It’s not hard to guess where Avita got the inspiration for its Clarus ultraportable laptop. The only way the aluminum-bodied, black-bezeled, carefully machined clamshell might more closely resemble Apple’s MacBook lineup would be if Avita’s logo were an icon of fruit instead of a monogram. But the Clarus has one thing in its favor that the MacBook doesn’t: cost. You can’t polish up a new Apple for less than a grand, but Avita slapped a $599 price on the first laptop it’s releasing in the United States. A low price only makes up for so much, however, and the Clarus underperforms in enough ways that we’re lukewarm at best on this first effort.
An Attractive Chassis With a Few Flaws
The Clarus, like several other ultraportables and detachable 2-in-1s PC Labs has tested recently, features an Intel Y-series low-power CPU. This one makes use of integrated Intel HD Graphics 615 silicon and is backed by 8GB of DDR3 RAM. It also features a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), which is supplemented by a microSD slot for expanding the storage. The ports (which are machined from the aluminum in a way that’s undeniably reminiscent of a MacBook) include two USB 3.0 slots and one USB Type-C connection.
The power adapter inlet, a headphone jack, and an HDMI port complete the list of physical connections; Bluetooth and 802.11ac Wi-Fi cover the wireless side of things. A 19V power adapter comes in the box.
It would be hard to guess just by looking at it that the Clarus has a 14-inch display. The laptop is relatively compact and wouldn’t seem out of place alongside competitors with 13-inch panels. With small dimensions come great density, however, with the Clarus weighing in at 3.3 pounds. It’s also 0.7 inch thick, which puts it on the chunky side for an ostensible ultraportable. I wouldn’t call the Clarus heavy, but other devices offer similar performance in more compact packages, or pack better specs into slightly larger bodies.
There’s no getting around it, though: The Clarus’ beauty is skin deep. The 1,920-by-1,080-pixel (1080p) display is crisp, and its colors appear to be accurate, but its glass finish makes it hard to see anything but your reflection even in relatively dim lighting. That’s even true with mostly white backgrounds on the screen. The panel is also a dust magnet—I regularly find myself wiping off the screen if the brightness is turned down. The viewing angles of the display itself are good, but I have to situate myself just so if I actually want to see anything but my own reflection peering back at me.
Avita’s chiclet keyboard fares better. I’m still not as comfortable with it as I am, say, with the Logitech G Pro connected to my desktop, but the keys are wide enough to strike reliably, and the board offers enough travel to be comfortable but not enough for detritus to make its way into the mechanism, a problem that plagued Apple with its earlier-generation keyboard “butterfly” switches. Surprisingly, I scored 107 words per minute with five errors on TypingTest.com with the Clarus, versus just 103 words per minute with two errors on the G Pro. That’s a mark in Avita’s favor.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the touchpad. Avita equipped the Clarus with an extra-wide (5.7-by-2.8-inch) pad to make it easier to use Windows 10’s gestures and offer more space during general use. That said, I was only rarely able to use the gestures, and even mundane tasks like right-clicking by pressing with two fingers was unreliable. Sometimes I accidentally right-clicked while trying to left-click; other times I couldn’t right-click despite making several attempts. I also misclicked constantly because my palms hit the pad while typing; the palm rejection was simply subpar. The experience was frustrating at best and maddening at worst.
The Clarus seesaws and redeems itself again, to an extent, with its speakers. They’re located on the bottom front of the laptop and emit sound from four slats—two on each side—in the chassis. Overall volume is good, and even though the Clarus won’t offer enough bass for your Dubstep Appreciation Night, everything else sounds good enough for general use.
The only real complaint I have about the Clarus’ sound results from the speakers’ underside placement. It’s easy to accidentally cover them if you’re actually using the Clarus on your lap. Still, I’m pleasantly surprised to find myself willing to use the speakers instead of headphones.
On Performance, a Benchwarmer
The Clarus is positioned, clearly, as a general-purpose laptop—nobody should expect it to be able to play the latest games with any proficiency. The Intel integrated graphics perform as expected. (I was able to squeeze a very variable 4 to 60 frames per second out of Fortnite with the graphics settings at their lowest. It looked like I was playing a Sega Genesis port of the game, but it was doable.) But as you can see from the formal benchmarks below, the device falls short of even the modest expectations of a mainstream laptop. I rounded up the numbers for a group of similar systems a bit above and below $500 for comparisons. (The costliest was the Acer Spin 3, running about $50 to $100 more than the Avita at this writing.)
The Clarus was middle-of-this-pack on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional (general productivity) and Cinebench R15 (CPU-mashing) benchmarks…
Its scores for those tests—a respective 2,983 and 235—bested the Microsoft Surface Go (2,106 and 161) and Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (2,696 and 171), equipped with lesser Pentium Gold and Core m3 CPUs. Yet Avita’s offering doesn’t compare to the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (a machine tested but not yet reviewed), which costs roughly $65 less on Amazon, or the only slightly pricier Acer Spin 3. These two machines beat the Clarus in every productivity test.
Things look less appealing once you reach the 3DMark Cloud Gate test. The Clarus placed dead last with a score of 3,802, while the Acer machine scored almost double. This specific graphics test tends to be CPU-limited under many circumstances, and you can see the difference between the Y-series chip here and the latest U-series in the Acer, given that both use typical Intel integrated graphics. (More on that in a moment.)
Those problems are made even clearer in daily use. The first time I used the Clarus, I decided to install a few games on a lark, just to see how well it could hold up. But while I was installing the Epic Games Launcher, the system repeatedly jumped between using 99 percent of its CPU and its storage capabilities, according to Windows 10’s built-in Task Manager. I also noticed a bit of lag whenever I opened multiple tabs in various browsers, opened Slack after receiving a bunch of messages, or just typed up this review in Simplenote. Doing anything but the most basic tasks felt a bit balky.
Much of the blame lies with Avita’s use of an Intel Core i5-7Y54. Avita notes both on its website and in the specs provided to members of the press that the Clarus features a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 “with up to 3.2GHz turbo boost frequency.” Fair enough. This Y-series chip, though, is base-clocked at 1.2GHz, and the chassis gets pretty warm whenever I do anything remotely taxing with the laptop. The Y-series chips, in testing experience, tend to be fine for short, bursty tasks that don’t require sustained CPU exertion. (Thus, for example, the Clarus’ okay performance in our Photoshop test; applying the filters is a start-and-stop task.) The Clarus is okay when it comes to handling quick processes like these but slouches when it has to do anything CPU-heavy for an appreciable amount of time, or too many things at once.
In an offhanded way, some users might find those limitations useful. The Clarus effectively forces you to focus on doing one thing at a time, so if you’re looking for a device that won’t tempt you with massive multitasking or ducking out into a favorite game every time you sit down to write a paper, these performance limits will be just what you need, in a sense. But even so, sometimes you do need to multitask, and for those purposes, the Clarus fails to meet modest expectations. It gets as jittery as a caffeine-addicted jitterbug every time it has to handle mundane tasks—say, opening multiple browser tabs at once while keeping Slack up to date.
The Clarus also offers limited battery life compared to its competitors. Its battery lasted 8:05 in the PC Labs battery rundown test, in which the laptop plays a locally stored video with all wireless bands turned off and the display set to 50 percent brightness. That result just barely qualifies it for the “all day computing” stamp of approval. But that’s still short, sometimes well short, of three of the four comparison machines here.
For Now: Look, But Don’t Touchpad?
We can’t deny that the Avita Clarus has deskside appeal. It has an attractive case, the display looks fine in the right conditions, and users frustrated by itty-bitty touchpads may breathe a sigh of relief at the behemoth underneath this laptop’s keyboard. The $599 price also helps—the norm in this price range tends to be a ho-hum, plastic-clad laptop. Alas, though, with the Clarus, an appealing case and price can’t quite offset the balky behavior of the touchpad and the system’s overall lackluster performance, both in formal testing and in our hands-on time with the machine.
This is the first laptop Avita has released in the United States. It plans to follow up the Clarus with a smaller device called the Avita Liber with a 12.5-inch display and more color options for the case. (Globally, larger Libers are planned, as well.) The Liber should have better specs, too, with up to an Intel Core i7 processor and a 512GB SSD. The Clarus is Avita’s first entry into a new market; it will be interesting to see how much better the Liber performs when it hits the US later this year. A slightly more robust spec loadout and a better touchpad would go a long way.