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Chuwi AeroBook review: Testing 5 Linux distributions

The Chuwi AeroBook is a snappy, Ultrabook-style system at under half the price of the MacBook Air, from which it draws clear design inspirations. TechRepublic tests how it fares running Linux.

With major PC OEMs supporting Linux, is this the year of the Linux laptop?
While boutique vendors like System76 catered to Linux enthusiasts for years, major brands such as Dell, Lenovo, and now Huawei are selling Linux-powered notebooks.

Chuwi is likely not a brand familiar to many, though the Chinese firm has established its abilities in producing budget-focused notebooks and tablets—essentially, attempting to provide a full Windows experience at a price point of an average Chromebook. Chuwi’s upmarket Chuwi Aerobook could be the right price for an Ultrabook form factor at a $500 price point.

SEE: How to choose between Windows, macOS, and Linux (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Support for Linux on fundamentally consumer hardware has improved considerably over the last decade, largely preventing the need to perform extensive manual configuration. In 2019, minor compatibility issues—tiny papercut-like problems that are harder to actually solve—can pop up for specific hardware configurations. Depending on the return policies of your preferred marketplace, it might be impossible or cost-prohibitive to return a product like this if it doesn’t work with Linux. 

Specs

  • CPU: Intel Core m3-6Y30 (2 Cores / 4 Threads, 900 MHz Base / 2.2 GHz Turbo, 4.5W TDP)

  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics 515

  • Display: 13.3″ 1080p IPS, Glossy

  • RAM: 8 GB LPDDR3 1600 MHz, soldered

  • Storage: 256 GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD

  • Wireless: Intel Dual-Band AC-3165: 802.11ac 1×1, Bluetooth 4.2

  • Ports: 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB Typc-C with Power Delivery, 1x microHDMI, 1x microSD, 1x 3.5mm headset jack

  • Webcam: VGA

  • Battery: 38 Wh Li-Ion

  • Size & Weight: 308.5 x 209 x 15.2mm, 1.26 kg (12.1″ x 8.2″ x 0.6″, 2.78 lbs.)

General impressions

The AeroBook clearly draws design inspiration from Apple’s design language, though considering that at least half the PC OEM businesses out there have done so for decades, it is difficult to fault them for it. While the AeroBook sits on the expensive end of budget-targeted devices, the construction quality is solid, there is no flex to the system body.

Keyboard quality is one of the AeroBook’s strengths—it was clearly designed to be used as a keyboard, and is genuinely pleasant to type on. The layout of the Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys is unconventional, it plausibly serves a benefit when using Microsoft Excel, however. Despite the shorter right-shift key, I didn’t find myself misfiring when searching for it.

ZDNet’s Alun Taylor wrote an in-depth review of the AeroBook hardware, finding the build quality “impeccable,” adding that “The lid, for example, has very little flex to it and the one-piece hinge feels reassuringly sturdy.”

Fedora 30

Wi-Fi did not work on a fresh installation of Fedora 30—as there is no Ethernet port on a system this thin, that can be an encumbrance. Using a USB Wi-Fi adapter, running dnf update loaded the necessary driver. The overall experience is reasonably snappy, though GNOME on Fedora after a fresh boot uses 1.6 GB of RAM, without even a browser started. There’s a modest frame drop when opening Show Applications in the Activities view (though this doesn’t animate perfectly on my comparatively powerful desktop).

Complaints of dnf being slow can be felt in greater magnitude here, as processing delta RPMs push the CPU quite hard.

Ubuntu 19.04

Ubuntu worked as expected on the default GNOME-powered flavor, with issues connecting to the network. Some frame drops can be seen, though the frequency of this is less than on Fedora. Despite the pair both using GNOME, Ubuntu uses only 1.3 GB on a fresh boot, without a browser started. 

Attempting to download large files—mainly, the KDE Neon ISO needed for the test below—resulted in the connection being dropped, though the computer was stationary the whole time, and only 8 ft. (~240 cm) from the access point.

KDE Neon

KDE really shines on modestly lower-power hardware like the AeroBook. KDE Neon is essentially Ubuntu LTS, with the most up-to-date Qt and KDE packages added on top, due in part to version lifecycle differences between Ubuntu and KDE. KDE Neon uses only 550 MB on a fresh boot, the system is overall a tiny bit snappier than on Fedora or default Ubuntu.

Elementary OS 5.0

Installing Elementary OS was a slightly odd experience—there were some peculiar window animation problems in the installer itself, though this is just a cosmetic issue. The installer finished successfully, and on prompting to reboot, shut down successfully, requesting (as is normal) to remove the installation media and press Enter to reboot.

It did nothing after pressing Enter, which is an odd pain point to experience as Elementary OS and KDE Neon use the same Ubuntu 18.04 LTS base.

After starting the actual desktop session, it worked well—it definitely lives up to Jack Wallen’s high praise for usability.

Android x86 8.1 r2

The Android-x86 project is a convenient solution to run Android directly on PCs. Given that Android runs on top of the Linux kernel, this is not that big of a leap. That said, while it runs quite well—there were no issues with Wi-Fi, graphics, etc.—the lack of a touchscreen on the AeroBook makes the experience uneven as Android is developed primarily with touchscreens in mind. It does work, though, and can be quite handy for games.

For more, check out “Huawei selling MateBook laptops with Linux preinstalled to consumers in China” and “Scientific Linux and Antergos are shutting down: It’s time for Linux Mint to go” on TechRepublic.

Also see

Chuwi AeroBook

Image: Chuwi


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