Thought the netbook was gone? Not quite.
While the limitations of tablets have become clear in terms of productivity and consumer allure, as evidenced by their declining sales year-on-year, the 2-in-1 convertible notebook has made a big splash in PC sales. Much like the tablets they have mostly superceded, these inexpensive 2-in-1s, popularized by the Asus T-series, are aimed mostly at casual content consumers.
But while the Taiwanese manufacturer Asus is currently focusing more on the somewhat higher-end of 2-in-1s with the redesigned Chi, Transformer, and the UX360 series, Chinese manufacturers are looking to appeal to the low-end market. Long skilled at producing “shan zhai” knockoffs of famous brands for domestic consumption, they are starting to market their own inexpensive takes on the 2-in-1 convertibles and ultrabooks overseas.
Just as Chinese smartphones have become a viable option for cost-conscious consumers worldwide, companies you might never have heard of, such as Chuwi, Teclast, and VOYO, are looking to become household names in the low-end ultrabook and 2-in-1 market.
This review will examine one of the popular offerings from the Chinese manufacturer VOYO: the WinPad A1 Plus. Can $276 (though currently a cheaper $245.89 due to an Intel promotion) USD really get you a good 2-in-1 from a lesser-known brand? Let’s find out.
|Screen||11.6-inch 1920 x 1080 px FHD 10-point capacitive IPS screen|
|Processor||Intel Cherry Trail X5-Z8300 64bit Quad Core 1.44-1.84GHz)|
|Graphics||Integrated Intel HD Graphics 8|
|Storage||64GB eMMC 4.51 – microSD card up to 128GB|
|Connectivity||Broadcomm Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||USB 2.0 x 2, microSD card reader, micro HDMI, 3.5mm audio, SIM card (no LTE), DC-in (12V)|
|Battery||10000 mAh (about 8-9 hours of solid use)|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Home (Chinese by default, but can be changed to English)|
|Size||290(W) x 196(D) x 16mm(H)|
|Extras||Gravity sensor, front-facing (480p) + rear-facing camera (1080p), steroid speakers, integrated microphone, trackpad lock switch|
Design and build quality
The WinPad A1 Plus comes in two colors: safety orange and silver. Especially in its orange colourway, the design cues that VOYO “borrowed” from the Yoga 3 11 are quite clear. You’d even be forgiven for thinking that they are the same laptop when viewed from a distance.
The build quality of the wedge-shaped chassis was a pleasant surprise when I opened the box; I had expected something with a cheap plastic feeling and a fair amount of flex on the outside, like my old Asus T 200. Instead though, I found that the chassis was coated with a rubberized “soft-touch” plastic, which feels quite nice to the touch, and has a dense, rigid construction.
The WinPad A1 is a well made convertible, for its class
As another pleasant surprise, the finish seems quite resistant to grease and fingerprints – a welcome change from the Razer Stealth I’d been using the past month. Overall, the WinPad A1 Plus has a solid, reassuring feel that invites the machine to be thrown into your bag without a thought for its safety.
The 11.6-inch touchscreen is coated with a highly-reflective piece of (what I believe to be) tempered glass and feels solid, partially due to the sizeable bezels surrounding it. This is a 360-degree yoga-style laptop, not a detachable, so the screen is adjoined to the keyboard deck with two sturdy-looking alloy hinges. The actuation of the hinge is fairly stiff, but this is important for a 360-style convertible in order to keep its position and not move when touched in clamshell or stand modes.
You’ll find rubber feet and speakers on the bottom
The bottom of the chassis, home to the speakers, also houses four rubber feet to provide grip and no ventilation, as this is a passively-cooled device. There are also two smaller feet on the bottom-edge of the palmrests, which seem out of place until you flip the WinPad’s screen around into tablet or tent modes. As expected on a $2-300 range device, the keyboard does not retract, and these feet protect the deck of the laptop, as well as the surface you place it on, from being scratched.
The bottom also reveals 15 phillips-head screws, which allow access to the internals. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), there is no upgradability outside of an M.2 bay which is only compatible with LTE modems—no chance of an SSD upgrade here.
The tiny rubber feet on the palm-rest
The sides of the laptop are home to all of the I/O. On the left side you have a USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm audio, SIM card (though without LTE here, as this is the Wi-Fi only model), volume rocker, power button, and trackpad lock switch. The volume rocker is useful, though the power button is prone to accidental presses due to its proximity to it. The trackpad lock seems redundant as there is already a trackpad lock button on the keyboard, and it disables itself in tablet mode anyway. The right side is home to the AC, another USB 2.0, micro-HDMI, and microSD card ports.
For a small, inexpensive laptop, there is quite a reasonable amount of expansion. It is just a pity that both of the USB ports are of the slow 2.0 variety.
Overall, the build quality of the WinPad A1 is robust and reassuring, especially for such a cheap device. It is quite a bit more solid than other machines in the same price range.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard is a full 10-keyless with function/media keys (strangely there are no brightness adjustment keys, yet there are for volume—which is redundant due to the existing volume rocker) and is about par for what you’d expect in an 11.6-inch budget device. There is no backlighting, the keys are smaller in order to fit the deck, and there’s not a lot of travel. The actuation is fairly stiff and satisfying but the travel is short and the keys bottom out rather abruptly. I wasn’t able to find exact measurements, but I’d guess the travel is between 1.1-1.2mm.
I don’t have big hands, but this keyboard is still rather cramped—this is no contender to the MacBook Air 11’s keyboard in case you were wondering. Of note is that the shift key is undersized, but it seems only to allow a silly “.com” key. This key is often found on Android soft-keyboards, but I don’t believe many people would find much use for it on a Windows computer. There is also a button for switching off the trackpad, which is again redundant due to the switch on the left side.
On TypingTest.com I scored 76 WPM with 1 error, down from my usual score of 104 WPM with 1 error. So bottom point, while this is not the most spacious or most comfortable keyboard, it is fine for basic daily use.
The keyboard is half-decent, but the trackpad is terrible
The clickpad is the first and most crucial area where the WinPad disappoints. In fact, I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say that VOYO may have hired Satan himself to design the perfect implement for human suffering.
The pad is small, which is fine—the Surface 3 also had a small clickpad (which was a Microsoft Precision one). The issues with the WinPad’s clickpad are numerous though:
- First, the actuation pressure is far too great—it takes a concerted effort to press the left or right clicks. It is physically difficult to click the pad, and it becomes virtually impossible to click with your thumb while you’re tracking with the pointer finger, as most people do.
- Second, the clickpad has a significant deadzone in the middle. That means that on the already tiny pad, you are forced to stretch your thumb to the far-left or right in order to depress the buttons. The incredible stiffness of the buttons simply adds to the arduousness of the task.
- Third, scrolling doesn’t work. I am able to occasionally get it to scroll upwards, but I have never gotten downward scrolling to work. This is very frustrating, as one of the machine’s best uses is for web-content consumption. The ability to scroll with the pad has been a basic function for over a decade on even Windows PCs, and its absence is quite glaring when used in clamshell form.
- Lastly, the pad comes with multi-touch gestures activated, but there is absolutely no way to configure the pad to disable them. This is an issue beyond the constant accidental palm-touches that move your cursor while typing. The diminutive size of the pad causes you to constantly trigger the gestures, which steals focuses from what you were doing to trot out one of Windows 10’s useless function bars. Even worse, the trackpad seems to become unresponsive for a second or two after the gesture has been triggered, so it will become habit that you immediately bring your hands to the screen to swipe away whatever annoying function you accidentally performed.
As a result of these issues, I gave up trying to physically click the buttons and resorted to tapping or touch. However, some basic operations, such as clicking-and-dragging, are nearly impossible without physical clicks. I understand that this is a budget device, but I would have paid the $10 or $15 it would cost to install a trackpad with physical buttons, or even just one that was configurable.
It is hard to overstate the frustrating barrier this clickpad poses to basic productivity. It is a shame that the overall good build and solid component choices (for the price) of the WinPad A1 Plus are marred by such an underperforming clickpad.
As the WinPad A1 Plus is a budget device, I had expected it gets a low-quality TN panel. However, the panel used here is actually quite a decent FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS.
It is decently bright, and though it has a cooler white-point, it’s of generally high quality. Viewing angles are good and there is very little detectable backlight bleed, which was a nice surprise as my Razer Stealth had quite unsightly backlight bleed on the top and bottom of the display.
As mentioned previously, this is a glossy display with some kind of tempered glass cover. This cover is the only exception to the general smudge-resistant chassis. While the chassis does a great job of resisting oil and fingerprint smudges, the panel picks them up more easily than the screen on more expensive touch-screen devices to a noticeable degree. It is also much more reflective than other glossy screens I’ve seen recently, seeming to become somewhat grey when in direct sunlight. I would definitely recommend getting a matte screen protector for this.
There’s an IPS panel on this machine, but the glossy finishing makes it not the best outdoor experience
Like most 360-degree convertibles, the WinPad A1 Plus is usable in three positions: clamshell, tablet, and stand.
Clamshell mode is what you will likely be using the WinPad A1 Plus in most of the time. Due to its small dimensions, clamshell mode also feels the most cramped. The lower edge of the palm rests dig into one’s palms somewhat, and your hands will yearn for a stretch before typing for long. As mentioned before, the hinges are quite stiff and touching the screen often feels more natural than battling the trackpad.
Stand mode what you will likely be using for media consumption in cramped spaces, but you won’t be using it many other situations. Due to the rubber feet on the palm rests and the robust hinge, it works without issue and can even be picked up by the screen without the angle of the hinge changing.
Tablet mode is achieved by picking up the laptop and simply folding the screen back all the way. There is no locking mechanism to keep the screen back, but again the hinge is stiff enough that it stays tightly in place. I don’t find myself using tablet mode much, though, because it’s just a bit too heavy and thick to be comfortably held for any amount of time. If you’re squeezed in an economy airline seat, I think you’ll find the stand mode much more comfortable for longer periods of time than tablet mode.
The WinPad A1 works well as a laptop, but it’s also a decent tablet and stand
Getting to performance, this is an older Cherry Trail system, utilizing the X5-Z8300 64bit (Quad Core) and operating between 1.44 and 1.84GHz. It is not quite as speedy as the Atoms found in more expensive systems such as the Surface 3, but it’s still much faster than the older Bay Trail Atoms. The A1 Plus thankfully comes with a welcome 4GB of RAM, meaning you aren’t likely to run out of memory in day-to-day use as you would with a machine with only 2GB, as some other budget devices do.
As a result, performance is fine for streaming HD/UHD video, browsing, or Word-processing with heavy templates.
On the Octane 2.0 benchmark, it scores a modest 6016.
CrystalDiskMark reveals the limitations of the eMMC 4.51 storage interface:
The eMMC storage is slow by today’s standards
Emissions (noise, heat) and speakers
The notebook does a good job of regulating its temperature. Many passively-cooled devices get noticeably warm under load and throttle, however this one remained comfortably cool to my hands through my weeks of use. The bottom will get warm where the CPU resides, but it will never get uncomfortably so, even if touching bare skin.
Overall, if you have reasonable expectations for such a small and inexpensive device, you won’t be disappointed. The most limiting factors for web browsing/content consumption are the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and the slower eMMC 4.51 storage.
Other than the keyboard, the audio is the other major letdown of this device. The speakers, even at max volume, sound positively anemic. It certainly doesn’t help that they fire directly into the ground due to their location, but that is only a small contributor. The speakers are not only incredibly tinny, skewing everything to the higher frequencies and distorting pitches, but are just far too quiet. You will definitely not want to watch media on this device using the internal speakers. In fact, in a crowded area, you probably won’t be able to make any sound out of it at all.
Battery life is one area where the WinPad A1 Plus excels as one benefit of its limited-horsepower components is a very solid battery life.
Advertised at 10,000 mAh, you can expect at least 8 hours of solid use consisting of videos, word processing, and web surfing with 4+ tabs open in Chrome from this battery. Under similar loads, my Razer Blade Stealth QHD got just over 4 hours, so it’s a nice change to have an ultraportable that will last you the whole workday.
I did notice that I was having issues with standby drain, however. It seems like putting the device into standby just turns off the screen, as I could feel the bottom was still warm at times. This resulted in a significant drain of about 25% over night. I did try disabling connected standby, but that resulted in losing the ability of the A1 to sleep at all! Using hibernate instead wouldn’t be too bad of a compromise if it weren’t for the slow eMMC drive, which takes around 30 seconds to resume from hibernation. Other than the standby drain though, this notebook delivers in the battery department.
Price and availability
The WinPad A1 Plus is available for purchase over here and sells for $245.89 once you add it to your cart at the time of this post. This might change in the future though.
Free shipping options are available for most countries, but you’ll probably have to pay import taxes in some regions. The site also offers Paypal checkout and 45 days money-back guarantee, which should make you feel safe to buy from a lesser known web store.
The WinPad A1 Plus is a decent package for your dollar
I dare say that this little convertible has grown on me over the past two weeks. The solid construction, soft-touch coating, and small size make it easy to just grab the A1 Plus every morning by hand and take it with me to work. It is neither expensive nor fragile, so you don’t need to worry about a case, and the battery lasts more than all day.
It’s simply a huge shame that the clickpad and speakers are so terrible – these two issues prevent it from being a mobile workhorse (without a mouse) or a mobile entertainment center (without external speakers/headphones).
As it is, it’s a solidly-constructed, inexpensive convertible that serves well for web browsing, light word processing, and media consumption (with headphones). It’s worth considering if you already have a main computer and you’re looking for something to carry around with you for casual work or surfing.
If VOYO can address the major issues of trackpad and speakers in the next iteration while keeping the price similar, they may really be onto something in this price range.