While you've probably never heard of Chuwi, this China-based company is betting that you'll take a chance on its LapBook 12.3 laptop, which looks an awful lot like a MacBook. For just $329, this 12.3-inch silver system offers a couple of high-end features you usually find on Apple laptops that cost three or four times as much, including a 2K-resolution screen and an all-metal chassis. Unfortunately, a series of calamitous issues -- including a frustrating keyboard and touchpad, as well as audio playback difficulties -- prevent us from recommending it.
If you squint and ignore the Chuwi branding, you might think the LapBook 12.3 is the Retina-quality MacBook Air that countless Apple fans wished for. From its magnesium-aluminum chassis to its thick silver bezel to the tapering on its underside, it bears a lot of similarities to the MacBook Air, but with a brighter, sparklier silver coating.
Weighing 3 pounds and measuring 0.6 inches thick, the LapBook 12.3 is thinner than the 11.6-inch Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 (2.9 pounds, 0.8 inches) and the HP Pavilion x360 (3.0 pounds, 0.8 inches). However, it is heavier than the 12-inch Apple MacBook (2 pounds, 0.5 inches) and the 10.1-inch Lenovo Miix 320 (2.3 pounds, 0.7 inches).
The LapBook 12.3's power port, USB 3.0 port and mini HDMI port sit on its left side. Its security lock slot, USB 2.0 port, headphone jack and microSD reader are on its left.
The LapBook sports a colorful 12.3-inch, 2K display that's beset by a dimness that darkens its details. Watching a Thor: Ragnarok trailer, I noticed strong tones in Hulk's green skin, a purple statue and Valkyrie's flowing blue cape. Unfortunately, the panel's 2736 x 1824-pixel resolution wasn't bright enough for me to see the details in Hulk's muscles, the patterns of Hela's armor or the weathered damage of flying ships.
According to our colorimeter, the LapBook produces 122 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That edges out the rating from the 12-inch MacBook (117 percent), and beats the 100-percent ultraportable average and the scores from the Miix 320 (95 percent), the Inspiron 11 3000 (69 percent) and the Pavilion x360 (70 percent).
Confirming what I saw with my own eyes, the LapBook 12.3 emits up to 221 nits of brightness, which is similar to the 218-nit screen in the Miix 320, and better than the 146-nit panel in the Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 and the 193-nit Pavilion x360. The LapBook's rating, though, is far below the 288-nit category average and the 340-nit rating from the MacBook. This dimness hindered its viewing angles, with color distorting at 30 degrees to the left and right.
The LapBook's keyboard feels like it belongs in another, and worse, generation of laptops, which hindered my typing experience. Trying the 10fastfingers.com typing test on it, I clicked my way to a rate of 67 words per minute, a 16 percent fall from my 80 wpm average. Even worse, I could hold an accuracy rate of only 91 percent, when I'm typically at 99 percent.
The keys' 1.4 millimeters of travel and 71 grams of required activation force can't be blamed (we look for at least 1.5mm and 60g, respectively), as the fault lies within the keys' rounded abnormal corners and short size. The mechanisms are also wonky, and don't activate as easily as most I've used, leading to clicks not registering.
In my testing, I found this keyboard wasn't great for me, as I repeatedly failed to correctly type in my Google account password. I also managed to accidentally click the Power button (located in the top right corner) and immediately shut the machine down multiple times.
The LapBook's 3.7 x 2.3-inch touchpad offers a comfortable texture and solid feel with each click. Annoyingly, my wrists kept hitting the touchpad and accidentally activating it while I was typing, moving my cursor out of my Google Doc and screwing up my typing tests.
Of the above competitors, the Inspiron 11, the MacBook and the Pavilion x360 pack decent keyboards. Nothing stellar, mind you, but much more comfortable ones than the LapBook provides.
Audio: Silence is Deadly
This section almost didn't happen, as it took three days for us to get the LapBook's speakers to emit audio. Fortunately, a Windows Update solved this issue, bringing its speakers to life.
The LapBook 12.3's speakers (if they work) can fill a small room with OK-sounding audio. So while the drums, vocals and synths on Frank Ocean's "Provider" all reproduced without distortion, nothing sounded especially strong.
Armed with an Intel Celeron N3450 and 6GB of RAM provides enough speed for modest users. The notebook stayed responsive while I split the desktop between a 1080p YouTube video and five Chrome Tabs (including Slack), but I noticed pauses while switching between tabs after I opened a sixth tab for Google Docs.
The LapBook 12.3 turned in a mediocre score of 3,056 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test, which is near the 3,179 from the Inspiron 11 (Intel Pentium N3710 and 4GB of RAM), but well below the 4,315 from the Pavilion x360 (Pentium N4200 and 4GB of RAM) and -- it almost goes without saying -- miles behind the actual MacBook's (Intel Core m3-6Y30 and 8GB of RAM) score of 6,853. The Miix 320 (Intel Atom X5 Z8350 and 4GB of RAM) did even worse, with a 2,266.
MORE: Best Laptops Under $500
The 64GB eMMC storage in the LapBook 12.3 duplicated 4.97GB of files in 2 minutes and 11 seconds, for a slow rate of 33.8 megabytes per second. We saw faster rates from the 256GB SSD in the MacBook (467 MBps), the 128GB eMMC in the Miix 320 (54.72 MBps) and the 500GB, 5400-rpm hard drive HP Pavilion x360 (57.2 MBps). The 500GB, 5400-rpm SATA hard drive in the Inspiron 11 turned in an even slower rate of 22.61MBps.
Productivity app power users may roll their eyes at the LapBook, which took 10 minutes and 48 seconds to match 20,000 names with addresses in OpenOffice. That's longer than the the 9:12 time from the Pavilion x360 and the 3:02 from the MacBook. The Miix 320 (17:27), and Inspiron 11 (12:59) took even longer.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics in the LapBook make for limited graphical capabilities, as it scored a lowly 19,059 on the Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark test, which is less than the Pavilion x360 (29,444), but similar to the Inspiron 11 (23,692) and the Miix 320 (15,509).
Unless Candy Crush is your gold standard for fun, don't expect to game on the LapBook. The machine ran the modestly demanding Dirt 3 (set to medium graphics, 1920 x 1080p) at a choppy 13 frames per second, which is less than half our 30 fps playability threshold. However, we also couldn't get a satisfactory score from the MacBook (24 fps), the Miix 320 (19 fps), the Inspiron 11 (21 fps) or the Pavilion x360 (17 fps).
The LapBook isn't a long-lasting machine, but its battery life is good for the price. The notebook made it 7 hours and 6 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing at 100 nits). That's more than an hour shy of the 8:18 ultraportable laptop category average, and less than the times from MacBook (9:29) and the Miix 320 (9:17). The Inspiron 11 (5:13) and the Pavilion x360 (5:48) lasted even less time.
By blowing out color and coming up short on detail, the LapBook's 0.9-megapixel shooter is the latest contender for Worst Webcam Ever. One colleague noted that the selfie I shot at my desk came out looking like a daguerreotype.
Another photo that I shot in front of a red wall distorted the tone so that it looked salmon-pink in the middle of the frame and like the Crayola Burnt Sienna crayon on the other. The only part of my hair that comes in clearly is the patch in the middle that's directly under a light of our office.
Don't worry about the LapBook's magnesium-aluminum body heating up. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video on the notebook, our heat gun picked up temperatures on its touchpad (81 degrees Fahrenheit), G&H keys (85 degrees) and underside (95 degrees) that didn't breach our 95-degree comfort threshold.
One of the LapBook's silver linings (aside from the reflective bevelled edge on its deck) is its light amount of bloatware. All you'll find are the freeware versions of Autodesk SketchBook drawing app and the the four shareware-level games (Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, March of Empires and Minecraft) that we see on most PCs these days.
When you buy the LapBook 12.3 from vendors such as Gearbest, you'll see you get a one-year warranty for the notebook. Unfortunately, since we've never heard of Gearbest, or of Chuwi, before now, we don't feel comfortable making any claims about their long-term support.
The Chuwi LapBook 12.3's uncomfortable keyboard, error-introducing touchpad and dim (though high-res) display place tough, nearly insurmountable hurdles in front of any user given the notebook. Still, we admire it for its sturdy-feeling magnesium aluminum design, which could fool an uneducated customer.
So while we can't recommend that anyone buy the Chuwi LapBook 12.3 -- and we wanted to let the Wookie win -- there are affordable alternatives we trust. For instance, you can spend $20 more to get the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 (a bend-back touch-screen convertible) for $349, which has a better keyboard and similar performance. Those looking for better battery life can save a little, with the $299 Miix 320.
Or, you could save up and plunk down $1,199 on the real thing, like the thin and ultralight MacBook. Anything but the LapBook.