Tech review: Chuwi Hi13 2-in-1 laptop – feels like a Microsoft Surface Book at less than a third of the price

Chinese firm’s laptop/tablet is well built and feels more premium than its HK$2,900 price tag suggests, but while it satisfies as a computer, it falls short as a tablet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 9:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 9:17am

With the exception of Huawei and perhaps Xiaomi, Chinese consumer electronics brands have little problem with unoriginal hardware design (Gionee, for example, recently released a flagship handset that looks virtually identical to the iPhone 7 Plus). But if you’re OK with using a copycat product, you’ll often be rewarded with great value as Chinese products can offer similar features for much less. The Hi13, by Shenzhen-based Chuwi, is one such product.

Design and hardware

The Hi13 is an all-metal laptop that doubles as a tablet when the keyboard is detached. There’s no beating around the bush: it’s a rip-off of the Microsoft Surface Book. Most external specs and features are identical, from the 13.5-inch LCD IPS display with 3000 x 2000 resolution to the optional stylus to the way the tablet attaches to the keyboard via magnetic pogo pins.

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It’s a very well-built piece of hardware – the display, for example, gets up to 480 nits of brightness, which is high enough for outdoor use under the sun – that feels more premium than its budget price tag suggests (HK$2,900).

But, of course, corners had to be cut to make this price range. The processor, for example, is just an Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3450 – a serviceable chip that can handle basic laptop tasks like word processing and YouTube watching just fine, but is no match for the 7th-generation Kaby Lake Intel chip found in the Surface Book (or other premium laptops like Huawei’s new MateBook X). There’s also only a measly 4GB of RAM inside, so don’t expect to do heavy video editing or run multiple apps on this machine without slowdown. Still, I used it as my work machine for a week and managed just fine.

The tablet has two USB-A slots, along with one port each for USB-C (for charging), microSD, micro-HDMI and micro-USB. The keyboard itself offers an additional USB-A slot, so there are enough ports here for most users.

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Software and features

The Hi13 uses Windows 10 for both laptop and tablet mode, as opposed to other Chinese 2-in-1 devices that run Windows 10 in laptop mode but jump to Android software for tablet. The experience is hit and miss. Windows 10 is a fine operating system as a computer, but its tablet mode is half-baked, with certain on-screen buttons still appearing like they were designed for mouse clicks and not finger taps.

Performance and battery life

On the performance front, it’s the same story. The Hi13 satisfies as a computer but falls short as a tablet. The keyboard is excellent, with keys that are evenly spaced and offer good tactile feedback. But when you detach the keyboard and go into tablet mode, the touchscreen feels less responsive than a smartphone touchscreen. Seeing your finger drag way ahead of a webpage as you scroll is not a good look.

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At least the four speakers on the tablet pump out deep and loud sound, so the tablet is a great media consumption device.

Battery life on the Hi13 is decent – I could get about six hours on a single charge as a work device (writing documents and emails), but when used for streaming Netflix or watching downloaded videos, I’d be scrambling for the charger after four hours. Both tests were used with screen at max brightness.

Conclusion

Companies such as Chuwi know their products aren’t going to win any design awards or wow anyone with performance. But Chuwi also knows there are a lot of budget-conscious consumers out there, and that’s what the Hi13 is for. At HK$2,900, the Hi13 succeeds in approximating the feeling of using a Surface Book at less than one-third of the price.

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Specifications

Dimensions: 334mm x 222mm x 9.2mm

Weight: 1.1kg (tablet); 0.89kg (keyboard)

Display: 13.5in

Battery: 10,000 mAh

OS version reviewed: Windows 10

Processor: Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3450

Cameras: 5-megapixel main camera, 2-megapixel front-facing camera

Memory: 64GB ROM, 4GB RAM

Price: HK$2,900