The Chuwi MiniBook is a convertible mini-laptop with an 8 inch touchscreen display and a 360 degree hinge, a backlit keyboard, and a fingerprint sensor.
It’s the first mini-laptop from Chuwi, a Chinese company that’s been selling cheap tablets, notebooks, and compact desktop computers for a few years.
The folks at Chuwi sent me a pre-production prototype that I’ve been testing for the past few weeks, and there’s a lot I like about this compact laptop computer — and a few things that I find a little frustrating. But overall it’s a welcome addition to the mini laptop space.
While the MiniBook looks a lot like some of the other mini-laptops we’ve seen in the past year or two, there are a couple of things that make the Chuwi MiniBook distinct.
For example, it’s almost the same size and shape as the One Mix 3 Yoga. But the Chuwi MiniBook has a webcam, which the One Mix Yoga does not (and the One Mix 3 Yoga supports a pressure-sensitive pen, which the MiniBook does not).
But the biggest difference between these two little laptops is probably the price.
Left: One Mix 3 Yoga / Right: Chuwi MiniBook
Chuwi is running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the MiniBook through August 19th and plans to ship the little computer to backers in September. Here’s how much you’ll pay if you order one of the following configurations before the campaign ends:
- Intel Celeron N4100 Gemini Lake/8GB RAM/128GB eMMC for $429
- Intel Core m3-8100Y Amber Lake/8GB RAM/128GB eMMC for $530
- Intel Core m3-8100Y Amber Lake/16GB RAM/128GB eMMC + 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD for $618 (Liliputing exclusive)
The suggested retail prices for those models are $539, $670, and $789, respectively.
The cheaper models only comes with eMMC storage, which is another thing that sets the MiniBook apart from the latest One Netbook and GPD devices. But it does help keep the costs down. And if you really want to add an SSD you can do that — there’s an M.2 slot in the MiniBook that supports PCIe solid state storage.
You can also pay extra when you order to double the little laptop’s RAM or add up to 512GB of speedier storage — or you can add an SSD on your own. There’s even an access panel on the bottom of the MiniBook to make storage upgrades easy.
The Chuwi MiniBook prototype featured in this article is pretty similar to the entry-level model. Since this is a pre-release device, I’m calling this a preview rather than a full-fledged review. But after having spent a few weeks with the Chuwi MiniBook, I’m pretty impressed.
Mini-laptops aren’t for everyone. But if you’ve been put off by the high prices of other devices in this category, the Chuwi MiniBook might be worth considering.
When I first saw pictures of the upcoming Chuwi MiniBook, I figured it looked like a One Mix Yoga or GPD Pocket clone. And at first glance, that’s a pretty fair assessment.
What you’re looking at is a computer with an 8 inch touchscreen display that’s almost small enough to slide into a pocket. Weighing just about 1.5 pounds, it’s a portable device that you might be willing to take places you might not normally take a laptop. Or you can just use it around the house.
Since it’s a convertible tablet-style device, you can comfortably flip the screen around use as a handheld device for reading websites, digital books, or for watching videos or playing touchscreen games.
Switch to laptop mode and you can place the MiniBook on a table or on your lap and use it to compose or edit documents, play PC games, or do just about anything else you’d use a laptop for.
Like other laptops with screens smaller than 9 inches though, there’s not really enough room for a full-sized keyboard. So Chuwi borrowed liberally from GPD and One Netbook’s designs and dropped a few keys, shrunk and/or moved some others, and combined a few.
The result is a computer that I can touch-type on… but it takes a little longer than it should to enter punctuation or hunt out special function keys.
Chuwi also placed an optical touch sensor in the middle of a split space bar rather than using a touchpad. It’s serviceable for moving a mouse pointer, but it’s a little less precise than a normal mouse or touchpad.
The biggest down-side to this style of device is that it can be tough to fit a lot of content on an 8 inch display, which can make multitasking a littler tricky.
There are some key differences between the MiniBook and similar devices from GPD and One Netbook.
For example GPD’s mini-laptops don’t feature backlit keyboards or 360-degree hinges, both of which the Chuwi MiniBook has. And the One Mix Yoga line of devices don’t have webcams. The MiniBook does.
The MiniBook doesn’t support a pressure-sensitive pen like the One Netbook models do. And it has a fingerprint sensor built into the home button rather than on a separate key. It also has the smallest battery of any 8-9 inch mini-laptop I’ve tested to date, but it actually gets the best battery life (which isn’t saying much).
So let’s take a closer look at the specs and then get down to the design, performance, and other characteristics.
|Display||8 inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel touchscreen display|
|CPU||Intel Celeron N4100 or Core m3-8100Y|
|RAM||8GB or 16GB|
|Storage||128GB eMMC (plus optional 256GB or 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD)|
|A/V||Mini HDMI + 3.5mm audio|
|USB||2 x USB Type-A + 1 USB Type-C|
|Keyboard||6 rows, 65 keys, backlit|
|Touch||Optical touch sensor + touchscreen display|
|Biometrics||Fingerprint sensor in power button|
|Camera||2MP camera in left bezel|
|Microphones||Mono mic in left bezel|
|Charger||USB-C power adapter|
|Dimensions||7.9″ x 5″ x 0.7″|
|Price||$429 – $618 (during crowdfunding)|
The version tested for this preview features an Intel Celeron N4100 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB. It’s similar to the version that Chuwi is selling for $429 during the MiniBook crowdfunding campaign. The suggested retail price will be $539 later this year.
It’s also a pre-release prototype, and Chuwi wanted to make sure I knew that the final version will feature some changes including improved camera performance (the color is a little greenish now), support for 10-point multitouch input, and a tighter hinge (right now it’s a little more loose than the stiff 360-degree hinge on the One Mix Yoga line of devices).
Chuwi also shipped me a notebook with a Chinese language version of Windows 10 that hadn’t been activated. I was able to manually change the language to English, but some parts of the operating system are still displayed in Chinese.
I’m told that units that ship to customers in North America will have a fully licensed, English-language version of Windows pre-installed.
Design and usability
The MiniBook has dark grey aluminum body with the Chuwi label on the lid, and the MiniBook name on the bottom, along with the Intel logo and some other details.
When the lid is closed, the MiniBook has a sort of boxy-looking design, with the computer measuring about 0.7 inches high at the front, back, and everywhere in between. But the corners of the lid and body are subtly rounded.
On the left side, there’s a USB-C port, a mini HDMI port, and a USB-A port.
The right side has another USB-A port, a microSD card reader, and an audio jack.
There are also speaker grilles near the front of each side.
Flip the laptop over to look at its back and you’ll see an access panel that can be opened by removing a single Phillips-head screw to reveal an M.2 slot. It will be empty on models that only have eMMC storage, but if you pay for a 256GB or 512GB SSD upgrade, that’s where you’ll find the additional storage device.
There’s also a large air intake on the bottom of the laptop, and four rubber feet to allow the fan to pull in air when the computer is resting on a desk or table. Putting it on your lap may obstruct airflow in some situations
Hot air is pushed out through a vent on the back of the laptop. That means if you flip the screen around 360 degrees to hold the computer in tablet mode, you may feel hot air blowing on your hand if you hold the MiniBook from that side. But you can always flip the device around and hold it so your hand is on the other side instead.
The fan isn’t particularly loud — I didn’t notice it at all when using the laptop in a coffee shop or when I was playing music or watching videos. But it’s definitely audible in a quiet room.
With an 8 inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel display, the MiniBook screen packs 283 pixels per inch. That’s about the same pixel density you would get if you had a 15.6 inch laptop with a 4K (3840 x 2160) display.
The screen looks pretty good to my eyes, supports wide viewing angles, and can get reasonably bright. I wouldn’t mind a slightly lower brightness level at the lowest settings, but that’s not a dealbreaker.
The display is surrounded by fairly small top and bottom bezels, and somewhat wider side bezels — but the left bezel also features a microphone and a 2MP camera. That makes the Chuwi MiniBook one of the only laptops with a 9 inch or smaller display to feature a camera. And while it’s not exactly a good camera, it will allow you to make voice-and-video calls without connecting any additional hardware.
Unlike the GPD P2 Max camera, it’s also placed high enough that you don’t have to worry about your knuckles obscuring the view if you start typing while you’re on a video call.
The keyboard seems heavily inspired by the 7 inch GPD Pocket, just like the keyboards on most other mini-laptops released in the past few years. But since the Chuwi MiniBook has a slightly larger display, it has room for larger keys, which makes touch-typing a little more comfortable.
In fact, when typing primarily alphanumeric content, I was occasionally able to hit 80 words per minute using this little computer. Things slowed down when I had to hunt for infrequently used keys which tend to be in unusual places, or when I had to enter a lot of punctuation.
That’s because while the letter keys are all pretty much full-sized, many other keys are not. The number keys are half-height, and the period, comma, and question mark keys are half-width (and crammed together tightly to that the three keys take up less space than two normal keys).
With practice, I can pick out the period or comma without looking down at the keyboard. But I sort of have to re-train myself to do this after using any other keyboard and then coming back to the MiniBook.
I’m also not a fan of the tiny Fn key that’s almost attached to the left side of the Ctrl button. I often end up hitting one when aiming for the other — but if you’re used to using laptops that have Fn to the left of Ctrl, this may not be as much of an issue for you.
The Tab key is above the 2 instead of two the left of the Q, so I habitually type Q when I mean to hit Tab, and for some reason not only is the backspace key above the Del key, but the Del key is half-width and attached to the right side of the P key, making it a little hard to hit.
The arrow keys are some of the smallest I’ve ever seen on a laptop, at what I’d estimate is about 25 percent the size of a letter key.
There’s also a row of half-height keys above the number row, including the tab, bracket, tilde, hyphen, and plus keys and function keys such as volume, mute, and screen brightness keys.
Oddly the left brightness key brightens the screen and the one on the left dims it, which is the opposite of every other laptop I’ve used.
All of which is to say that I’m not in love with this keyboard… but I find it surprisingly usable nonetheless.
I was able to write several articles for Liliputing using the Chuwi MiniBook (including one, interestingly enough, about a smartphone with a tiny keyboard). For the most part the keyboard didn’t bother me as much as the fact that the small screen made it difficult to view two apps in side-by-side windows, so I had to constantly toggle between apps.
Since the keyboard is also backlit, and unlike the One Mix 3 Yoga I reviewed recently, the MiniBook’s keyboard features black keys with white letters for a high-contrast look that makes the keys easy to see whether the backlight is on or off. You can toggle the keyboard illumination by hitting the Fn+Esc buttons.
Chuwi combined the power button and fingerprint sensor into a single button which is in the upper right corner of the laptop, above the backspace key.
The fingerprint sensor seems reasonably speedy and reliable, making it easy to log into Windows without typing a PIN or password. And while the keyboard is disabled when you hold the MiniBook in tablet mode, the power/fingerprint button continues to work (which is handy if you want to turn on the computer without flipping the screen around, but which you’ll need to keep in mind when figuring out where to place you fingers as you hold the device).
As mentioned above, I’ve used the Chuwi MiniBook for researching and writing articles for Liliputing. But I’ve also used it for a little light gaming, video playback, and other tasks.
One of the things I like about this form factor is that while a 7-9 inch laptop might not be ideal as a desktop/laptop replacement, it’s a compact size for a device that you might use for entertainment or light work.
But the relatively high price tags of mini-laptops like the One Mix 3 Yoga and GPD P2 Max have always given me pause.
The MiniBook’s lower starting price (especially if order during the crowdfunding campaign) could make it a little more attractive — but only if it offers performance that’s good enough for the tasks you want to use it for.
Fortunately Chuwi offers options. The $429/$539 (crowdfunding/retail) model I’m testing features entry-level specs, but it actually feels nearly as fast as higher-priced models when watching videos, web surfing, or performing other light tasks.
The differences become a little more clear when you run benchmarks that test performance on CPU and GPU-intensive tasks.
The Chuwi MiniBook I tested features an Intel Celeron N4100 processor, which is a 6W quad-core chip based on Intel’s low-power Gemini Lake architecture. It has Intel UHD 600 graphics and supports CPU speeds ranging from 1.1 GHz (base) to 2.4 GHz (burst).
In terms of CPU performance, it’s not as powerful as the Core m3-8100Y processor found in other recent mini-laptops (and available in more expensive Chuwi MiniBook models), but it’s actually pretty competitive when it comes to multi-core performance (likely because the Core m3-8100Y is only a dual-core chip).
And the MiniBook with a Celeron N4100 processor actually outperforms the Intel Celeron 3965Y processor found in the One Mix 1S Yoga. I guess that shouldn’t be shocking — while the Celeron 3965Y chip is based on Intel’s more powerful Kaby Lake architecture, that particular chip is a 6 watt dual-core processor with top speeds of 1.5 GHz and no support for burst speeds at all.
But the Celeron 3965Y and Core m3-8100Y processors both feature Intel UHD 615 graphics, which means they run circles around the N4100 when it comes to graphics performance.
For example, despite scoring lower in CPU-specific tests, the One Mix 1S Yoga scored twice as high as the Chuwi MiniBook in the 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark.
Another thing to keep in mind when gauging overall performance is that the while other recent mini-laptops feature speedy PCIe NVMe solid state drives, the MiniBook uses relatively slow eMMC storage.
Chuwi does offer an optional SSD, but that’s in addition to the eMMC storage, not a replacement for it.
When it comes to disk read/write speeds, the Chuwi MiniBook was the slowest computer I’ve tested since the original One Mix Yoga.
Again, this isn’t something you’re likely to notice constantly. It didn’t seem to have much impact on day-to-day tasks. But it will take longer to copy or move large amounts of data and applications that perform a lot of file operations may run more slowly.
Long story short, if you’re looking for a portable gaming machine, you should probably opt for a model with better graphics. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, a computer with a Celeron 3965Y chip might be almost as good for gaming as one with a Core m3-8100Y.
But if you’re looking for stronger CPU performance, the Celeron N4100 has it. And that’s what matters more for tasks that don’t really leverage the GPU. These days all sorts of apps, ranging from image editors to web browsers, do make use of hardware-accelerated graphics though. So this might be a case of six of one, half dozen of another.
Still, I’m just glad to see more options for mini-laptops, in the $400 – $550 range, particularly models with convertible tablet-style designs.
One issue I’ve consistently noticed with mini-laptops is that despite having low-power processors, they don’t tend to get stellar battery life. The MiniBook was no exception.
While it lasted a little longer than the GPD P2 Max and One Mix 3 Yoga in my Netflix run-down test, it still died after 4 hours and 25 minutes of streaming a video with screen brightness set to 50-percent and Windows 10 power slider set to “better battery.”
You may be able to get longer battery life by dimming the screen further, disabling WiFi, or running less demanding apps (although we’ve gotten to a point where streaming HD video isn’t all that taxing on a PC’s resources).
Or you may get less run time if you’re using more power-hungry tasks — I typically got around 3-4 hours of run time time when using the MiniBook as a blogging machine which typically involves opening 10+ browser tabs in Google Chrome, doing some light image editing with Irfanview and GIMP, and writing in WordPress.
If you do need to pack a charger so you can refuel on the go, it won’t weigh down your bag very much. The MiniBook comes with a USB-C power adapter that looks like something you’d use to charge a smartphone, not a laptop.
I had mixed results when trying to charge the laptop using a third-party adapter. While the laptop would recognize the charger and Windows would report that it was starting to charge, if I walked away and came back hours later I would sometimes notice that the battery level hadn’t changed.
It’s unclear if that’s an issue with the prototype or if it will still be a problem when retail units ship.
Chuwi also added a new perk to its Indiegogo campaign after shipping my demo unit. For an extra $1, backers can now request a 45W USB-C power adapter for fast charging.
Advanced users (Hardware upgrades, running Linux)
Want to upgrade the MiniBook? Just flip the laptop over, remove the screw protecting the M.2 slot, and you can slide in an SSD.
And that’s… about your only option.
You could remove six more screws and take the whole bottom panel off. But the RAM and eMMC are soldered to the motherboard, so you can’t easily replace them. Still, I suppose it’s nice to be able to open the system up if you want to trubleshoot a noisy fan or faulty speaker or something.
Want to run something other than Windows 10? That’s pretty easy to do — and the MiniBook comes closer than most mini-laptops I’ve tested to offering out-of-the-box support for GNU/Linux distributions.
All you need to do is load an operating system on a bootable USB flash drive, plug it into the computer, hit the power button to turn on the system, and then hit Del or Esc at the splash screen to get to the UEFI/BIOS settings.
From there you can navigate to the last tab and select the Boot Override option to boot the computer an external drive.
I tested three operating systems, Fedora 30, Ubuntu 18.02 LTS, and Linux Mint 19. Since I didn’t install any of the operating systems to the device, I can’t remark on battery life or performance. But I can tell you that everything except the touchscreen worked out-of-the-box with both Fedora and Ubuntu.
One issue with Ubuntu was that display scaling was set to 100-percent, which means that text and graphics looked pretty tiny. Fedora’s default scaling seemed to be closer to 200-percent, which looked pretty good.
Since there’s no touchscreen support for either operating system yet, the MiniBook isn’t all that useful in tablet mode. But WiFi, sound, keyboard shortcuts, and the optical touch sensor all work as expected, which means you can turn the MiniBook into a little Linux laptop pretty easily.
Chuwi, by the way, knows that this is one of the things some folks want to do with a mini-laptop. The company provided me with instructions for installing Ubuntu, but when I asked about the non-working touchscreen, a representative confirmed that it isn’t currently supported.
It’s possible that folks who know a bit more about tweaking Linux than I do may be able to figure out how to get the touchscreen working in the future.
There’s no guarantee that every Linux-based operating system will work perfectly.
I couldn’t get Linux Mint to load at all. When I tried booting into the operating system, I was instead greeted by a series of grey lines crossing the screen. So I shut down the computer, ejected the stick, and went on with my day using Windows 10 instead. (One of the the nice thing about running operating systems from a flash drive is that they should leave the operating system loaded on your internal drive undisturbed).
The most impressive thing about the Chuwi MiniBook may be that despite its compact size, it feels like a real computer when I plop it down on a table and start working on it.
It may not be a speed demon, but it offers respectable performance for a web worker like me. I wouldn’t want to use a computer with a screen this small or a processor this slow for heavy-duty audio or video editing jobs. But for reading the news on the subway during a commute? Sure. Playing some casual games? Why not? And in a pinch, I could even use it as a work machine if were going somewhere that a 1.5 pound, 8 inch laptop might be more welcome than a model that’s twice as big and heavy.
But is this the best mini-laptop on the market right now? That’s hard to say based on the pre-release hardware I’ve tested.
Not only are there some known issues that Chuwi plans to address before release, but I’ve also only had a chance to test a model with an Intel Celeron N4100 processor, and it’s definitely not as powerful as the Core m3-8100Y chips found in the One Mix 3 Yoga and GPD P2 Max that I’ve also tested recently.
Chuwi does also offer a Core m3 model. You just have to pay more for it… and I haven’t tested that version so I can’t say how it stacks up.
What I can say is that some mini-laptops can have not-so-mini prices. The One Mix 3 Yoga has a great keyboard, acceptable performance, and pen support… but the $760 starting price makes it a lot more expensive than the Chuwi MiniBook. And if you max out the upgrade options,l you could end up spending as much as $1300 for a One Mix 3S Yoga with a Core i7-8500Y processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a pen.
The GPD P2 Max has a lower starting price: $530 for a Celeron 3965Y/8GB/256GB model or $704 for a Core m3-8100Y/16GB 512GB model during an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (or $636 and $841 after the campaign ends).
But the Chuwi MiniBook is the most affordable 8+ inch model released this year, with Indieogo prices starting at $429 for an Intel Celeron N4100 model and $530 for a version with an Intel Core m3 chip (prices that will go up to $530 and $670 eventually).
Since I doubt most folks are looking at mini-laptops like this to use as their only computer, I think the $500-ish price point might just be the sweet spot for a lot of people.
Some folks are likely to find the display and keyboard too small to be useful. Other may prefer the large ecosystem of touch-friendly apps you get when you buy an iPad or Android tablet rather than a tiny Windows computer.
But the Chuwi MiniBook combines the functionality of a tablet and a laptop into a compact device that’s cheaper than an iPad Pro or a flagship smartphone, but a heck of a lot more capable than an Amazon Fire HD tablet.
Then again, most of those devices get longer battery life. There are always trade-offs.
Speaking of trade-offs, if you want pen support then you’re probably better off opting for a One Mix Yoga device. Want a physical touchpad? The GPD P2 Max might be the way to go. And if you want a portable gaming machine, you’re probably going to want to either pay extra for a Core m3 processor or make sure to play less-demanding games.
All told, I’m glad to see a little more competition in the mini-laptop space. Chuwi’s first entry seems like a promising addition and while it may not stand out much in way of features or design, it does bring something I’ve been waiting for — a little more variety in terms of pricing.
This summer you can find mini-laptops with prices ranging from $429 to $1300 and decide for yourself just how much you’re willing to pay for various features.
Thanks to Chuwi for sending us this prototype to preview. If you’re interested in buying one for yourself, you can place a pre-order through Indiegogo.
Liliputing readers can also score an exclusive deal and get a Core m3/16GB/128GB+512GB model for $618 using that link.
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