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Cube i7 Book review: smart design paired with decent internals

Although Microsoft’s very own Surface and Surface Pro lines are still considered as the market-leading Windows tablets and also remain to be most popular, many other manufacturers, big and small, are trying to have a share in this fast-growing market of tablet & PC hybrids.
Cube, a Chinese brand mainly known for making budget Android tablets, has already released a bunch of Windows tablets since 2014. One of their most successful products was the Cube i7 Stylus, a Windows tablet which came with a Core M processor, 4GB RAM, a comfortable keyboard base and Wacom digitizer. Recently, Cube has released an upgraded version of the Cube i7 Stylus – the Cube i7 Book, which comes with many improvements such as an all new Skylake Core M3 processor, a USB Type-C port and a rotary keyboard base. The tablet itself is only priced at RMB2,199 ($329), even cheaper than the entry model of Microsoft Surface 3. You might need to spend more on the rotary keyboard base and a Wacom, but I am sure the added cost the two will be under $100.

Cube i7 Book Main Specs
OS: Windows 10 Home
Screen: 10.6-inch IPS, 10-point multi-touch, IGZO
Display Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (16:9)
CPU: Intel Skylake Core-M 6Y30
CPU Frequency: 0.9GHz (Base clock) – 2.2GHZ (Turbo clock)
GPU: Intel HD 515
RAM / Storage: 4GB DDR3L / 64GB SSD
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.1
WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi hotspot
Camera: 5MP back camera, 2MP front camera
Battery: 9,000mAh
Ports: Micro SD Card Slot, Micro USB 3.0 Port, USB Type-C port, 3.5mm Headphone Jack, DC Charging Port
Size: 273*172*9.6mm, Weight: 710.5g, Color: Black front and blue rear

Retail Package
The Cube i7 Book has the same packaging used on other Windows tablets from Cube. Inside the box you will find a wall charger, an OTG adapter (Micro USB 3.0 to full USB 3.0), a warranty card and a user manual.

Design

The i7 Book looks like a triplet brother of the Cube i7 Stylus and Cube iWork 11 Stylus. The front is dominated by a 10.6-inch IPS display, with relatively big bezel around. We do love the small bezel design deployed on the Huawei Mate Book and Samsung Galaxy TabPro S. But when we use the slate as a standalone tablet, we do need the bezel to rest out fingers on.

The slate has an Aluminum rear side, which is coated in blue. I used to praise the use of blue color on Cube’s Windows tablets, as it reduces the industrial feel of the device. However, Cube seems to use this color combination in all of their Windows tablets, and it feels quite boring. Maybe it is just me who have this feeling because I have tested many of Cube’s tablets, first-time buyers may still appreciate the aesthetic.

Unlike the Huawei Matebook and Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, both of which only come with a single USB Type-C port and a headphone jack, the i7 Book still offers a slew of ports and slots. On the left side you will find a headset jack, a Micro USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm DC charging port and a Micro SD card slot which supports cards up to 128GB.
There is also a USB Type-C port which can be transformed into a full USB port or an HDMI port, or both if you have the right adapter. I used the type-C adapter for my Macbook and it works brilliantly with the i7 Book.

The keyboard port can be found on the bottom side of the slate, this time it is an 11 contact magnetic port, as opposed to the 5-contact port we have seen on other Cube’s Windows tablets. So the magnetic force which draws the tablet and the keyboard could be potentially stronger.

If the Huawei Mate Book and the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S represent the design of Windows tablets in 2016, the Cube i7 Book still feels like a product from early 2015. The slate itself measures 273*172*9.6mm, and weighs just 710g— light enough for one-handed use with a stylus. As the tablet has a metallic build, it feels very solid, and could survive some pressure or even occasional drops. With the keyboard base attached, the total weight comes to 1.1 kilograms, still on the lighter end of the convertible tablet range.

Display and sound

The Cube i7 Book sports a 10.6-inch full HD IPS display, manufactured by Samsung. Although not as exciting as the AMOLED panel on the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, it is still quite decent and offers a lot in terms of sharpness, colors and viewing angle. The brightness of the panel is towards the lower end of Windows tablets, but it is way more than enough for indoor use.

The sound quality of the side-facing speakers is in the same class of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and it is not a compliment. Although everything is clear and easy to make out, the bass is muddled, and there is not enough volume for you to listen to music or podcasts in a large bedroom. External audio systems such as a speaker or headphones are highly recommended.

Input mechanism

The Cube i7 Book came with five distinct input options. There’s the touchscreen, the optional Wacom Pen ($30), and the keyboard base, which in addition to its keys offers a touchpad, you can also connect the slate with a mouse.
Touchscreen
The touchscreen felt great in our tests. The surface was smooth and consistent, as you’d expect, and gestures were all correctly registered. Unfortunately, the screen is not made of Corning Gorilla scratch-resistant glass, but only a standard soda lime glass panel, a screen protector is necessary if you don’t want any marks on your screen after a long time of using the tablet. 
Pen

If you want more precision than your greasy fingers can offer, the optional Wacom pen delivers. It makes stylus input quite natural, and works well with the Windows desktop thanks to its built-in buttons. Hover a bit above the screen and you’ll see a pointer, which makes it easy to avoid accidentally tapping a button or icon.
Drawing and taking notes with the pen is also quite easy, although it isn’t as comfortable as drawing on a paper due to the glossiness of the screen, the experiences are still quite similar. The Wacom pen supports 1,024 levels of pressure, so you can easily draw lines with different weight. This makes the i7 Book much more usable as a standalone tablet, as you can actually write things down on it and won’t always feel the need of a keyboard for input.
Rotary keyboard base

Keyboards for tablets are always somewhat uncomfortable to use. I have personally struggled to find my top typing pace with the Surface Type Cover and the stock Bluetooth keyboard for the Acer ICONIA W700. The keyboard bases for Cube i7 and i7 Stylus were actually more comfortable to type on than average tablet keyboards, but they were also very thick and heavy.

The i7 Book comes with an all new rotary keyboard base, which is, in my opinion, better designed than any other tablet keyboard. Not only can it instantly turn the tablet into a laptop, you can also use it as a stand to support the tablet in many different modes.

The screen can be adjusted from 0 to 120 degrees, limited, but still a huge improvement from the docking mechanism of the original i7 and i7 Stylus, which can only have a fixed angle.

Although the keyboard base still doesn’t quite measure up to the keyboard on an average laptop, it comes pretty close. The keys are well-spaced, and give enough feedback for touch typists to develop a flow. Of course, certain compromises had to be made to fit a full keyboard into such a small dock, so don’t expect the full laptop experience. The depth of each keystroke is noticeably shorter, which dampens the tactile experience. With that said, this is still one the closest things to a laptop keyboard available for any tablet, and is among the best tablet keyboards we’ve used.

The keyboard base also features a trackpad, which supports lots of gestures. There are also distinct left and right click zones to give you an experience which is similar to using a mouse.

You also get two additional full USB 2.0 ports with the keyboard base attached, one on the left, and one on the right. Which further enhances the usability of the device.

Windows 10

The Cube i7 Book ships with Windows 10 Home and a valid license. Thankfully, the tablet comes with no bloatware, and you don’t need to uninstall anything before using it.

You can install Office Mobile for free from Windows Store, but it is always a must to have the desktop version of Microsoft Office for more productivity, and the newer versions (Office 2013, Office 365 and Office 2016) all support touchscreen and stylus input very well.
There are a few other applications I strongly recommend for the i7 Book and all Windows tablets with stylus support. One Note for Windows, WRITEit, Squid, PAINT are all applications to make the best of your Wacom Pen.

Performance

The Cube i7 Book is powered by a Skylake Core M3-6Y30 processor, which isn’t as powerful as the i3, i5 or i7 processors used in high-end Windows tablets and ultrabooks, as it seeks to balance performance, efficiency and portability. There is also 4GB of RAM on board to take care of multi-tasking and 64GB of SSD for internal storage for apps and files.

Our Cinebench R10 scores show just how much this processor can do. The single core rating was 4,280, and the multi-core score was 8,424. The Cube i7 Book can keep up with most Windows 10 tablets on the market right now, and that includes the Surface Pro 4.

In the Cinebench R15 Open GL test, the i7 Book handily beat all the other tablets we compared it with, and in the CPU test, it also scored higher than the Huawei Matebook and Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, although still behind the i5 Powered Surface Pro 3.

In the Fritz Chess Benchmark, the i7 Book was also returned a very decent score of 4,030.

In the PCMark 8 Home Accelerated test, the Cube i7 scored 2,785, which is better than the other Core M powered tablets we have tested, including the entry model of Surface Pro 4 (2,750) and the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Tablet (2,675).

In the cross-platform Geekbench 3 test, the Cube i7 Book scored 2,404 in single-core and 4,682 in Multi-core, better than the i3 version of Surface Pro 3 (1,566 & 3,235), the ivy-bridge i5 powered Acer W700 (2,064 & 4,378) and the Core M powered model of Surface Pro 4 (2,339 & 4,429).

We also ran other Benchmark tests on the i7 Book, and were returned some pretty decent scores. From the numbers, we can tell that the Core M3 in the Cube i7 Book is on par with the Haswell Core i3 in the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and betters the ivy-bridge Core i5 in the Acer ICONIA W700, betters the Atom Cherry Trail processors in the Surface 3 and other budget Windows 2-in-1s, but not as powerful as the Haswell i5 and Skylake i5 used in the Surface Pro 3 and 4. Core M is built for efficiency but, in certain situations, it can perform very well. 

The benchmark scores are reflected in day-to-day usage, the Cube i7 Book performs general productivity tasks easily. Performance was so good that we forgot this entire machine was crammed into a tablet form factor, thinking of it instead as a full-blown laptop. Browsing the web and writing were no problem, but neither were more processor intensive tasks such as unzipping a large compressed file. Atom based tablets, including the Surface 3 and ASUS T100HA, suffered a bit with this kind of tasks. But the Core M3 chip is competent, and the 4GB memory allows you to handle a decent amount of multi-tasking.
You shouldn’t really even consider running an intensive 3D game on the i7 Book, but it can chew through some basic 3D tasks, thanks to the improved Intel HD515 GPU.
As fast as the i7 Book could be in your everyday tasks, it is still a tablet, and can’t really replace a workstation desktop or laptop.

Storage

The Cube i7 Book offers a Foresee O1229B solid state drive, with 64GB of storage space. There is a Micro SD card slot to help expand the storage, but you can add no more than 128GB.

The Speed of the internal SSD is generally slower than the drives in other high-end Windows tablets, but much faster compared to the eMMc used in those Atom based Windows slates. Our AS SSD benchmark showed a read speed of 481.21 megabytes per second, and a write speed of 153.87MB/s. That’s significantly slower than the Surface Pro 4 (822.36mb/s & 347.34mb/s) and Surface Book (1,012.33mb/s and 498.74mb/s), but on par with and even betters most of the Windows tablets currently on sale.

Temperature
As with other Core M powered tablets, there are no fans in the Cube i7 Book, meaning you’ll never hear it no matter how hot it gets, and it will get hot occasionally.
After running a few benchmark tests, Ludashi reported a CPU temperature higher than 80 degrees centigrade, and the rear side of the tablet felt quite warm, and unpleasant for the my hands to hold.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

The Cube i7 Book features an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 chip to take care of internet connection, and it was pretty solid in our test. Even when there were two walls and 10 meters between the tablet and the router, it could still reach its top downloading and uploading speeds. Bluetooth 4.0 is also on board to establish easy connections to wireless speakers and input devices.

Battery life

The Cube i7 Book features an 8,600mAh battery, on par with the original i7 Stylus but slightly smaller than the battery inside the Huawei Matebook. I test battery life using a looped HD video, playing until the battery finally gives out. Here, the i7 Book performed slightly below average—still, at 6 hours, 50 minutes, it delivers pretty close to an all-work-day computing experience. 

Cameras

There are two cameras on the Cube i7 Book, a 2MP front-facing camera and a 5MP rear-facing camera. The front camera naturally takes care of video chatting. I used to say that the rear-facing camera on tablets are not necessary, well, I was wrong. The Huawei Matebook doesn’t offer a rear camera, and once when I was chatting with a friends on Skype, and wanted to show him the things I was looking at, I needed to flip the tablet around and use the front-facing camera to do that, and I didn’t even know whether I framed what I needed to show because the screen is not facing towards me.


With that said, both cameras on the i7 Book are not good at all. Even when there is proper lighting, Photos can still have a lot of noises. Smartphones of even the lowest end could do a better job at taking pictures.

Verdict

The Cube i7 Book is not a perfect 2-in-1, but it is a very good one. It exceeds the Microsoft Surface 3 on almost every benchmark, and offers a much nicer keyboard. In some ways, the i7 Book even manages to compete with the entry level model of Surface Pro 4, with similar processing power and graphics capability. The display, while not perfect, is in line with the competition. And a unique docking system gives users the ability to use the tablet in many different modes, something very few competing Windows 10 tablet currently offers.
The Cube i7 Book offers all this, and is competitive on price. With a Core M processor and 4GB of RAM, it is priced at only $399, lower than the most basic version of Microsoft Surface 3, which sports a much weaker Atom Cherry Trail Z8700 processor and 2GB of RAM. Also, accessories of the i7 Book are much cheaper than those of the Surface. The Wacom Pen is only $39, and the keyboard base, which looks and feels much more premium than the Surface Type Cover, is also only priced at $59.
The main weaknesses of the i7 Book are the battery life and the temperature. The battery life is below average in the Windows tablets category, and the i7 Book can get unpleasantly hot during intense tasks. Also, it doesn’t look as modern as the Huawei Matebook and the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, I personally consider those two as the best looking two-in-one Windows devices currently available.
Still, the Cube i7 is a great alternative to the Surface 3, and betters the latter and most of the similarly priced tablets in almost every aspect. It could also give the awkward iPad Pro and Jide REMIX Ultra tablet a run for their money, using iOS and Android for work is simply a joke, Windows can still do everything much better when it comes to productivity tasks.