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Review

Chuwi UBook Pro: 2-in-1 Windows tablet-laptop hybrid

Image credit: jack loughran

Microsoft’s launch of the Surface Pro in 2013 saw the firm attempt to steal market share from the iPad by promising a good tablet experience combined with the ability to convert to a full Windows desktop environment if desired.

On the one hand the ploy worked, with Apple eventually releasing a 'Pro' version of the iPad in 2015 which also attempted to provide a more satisfying desktop experience than iOS could offer at the time, alongside a complementary physical keyboard.

It also may have factored into Microsoft’s much-derided decision to release the tablet-centric Windows 8, which proved to be a headache for many users and the design ethos of which was ultimately scrapped for the follow-up, Windows 10.

After the Surface Pro's release, the format spawned many copycats as OEM’s wanted something to rival the iPad without relying on Google’s poorly optimised, larger-screened implementation of Android.

The UBook Pro is an attempt by Chinese firm Chuwi to offer a Surface Pro form factor for around £400 (depending on exactly which bells and whistles you go for), versus about £700 for an older generation Surface Pro.

In 2019, most casual users don’t need top-tier specs to have a satisfactory Windows experience. The UBook Pro handles a standard mix of word processing, internet browsing and Spotify listening with aplomb and has no trouble with simple Photoshop editing either.

It’s Intel M3 processor is pretty much the lowest-power chip available for running full-fat Windows 10. With 8GB of RAM and a fairly sizable 256GB SSD at this price point, most operations feel surprisingly snappy on the device. Just don’t try launching any modern games because you’ll barely be able to get beyond the main menu.

The advantage of the M3 - and one of the reasons it’s so low-power - is that it’s completely fanless and dissipates its heat through the case. During our usage it never got particularly warm to the touch.

While the performance may be adequate, the device really starts to show its cheaper credentials in the build quality.

The main tablet body is sturdy, with a stiff kickstand attached to the bottom. The whole unit feels like it could withstand a few bumps and scrapes. It does feel quite heavy, though, which might not matter so much when using it in desktop mode with the attached keyboard, but at 780g it’s definitely more unwieldy than Apple's 633g iPad Pro.

The keyboard itself is probably the worst element of the whole device. As a thin case for protecting the screen it does a good enough job, but typing on it feels like you’re hitting cardboard. Weirdly enough, the keys themselves don’t feel too bad, with enough travel not to feel like your fingers are slamming down on a hard surface.

While you’re typing, though, the body of the keyboard shakes and rattles and feels flimsy. It also attaches loosely to the magnetic port at the bottom of the tablet and comes off more easily than we would like.

The comparatively cramped touchpad doesn’t feel great either. We struggled to get various three and four-finger swiping gestures to work on it and the mouse didn’t feel particularly accurate. The touchpad offers a nasty shallow click not helped by the overall cardboard-like feel of the cover. With Windows 10 lacking when it comes to touch optimisation, a nice touchpad is an important feature on a device like this.

The 12.3-inch screen offers a respectable colour pallet that’s not too saturated or muted. With a resolution of only 1080p, it can look a bit grainy at times, but isn’t too bothersome unless really searching for pixels up close. No doubt the screen will perform poorly in comparison to the higher-resolution ones found on its Apple and Microsoft competitors, but it’s not necessarily a dealbreaker at this price point.

There's also an SD card reader; two full USB-A ports; a micro HDMI port, and a USB-C port, so you won’t get much better connectivity on a device in this form factor. This out-of-the-box functionality is nice for those of us fed up of needing endless USB-C dongles to perform simple tasks, such as attach a USB stick or hard drive.

Weirdly, the tablet can be charged using both the USB-C port and the included proprietary charger. It seems unnecessary to have two ways to charge it, especially since generic USB-C will generally be preferable to the OEM charger.

Battery life is fine: you can expect around 5.5 hours of use involving internet browsing, word processing and emails. Standby times were not great and it seemed to run out after four or five days left off the charger, regardless of usage.

It also comes with both front and back-facing cameras, neither of which are particularly good, but will get you through some light Skype sessions if necessary.

Like its better-known competitors from Microsoft and Apple, the UBook Pro presents a halfway-house device that performs adequately, but doesn’t quite excel at anything. As a standalone tablet it is too bulky and heavy, while the keyboard doesn’t feel particularly pleasant for typing.

Performance-wise it’s fine, although for design professionals it won’t offer nearly enough power to do what they need, while gamers insistent on playing on a tablet are probably better off buying an iPad, which will have a larger library of better games compared to those which the UBook Pro is capable of playing.

Having said that, the Surface Pro and iPad Pro have always seemed far too expensive considering the sub-par, halfway-house experience they offer. If the tablet-cum-desktop experience is what you’re really looking for, you could do worse than save a few quid buying the UBook Pro, or spend the same amount as its tablet competitors on a great laptop.

Chuwi UBook Pro, £400 (approximately)

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