This all started in autumn last year: I had mandatory courses to follow and I was sent there with our recently hired Digital Curator. There we met a young IT guy from the CGIE (The IT department of Luxembourgish education), who owned a Surface. I don’t particularly get enamoured with Microsoft products, especially those that cost 1000€ and more. Our Digital Curator, however, saw something in the device.
He’s been talking ever since buying one, or at least a functionally equivalent machine. Since we share an office, I told him what I knew about the hardware and if I didn’t I looked it up, interpreted the results and explained him what to know. Different CPUs, USB-C, screen resolutions. All the questions that are difficult because they go in the nitty gritty details. It was all about the hardware, I may not like Microsoft but if he wants a Surface or Surface-like device, it’s going to be Microsoft whatever I do. A very interesting device I discovered while researching alternatives, was the Acer Switch Alpha 12. Still I wouldn’t buy it at that price, since I have four laptops.
As a sidenote, I’m pretty sure that properly justified, he’s simply be able to get a Surface from work. After all that’s why he wants one: for work. My question, however, is whether you really need so much power for the kind of work he does. We IT people all know that our machines are extremely overpowered for most of the mundane tasks.
Any way, I’m pretty sure my research online got the attention of some advertisement algorithms and I started to get ads for Surface like devices. I sometimes buy stuff directly in China and one day my GearBest newsletter offered me a Chuwi Hi10 Plus for just shy over 155€, and they’d throw in the keyboard for free. That last one was important, because when you buy Chinese, you better read what you get and don’t rely on the pictures. Keyboards are usually not included with Tablet. I thought it was a decent deal enough in order to give it a try. After all, that’s basically what you pay for a cheap Android tablet without a keyboard. Oh, and if you never dealt with the Chinese: these things are basically always on sale. (When I looked up the links, the Tablet could be had for 164,30€ and the keyboard for 24,24€. A worse deal than what I got, but still relatively decent).
Of course, you do not get Surface hardware for that price. You get:
– Cherry Trail Atom x5-Z8300, which truly is the lowest of the low end. Don’t let the “Quad Core” impress you, this thing has a Passmark in the order of a Core-based Celeron 867 and that is a dual Core CPU.
– Intel Graphics (aka, whatever Intel thinks it can get away with)
– Full HD 10.2″ touch screen
– 4GB DDR3
– 64GB eMMC disk
– An American layout magnetic-attached keyboard
– Dual boot Android RemixOS and Windows 10 Home
I would never have recommended anything like this to anyone, given my relatively bad experiences with Atom chips.
As with all Chinese orders, you wait….
Surprisingly short wait… 11 days, which is really good.
What surprised me more is that these constructors have really looked at packaging from high end hardware manufacturers like that fruity company. The packaging was excellent, well designed and well thought out.
As for the hardware? Wow… If there wasn’t the Intel logo on the back and the mandatory “QA OK” small sticker on the back, I’d have guessed it was an iPad. The back is metal, it has a nice heavy feel and the finish is really nice. The keyboard, has a nice velvety feel (like the Surface keyboards) have and it clicks effortlessly in on the tablet while making a nice protective shell. The triangular stand system is a bit awkward, but I’m using it right now to type this report. It works. One thing that I found a bit sad, is that I found no way to use the keyboard as a protective shell and still use the tablet in tablet mode. For two reasons: you cannot fold the shell in such a way that you can use the tablet as a tablet and not be bothered by the shell. Even if you could, the keyboard tells the tablet to behave as a laptop (you can switch that in Windows 10 though). I don’t know if this flaw is shared with higher end devices. Fine, when I don’t use it: fold it in its keyboard, and just detach when you want to use it as a tablet.
Initially, I thought to just image the disk of the device in order to be able to restore it to the original condition whenever I wanted. I was pretty certain I could do that, if I found a way to boot to a Linux distro. The ports are basically MicroUSB and USB-C and a MicroSD card reader. Formats in which I have no bootable media. Doesn’t matter, I thought…
On boot you can easily get into the EFI Firmware, which is bog standard Award Firmware. I just hit Escape when the Chuwi logo popped up. The firmware hinted already that the configuration might be a bit complicated. As bootable devices, it listed three times Android and once Windows 10. Weird. If you let it go, you get a nice boot screen showing the Android and the Windows logo. Just select with mouse or keyboard whatever you want. Windows it is then. In typical Chinese style you do not get an Out of the Box (OOBE) experience, which are actually mandatory for OEMs if I recall correctly. You boot into a pre-created “admin” user and get presented with your Windows 10 Home desktop. I expected some Chinese crapware, but in reality it does look pristine. Windows activated without any problem. The mind boggles.
The partition dedicated to Windows 10 is 45GB large. Not stellar, but 25B is usable, Windows 10 taking approximately 20GB. I was curious on how the partitioning on a Android/Windows 10 computer would be. Well, if you must know: Highly complicated. Two EFI partitions, many small partitions. Apart from the EFI partitions, the only things I can identify is the 9GB partition probably being the Android “Internal storage” (Android reports: 8GB), and the two Windows partitions. Originally I thought of trying Linux, or something, but given this partitions scheme, I will never be able to set it back to anything resembling the original state.
So, I used it a few days running Windows 10. Frankly, Windows 10 is annoying. It does push all kind of Microsoft Services on you. For example, in the action center, there is an icon called “Notes”. I thought: “Cool, a post-it” application. Nope, it launches OneNote. OneNote for which you need a Microsoft account, and on top of that is uninstallable (Well, unless you find the magical powershell incantation) This kind of stuff is everywhere, and I truly have no idea how Windows users stomach it.
Another really annoying this is how Windows 10 uses gestures. Whether it’s on the touchpad or the touchscreen, sometimes I just move in such a way that suddenly Windows minimuze, or resize or, disappear and I have no idea what I did. I tried to figure out what exactly I did, in order to understand the gesture I accidentally invoked, but I don’t seem to be able to find any consistency. I also have found no way to disable gestures.
Another thing that irked me was that if you touch the screen, sometimes (but not always) you see some kind of trail following your finger. At first, I thought it was just me touching too heavily on the screen and making the LCD misbehave. Not so. Windows 10 does that. It doesn’t happen on Android.
When in tablet mode, the on screen keyboard is weird. You don’t have directional keys, which makes it very annoying when doing shell work (how the hell do you navigate in the history), but there is one thing worse: the on-screen numeric keypad follows the phone layout! Not the traditional computer numeric keypad layout. I have no words. This is not a phone!
Windows 10 has an immature beta feel to me. There is a lot of work to make it usable, at least in my book. The combobox bug is still there by the way (In modern apps, you cannot press a letter to jump to the items starting with that letter).
A little word on touch screens. I am surprised that you don’t see finger smudges as much as you’d expect. Yes, when the device is off you see how bad it is, but in use, pretty much not at all. I did see them when I had direct sunlight shining on the screen. That said, the touch functionality is basically not used when using it as a little laptop.
As for just light working on the machine? I’m surprised myself, but having HTML5-playback music clips running in Firefox, with 11 tabs open, while typing this in Notepad++, it doesn’t use all that much resources, as you can see in the screenshot. Sure, the Core i machines I have, don’t even use 5% when doing similar tasks, but if the intended use case is too take notes, shoot a picture of an object/document for documentation and stuff like that. More than sufficient.
The battery seems to be ok. When I started writing this about two hours ago, it told me 9h of battery remaining. Now it says a bit over 4h remaining. We all know these predictions are too optimistic. I can just extrapolate: I guess another two hours should be possible with that prediction. Giving me a total of 4h. Acceptable, but I expected a tad more. Definitely not a full day of work. Perhaps if you really just have an editor open or so…
All in all: It’s not a Surface, but the hardware is damn impressive, well built, and high quality for the price I paid. If you know your needs, and a tablet/laptop hybrid is what you want, plus you don’t want to break the bank and understand you won’t be running Crysis on it, this is a good choice for a Windowd 10 based device. If you need more power, get yourself a refurbished Lenovo X220, which comes at a similar price point with a whole lot more power and expandability, but you won’t get touch or a tablet. If you want everything and money is no object, get the real thing.
I should really try the Android part next.
Note: I did not have a spell checker on this machine, so this document wasn’t spell checked