Windows on tablets is better than ever, something Microsoft shows off with its own Surface devices. Those tables are decidedly premium, however, meaning anyone on a budget can’t consider them.
That brings us to the Chuwi Hi12, a $250 tablet that might tempt anyone who doesn’t want to pay much for a Windows 2-in-1. It dual-boots Windows 10 and Android, offers a 12-inch display, has an Intel Atom Z8300 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64 GB of internal storage. While that’s not a great set of specs, the price is right, and another $50 nets you a compatible keyboard dock with a touchpad.
You’ve probably never heard of Chuwi, a tablet maker based in Shenzhen, China. The company is trying to make waves in the North American market, but it’s enthusiasm is lost in translation – often literally. The company’s slogan is “Chuwi tablet wisdom science and technology life.” The newsletter box says to “make yourself useful, subscribe us.” We could go on.
Chuwi’s specification sheet and confusing website left us with questions. How is this price point even possible? What corners are being cut? Does Windows 10 run well with an Atom processor? And how does all this compare to other affordable 2-in-1 devices?
A decent tablet, but a terrible dock
The Chuwi Hi12 comes in two parts: the tablet itself and the optional keyboard attachment. The tablet looks and feels pretty nice, approaching premium in some ways. The front is a single piece of smooth glass with a black bezel that’s comically large, around an inch, though one side is put to use as a clickable Windows button. The back is a single piece of smooth aluminum in one of two colors: silver or gold (ours was the former). The texture material feels good, and the curves are designed with intention.
The front face measures 10.31 by 6.59 inches, and the entire tablet is only 0.35 inches thick. It also weighs only 1.15 pounds, which is considerably lighter than the Surface Pro 4 (1.73 pounds) and only slightly heavier than the current iPad Air (0.96 pounds).
But it seems Chuwi put all its effort into the tablet. The keyboard looks and feels great on its own, with an easy-to-grip rubber texture. But the tablet doesn’t attach to the keyboard so much as sit on it, bound only by magnets and hope.
There is no latch, which you’ll notice immediately because this thing wobbles. Users walking around with a docked Hi12 should be careful: the unit actually fell out for us during testing. Things aren’t much better on a table. Pull the screen forward gently, then let go, and the entire unit will rock back and forth before it falls flat on its back.
This top-heaviness happens despite how hefty the keyboard unit is. Docking the tablet to the keyboard nearly doubles the weight and thickness of the overall device. This is necessary, because a lighter keyboard would have even more trouble balancing, but it’s still makes everything a lot less portable. We’d be more willing to put up with this if the balancing act actually worked. It doesn’t.
Lots of ports for a tablet
The Hi12 offers a USB 3.0 and a USB 2.0 port on the tablet itself, and the keyboard dock offers two more USB 2.0 ports. That’s a generous heaping of connectivity. A headphone jack means you can connect your speakers, and a micro HDMI port enables external displays. There’s also a MicroSD slot, which can help supplement the 64GB of internal memory.
Power is handled by a MicroUSB port on the side of the tablet itself, inexplicably placed between the two full-sized USB ports. This means that, in order to use the tablet while it’s charging, you’ll need to connect a cable to the side of the display (which, you’ll remember, is prone to wobbling). The 32-inch cable that comes with the Hi12 only reaches so far, meaning plugging in is impossible if there’s no plug on the table or desk you’re working on.
Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi are offered by the Realtek RTL8723BS wireless card. The Hi12 documentation points out that Wi-Fi lets you “swim the internet,” which we assume is more immersive than surfing.
A decent touchscreen, a terrible touchpad
This tablet has three main input devices — touchscreen on the tablet itself, and the touchpad and keyboard on the optional attachment. The touchscreen worked well for us, correctly identifying input and supporting multi-touch gestures. The surface is smooth, and using it feels great, as you’d expect from any tablet.
The input devices on the keyboard attachment are awful, however. We can’t overstate this. Using the Chuwi Hi12 keyboard dock is a nightmare.
Pull the screen forward gently, then let go, and the entire unit will rock back and forth until it falls flat.
Let’s start with the touchpad. It’s only an inch and a half tall. Scrolling happens in short spurts because there’s so little room to work with. One gesture is not enough to move the cursor from the top of the screen to the bottom. Adjusting sensitivity to compensate makes the touchpad too jumpy.
But size is just the beginning of the issues. It didn’t take long for the entire touchpad on our review unit to get stuck in the clicking position, meaning the mouse automatically clicked everywhere the pointer moved. Flexing the unit caused everything to snap back into place. But the problem re-occurred several times.
And even when the touchpad wasn’t stuck, false positives were disturbingly common. Clicking and dragging a window is an adventure, because half the time windows would spastically jump between all corners of the screen. Clicking and dragging files is insanity, because you’ve no way of knowing where they might end up.
Typing wasn’t much better. The keyboard itself isn’t awful, per se. The keys are well spaced considering the size restrictions, and there’s a satisfying (if chintzy) click with every keystroke. But the faulty touchpad made typing a nightmare, with false positives moving the cursor seemingly at random. We usually write reviews on the devices we’re testing, but with the Chuwi Hi12, we had to give up.
Overall, it’s hard to recommend the Hi12’s keyboard attachment. It’s so bad that the Hi12 can’t be thought of as a true 2-in-1.
A surprisingly good display
On to happier things, like the display. Its resolution is 2,160 by 1,440 pixels, which is great for a 12-inch screen. Images are sharp and there’s plenty of on-screen real estate.
That’s not the only good news. The contrast ratio is 530:1. That’s not spectacular, but it’s perfectly respectable. So is the maximum brightness of 318 lux, good enough for outdoor use on a sunny day. Color quality is better still. In terms of gamut, the Hi12 offers 74 percent of the AdobeRGB scale. That closely rivals the significantly more expensive Samsung TabPro S.
Watching videos, you’ll notice that colors are vivid and greys are easy to make out. Watching the trailer for the Jungle Book, it was easy to make out where snakes begin and branches end, which can be tricky — and the more colorful animals looked great. At least, they did when video performance managed to keep up with the display (more on that later).
Related: 7 Best cheap tablets (under $200)
The audio is less of a strong point. Bass is nonexistent, and the rest of the spectrum is muddy. Don’t expect to dance to this tablet without external speakers. Having said that, it’s plenty loud. You can listen to a podcast from across the room without difficulties.
Poor processor performance
The Chuwi Hi12 is powered by an Intel Atom processor, specifically the 1.44GHz quad-core Z8300 chip. The Atom line is designed for low energy usage, not peak performance, so no one should expect it to perform well on benchmarks.
And sure enough, it didn’t. Geekbench showed a single core result of 664, and a multi core result of 1,856. These are among the worst results we’ve seen in recent memory, worse than 2014’s underpowered Acer Aspire Switch 10, and barely keeping up with the Asus Flip TP200SA. Considering these are both tablets we criticized for poor performance, that’s not an endorsement.
Modestly powered laptops like the Dell Inspiron 11 (3000) do laps around the Chuwi Hi12, showing just how bad this performance is. And it gets worse. These scores are lower than the $130 Intel Compute Stick, a device we called tragically underpowered.
Even for day-to-day tasks, like web browsing, the Chuwi Hi12 feels sluggish at times. Online videos rarely showed what the display is capable of, because the tablet itself couldn’t keep up with the demands of playback. And even browsing the start menu sometimes caused noticable lag.
Processor intensive tasks are worse. Our Handbrake test, where we convert a 4K trailer, took a staggering 9,323 seconds, or two and a half hours. The Dell Inspiron 11 (3000) took just 34 minutes, for comparison, and we considered that a poor result.
If you want to do much beyond web browsing, avoid this tablet — and possibly even if that’s all you want to do. Only the extremely patient will be able to put up with it.
Not a speedy hard drive
The Chuwi Hi12 sports a Hynix HCG8e solid state drive, with 64GB of storage. That’s not a lot of space, but how is the performance?
Our Crystal Disk Mark sequential test showed an average read speed of 136.7 megabytes per second, and a write speed of 73.5MBps. That is abysmal for a solid state drive, and is actually worse than many mechanical drives we’ve tested. It is, however, in line with affordable 2-in-1s like that Asus TP200SA and the Acer Aspire Switch 10-E.
Our HD Tune benchmark gave us a read speed of 72MBps and access times of 0.248 milliseconds, which is slow even given the other results.
With a drive like this, users can expect slow startup times, and saving large files to take noticeably long. Don’t expect to work on large projects on this tablet. This isn’t surprising, given the price point of the Chuwi Hi12, but it is disappointing when compared to even modestly priced laptops.
Modern games are a no-go
Chuwi’s website claims the Hi12 “brings marvelous gaming experience to you.” It really shouldn’t say that.
Powered by on-board Intel HD graphics, the Chuwi Hi12 is hopeless. The 3DMark benchmarks make this obvious, because the Fire Strike score of 152 is among the lowest we’ve ever recorded. The Skydiver score of 746 is also shockingly bad.
With scores like this you should not expect to play games on this laptop, but we tried anyway. Playing Heroes of the Storm at the lowest possible settings and a resolution of 1,366 x 768, our average framerate was 6 frames per second.
Counter-strike: GO was a little better, with an average framerate of 21FPS at the lowest settings. That’s still a far cry from the 30FPS usually considered the bare minimum for gameplay.
You can install games on this device. You might even get them to run. But you won’t enjoy playing them, so don’t bother trying.
Portable, with good battery life
At 1.15 pounds, this is not a heavy tablet. But things get a little heavier when you add the keyboard and power adapter, which combine with the tablet to weigh 3.2 pounds. This isn’t exactly going to weigh down your backpack, however, and the form factor is still small enough that it’s easy to carry anywhere.
The Chuwi Hi12 comes with a 6,600mAh battery. This, combined with the energy efficient Atom processor, means users can expect long battery life. The Peacekeeper battery test, which runs browser benchmarks in a loop, lasted six hours and 15 minutes, which is a perfectly respectable result. Our web browsing loop, where a rotation of popular sites are loaded, gave us seven hours and 34 minutes. And our video loop, where an HD movie trailer is played continuously, gave us ten hours and 29 minutes, long enough to watch movies through an entire trans-Atlantic flight.
Noise and heat
There are no fans in the Chuwi, so noise is not a problem. Neither is overheating. So far as we can tell the internal heatsink in the Chuwi Hi12, alongside the underpowered processor, do a good job of keeping everything cool. Running benchmarks, the warmest temperature we could detect externally is 92.8 degrees, which is cooler than many laptops
Boot into Android
If you’re not convinced by Windows 10 tablets, or simply wants access to some games this tablet can handle, you can boot the Chuwi Hi12 into Android 5.1 (Lollipop). The mobile operating system is pre-installed on the Chuwi alongside Windows, and you can choose it when starting your tablet up.
The tablet’s CPU performance is the worst we’ve seen in years.
The touchscreen does not work during the boot sequence, so users will have to use the volume keys to choose Android or Windows. If you can’t get that to work, an application on the Windows desktop allows users to restart into Windows, and the shutdown menu in Android offers “Boot to Windows” as an option.
There’s not a lot of Android software installed by default, not even Android staples like Gmail or Chrome. Happily, Google Play is included, so installing and setting up your favorite apps isn’t hard. Performance seemed a little smoother on the Android side overall, but still a little slow while browsing heavy pages.
It’s a little disappointing that a tablet with the latest version of Windows doesn’t come with 6.0 Marshmallow, but it’s nice to have a choice of operating systems in any case, particularly if Windows performance is letting you down.
Affordable, but at what cost?
At $250, the Chuwi Hi12 is one of the cheapest 12-inch tablets running Windows 10 on the market right now, and is the least expensive Windows 10 2-in-1 we’ve ever covered.
The DT Accessory Pack
But you get what you pay for. The Chuwi Hi12’s performance was awful. Even compared to moderately priced 2-in-1s like the Acer Aspire Switch 10-E and the Asus TP200SA, devices we found lacking, the Hi12 came up short again and again. Even the Intel Compute Stick edged it out consistently. From processor to graphics to hard drive, the Chuwi Hi12 is a very slow computer.
If not for the display quality, and the feel of the tablet itself, we’d have almost nothing good to say about this device. And whatever goodwill those positives bring is outweighed by the disastrous keyboard dock, which needs to be thrown back into the fires from whence it came. You’re better off leaning this tablet against the wall and plugging in your own mouse and keyboard than buying this $50 accessory.
We wanted to love the Chuwi Hi12. We tried to love the Chuwi Hi12. But it wasn’t meant to be. Chuwi still has a lot to learn about building a Windows 2-in-1.