Chuwi is a smaller Chinese laptop maker that offers a couple of different budget laptops, mostly in the $250 to $400 price segments. We’ve partnered with them to announce their new products when available, but I wanted to properly review their laptops as well, so I could share my in-depth impressions with you.
That brings us to this article, a detailed review of the Chuwi LarkBook, which is a 13-inch ultrabook selling for $399 as of early 2021. Chuwi sent this to us about a month ago, I’ve been using it ever since, and I’ve gathered my thoughts about it down below.
In just a few words, this LarkBook punches above its weight in terms of design, construction, screen, audio, and even inputs, but is motorized by an older lower-power Intel platform, so it can only handle lightweight use, such as casual browsing, text-editing and video streaming. It also gets a fairly small battery by today’s standards, as well as a non-backlit keyboard, all these being the tradeoffs you’d have to accept when going with this sort of a computer for less than $400.
Disclaimer: Chuwi sent us this laptop for review, and they also sponsor our news announcements when they launch a new product. However, this article is not sponsored in any way, it includes my complete and honest opinions about the product, and Chuwi do not get any saying in what I’m sharing with you here, just like with every other review on the site. Just to me things perfectly clear!
Specs as reviewed
||Chuwi LarkBook ultrabook
||13.3-inch, 16:9 format, touch, glossy
FHD 1920 x 1080 px IPS 60 Hz, 90+% sRGB, 250-nits
||Intel Celeron N4120, 4C/4T
||AMD Radeon Vega + Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q 35W 4 GB GDDR6 – with ActiveSync (??)
||8 GB LPDDR4 2133 MHz (soldered)
||256 GB SSD (Kingston RBUSNS8180S3256GJ), 2x M.2 2280 mSATA slots
||Wireless 5 (Qualcomm Atheros QCA9377) 2×2, Bluetooth 4.1
||1x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-C 3.1 gen2 with data, DP 1.4 and charging, mini HDMI, micro SD card-reader, headphone/mic
||33 Wh, 24 W barrel-plug power adapter, USB-C charging support
||307 mm or 12.08” (w) x 201 mm or 7.91” (d) x ~14 mm or .55” (h)
||1.08 kg (2.4 lbs) + .13 kg (.29 lbs) for the charger
||non-backlit keyboard, HD webcam and stereo mics, quad speakers
Design and first look
Aluminum is used for this laptop’s entire construction, and it feels and looks a lot more premium than I would have expected from this price class. There’s no give or flex or squeaky noises anywhere in this LarkBook’s chassis, and the matte finishing feels very nice to the touch.
It also does a good job at fending off scratches and smudges, in this darker gray color. The beveled edges will show of some marks and dents over time, especially from your watch buckle, if you’re like me and keep your watch on all the time.
Branding is also kept at a very minimum here, with just a small Chuwi logo on the lid and a DTS logo on the arm-rest. They did place the status LED’s under the screen, which I’m not a fan of, but they’re blue and dim and hardly visible even when watching movies in a dark room.
Design and build aside, I find this to be a practical laptop. Chuwi put some small rubber feet on the bottom, which provide a good grip on the desk. They also put a nudge on the screen so you can easily pick it up, but you’ll need both of your hands to do it, as the hinges are fairly stiff, at least on this new product. They do keep the screen well in place and make sure the display doesn’t wobble with everyday use.
BTW, the display goes all the way back flat, something I truly care for in a portable laptop, and is covered by a layer of protective glass, but it doesn’t support touch.
One more aspect I should mention here is that the beveled aluminum edges are a bit sharp for my liking, and can be aggressive on the wrist in certain conditions. Didn’t bother me much though, as the laptop’s very slim profile surely helps the overall user experience.
Speaking of, this LarkBook is compact, slim, and lightweight for an all-metal device with this sort of build quality. It’s helped by the fact that there’s only a small battery inside, though.
As for the IO, you’ll find two USB-A slots on the side, an USB-C with data, video, and charging, a microSD card reader, and a mini-HDMI port, as well as an audio jack. The laptop charges via a standard barrel-plug charger, with the DC-IN connector on the left side, but it also supports USB-C charging. I noticed NBC’s review claims this doesn’t’ charge via USB-C, but my unit charges just fine.
Keyboard and trackpad
If you can look past the fact that you’re not getting a backlit keyboard here, the inputs on this LarkBook can rival the ones on much more expensive laptops.
Chuwi went with a standard full-size layout and a solid typer, with the right amount of travel, surprisingly good feedback, and quiet clicks. It’s weird though that the letters are not centered on the keycaps, but only slightly aligned towards the left side, and also not a fan of the Power button being placed in the top-right corner. It’s not stiffer to press than the other keys, and it puts the laptop to sleep by default, so make sure to disable that.
I’ve already typed a couple of thousands of words on this keyboard, and I can say this is better than many other ultrabook keyboards available these days. If I were to find it a match, I’d probably put it close to the keyboards on the 2017-2018 Acer Swift 3s.
It’s not backlit, though, as mentioned already, and that could be a deal-breaker for some of you.
The clickpad is fair-sized and made out of plastic, with a beveled edge around its surface. It’s sturdily made and doesn’t rattle with taps, and it handles everyday swipes, gestures, and taps fine. It does feel a bit slow, though, even when you adjust the speed up in the settings, especially with precision moves. This further adds to the slight impression of sluggishness this laptop leaves with daily use.
As for biometrics, there aren’t any on this laptop.
This is where most budget laptops compromise, but not so much this LarkBook.
Chuwi went with a fine IPS panel with middling brightness levels and contrast, good viewing angles, and 90+% sRGB colors in our tests.
There’s no touch support, and the panel is covered with glass, so reflections and glare will be an issue in brighter environments, but for indoor use, this is a good screen in a $400 laptop.
Here’s what we got in our tests, with an X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: Unkown manufacturer, code M133X56 ;
- Coverage: 89.3% sRGB, 65.3% AdobeRGB, 71.2% DCI-P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.18;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 234.02 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 6.52 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 816:1;
- White point: 7200 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.28 cd/m2;
- PWM: Yes, 1 KHz.
Calibration is required in order to address the blue-tilted out-of-the-box White point. Once calibrated, we end up with a uniformly lit/colored panel, but the process takes a significant toll on the maximum brightness, which ends up at sub-200-nits.
PWM is used for brightness modulation at anything less than 100% brightness on this panel, but at a frequency of 1 KHz (source), above what most people would consider bothering. I didn’t notice any flickering during my time with the laptop, but I’m generally not sensitive to flickering anyway.
Hardware and everyday-use experience
The Chuwi LarkBook is built on an Intel Celeron N4120 processor, with 8 GB of LPDDR4 memory and 256 GB of SATA SSD storage out of the box.
The Celeron processor is pretty much this laptop’s Achilles heel, as it’s a slow performer for a Windows laptop these days. It’s 4C/4T, but is designed with efficiency in mind and runs at reduced power compared to the beefier Intel Core processors of later years. As a result, this LarkBook is only alright for basic casual use, such as light browsing with a couple of active tabs, music/video streaming, text-editing, email, and the likes. Just make sure you’re keeping multitasking at bay and don’t mind a somewhat feeling of sluggishness, as your actions do not happen instantaneously on this sort of hardware.
Now, I’m surely biased here, as I’m used to much faster laptops and have a minuscule tolerance for any kind of lag on my laptop. Even so, I’ve actually used this computer in the past months for watching Netflix and Youtube video, and while it takes a bit to get everything going, the experience is completely satisfying once it does. Even 4K content on Youtube runs fine on my unit, without skipped frames, but come on, why would you watch 4K clips on this anyway? FHD is adequate on a 13-inch screen.
The experience is further helped by the fact that this laptop is passively cooled, so completely quiet. There are no electronic funny-noises on my unit, yet that’s not a guarantee yours will be just as good. Furthermore, the laptop merely gets merely warm with daily use, so temperatures will never be an issue during your time with this little machine.
The speakers are adequate for this class. They get loud at max, at 80+ dB at head-level, but they lack bass and slightly distort at this level, so you’ll want to keep them at around 60% tops, which is fine for daily use.
Chuwi also put a camera on this laptop, at the top of the screen, where it should be. It’s rather muddy and washed out, but it does what it’s supposed to. The mics are placed on the main chassis, above the keyboard, so make sure not to type during your calls, as these would pick up a lot of the key’s chatter and muffle your voice if you do.
I will add that my unit struggled with poor wireless speeds out of the box, with the default drivers. Chuwi doesn’t have a drivers page for the LarkBook on their site, but you can get in touch with support by email ([email protected]) or Facebook/Instagram. It’s not ideal and something they should work on in order to be more trustworthy in the eyes of potential customers, but I was nonetheless referred to a driver that fixed the issues for me. Weirdly, it was an Intel driver, even if the WiFi chip used is reported as a Qualcomm QCA9377.
Now, I’m not going to get in-depth on the performance numbers in the same way we do with most of the other laptops tested here, simply because this LarkBook doesn’t stand any chance against the modern platforms available these days. It’s slow, especially when it comes to multi-threaded loads, so don’t get this if you’re planning on running anything else than the very basics on it.
I did put up a couple of benchmarks results for you down below:
- PassMark 10: Rating: 955 (CPU mark: 2775, 3D Graphics Mark: 310, Disk Mark: 4461);
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 227 cb, CPU Single Core 73 cb;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 259.35 s.
In comparison, a 10th gen Core i3 is 1.5-2x faster in both single and multi-threaded loads, as well as significantly more capable in terms of graphics.
I will add that Chuwi puts two SSD slots on this laptop, one already populated with a 256 GB mSATA drive, and another easily accessible through the service bay on the back.
Getting to the rest of the components requires taking out the entire back, which is held in place by a bunch of screws, including some hidden under the rear-rubber feet. Chuwi also puts a warranty sticker on all the screws, so overall I wouldn’t open this up, there’s no point in doing it anyway, as everything is soldered.
There’s only a 34 Wh battery side this laptop, small by today’s standards on a 13-incher, so even if paired with the efficient hardware, there’s only so much you can squeeze out of it.
Here’s what we got on our review unit in terms of battery life, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~70 brightness).
- 7 W (~4-5 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~6 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5 W (~6+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9 W (~2-4 h of use) – browsing in Edge, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON.
Chuwi bundles the laptop with a compact 24W charger that plugs-in via a barrel-plug input on the right side. The laptop takes a long time to charge, around 2 hours, despite the small battery.
USB-C charging is also possible via the USB-C slot on the left edge.
Price and availability
The LarkBook is currently available on Chuwi’s webstore for $399, in the exact variant tested here. It sometimes goes for less, with occasional discounts.
Chuwi also sell their products on Amazon, but this newer laptop is not yet listed there.
As far as I can tell, they either ship their products from China or from localized warehouses in Europe (Spain?)/UK/US. Make sure you’re asking where this comes from, as you might have to pay import taxes if it ships from China. Shipping is free for orders above $150, via DHL/UPS, and you can pay via card or PayPal. I don’t normally add these details in our reviews because you can find those other products locally, but not in this case.
The laptop comes with 1 year warranty. Chuwi’s website says you will have to ship this out to their logistic centers in Spain/Hong Kong for any repairs, and the costs are on you, the potential buyer. This needs to change, they should at least support the shipping costs if the product ends-up failing within this 1 year period. I’d be reluctant to buy from them otherwise, especially in this part of Europe where we’re used to 2 years of default warranty and the 14-30 days right to send the product back no-questions-asked, if not satisfactory.
Having used this laptop for the last couple of weeks, I feel that this rather unbalanced mix of features ends-up making the LarkBook only suitable for a tight niche of potential buyers: those of you who put a major price on how your laptop looks and feels with daily use, but don’t have a lot to spend for and don’t expect much in terms of performance or even battery life.
And that because this notebook punches way above its class in terms of construction quality, choice in materials, and design, while not compromising on the screen or inputs either. However, it’s only built on a Gemini Lake-R Intel platform, the kind it can barely handle basic-chores in a Windows laptop, and that’s why there’s only so much you can do with it: light browsing, music/video streaming, text-editing, and little multitasking.
Furthermore, with only a 34 Wh battery inside, this LarkBook will only last for 3-4 hours of daily use and 5-7 hours of video, which might suffice for some of you, but might also not for others.
Now, all these are available for $399 on Chuwi’s website, which is a competitive price for a brand new laptop of this kind, even with the lack in the performance and battery life. It’s unclear to me whether that’s the final price I would have to pay though, and whether there would be extra import taxes. The site says the laptop comes in with DHL, and I know they take care of all the import taxes at the destination, so you might end up paying more for this.
Furthermore, I think Chuwi should work on their Support, Drivers, and Warranty pages and make the information clearer for potential buyers, especially the part about having to send the product to a different country if it breaks during the 1 year warranty period, and who’s supposed to handle the charges for it. All these combined act as a warning for someone like me used to the much clearer and friendlier shopping conditions here in Europe. Of course, all these won’t matter as much if you end up buying the laptop on Amazon or another trust-worthy local store, but so far the LarkBook is not available there.
That’s about it for this article. I feel that the LarkBook is an interesting choice at $399, as long as you care about a nice compact laptop that you only plan to use casually. It would be more competitive with snappier hardware, though, and I also think Chuwi need to refine the shopping experience on their website in order to earn the trust of potential buyers looking into their products. What do you think?
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