) and with its small 64GB storage space, you can't install many games anyway. In short, this is not a gaming laptop, so don't buy it for that purpose.
As mentioned earlier, the laptop only has 64GB of on board storage, and worse, its eMMC flash storage, which is significantly slower than SSD drives found on premium laptops. Now this didn't really matter for the most part, but when installing software or moving files around, you will notice the 12.3 slows down to a point that you can't handle any other task.
But at least there are a lot of ports. The 12.3 comes with a sufficient number of ports. You get two USB 3.0, along with a Mini HDMI, MicroSD, 3.5mm audio jack, and a Kensington lock port. The laptop charges via DC input -- I wish it would charge via USB-3.0, but I can understand why Chuwi went with the easier/cheaper option considering this is a budget device.
Battery life is very good. I worked off of the 12.3 for three weeks, mostly at coffee shops, and it always had enough juice to last the entire five, six hour session with some 40-50% battery left. This was mostly word processing and web browsing, though. When I watched Captain America: Civil War (run time: 147 minutes) on the 12.3 at max brightness, the device's battery dropped about 40%. That's still enough to watch two full-length features on a plane though. Overall, the 12.3 is a great media consumption device (if you use headphones because the lousy speaker). That 2k display is so good for a budget laptop.
Now moving onto the 2-megapixel camera: the image actually comes out surprisingly decent, though it's susceptible to over-exposure. But for video calls, you will come out quite muffled on the other end.
In the world of Windows laptops, the Dell XPS 13 (which I actually purchased five months ago) is probably the king. Is the US$300 Chuwi 12.3 good enough to make me look to sell the Dell XPS? No. But is the Chuwi device good enough that, if I had gotten my hands on this five months ago, it would have stopped me from dropping US$1,400 on the Dell device? Yes. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't think budget laptops could truly be my sole go-to work machine every day, but the Chuwi 12.3 has convinced me it can.
Now every user has different needs. I don't play PC games; I store everything on the cloud; I very rarely need to make video calls; and I always bring a wireless mouse with my laptop when I work remotely -- hence I am able to overlook the 12.3's flaws. If you like to play DOTA; if you need storage space; if you always need to be on Skype; or if the trackpad is all important to you, then perhaps you have to spend a bit more cash.
Image Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bensin/2017/07/23/chuwi-12-3-review-budget-laptop-with-same-screen-as-microsoft-surface-impresses/#c0f42a11e9da