Cube’s i7 Stylus was a success for the Chinese electronics company, so how have they improved on the previous model? The new version called the i7 Book, sports the same Samsung 1080p screen and Wacom stylus support. And that’s not a bad thing as there are few Wacom tablets around now in 2016. The Book name comes from the new transformer style dock, this new keyboard doesn’t have a fixed angle like the i7 Stylus keyboard and the top half is made out of metal. The CPU gets an upgrade too, gone is the 5th gen Core M 5Y30, replaced with a new 6th Gen “Skylake” Core M3-6Y30. We still have 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD and the battery remains the same two 4500mAh cells giving a total of 9000mAh. Like the Cube i9, this i7 Book also has a USB 3.1 Type-C port for display out, data and even charging (Although only a d/c charger is included) So let’s find out if this version worth the extra cash over the already proven i7 Stylus.
What’s in the Box:
- 12 volt 2.5A charger
- Quick guide in Chinese and English
- Pre-applied screen protector
- QC and warranty card
- MicroUSB 3.0 to USB 3.0 adaptor
- Cube i7 Book
Hardware & build quality:
The design and build of the tablet hasn’t changed much from the Cube i7 Stylus, we have the same alloy rear housing in Cube’s trademark dark blue with slightly more squared off edges with a metal chamfered finish that gives it a more premium look. The front is soda lime glass that comes with a preinstalled screen protector and the glass fits into a plastic frame that clips into the rear metal housing. The build is solid feeling in hand and there is no flex or give in the design giving it a quality feeling over the more flimsy feeling Atom tablets.
Inside there is a Core M3-6Y30, a 2.2Ghz (max boost) dual core 4 thread 4.5W CPU with Intel 515 Graphics, the CPU power isn’t much of a step up over the 2.0Ghz 5Y10, but the new higher clocked Skylake GPU is where the Core M3 excels over the older Intel 5300 graphics.
The RAM used is four Samsung 1GB chips running in dual channel clocked to 1866Mhz, the maximum RAM speed the Core M3 supports.
The left side of the i7 Book, is where you’ll find the ports. From top to bottom we have:
- D/C port in for charging
- MicroUSB 3.0 port
- USB 3.1 Type-C for display out, USB 3.0 ports and charging
- MicroSD card slot
- Audio jack with mic support
On the right side of the Cube i7 Book you’ll find only two speaker grills. Sadly, the layout remains the same as the i7 Stylus and offer no stereo separation despite having stereo speakers.
The top left of the top is where the bios reset, power on and volume buttons are located. Holding the bios reset button down for more than 6 seconds will reset the bios to factory defaults if you ever run into issues. This can be a life saver and not normally seen on tablets.
Keyboard dock: (Optional)
Cube’s new keyboard dock is a quality piece, it’s a transformer style dock similar to the Cube iwork10 Ultimate keyboard. The top is made of metal and the typing experience is very good for a smaller 10.6″ keyboard, no flex, the keystroke is good at 1.3mm and the spacing of the keys gives a good typing experience. It didn’t take me too long to adjust to the smaller keyboard coming from my Surface Pro 4 type cover, once adapted I had very few typos. In fact, this entire review has been typed up on the i7 Book’s keyboard.
The screen will recline a maximum of 120 degrees, which is like most transformer books, a limit in the design due to the risk of the tablet tipping back, ideally I would have like up to say 140 degrees, but this would have are required even more weight in the keyboard to counter the weight of the tablet. So it’s a trade-off always with this style of keyboard between maximum viewing angle and weight.
To the left and right of the keyboard, there are USB 2.0 ports, sadly not USB 3.0 which I would have preferred since the tablet lacks a full-sized USB port. The rear material is plastic, coated with a grippy matte rubberized finish that feels nice to the touch.
The keyboard also allows you to flip around the tablet and use it in what’s called a presentation mode, a fancy way of calling it a tablet stand. Docked like this good for watching YouTube clips or movies getting the keyboard out of the way. Due to the 10 pin pogo port, the keyboard, and its USB 2.0 ports will still work, so you could play a movie via an external HDD if you wanted.
All ports on the dock and tablet can power external hard drives. The only downside to the is the metal is prone to picking up fingerprints and 10.6″ could be too small for people with larger hands.
The touchpad has gestures and due to the way its setup as a basic HID mouse, and not a precision touchpad there is no way to disable the Windows 10 gestures. And since the height of the trackpad isn’t that call I constantly trigger the minimise gesture, it’s rather annoying. And a problem on every Chinese touchpad tested. There is a part solution here at least, disable touchpad gestures.
I just disabled it all together and used a mouse. I do this on all tablets I own.
Stylus (Optional Extra):
Since the screen is the same, the Wacom stylus used is exactly the same as the i7 Stylus. It comes with some spare plastic tips as seen in the unboxing video and a tool to remove them. The stylus is claimed to support 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, with no way to check all those levels we will have to take their word for it. The accuracy of the very stylus is good with what represent onscreen and due to the screen protector and plastic tips the writing feeling isn’t as great as say my Note 5 with it’s Wacom stylus with rubber tips.
Palm rejection issue: There is palm rejection if the application supports it, OneNote for example, has palm rejection, but not on the outer edges of the screen. This is an issue with Windows 10 and updating to the latest Windows 10 insider build will give you a fix that allows you to disable touch when the stylus is detected by Windows. This isn’t exactly ideal, but once Windows catches up and enables this setting on all builds palm rejection will then work 100% until then, it’s mediocre at best since touches the edges of the screen can result in the tip jumping from the middle to the edges.
Screen and touch response:
The screen is the same unit used in the i7 Stylus, a Samsung 1920 x 1080 16:9 ratio IPS panel. Model LTL106HL01-001, which is the same screen used in the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. The screen isn’t fully laminated here however unlike the Surface Pro 2, so there is a small gap of 1mm or so between the IPS screen and the top digitizer panel and glass. The touch controller is a FocalTech FT5826 which gives a quick and accurate response to touch and one of the better touch panels as it is very fluid. Much better than the Goodix touch controllers that are normally found in Chinese tablets.
Colors, blacks, and white looks really good on this screen and the calibration I find to be good, neither too cool or warm it seems about right. Brightness is great, 419 cd/m2 recorded as the maximum brightness and no any PWN flicker of the sort. on the 0% setting the screen is very dull and great for late night use without burning your retinas out.
The screens pixels per inch comes out to be 208, whereas the 9.7″ retina screen is 264 PPI still, it’s hard to make out pixels and I would rate this as one of the best 1080p panels.
The i7 Book has a 64GB SSD, it’s an M.2 spec 22mm x 42mm and speeds are okay, due to its low 64GB capacity we have rather slow writes compared to other tablets and much slower than the top spec PCIE x 4 M.2 drivers, still the drive performance is a huge step up from the common eMMC drives found in Atom tablets. The drive is user upgradable to 512GB (Max M.2 2242 size available) but you have to open the tablet up which isn’t the easiest of tasks and not recommend unless you have experience in opening up tablets.
The MicroSD card slot works fine with my Samsung 128GB Pro+ card, but I cannot get anywhere close to the maximum speeds this card can get. It seems to cap at 42Mb/s which is USB 2.0 speeds. This leads me to believe that the MicroSD reader is a USB 2.0 type.
Ports & Connectivity:
The Type-C port on the Cube i7 Book is the same unit as the Cube i9’s, it’s a proper Type-C spec port with a display out, charging and data out all at the same time. Type-C hubs like the AUKEY hub with 4 x USB 3.0 ports, type-c in for charging and HDMI out work fine on the i7 Book. The microUSB 3.0 port works at full speeds and can power external USB hard drives. However since it’s a microUSB 3.0 port you’ll have to carry that adapter around with you unless you plan to use the slower full sized USB 2.0 ports.
Wireless and Bluetooth:
The i7 Book is the 2nd Core M3 tablet tested here with dual-band wireless AC, and it’s about time we see the move to Wireless AC. The chipset is an Intel Wireless-AC 3165, which also handles BT 4.1. Speeds and range are great thanks to the plastic around the antennas on the case and the dual antenna design. Bluetooth also works well and I noticed no mouse lag when using WiFi and Bluetooth at the same time, something that can happen on single 2.4Ghz adapters.
Range, is good, moving downstairs furthest away from my wireless router saw only a 22% drop in signal strength, compared to around 50% on the Realtek Wireless N single antenna setups. This is one area the i7 Book excels in versus the Cube i9 with it’s Realtek wireless.
Windows & Performance:
The Cube i7 Book is a quick tablet, and benchmarks prove it to the fastest tested to data here at TechTablets. Moving around Windows, launching apps, multi-tasking is very quick and fluid. At no point did I ever experience and lag or stutter during normal use. Even when running multiple applications, like Edge, Chrome, Onenote all while streaming 4k via YouTube did the Core M3 show any signs of stress. I was even about to use PowerDirector 14 and edit a basic 7 minute 4k clip, a few trims, some transitions and then encode it in 4k h.264 using Intel Quick Sync was possible.
4GB a RAM might be the issue when dealing with larger longer clips, but minor basic video editing is possible on this platform. But I wouldn’t try and serious big edits.
While benchmarks aren’t everything, it’s still a good way to compare the i7 Book against other Core M3 tablets tested here. i7 Book performance shows to be one the best around, similar to the Cube i9 especially when it comes to 3D performance. As with all tablets tested, any power saving option like Intel extended battery saving options were disabled for benchmarks and the tablets set to “performance mode” if available.
Benchmark result links:
- http://browser.primatelabs.com/geekbench3/7322879 | Geekbench 3
- http://www.3dmark.com/3dm/13023123? | 3DMark Icestorm 1.2 Extreme
- http://www.3dmark.com/3dm/13023331? | 3DMark Cloudgate 1.1
- http://www.3dmark.com/3dm/13107173? | 3DMark Icestorm 1.2 (After thermal mod)
- http://www.3dmark.com/3dm/13023802? | 3DMark Icestorm 1.2
- http://www.passmark.com/baselines/V8/display.php?id=64771308524 | Passmark 8
- http://www.3dmark.com/3dm11/11407261 | 3DMark11
The integrated Intel 515 graphics is not a gaming GPU, but older or lighter titles like League of Legends, Dota 2 are playable in 1080p, other titles like Counter Strike Global Offensive ran with better frame rates at 720p and lower settings. Take a look at the video review at the start of the review, the gaming section of the clip starts at 14:35
Battery life isn’t the best, in fact, none of the Core M’s tested here have delivered anything I would consider good battery life. With the screen at 50%, wifi on, using Chrome with various tabs and watching videos. I managed only 4 hours 51 minutes. Battery Bar reports around 4 1/2 to 5 hours with this type of use. If you just watch video and place the tablet in flight mode, it would be possible to get just over 6 hours at 25% brightness.
The more powerful 4.5W Core M’s always fall short compared to the slower, but more battery friendly Atom CPU’s. For example, the Chuwi Hi12 with its large 11,000 mAh battery gets over 9 1/2 hours in Windows.
Heat and throttling:
That extra performance comes at the cost of higher temps, the outer top left of the tablet housing reaches 45 degrees, so very warm to the touch. Internally after gaming and benchmarking all while charging (Worse case scenario) The CPU hit 93 degrees and the Intel 515 GPU 97 degrees C! While oddly this did not trigger any thermal throttling .
But at times the tablet did hit power limits set in the bios which is similar to thermal throttling, it reduces the turbo clock rates, lowering performance and temperatures. On closer inspection in my quest to find out just why it gets so hot, it seems Cube neglected to place a thermal pad between the heatsink and outer rear alloy housing. The Cube i9 has such a thermal pad and didn’t get anywhere near this hot.
Note, that to reach 97 degrees GPU power saving options must be disabled and the tablet charging at the same time generating as much heat as possible, if left enabled the GPU only reached about 83 degrees, but performance suffers in games. If you don’t plan to game, leave it as is enabled and temperatures should be below 88 degrees.
Side note: If you are a modder like me you can take to the thermal issue here with some thermal pads and copper, reducing the max temperatures up to 25 degrees and increase the GPU performance up to 50% in some games. Here is a look at the i7 Book internals and ideas on how to improve thermals.
Using the supplied 12 volt 2.5A charger the Cube i7 Book takes just under 3 hours to fully charge when off. If you use a good type-C charger you can reduce that time but a good 30-40 minutes as I discovered using my 75W ivoler Type-c to Type-C charger.
Again the speakers on the upgraded i7 are just as bad as the i7 Stylus, both on the right side they offer no stereo separation and aren’t particularly loud. I rate them as below average and you can hear a sample of them in the video review found at the top of this written review.
Lucky for us the 3.5mm jack offers a loud output and static-free audio. It’s 4 pole so supports a microphone and the in build mic on the Cube i7 Book is hard to find, but it sits at the very top left of the tablet, next to the glass. This records okay sound and worked well for video chat programs like Skype.
The auto focus rear five-megapixel camera found on the i7 Book is nothing wonderful, while it’s better than most and has autofocus, the shutter lag when taking pictures often results in blurred photos. To get anything usable you have to hold the tablet perfectly still. At least in video chat the rear and front cameras seem okay, but low light performance causes the frame rate to drop off a little and grain appears in the image. But for the most part in my Skype call with a well-lit room, the image was perfectly fine. Here are some samples below.
The Cube i9 is the first Core M3 from Cube, but it lacked a critical feature for some and that is stylus support. Cube seeing this, released Cube i7 Book and for the most part, it fills the gap. While it’s not perfect, upgrading to the latest Windows 10 insider build does solve the palm reject issue. And those temperatures while gaming or doing anything demanding just shouldn’t happen. But the snappy feel and performance of the i7 Book is hard to overlook. It’s one of fastest Core M3 device tested here to date and the Wireless AC, new keyboard and smaller form factor make this a very usable and more portable machine.
So for those in the market for a cheap a well-rounded stylus enabled Core M3 2-in-1 should check out the Cube i7 Book. And if you’re a bit of a modder, you can fix the heat issue with this mod. (Something we should never have to do if Cube used a thermal pad in the first place.)