The Chuwi V99 is an Android tablet from a Chinese manufacturer you’ve probably never heard of. It’s not the fastest tablet on the market, nor is it the cheapest. But it’s a tablet worth looking at for a couple or reasons.
First, it has an iPad-style 9.7 inch, 2048 x 1536 pixel display. And second, it has a very un-iPad like price tag under $300.
On paper, the Chuwi V99 hits a lot of the right buttons. It runs Google Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, has a pretty fast dual core processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, USB, WiFi, Bluetooth, and front and rear cameras. It also has a microSD card slot, and a massive 10,000mAh battery.
Specs only tell part of the story though, and I wanted to see how the tablet performed under real world conditions. The folks at PandaWill helped me out by sending me a Chuwi V99 tablet to review. You can buy one from PandaWill yourself for about $290. Some other stores are offering the tablet for as little as $250 on AliExpress.
But you might want to read the full review before placing an order. Performance is sort of a mixed bag.
It wouldn’t be hard to confuse the Chuwi V99 with an iPad. Somehow I don’t that’s an accident. Both tablets are thin and reasonably light, feature 9.7 inch displays with 4:3 aspect ratios, and edge-to-edge glass with relatively modest bezels around the borders.
The sides and back of the Chuwi V99 are made of single piece of aluminum, and the rear is curved up a little bit at the edges.
When you examine the range of ports though, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t an iPad. There’s a standard microUSB port instead of a proprietary connector. The tablet has a microSD card slot. And there’s a separate power jack (you can’t charge the Chuwi V99 using a USB cable).
If you hold the tablet in landscape mode, you’ll notice stereo speakers on the left and right edges of the tablet. Since they’re not both on the same side, and neither is hidden below the screen or on the back of the tablet, audio is usually pretty clear (but not particularly loud) no matter how you’re holding the tablet.
There’s a power button on one side of the tablet, right next to the microSD card slot. Around the corner from it, you’ll find two more buttons: a volume rocker, and a back button.
That’s right. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason there’s a hardware back button on this tablet. There are no physical keys for home, menu, or search. But there’s a back button.
You can also use Android 4.1′s on-screen home, back, and recent apps buttons. So the back button really only serves one purpose that I can see: it’s there to confuse you into thinking it’s the power button… over, and over again.
The tablet features a 2MP camera on the front and a 2MP camera on the back. Both are awkwardly placed in corners of the device, and neither has features auto-focus or an flash bulb. I wouldn’t recommend using this tablet to snap photos, but I suppose those camera could come in handy for the occasional video chat session.
It’s the 2048 x 1536 pixel display which is the real show-stopping feature. It has the same resolution and pixel density as a Retina display on an Apple iPad, and the viewing angles appear to be just as good on the Chuwi tablet as on Apple’s.
If I have a complaint about the screen, it’s that the glossy display attracts oily fingerprints and other marks a little too easily. At one point after putting the tablet in a slip cover and carrying it in my backpack for a while, I thought I had scratched the heck out of the display because of a series of spots that didn’t wipe off easily. When I got the tablet home I used a microfiber cloth and the liquid I use to clean my glasses and the spots came off.
For the most part, an Android tablet with a 2048 x 1536 pixel display works like one with a 1024 x 768 pixel screen. Icons, text, and images don’t appear any smaller on the screen. They just look sharper, and you have told the tablet pretty close to your eyes to pick out individual pixels.
This makes web pages look better, pictures look crisper, and eBooks a little easier to read. I noticed the biggest differences when reading magazines and comic books.
Digital comics and magazines are usually formatted for 11 inch sheets of of paper, not 10 inch and smaller tablets, and I’ve found that they just don’t look that good on most tablets. The Chuwi V99 is one of the few exceptions. The screen is large enough to fit content meant for a magazine or comic book page without it looking too small, and the display resolution is sharp enough that pictures and text don’t look fuzzy around the edges.
I almost never read this type of content on 7 inch tablets, but I found reading comics and magazines to be pretty comfortable on the Chuwi V99.
The Chuwi V99 ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. That means you get a tablet-optimized version of Android with on-screen buttons that work well no matter how you’re holding the tablet.
It also comes with two app stores: the Google Play Store and a Chuwi market which has a large umber of apps, mostly labeled in Chinese, and many of which look like they may be bootlegged copies of apps for sale in the Play Store. I’d avoid installing these apps for two reasons. First, the actual developers should be paid for their work. And second, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the folks that have posted these bootleg apps may have added spyware or other icky bits of code.
On the other hand, you might not find everything you’re looking for in the Play Store alone. That’s because the Chuwi V99 isn’t compatible with some apps available for download from Google’s app store. And there are some apps that do run just fine, but which the Play Store doesn’t think will work on the tablet, so it doesn’t make available.
For instance, the Amazon Kindle app works beautifully on the Chuwi V99, but you’ll have to download it from the Amazon Appstore or another third party source, because the Play Store blocks you from downloading it.
On the other hand, the Play Store won’t let you download the official Netflix app… and if you try to download it from a third party source or transfer the app from your phone, it still won’t work. I even tried downloading a version of the Netflix app which reportedly works on tablets with RK3066 processors, but every time I tried to load the app, I got a network error which prevented it from fully loading.
Google Play Movies also fails to run. So if you want to use the Chuwi V99′s excellent display for watching videos, you’d best be happy with YouTube or with videos stored on the device (or on a removable microSD card or USB flash drive).
The Chuwi V99 is powered by a 1.6 GHz Rockchip RK3066 dual core processor and Mali 400 graphics. That gives it enough power to handle HD video playback and most modern Android video games pretty well. Google Android’s animated effects look pretty good when you’re flipping between apps, menus, or home screens.
In terms of general performance benchmarks, the Chuwi V99 falls somewhere between a NOOK Tablet and a Google Nexus 7, which is to say that the RK3066 chip seems to be faster than last year’s TI OMAP 4430 dual core processor, but not as fast as NVIDIA’s more recent Tegra 3 quad-core chip.
Benchmarks only tell part of the story, but the part they do tell is pretty accurate: The Chuwi V99 is pretty good at single-tasking. That is, when you’re running an app it will probably be pretty speedy and responsive.
Things get a little trickier when you’re running multiple apps and you want to switch between them. Sometimes this works exactly the way it should on a modern Android tablet with a dual core processor — you can flip from the web browser to the Gmail app, respond to a message, and then go back to the browser and pick up where you left off.
Other times, the tablet seems to grind to a halt when switching from one app to another. Taps on the screen go unrecognized for many seconds, and sometimes you tap again thinking that the first tap didn’t register, only to find that it did — so the keyboard pops up, goes away, and then pops up and goes away all at once when the tablet catches up.
Another time the tablet decided it didn’t want to continue streaming music while I was surfing the web. I kept starting the music player again, only to have it stop playing after a few seconds of web browsing. The only way to get the two apps to work together again was to completely reboot the tablet.
Sometimes the tablet will randomly slow down or freeze whether you’re switching apps or not. It’s not altogether predictable, and it can make using the Chuwi V99 less pleasant than using a more consistently zippy tablet like the Nexus 7.
I also found that auto-brightness doesn’t work properly. Either the tablet doesn’t have an ambient light sensor, or it has one that doesn’t work properly. Either way, you’ll have to get used to adjusting the screen brightness manually.
On the other hand, there are a few things the Chuwi V99 can do that the Nexus 7 can’t, at least not without third party accessories and hacks.
The Chuwi V99 features a microSD card slot (although, as on many Chinese tablets, it’s labeled as a TF card slot). That means you can add up to 32GB of additional storage space for music, videos, or other files.
Tucked away in the Chuwi V99 box there was another pleasant surprise: along with a USB cable and earbuds, I found a micro USB to full-sized USB adapter. I plugged it in and was pleasantly surprised to find that the tablet supports USB OTG.
In other words, you can plug in a USB flash drive and it will be recognized right away. There’s even a built-in file browser that makes it easy to navigate internal storage, SD cards, and USB storage.
You can also plug in USB peripherals. The tablet recognized my wireless mouse dongle almost the second I plugged it in. Sure, a full-sized USB port would be nice so that you wouldn’t have to use a an extra cable to plug in peripherals, but it’s nice of the manufacturer to include a USB OTG cable.
Up until fairly recently, battery life was the Achilles Heel of most cheap tablets. But that seems to have changed with the advent of inexpensive, power-efficient processors from Chinese chip-makers such as Rockchip and Allwinner.
During my battery run-down test, which involved leaving the display set to about 50 percent brightness while streaming music over WiFi and occasionally using the web browser, the Chuwi V99 ran for nearly 10 hours.
I’ve also left it unplugged for up to a a day or two at a time with the screen turned off, and the tablet still springs to life quickly when I press the power button, so the power doesn’t drain away too quickly when the system is idle.
I suspect the battery would run down more quickly during a marathon gaming session or while watching HD videos. But I haven’t used many tablets that get 10 hours of screen-on time, and it’s even more impressive to see a tablet with a high resolution display get that kind of battery life.
The Chuwi V99 is a great-looking tablet with an excellent display, a reasonably fast processor, and a relatively low price.
Unfortunately, it’s clearly not a top-tier tablet. There are too many apps that don’t run on this tablet, and performance can be hit or miss. If you spend $250 or more on this tablet, you should know what you’re buying — a tablet which may get bogged down and feel sluggish from time to time, at least until you reboot it and start again.
On the other hand, if you’re just looking for an inexpensive tablet for reading magazines, comics, or other digital content and want one of the highest resolution displays available for one of the lowest prices available, the Chuwi V99 isn’t a bad option… as long as you can put up with the occasional slow-down in performance.
It’s also possible that software updates or third-party custom firmware for the Chuwi V99 could fix some of the performance issues, but in the interest of not counting chickens before they’re hatched, I would only suggest buying this tablet if you’re okay with the software it ships with: which provides a decent, but imperfect experience.
If you want a more reliable tablet with a high resolution display, you’re going to have to spend more money. Google Nexus 10 tablets start at $399, and the latest iPad models with Retina displays start at $499.
The Chuwi V99 is available from PandaWill for $290.