Buying a budget notebook is a dangerous game. If you only have a few hundred bucks to spend you’re more than likely going to end up with a bloated, underpowered machine pumped full of bogus crapware, abysmal battery life, and a screen that has a lower resolution than your smartphone. With all that in mind, I gave Chuwi’s Lapbook 14.1 a whirl, and while it won’t be competing with my MacBook Pro for on-the-go computing supremacy, I will happily report that it is an exception to the rule of ultra-cheap laptops being ultra-crappy.
In case the name isn’t familiar, Chuwi is a Chinese manufacturer that has been dabbling in budget tablets and 2-in-1s for a while now. It’s one of several Chinese companies that are attempting to break into western markets with extremely affordable hardware that punches above its price point. The company’s prior efforts have been met with an impressive amount of praise, and the upcoming Hi13 Windows 10 2-in-1 is expected to compete with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 when it comes to bang for your buck.
The Lapbook 14.1 is new to Chuwi’s lineup, and it’s an extremely interesting device. It’s quite thin, with a wedge shape (when closed) that is 9mm at its thinnest and 20mm at its thickest. It’s covered in a sturdy white plastic that manages to feel on the premium side of things, with black keys and a thin 8mm black display bezel. Overall the design feels vaguely like a plastic MacBook Air, though nobody is likely to mistake this for an Apple product. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the flat white lid and case produce a clean look that is definitely pleasing to the eye.
For connectivity, the notebook has two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0, along with a headphone jack, micro HDMI port, and MicroSD card slot for storage expansion. The power source plugs into the upper right of the keyboard, like a MacBook, and it, too, is all white.
The full sized keyboard feels extremely solid and has generous key travel, which is rare among ultra-thin laptops. Additional functions like volume control are handled via a function key toggle and the F-keys. There’s no dedicated buttons for any of the hardware functions with the exception of the power button which is situated above the Backspace key.
The 1080p IPS display is another plus for the device. It’s sharp and bright, and very responsive. It looks fantastic in motion — I watched Mad Max: Fury Road on it from start to finish — and the glossy finish helps keep colors crisp and blacks black. However, when the screen is dark I did notice some backlight bleeding, particularly at the bottom edge of the display, which served to remind me that I was indeed using a sub-$300 laptop. Still, it’s an impressive looking display.
Then there’s the touchpad. You’ll notice that much of this review is positive and that’s because I think the Lapbook 14.1 is a solid little PC, especially for the money, but if there’s one thing about the computer I would change it would be the trackpad. Its bumpy plastic texture, while off-putting, is functional, but there’s a huge problem with the trackpad’s drivers — specifically, there aren’t any drivers. The trackpad is recognized by Windows 10 as a default mouse rather than a trackpad, so none of the normal trackpad options (like disabling it while typing) are available. Thus, every time I went to type on the keyboard and rested my palms on the edge of the trackpad, the mouse would react, clicking on random things or deleting everything I had just typed. It is a frustrating oversight that I hope can be corrected with a software update down the line, but as it stands now the trackpad is lacking. Maybe I just have big hands.
Packed inside the Lapbook 14.1 is a 7th generation Intel Celeron processor with a clock speed of 1.1GHz, 4GB of memory, and 64GB of internal storage. Those are modest specs no matter what way you slice it, but it manages to provide snappy app response and fluid web browsing even with dozens of tabs open. Multitasking various apps is a bit of a crapshoot, however, and you shouldn’t expect to run anything too intense — like video editing or even Photoshop — without experiencing some lag. Watching an HD movie, on the other hand — or even streaming that movie via screen capture to a smart TV or Chromecast — is easy peasy.
You can even use this little white laptop to play some games, though you’ll be best served sticking to less demanding titles like League of Legends and shouldn’t expect to achieve playable framerates on anything that’s graphically taxing. Even CS:GO is a bit of a stretch for these low-end specs, and in my experience the computer got quite toasty when being pushed to its absolute limits.
Anyone who has taken a chance on a cheap laptop knows that battery life is usually a huge mark against them, but the Lapbook 14.1 somehow avoided that curse as well. Inside is a 9,000mAh battery that will give you north of 10 hours of battery life. Moreover, it recharges to full in just over an hour. Both of those figures are way better than you should expect from a notebook this cheap.
In closing, I have to admit that the last thing I thought I’d be doing is writing a recommendation of this particular laptop. These Chinese “grey market” electronics are always tough to gauge, and jumping for one is usually a lesson in severe disappointment. It’s like buying the generic version of your favorite cereal; most of the time you just wished you’d have bought the name you recognized. Chuwi is proving itself to be different, and (trackpad woes aside) the new Lapbook is a pretty fantastic example of that. If you’re looking for a full-fledged Windows 10 notebook to carry out basic to intermediate tasks and don’t want to wreck your wallet, it’s a solid option. The LapBook 14.1 retails for around $299, though you can find it for as cheap as $239. Even at that higher price point it’s a pretty good deal, and if you manage to snag it for less than that it’s just icing on the cake.