Chuwi LapBook Plus review: Nice 4K screen, shame about the processing power

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Good 4K display
  • Space for two SSDs
  • Excellent keyboard
  • 8GB RAM
  • Quality metal unibody construction

Cons

  • Underpowered Intel Atom chipset
  • No USB-C port
  • Only one USB port is 3.0
  • Poor battery life
  • Not actually HDR-compliant

Before hearing about Chuwi's latest portable, I didn't think there was such a thing as a 'budget' 4K laptop. After all, what's the point of a 4K panel if it isn't accompanied by a suitably powerful CPU and GPU to make the best use of that super-dense pixel array?

Chuwi clearly thinks otherwise because the new LapBook Plus combines a very nice 4K panel with some otherwise decidedly budget underpinnings. Hence the asking price: £360 from AliExpress, $440 from Gearbest and £351 from Wish at the time of writing. That's around one-third the price of any other 15.6-inch 4K notebook currently on the market. 

The Plus is Chuwi's first 15.6-inch notebook, but it's hard to knock it in terms of physical packaging. The design of the magnesium alloy unibody is straight out of the Apple playbook and the solidity and overall build quality would do the MacBook-maker proud. Only the plastic frame surrounding the screen looks a little low-rent.

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The LapBook Plus is a well-made and stylish ultrabook with a 4K 15.6-inch screen as its standout feature.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

The size and weight are more than class-competitive for a 15.6-inch 'ultrabook', although at 36.2cm wide by 24.2cm deep by 1.59cm thick, you'll still need a pretty large backpack to carry it around. Still, its 1.53kg weight won't pull at the straps.

Since the 60Hz 4K screen is the LapBook Plus's main selling point it's just as well that it's pretty decent. With a 100% sRGB gamut, a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels (228ppi) and a maximum brightness of 345cd/m2 it is a very fine laptop screen, regardless of price. 

Watching UHD content on it really is a treat: the clarity, balance and colour saturation are all impressive. No other laptop at the price even comes close.

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The plastic screen surround is the only element that looks a bit cheap.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

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One caveat needs mentioning though. Chuwi says the display is HDR compatible but the 'stream HDR video' option in the Windows HD Colour settings menu is greyed out and all the HDR display capabilities are fixed to No. 

Open the DirectX Diagnostic Tool and opposite Monitor Capabilities you will see it clearly stated that 'HDR Not Supported'. Chuwi told me this is due to the integrated graphics chip not supporting PlayReady DRM.

It's also worth mentioning that the screen finish is gloss rather than matte, so reflections can be an issue. There's no touch support either, although at the price this shouldn't come as a surprise.

Some of the LapBook Plus's technical specifications are pretty impressive for the price: There's 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM, a 256GB Netac SSD and a hatch to easily add another 2280 M.2 SATA3 SSD.

But there's also some bad news. The processor Chuwi has selected for the Plus is a 2016-vintage X7-Series Atom chip, the E3950.

That's a quad-core chip with a base clock speed of 1.6GHz and a burst speed of just 2GHz. Frankly, it's gutless and cripples the LapBook Plus's ability to perform anything other than low-intensity tasks.

The Geekbench 4 scores bear this out. The LapBook Plus's multi-core and single-core results of 3863 and 1273 compare poorly with those of the Celeron N4100-powered LapBook SE (4382 and 1805 respectively). Intel's integrated HD Graphics 505 chip wasn't designed with this sort of display in mind, so it's in no position to take up the slack.

The user experience underlines this. Navigation around YouTube 4K content in the Edge browser is a stodgy and hesitant affair -- waiting for a video to move from in-window to full screen can take anything up to ten seconds. The viewing experience once you've gone full-screen only partly makes up for the level of tardiness.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)    

And keep in mind that away from YouTube there's not a lot of choice for streamed 4K content. Amazon's UHD streams can't be viewed in a web browser, while the Atom chipset precludes watching 4K Netflix video. BBC's iPlayer is largely a 4K-free zone at the moment. So is Hulu.

Expecting the LapBook Plus to run any sort of games in 4K is just delusional. The same goes for editing UHD video or working with high-definition image files using the likes of GIMP. The sad truth is that the LapBook Plus lacks the horsepower to do a lot of the things you'd buy a 4K machine to do.

Pushing all those pixels around can make the fanless Plus run a little hot. After an hour of 4K video playback the bottom gets very toasty. 

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There are USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, but it would be nice to have USB-C too.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

For wired connectivity, you have to make do with just two USB ports, only one of which is type 3.0. A MicroSD card slot, mini-HDMI port and 3.5mm audio jack round out the offering. Chuwi really should have added a USB-C port as an extra data connector and to back up the proprietary power jack.

The HDMI port will only output to the v1.4 specification, which is hardly ideal for a machine being promoted on the back of its video playback capabilities. Wireless communication is ably taken care of by Intel's ubiquitous dual-band AC 3165 module.

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The keyboard is very good and includes a numeric keypad.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

Thankfully the keyboard is harder to criticise. It's solid, spacious and the key action is spot-on. There's a two-stage backlight, too. As is the case with all Chuwi laptops, the keyboard layout conforms to the International rather than UK standard.

Loudspeakers have traditionally been a weak spot of Chuwi laptops, but thanks to upward-firing drivers on either side of the keyboard the LapBook pumps out a pretty decent sound. Yes, there could be a little more volume, but what's available is composed, balanced and easy on the ear.

The 4K display means the 36.5Whr battery is only capable of moderate feats of endurance. Looping a UHD video file using VLC with both screen brightness and volume set to 50% -- surely the sort of task the LapBook Plus was designed to do -- drained it in 3.5 hours. Less demanding use can see that figure stretch to around six hours, but that's still nothing to shout about.

Being made from run-of-the-mill Intel parts I expected the LapBook Plus to be fully Linux compatible and I wasn't disappointed. Ubuntu 19.04 ran without a glitch with everything working as intended. Given the weak chipset I'd suggest transitioning to a lightweight Linux distribution as a matter of priority.

Conclusions

The LapBook Plus is a strange beast. There's no denying the quality of its 4K (if not HDR) display, but equally, there's no denying that this machine is badly hamstrung by its puny Atom chipset. If it had a Core M chip or even a Celeron N4100 I'd recommend it despite the lack of a USB-C port and poor battery life. As it is, I'd rather have either the LapBook SE or AeroBook from Chuwi. Granted they don't have 4K screens, but they do offer a much more balanced user experience.

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