Fancy building your own PC? It’s easy enough to do with a desktop (just follow our step-by-step PC building guide), but you’d have to be pretty brave to try constructing your own laptop out of raw components. Chillblast is a company that lets you pick out exactly the specs you’re after and does the hard work for you. Here’s our Chillblast Akira 3 review.
See also: 20 of the best laptops you can buy right now
The Akira 3 is one of its latest ‘templates’, getting you a pretty portable 14in design and a GeForce GTX 950M to let you play games, as well as handling productivity tasks with ease. It’s not for those after a laptop that’s going to make a strong impression, though. While not cheap in price, several elements do feel a bit cheap.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Price
You can pay almost as much or as little as you like when you spec out a Chillblast laptop. However, the Akira 3 we’re looking at is an upper-mid range design. Prices start at £799 for the base model, which includes a 500GB hard drive, quad-core Intel Core i5 Skylake CPU and a GTX 950M. Our review model also has a 128GB SSD, for that extra boost of speed. The upgrade bumps the system price up to £879. This makes it a little cheaper than a lot of ‘portable power’ systems from Dell, but comparable with entry-level gaming laptops from companies like MSI.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Design
If you want a laptop that will impress people with its sheer presence, you probably won’t want a Akira 3. It’s very plain-looking, and the parts that stick out visually do so because they look a little clumsy.
Things such as the gloss keyboard plate, the very conspicuous camera, the obvious rubber buffers on the display surround and the heavily-lined hinge area give the Akira an, at best, dated look. Almost all £800- to £900 laptops from the big brands look a lot better.
The single suggestion that this is a remotely higher-end laptop is the aluminium finish on its lid. The rest of the Akira 3 is plastic. You can also tell the casing is designed to be highly customisable. There’s a big blank bit of plastic on the right side where an optical drive might go, for example.
Laptops may be a bit like puzzles, made up of a bunch of joined-together bits, but the Chillblast may make this all-too evident for some of you. It isn’t a looker. Build quality is at best passable, too. There’s a lot of flexing to the keyboard plate, where at this price from the other brands we start to see more attention paid to such things.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Connections
Chillblast doesn’t play the same game as the other laptop players. But in some respects this pays off. For example, you get a few connections you just wouldn’t see in a laptop like this from, say, HP.
It has both a VGA connector and a full-size ethernet port, two things generally left out of smaller, lighter laptops these days. You also get two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 socket, HDMI and an SD slot. The one connector that’s missing is a USB-C port, rapidly becoming a standard addition in more expensive laptops. While of limited use right now, we’ll see it start being used in mobile devices in place of micro-USB in 2016. Most other laptops at this price use USB 3.0 only these days, although given the USB 2.0 port is most likely to be used to attach a mouse, it’s hardly a killer issue.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Keyboard and touchpad
Perhaps the most important elements of a laptop’s body are the keyboard and trackpad. Mess these up and a laptop can be a nightmare to use. The Akira 3’s are passable, but a little dated.
We appreciate the very vanilla keyboard layout. There are no oddly-resized keys, letting you touch type without your first 100 emails being full of typos. The key action is also beefy, with a good deal of resistance against your finger, the polar opposite to the wafer-thin key style Apple uses in its latest 12in MacBook.
However, significant keyboard flex in some areas adds a spongy note. As such, the Akira 3 doesn’t have a consistent feel. It’s rather unusual, and not in a good sense. We didn’t have any major problems using it, though: if you’re not too bothered about ‘premium feel’ you’ll get used to it quickly. And may well prefer it to the feel of some ultra-shallow alternatives.
The trackpad shows a similarly lax approach. It’s a good deal smaller than a lot of today’s trendy 13- to 14in laptops, doesn’t use integrated buttons and has an unambitious textured plastic surface rather than the textured glass used in most high-end style laptops.
While it feels a bit like stepping back to using a laptop of five years ago, the trackpad does work perfectly well. Its button bar is low-fi, with a seesaw action between the left and right buttons and a chunky dead zone in the middle. It’s wholly pedestrian, but does give you a satisfying, deep click at each end.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Screen
A lot of the superficial hardware features make you think “I spent nearly £900 for… this?” for a few minutes, but after using the laptop for a while we softened. It’s not flashy, but does the job.
The screen is a lingering disappointment, though. It’s a 14in 1080p panel, which is exactly the sort of thing we’d expect at this price, since 4K laptops aren’t that cheap yet. It also has a neat hinge that lets you fold it back almost 180 degrees. While not in the same league as the Lenovo Yoga 900 in flexibility terms, it does let you show other people what’s on-screen more easily.
Sound ok so far, but the hinge actually demonstrates what’s bad about the display. It uses a TN (twisted nematic) panel, which seems thoroughly out of place in a £800 laptop. The vast majority of laptops at this level have moved over to using IPS LCD screens. Sticking with the older style causes some major image quality problems. The first is contrast shift. Tilt the display back and the colours start inverting, the whole image becoming a shadowy mess. Tilt it forward and everything get greyed-out. By TN standards the effects aren’t terrible, but eyes used to the far superior viewing angles of IPS LCD will be disappointed.
Typical of this kind of display, colour performance is well below current standards. The Akira 3 only covers 54.5 percent of the sRGB colour spectrum and 37.5 percent of Adobe RGB. While mid-range IPS-screen laptops tend to fail to cover all of sRGB, they generally do much better than this (70- to 90 percent minimum).
In Chillblast’s defence, the calibration of the display is decent, with an average Delta E colour difference of 0.21. So while the colour won’t dazzle, it’ll look roughly ‘right’, as long as you view the screen dead-on. At any sort of angle, it’s game over for image quality.
The display has a matt finish, which is handy for use outdoors. You can see what’s on-screen even with a window reflection in view. However, it’s not the best for very bright days, with a maximum brightness of an average 225cd/m2. We’d take it over a brighter glossy display for pure practical points, though.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Performance
By now you’re getting the idea: there are some issues. However, the performance it packs into a modest frame is commendable.
Our review model has a Skylake-generation Intel Core i5-6300HQ. It’s a quad-core CPU, not the dual-core ‘U’ version used so often in slimmer laptops.
This scores 8043 points in Geekbench 3, where a quad-core i7 will score well over 10,000, but is sufficient for most people. The PCMark 8 Home tests indicate this, with a 2749 points score being pretty close to what a more powerful laptop achieves.
The capable-but-sensible mid-range CPU is paired with an equally sensible 8GB RAM. It’s DDR4 memory, with a 2133MHz clock speed. Good stuff, in other words. This is a ‘ready for anything’ machine that can take on demanding tasks much more readily than something with a Core M CPU, or one with a dual-core CPU. It’s not dramatically faster than the latest dual-core Core i7 in some situations, though.
As standard Chillblast ships the Akira 3 with a hybrid 500GB SSD/HDD, but our review model also features a 128GB SSD, on to which the operating system is loaded. With this configuration at least, day?to-day performance is excellent. It has enough RAM and fast enough storage to provide great responsiveness.
The Akira 3 also has a GeForce GTX 950M, a mid-range graphics card that is good enough for light gaming. While significantly slower than the GTX960M used in the Dell XPS 15 and Asus Zenbook Pro UX501, it will still handle modern games at 1080p resolution is you pare down the settings a bit. Running Thief, for example, it averages an increibly smooth 78fps at 720p, low graphics settings. Maxed out at 1080p this slows down to an average of 23.8fps. But that shows if you’re happy with 30fps smoothness, you can definitely stick to 1080p and fairly good visual settings.
It seems that the Akira 3 has adept-enough cooling for its components, though. The laptop tends to get warm after prolonged use. Even just using the laptop to produce this review, the system became obviously warm. That was with CPU usage at 10 percent-ish or below. This doesn’t seem a particularly well-designed system. Most of the heat comes out of a grille on the left side, through which one of the main heat sinks is clearly visible. On the bright side, you can use it to keep one hand warm during the winter.
Chillblast Akira 3 review: Battery life
As an exercise in bringing decent components together at an attractive price, it’s no surprise the Chillblast Akira 3’s battery life is not great. When playing a 720p movie on loop at 120cd/m2 screen brightness, it lasts three hours 57 minutes. While its dimensions are somewhat portable-friendly, the battery isn’t.
Using the system as just that, a portable work laptop, it dropped from 84 percent charge to 39 percent in one hour 35 minutes. This suggests general-use stamina of 3.5 hours. Even worse.