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Of all the lesser-known Chinese gadget makers, Chuwi has been most successful at moving ever so slightly upmarket by selling machines not dependent on Intel's low-end Celeron chipsets.
The 2019 AeroBook, a more than decent 13.3-inch laptop driven by a CoreM chip, is a good case in point. It was and still is, a fine little laptop for £375.
Now the AeroBook has a big brother, the AeroBook Plus. A 15.6-inch notebook powered by a Core i5 processor, it boasts a 4K 3,840 by 2,160 IPS display, 8GB of dual-channel RAM, 256GB of SSD storage and a 55WHr battery all wrapped up in a slim and light metal body.
Before we get into the long grass there are a couple of caveats. Firstly, the CPU is sixth-generation Core i5, namely the 6287U. That is a 2-core, 4-thread chip with a Turbo Boost clock speed of 3.5GHz launched in 2015. You'll find it inside any 2016-vintage MacBook Pro 13s still kicking around. It's quite a bit less powerful than the latest quad-core i5 components. Secondly, the display isn't a touch panel, which may be a deal-breaker for some.
On the positive side, you can pick up the AeroBook Plus from Chuwi's official Amazon store for £499. That's much, much cheaper than any other Core i5 UHD 15.6-incher on the market. Like many Chinese laptops with a slightly unbalanced spec -- old CPU, great display -- the AeroBook Plus is essentially competing in a field of one.
The AeroBook Plus's all-metal body looks more than a little like an Apple MacBook, but the build quality isn't quite as good. There is a bit of flex in the body thanks to a plastic rather than metal internal frame, although you have to be deliberately brutal to notice.
Ultimate solidity seems to have been sacrificed to keep the weight down: 1.68kg is good for a 15.6-inch ultrabook, as is the 15mm profile. The matt silver-grey finish is also right out of the Apple design book, but I don't imagine anyone will be complaining about that. The only Chuwi branding is the small unlit graphic on the top of the lid.
With HDMI 1.4, two USB 3.0 and one full-spec Type-C ports, the AeroBook Plus offers a decent array of wired connections. The MicroSD card reader is only USB 2.0 spec, but there's a hatch in the back to easily add a second M.2 2280 NVMe SSD. The preinstalled SSD is only SATA3 spec.
Wireless communications are handled by Intel's ubiquitous AC 3165 card. It supports dual-channel wi-fi as you'd expect, but speeds are pretty mediocre, around 350Mbps inbound. According to the Chuwi website, final production machines use Intel's AC7265 card, which is a useful improvement.
The keyboard is backlit and well spaced. The keys themselves have about 1.5mm of travel and a clean, positive action. It's not the quietest keyboard I've encountered though. The 13x9cm Precision touchpad is certainly big enough and reasonably reliable.
The 282dpi IPS display is surrounded by a black plastic bezel rather than having an edge-to-edge glass covering. It's bright enough, peaking at 345cd/m2 and has a decent contrast ratio of 1058:1. The colour gamut is healthy too, 93% of the sRGB field is covered. The panel itself has a glossy finish and so is rather reflective. The backlight is a bit patchy but you have to be looking at a full black screen to notice.
The display is partnered by a couple of decent little loudspeakers. By the standards of Chinese laptops, they are very good. There's even a genuine spoonful of bass.
Sadly that quality doesn't extend to the webcam and its associated microphones. Video is dim, dull and choppy while the sound is muffled and vague. If you plan on using the AeroBook Plus for Zoom-calls or suchlike in these COVID-blighted days, I'd suggest investing in a quality USB webcam.
There's no denying that the aged chipset counts against the Chuwi. Across the board performance is more akin to an i3-powered MacBook Air. More modern Core i5 machines like Dell's XPS 15 leave it standing, although that's a laptop that costs three times as much and then only with a 1920 by 1200 display.
Taken its own right, for less than £500, it's not a bad performer at all. The Geekbench 5 scores of 945 (single-core) and 2048 (multi-core) underline the fact that the AeroBook Plus has the chops to handle the vast majority of computing tasks quickly and quietly.
Hard-core 3D gaming and editing 4K video show the age of the chipset but if you want to do those sorts of demanding tasks regularly I'd suggest spending rather more than this on your laptop.
Thankfully even when the processor is working hard there are no thermal issues. The fan seldom fires up, and when it does it's pretty quiet.
The installed SATA3 SSD isn't the fastest I've encountered, only offering 2016-era data transfer speeds -- sequential transfer rates top out at around 530MB/s. This, along with the v1.4 spec HDMI and slow MicroSD card readers are the compromises you need to be willing to accept when you pay this little for your laptop.
Battery life is not a particular strong point. Depending on how hard you thrash it, the AeroBook Plus will deliver between five and seven hours. That's pretty average.
My attempts to load a Linux distro onto the AeroBook Plus failed miserably. Being a pre-production unit may have had something to do with it -- presumably the (wholly unlocked) BIOS is not in its final form.
A 15.6-inch Core i5 laptop with a 4K display for less than £500? Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? It's a trick Chuwi pulls off by using an older and therefore cheaper sixth-generation Core i5 processor and some other lower-spec components. But that doesn't hamper the AeroBook Plus too badly. The good display, decent keyboard, a generous amount of RAM and storage combine with smart looks and good build quality to deliver a convincing budget package.