The Hi9 does most things with few caveats, at a reasonable cost.
Chuwi’s latest tablet, the Chuwi Hi9, sits at the upper end of the budget range but it doesn’t seem at all aware that’s where it’s supposed to reside. That's because Android tablets have, in general, lagged far behind smartphones in performance. So it's easy to look at the prevalent internal specifications provided here, and the price, and assume the Hi9 is going to be a waste of money for most tasks. Happily enough, that's just not the case with this particular device. Marketed as an Android gaming tablet, this tablet is able to handle most things that a user could throw at it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t cover all Android games, since it is still relatively low-spec compared to some flagship or even mid-range smartphones on the market. However, for the money, it would be difficult to say that this tablet is anything close to a failure in either design or implementation.
Pricing for the Chuwi Hi9 starts out at just $189, with pricing ranging up to around $224 depending on where it’s purchased. For that cost, buyers get a tablet with a JDI-built 8.4-inch display set to a resolution of 2560 x 1600, with a display ratio of 16:9. That puts out light at up to 350cd/m² lumens and is embedded in a casing that’s made of plastic, measuring 216.5mm x 129.5mm x 7.9mm with a weight of 350g. On the back of the device, there’s a 5-megapixel HDR-capable main shooter in the top-left. A single backward-firing speaker can also be found there. Meanwhile, on the front, users will find a 2-megapixel snapper, as well as all of the sensors that are expected on a modern Android device.
All of the ports on the Hi9 are aligned along the top edge, with a 3.5mm headphone jack, open SD card slot, and standard micro USB plug for charging the 5,000mAh battery at 5V/3A. That powerpack drives Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box and the software has a full 4GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage to play with. Storage can be expanded by as much as 128GB if that just doesn’t feel like enough space. A 64-bit MediaTek MT8173 SoC is in charged of processing, backed up by a PowerVR GX6250 GPU. The main SoC is comprised of four ARM A72 cores clocked at 2GHz. No mobile networking is included with that but it does support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi via the 802.11ac protocol, as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
In the Box
Cracking into the Chuwi Hi9 box is a relatively undramatic affair. The company only includes the bare essentials with this tablet. Of course, it does come with a OTG charging cable, micro USB to standard USB, that’s just over 2.5-feet in length and a wall adapter that simply won’t work in the U.S. or some other regions. The wall adapter is of the two-pronged Type C variety most commonly used in Europe, South America, and Asia markets. That’s rated at 5V/2A output, so users outside of regions where that type of wall socket is common will need an alternative adapter that charges at the same rate. Aside from those two items, buyers can expect the tablet to arrive with a pre-installed film screen protector. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to fit very well, with each edge peeling up due to the curves of the screen itself. Finally, there are the usual user manuals and cards containing warranty and build information.
Hardware and Design
In terms of design, the Chuwi Hi9 appears to have been built with minimalism in mind. The choice of build materials and size of the bezels suggests it places functionality ahead of form. It goes without saying that, unless completely overdone, wider bezels tend to be important to larger devices since they offer a place to rest the hands during use. In this case, they seem to be just right and allow for one-handed operation in many cases where two hands might need to be used if they were any smaller. The weight of the device helps with that as well. Moreover, the whole package feels solidly put together and well thought out. Buttons are clicky, as they should be and each of the ports feels snug.
Having said that, this is also a tablet that possibly could have benefited from the use of slightly higher-grade materials. The back panel isn’t prone to fingerprints or those kinds of build-up but is prone to light scarring. In fact, our test unit even arrived with a couple of minor blemishes which couldn’t be polished out. Those don’t really affect its use but it does take away from the device aesthetically. Meanwhile, the lack of ruggedization is another build problem. In fairness, Chuwi doesn’t list anywhere exactly what materials were used in the display. So it should be assumed that it isn’t the highest-strength material available. However, during testing, this tablet was placed on a coffee table from which it was accidentally bumped off of, causing it to fall onto a heavy rug. The drop was less than 2-feet but did result in a minor hairline crack in the glass of the bottom bezel. This didn’t interfere with usage and wasn't substantial by any means either but is something to be aware of. Under the best circumstances, the build quality falls just short and buyers will want to factor in some heavy-duty screen protectors and a protective case with their purchase.
The display performs very well on this device, thanks to its laminate layer providing decent glare reduction. That also helps during outdoor use, although it could always be better. With that said, we did notice some screen-freezing with this ten-point touch display when we were first conducting a setup. It even became outright unresponsive during the first initial setup process, requiring a restart before touches began registering again. Strangely, the second setup saw similar issues throughout but those seemed to go away as soon as the home screen loaded and didn’t present themselves again.
It isn’t immediately clear whether this was an issue with the display itself or with the underlying software. The issue could have been a complete fluke, only applying to our test unit. In any case, once that initial process was completed, everything went smoothly. Chuwi’s Hi9 tablet actually has a far better display resolution than many other tablets in its price range. That difference will be immediately apparent to users who have become accustomed to the more usual standard HD displays those ship with. The once-standard 16:9 screen ratio is also still in use in the vast majority of Android apps. So that is greatly appreciated here since apps will make use of the entire screen with no stretching or distortion.
Performance and Battery Life
Because this is technically a budget tablet, there are a few obvious drawbacks in performance. Namely, more intense games, unless they allow for graphics or other aspects to be scaled back, are going to cause some lag. Bearing that in mind, that shouldn’t be a problem in most games and should be non-existent in non-gaming software. The benchmarks don’t necessarily back that up, showing performance to be slightly better or worse than Samsung’s Galaxy S6, depending on which aspect of the SoC or GPU is being measured. However, benchmarks almost never tell the whole story, with regard to real-world usage. This tablet is simply far more capable than its specs might suggest and its listing by Chuwi as a "gaming tablet" doesn't feel too far off of the mark for its price.
Battery life isn’t necessarily bad either. Our benchmark showed that at above 90-percent CPU usage, screen-on time falls in at around 4.5-hours. That matches our real-world experience for the most part, although the numbers go up with battery saving measures enabled and when not solely playing games on the Hi9. Of course, that isn’t necessarily great, since one might assume a 5,000mAh battery could push through for well over a day of use. The screen brightness is also not high enough that it should be having such a profound impact on battery life. The issue may be in the optimization and it could be that the CPU and GPU are working overtime, even when they don’t necessarily need to be. Thankfully, if users don’t only use it for gaming or other hardware-intensive purposes, this tablet should still last almost a full day. Charging up also takes some time, even at 5V/3A, with around 2 hours required to go from zero to full if the tablet is left alone while charging.
Connectivity and Audio
Connectivity with this tablet is, as already mentioned, limited to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The use of Bluetooth 4.0 allows for plenty of range and nearly lossless audio via headphones or speaker. It also allows for rapid input recognition from HID devices such as a Bluetooth gamepad or keyboard. That translates to a smooth gaming experience in apps that support those types of input or a similar experience on the productivity side of things. The Wi-Fi radio performs with equal robustness, allowing a stable connection for web or casting throughout use at a reasonable distance.
Audio is well done here, as well, whether using the 3.5mm headphone jack or built-in speaker. Although only one speaker is included, it's plenty loud and the tones are predominantly accurate. Bass does tend to get washed out since mobile and tablet hardware doesn't necessarily allow for the types of speakers that can deliver high fidelity audio. However, that's not at all a problem through headphones, with the Chuwi Hi9's drivers delivering crisp, full sound that only an audiophile isn't necessarily going to love. This is, after all, classified as a gaming tablet and gaming can be made or broken on the quality of the associated sounds.
For software, there is nothing about the Chuwi Hi9 to make it stand out. Built around stock Android 7.0 Nougat, there are no frills to speak of and very few apps installed by default. Those are almost all Google’s own applications, so this is a very stock experience. It bears repeating that the earlier-mentioned lag problems we experienced with the screen could easily have stemmed from something in the software associated with the initial log-in. That's not necessarily something that will get fixed in a future update since Android tablets are generally notorious for not receiving scheduled updates. That could prove to be an issue on more than just that minor deviation from a smooth experience, however. The security patch with this tablet is only as recent as January 5, 2018. While that isn't automatically going to result in problems, it is behind the most recent fixes associated with some fairly big vulnerabilities. Chuwi may choose to update this tablet, of course, but there's no guarantee that it will.
The cameras, like the software, do not deliver anything out of the ordinary. For a tablet, that means that there really isn’t much to the camera software at all. The sensors are HDR compatible but there are no filters and no real “mode” options to write home about. Instead, they center around a clean interface and the ability to simply aim and capture. Image quality isn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination due to the low pixel rating. There’s no flash or special features, so low-light imaging is going to be noticeably worse than an Android handset. Conversely, shots with strong backlighting are going to get washed out. Bearing all of that in mind, these snappers will work in a pinch if the lighting is right and since this is a tablet, the shortcomings can mostly be forgiven.
Hardware is a great value for the cost
Will run most applications with no lag at all
Bare-bones preinstalled software means plenty of room for new apps or media
Near-stock Android equates to an easy-to-use device with no surprises
A case and a screen protector is a must-buy with this product
Battery Life seems as though it could be better, given the size of the battery used
Camera software is serviceable but relatively abysmal
Had responsiveness issues early on which seemed to go away
Taken in combination, and especially with consideration for its relatively low cost, it would be difficult not to recommend Chuwi’s latest efforts with its Hi9 Android gaming tablet. There are a few tradeoffs to bear in mind but that has always been the case with Android tablets. The near-stock software and complete lack of bloatware out of the box mean that the Chuwi Hi9 offers a smooth and relatively pain-free experience in most cases. On the other hand, the lack of any ruggedization and less than great cameras mean that this will obviously not be the tablet of choice for those who are harder than usual on their devices. Similarly, it won’t be perfect for those who plan to use the tablet as a secondary camera. However, for those willing to buy a protective case and install a screen protector, the Hi9 should at very least be on the list for consideration.