I recently discovered the joys of Chinese online distributors. It’s not really my fault, but Germany’s leading technology magazine “C’T” featured one of their yearly robotic vacuum cleaner tests in last month’s edition, and for some reason the best girlfriend ever suggested contributing to the test’s best performer, the (admittedly amazing) Xiaomi Roborock S50 2. While it unfortunately sends architectural schematics of my groundfloor and my network details back to China, it really does an excellent job of cleaning the place and swallowing the crumbs and garlic pieces I seem to be distributing around the place. But vacuuming is beside the point here. Now that I am on the books of the Chinese distributor of the contraption, they keep sending me offers of more delicious technology, so I obviously had a look at their laptops. Browsing brands I’d never heard of, I came across the T-Bao Tbook R8.
The ad promised me a 15.6″ screen laptop for £156 pounds, with another 20 quid for shipping and insurance. A 15.6″ inch laptop for under 200 pounds? “Hell yes”, to quote Ed Milliband, so I pulled the trigger, and less than one week it’s here on my lap. First impressions are what I expected: a bigger version of my Pinebook, with a very similar feel to the plastic, keyboard and trackpad. A tiny ‘welcome’ piece of paper, no manual and a far too short AC adaptor cable with a universal plug. So far, so expected. Its hardware specs make it clear that this is no gaming laptop: 4GB of RAM, 64 GB of EMMC storage, an Intel Cherry Trail X5-Z8530 CPU (a recent Atom, as far as I understand), Intel HD 400 graphics, one 2.0, one 3.0 USB slot, a rubbish webcam, a micro SD card slot and headphone output. Nothing to be excited about. Have a look at an unboxing ceremony by those lovely people from OSReviews here:
64GB storage is – I am sorry to say – not a biggie anymore. While my Sinclair ZX-81 had 1kb ram -which I was perfectly content with for ca 1 week – 64GB pretty much covers your cousin’s wedding in pics and movies these days, so I was a bit sceptical whether I could turn this into a work – laptop. Nevertheless, it seems to work out ok: Windows 10, Office 2016, various small tools and – most importantly – my work related files on my iCloud drive – seem to need exactly 40GB. That leaves me enough space for potential updates and any additional media (Music/Movies) that can be stored on a SD card.
How does it feel working with it? Surprisingly good: the keyboard is a step up from the terrible Pinebook keyboard (though it does look remarkably similar) and is generously sized, though the keypad is, as expected, not great. This is not going to be such an issue for desktop work, as one would use an external mouse, but it will need some adaption to not impede workflows. Speedwise, I can’t complain: with Spotify streaming to my AVR, Outlook downloading bits and bobs and Firefox having 3 windows open, the CPU reports 63% load (though 80% memory in use). It nevertheless feels super-zippy and the display is very comfortable on the eyes. The Cherry Trail CPU has a very modest power consumption, so battery life is pretty good and will last you at least 4 hours while doing routine stuff. I have to admit that I haven’t tried any graphics – heavy applications (though I might give the GIMP a go later), but this is not what I bought the laptop for. The built-in WiFI is pretty rubbish, but a small a/c/n 3.0 USB wifi adapter has dealt with this beautifully. The DAC seems to be ok as I had loads of fun with my headphones on, listening to Spotify.
So, in conclusion:
Price, Keyboard, Screen, Power Consumption, Speed, Silent
Keypad, Connectivity, Storage, RAM
Is this the perfect low cost laptop? Undobtedly, yes. Find me a similarly handsome, zippy machine for this price, and I will eat my Pinebook. Is this the perfect laptop? No. It’s certainly no Power Mac (still my go to machine for all ‘professional’ work’), nor a Thinkpad, but for 156 quid with its great keyboard and limited, but acceptable functionality it’s a no-brainer.