The Microsoft Surface Pro is still the best 2-in-1 convertible Windows tablet out there. There are many copycat devices in the market, like this Chuwi SurBook too – unsubtly similar branding and all.
Unfortunately, the SurBook is far from a full-on Surface Pro replacement. If you want the 2-in-1 look on a Windows 10 device but can’t afford Microsoft’s £800+ options, then it is worth considering.
But it is clunky, underpowered Windows tablet and gives a frustrating user experience. Read on to see if the saving is worth the compromise.
Price and availability
At the time of writing, the Chuwi SurBook is £322.68 from Gearbest, a trusted retailer of Asian electronics. It kindly provided us with the review sample.
This whole package costs £376.60, under half of what the cheapest £799 Surface Pro costs without the keyboard or pen. But there are many reasons why this is.
Design and build
The SurBook feels solid thanks to its metallic finish but is relatively bulky and heavy, even without the keyboard case. Plain black bezels around the display make it reminiscent of the fourth generation iPad before the iPad Air launched.
There is a Surface Pro-aping slab-like hinge at the back which is fully adjustable to 125 degrees. This is great for positioning the SurBook at the best angle for whatever you’re doing. Bear in mind it scrapes horribly on some surfaces though.
There are cameras on the front and rear for photo and video applications, as well as 2x USB-A ports (one USB 2.0, one USB 3.0), one USB-C and a headphone jack. There’s also a TF card slot, which is the same as SD, and microSD cards will work in it.
Overall the tablet is not premium feeling though, and the cheap (in price and feel) optional keyboard doesn’t help with the impression.
Features and specs
The tablet without the keyboard measures 297.8 x 203.3 x 9.4 mm and weights a shade under 1kg. Add 0.35kg to that if you get the keyboard too.
The keyboard has decent travel, but you’ll want to lay it flat on the table when attached, as its optional elevated position reveals how flimsy it is when you begin to type. The textured finish is hard to keep clean, too.
The keys have no spacing which means typing is frustrating, and the flex of the keyboard itself means you can accidentally click the trackpad.
The trackpad even at its best is bad – the cursor flicks all over the screen for no reason and its limited gesture controls are sporadic at best. It’s also not got backlit keys, which is something to consider and a feature we missed.
Aside from the pedestrian looks, more important about the Chuwi SurBook is what’s inside it. It’s woefully underpowered.
Our review unit had a 1.10GHz Intel Celeron N3450 CPU. It can clock out at 2.2GHz if required. But paired with 6GB RAM, it struggled significantly while running more than three programmes at once. A fanless design, it also ran pretty hot when multitasking.
Often, Celeron processors are adequate for simple tasks in cheaper laptops, but we found the compromises too much to bear for regular everyday use on the SurBook. Unfortunately, trying to edit a Word document, surf the web on Chrome and run Slack caused the device to stutter when switching windows to the point where we gave up trying to do anything, and closed everything down.
This is a shame, and means the SurBook can only really cope with one simple task at a time. The Samsung-made display is an adequate 2736×1824 12.3in HD screen that comes with a screen protector pre-applied. This plastic layer will pick up even the slightest hint of fingerprint though, so be warned if you want to use this in tablet mode.
It’s in a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is different to the regular 16:9 we’ve come to expect. It gives the SurBook a more compact, modern vibe and is becoming more commonplace on laptops and tablets.
It’s bright and vivid enough for all content, though brightness and colours are better with the screen protector removed (true of any screen on any device in our opinion).
With 128GB storage, you’ll have enough for basic programmes, music and video downloads and a bit more, but heavy users will find this fills up pretty quickly. Luckily USB-A ports mean an external hard drive is an option.
The 2Mp front facing camera leaves a lot to be desired, as does the rear 5Mp sensor, but at the price they are adequate for basic video calling.
Audio from the small speaker grilles at the base of the unit when in stand mode are actually pretty good, though light on bass you might expect. Luckily you can hook up speakers if necessary via the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The SurBook performs disappointingly considering its £322 price. The £241 Chuwi LapBook 12.3 and the £192 Jumper EXBook 3 Pro perform better in all but one test. It proves that the extra money for the SurBook is paying for the 2-in-1 form factor that is unnecessary for simple computing, as well as being underpowered.
Battery life is also underwhelming. On a full charge the SurBook limped through about three hours of constant use before prompting us to plug in the power. Chuwi claims it can do eight hours, which is a bit low anyway. We can confidently say that it didn’t last anywhere near this the whole time we tested it.
The SurBook runs Windows 10 Home out of the box, and it is as simple or complex an operating system as you wish. We urge you only to consider buying the SurBook if you are looking for the former though.
Without the keyboard, you are forced to use Windows 10 via the touchscreen, which is often very frustrating. You can use Windows’ tablet mode that simplifies the interface for touch input or work with the full OS, but neither are fun to use (on any device at any price), and if you can afford the SurBook we’d urge you to consider the £339 iPad instead.
With the keyboard, the Windows 10 OS on the SurBook is a better, more usual computing experience. But, as our benchmarks show, you can spend over £100 less and get a more powerful machine in a classic clamshell design.