Earlier this year, Cube astonished us all with the i7, also known as the first Core M powered tablet from a Chinese brand. The tablet itself enjoyed great amount of success in the domestic market, winning numerous awards and receiving more than 99% of positive customer feedback on JD.com (higher than the iPad Air 2). However, the RMB3,599 ($565) original price was a little bit uninviting for consumers with a lower budget. Trying to attract more buyers, Cube released two more Core-M powered Windows tablets – the i7 Stylus and the i7 CM, and priced them at RMB1,999 ($314) and RMB2,499 ($392) respectively.
As Cube has a tendency to confuse the buyers with their product naming, we feel that we need to help our readers distinguish the many Cube tablets with “i7” in their names.
The Cube i7 CM is considered as a lite version of the flagship Cube i7. It is powered by the same Core M 5Y10c processor and 4GB RAM, and has the same 11.6-inch Full HD IPS display and Windows 8 professional, only the SSD has been downsized to 64GB, and the dual 4G LTE support (TDD and FDD) has been downgraded to dual 3G (WCDMA and TD-SCDMA) support. Compared to the only slightly shrunk specs, the price drop seems quite enormous.
Cube i7 CM specs:
• OS: Windows 10 Professional
• Screen: 11.6-inch IPS, 10-point multi-touch, IGZO
• Display Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (16:9)
• CPU: Intel Broadwell Core-M 5Y10c
• CPU Frequency: 0.8GHz (Base clock) – 2.0GHZ (Turbo clock)
• GPU: Intel HD Graphics 5300
• RAM / Storage: 4GB DDR3L / 64GB SSD
• Function: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 4G, USB Host, HDMI
• WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi hotspot
• GSM: band2, band3, band5, band8
• TDS: band34, band39
• WCDMA: band1, band5
• Camera: 5MP back camera, 2MP front camera
• Battery: 7.4V – 5,000mAh
• Ports: Micro SD Card Slot, Micro USB 3.0 Port, Micro SIM Card Slot, 3.5mm Headphone Jack, DC Charging Port
• Size: 297*180*9.1mm, Weight: 840g
All the high-end Windows tablets from Cube have very beautiful and premium packaging, the i7 CM is no different. Inside the box we found an i7 CM tablet, a DC charger of 12V-2.5A, an OTG adapter, a user manual, a warranty card, a VIP card, and a quality certificate.
My test unit comes with a keyboard base, which is sold separately.
Design and build
The i7 CM doesn’t bring anything new in its design, instead it has the exact same chassis as the original Cube i7. The front is dominated by an 11.6-inch IPS capacitive screen, you can find the touch-sensitive Windows Key below and a 2MP front-facing camera as well as the light sensor above.
All the physical buttons and ports are hosted on the sides. You can find a power/standby key and a volume rocker on the top side.
Like the i7, the i7 CM is an incredibly promising tablet when it comes to connectivity. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Micro SD card slot which supports cards up to 128GB, a Micro-HDMI port for an external display and – best of all – a micro USB 3.0 port as well as a Micro SIM card slot. With these two, it can connect to any USB 2.0 or 3.0 device that will run on Windows and access the internet almost anywhere. Fortunately, the i7 is charging through an independent DC port, and I personally prefer this design rather than charging through the Micro USB 3.0 port because we often need to use the USB port to connect to other USB devices such as a mouse or external storages. The only negative is that unlike the dual 4G SIM card slot on the original i7, the slot here on the i7 CM can only support 3G network (WCDMA and TD-SCDMA). But in a world where every smartphone supports mobile network sharing through Wi-Fi hotspot, it is not really an issue.
Look at the bottom of the tablet and you’ll spot a 5-contact connector which connects the keyboard base magnetically. With a keyboard base attached Cube i7 could rival the Surface 3 as a convertible ultrabook-style device.
The rear side of the i7 CM is a magnalium plate painted in matte blue, which gives the tablet a premium and expensive look. Unfortunately, the coat proves to have very little resistance to scratches, the unit that I am testing has already got 2 scratches on it back. The bottom side is also very easy to scratch when you try to insert the keyboard base into the tablet.
The build quality is extremely good, especially for a tablet from a second-tier Chinese brand. It is obviously not altogether as epic as the Surface Pro 3, which includes a flexible kickstand and a full USB 3.0 port, but it is already great.
Screen and sound
1920 x 1080 is the new baseline resolution for a high-end tablet, despite the operating system it runs. So we get a full HD 1080p 11.6-inch screen on the i7 CM. That’s tangibly larger than the screen on your average tablet, bad news for pixel density, but good news if you plan to get some work done, as that little extra bit of screen real estate makes it easier to see what you’re doing if you’re working on Office documents, browsing complex web pages or running several desktop applications on the foreground. With that said, we still prefer the 12-inch display on the Surface Pro 3, the 3:2 screen aspect ratio makes better sense for business use, which is the ultimate selling point of Windows tablets.
Quality of the i7 CM’s screen, meanwhile, is extremely good. Images appear detailed with no jagged text, and it proved very responsive to touch in our tests, and while the display isn’t the brightest we’ve seen – particularly when you compared it to the ultra-bright QHD display found on the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro– it does have wide viewing angles and an impressive richness and depth of color to compensate. It’s an excellent screen for entertainment, and a wonderful screen for productivity, as well.
We had mixed feelings about the audio performance of the i7 CM. The sound from the i7 CM’s built-in speakers (located on the left and right sides) is clearer and more detailed than you generally get from a tablet, with a wider stereo sound. Unfortunately it’s also a little thin, a little bit wearing and doesn’t offer much in the volume department, particularly if you’re playing music or watching some Action films. The Cube i7 is nowhere near what the Dolby enhanced Acer ICONIA W700 can do in terms of the volume and bass.
Plugging in a pair of high-end headphones could make a huge difference, as the Realtek ALC269 sound chip could drive the headphones at an ear-splitting level, easily blowing your average tablets and smartphones out of the water.
The keyboard base can easily be attached to the i7 CM through the 5-contact magnetic connectors, instantly turning the i7 CM into a full laptop. Sadly, the base can only make the i7 CM stand with a fixed angle, which can be uncomfortable for the users sometimes.
Here, the keys aren’t as squished as the ones on the Microsoft Surface Type Cover. The i7 CM’s keyboard is more expansive, with no shrunken or undersized keys. It didn’t take me long before I was typing at my usual brisk pace.
The keys offer decent travel, with every keystroke, I make a loud “clack,” letting anyone around me know I’m getting stuff done. Just so you know, I’m typing this sentence from the i7 CM. The thing is sitting on my lap, even. And you know what? I’m doing quite alright. This isn’t my favorite keyboard, but I do feel comfortable enough. Also, the i7 CM’s keyboard base is not as flimsy as the Surface Type Cover, Instead it is as sturdy and comfortable as most laptop keyboards.
The Cube i7 CM’s keyboard base brings a touchpad as well, and that’s a good thing, because the latest Windows 10 update made the OS much more mouse-and-keyboard friendly. Even though the touchpad is pretty precise and responsive, it’s still many steps behind the sort of glass touchpad you’d find on the MacBook Air or many Windows Ultrabooks. It sometimes takes multiple tries to get two-finger scrolling to work. Ditto for clicking and dragging windows and other objects around the screen. Other times, I accidentally navigated backward out of a web page when I was really trying to do some other sort of gesture. If you intend the i7 to be your daily driver, you are better off with a wireless or Bluetooth mouse.
Besides the standard functions a keyboard is meant to offer, the i7’s keyboard base also provides the users with two additional full-sized USB ports, making it easier to connect the i7 to a mouse and storage devices while saving you from the burden of always carrying the OTG adapter.
The i7 CM ships with licensed Windows 8.1 Professional which, of course, is more adept at business tasks and networking than the Android and iOS. Fortunately, the i7 CM doesn’t come pre-loaded with bloatware. Users can install the software they need right out of the box without having to spend time uninstalling unnecessary software or be left with annoying antivirus software subscription popup notices.
While most of the Atom-based Windows tablets such as the Cube i10 include one year subscription of Microsoft Office 365, the i7 CM only comes with a trial for Microsoft Office, you need to pony up to get this critical productivity software.
As we were testing this tablet, we got the official OTA upgrade to Windows 10, which is believed by many to be the best version of Windows yet, and greatly enhances the experiences of the i7 CM in both desktop and tablet modes.
Below are the top ten improvements we found in Windows 10:
1. Include 4 themes matching the following: Windows Classic, Luna, Aero, and Metro.
2. Allow customized placement of the start button.
3. Add a collapse button for the Metro Tiles on the start menu.
4. Include a thorough recycle context menu option for the Recycle Bin.
5. Add the option to add and remove extra taskbars to act as program docks.
6. Include an improved version of the NTFS file system that prevents file fragmenting.
7. Implement more choices of animations for minimizing and maximizing windows.
8. Provide an option for overclocking or underclocking and controllable fan speeds if supported.
9. Include the option to make a password encrypted partition and an option to hide/show available partitions in the disk manager.
10. Improve legacy support for older hardware and older software.
Besides the improvements mentioned above, the Windows 10 also brings many new features, the most talked about are Cortana and Edge.
Cortana brings plenty of notable features to Windows 10. While setting it up, you can choose to have Cortana always listen for your commands (enabled by saying “Hey Cortana!”). You can ask her about basic things like the current weather or what’s on your schedule, or you could have her search the web using Bing. Cortana can answer some queries without even launching a web browser. If you’re not a fan of voice commands, you can also type in queries into the Cortana search box on the taskbar, and you can choose to have her only activate voice commands when you hit a button.
Cortana’s true strength, much like Alex on Amazon’s Echo, is her ability to handle voice commands at any moment. If you’re in the middle of a work document, for example, you can tell Cortana to set a quick reminder or look something up without interrupting your workflow. Siri requires manual activation, unless your iOS device is plugged in, and while Google Now has become more widely available for voice commands on Android phones, it’s still not as reliable as an always-on assistant.
Inspired by actual assistants, Microsoft also gave Cortana a notebook that contains all of your personal preferences. Many of them she learns over time, but you can also hop straight into the notebook and tell Cortana things like your food preferences, and what sort of restaurant you prefer. All of that will help her return more personalized answers for future queries. Cortana is also part of Microsoft’s plan to bring its services to all of your devices: Microsoft is bringing it to Android soon and iOS eventually, and in each case the app will include Cortana’s notebook of your preferences.
Cortana handles voice commands about as well as Siri and Google Now. It’s pretty accurate when it comes to recognizing your voice input (although that also depends heavily on the quality of your microphone), and in many cases it even fetched more useful results than Siri. It’s not nearly as preemptive with information as Google’s offering, though. That assistant is smart enough to warn me when I should leave for my next meeting, or when my latest Amazon orders have arrived. Those are things we’ll eventually see on every virtual assistant, but at the moment Google Now remains the smartest one overall, even if it’s not much of a conversationalist. Cortana is the most human-sounding assistant; so there’s that.
If you ever wanted Microsoft to just give up on Internet Explorer and create a web browser from scratch, Edge may be just what you’re looking for. It forgoes all of the legacy protocols, like ActiveX, that turned Internet Explorer into a slow and insecure beast. And it takes a few lessons from Google’s Chrome with a minimalist style and speedy browser engine. In fact, I ended up preferring Edge to Chrome in my testing, mainly because Google’s browser has become a major memory hog over the years.
Edge may be the most elegant piece of software to come from Microsoft. Its interface is simple: tabs on the top; back, forward and refresh buttons below; and an address bar. The latter is smarter than other browsers as it also features Cortana (without the voice commands). You can type in questions and often get them answered right within Edge’s location bar — no need to hit Enter to complete your search. That’s something Google has been dabbling with in Chrome, but Edge takes it to another level.
You can manage your Favorites, Reading List entries (articles you save to read later), History and Downloads from Edge’s Hub, which mostly stays out of the way until you need it. Microsoft also gave Edge annotating capabilities: You can highlight and mark up web pages any way you like (the Surface’s stylus comes in handy for this) and send them off to Evernote with just a few clicks. Those marked-up pages also retain your notes when you visit them again.
The Cube i7 CM is powered by an Intel Core M-5Y10c CPU, which has a base clock of 0.8GHZ and a Turbo clock of 2.0GHZ, Aided by the incredibly beefy Graphics HD 5300, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 64GB Solid State Drive, it is surprisingly fleet of foot. For those who don’t know much about Intel’s Core M-5Y10c processor, it belongs to the new Broadwell architecture for high-performance Windows tablets. Its strength is the high per-MHz performance with a very low power consumption compared with the Haswell precursors. The TDP is 4.5 Watts; the comparable Core i5-4202Y forerunner still had 11.5 Watts. The integrated HD Graphics 5300 (100 to 800 MHz) now replaces the HD 4200.
Given that the Core M is a lower-powered chip designed in large part to improve battery life, it’s no surprise that the performance takes a slight hit versus the fourth and fifth generation Intel Core processors you’ll find in most every other Ultrabook. The truth is, though, that’s only borne out in benchmark tests. Yes, there’s a bit of a dip there, especially in graphics tests, but in everyday use, the i7 CM felt just as snappy as any other skinny laptops. Bootup takes just nine seconds, which is about as fast as you’re going get on a notebook priced twice as much.
However, the Fritz Chess Benchmark and many other benchmark scores show that the i7 CM’s performance is superior to the Acer ICONIA W700, which is powered by a Core i5-3317U CPU.
The AS SSD benchmark returned sequential read and write speeds of 450MB/sec and 73MB/sec respectively, while the read speed is almost on par with the 504MB/sec of the original i7 and the scores of most ultra-books, the write speed is only half as high as the 139MB/sec we got on the original Cube i7. With that said, it is already much faster than the eMMc in the Microsoft Surface 3 and many other entry-level Windows tablets.
Although the i7 CM is considered as a tablet, for a more all-day experience, you’ll want to add a keyboard and touch pad or mouse. Cube makes it easy, with a snap-on keyboard base that transforms the combined system into a traditional clamshell laptop.
Unlike the entry-level Atom Bay-trail powered Windows tablets, which normally struggle with heavier desktop applications. The Cube i7 CM is built for serious tasks, most of the heavy desktop apps worked brilliantly.
The i7 CM is clearly not a system designed for heavy 3D game lovers, although it is able to run most of the 3D games in acceptable frame rates. But as it is fanless, the heat could be overwhelming if you keep running graphic-intense games for a long period of time.
But if we are talking about business and everyday use, the Cube i7 CM, when paired with the keyboard base and a mouse, is nearly the perfect choice. After receiving the i7 CM, I can finally leave my 15.6-inch HP laptop, which weighs over 3KG with the battery and the charger at home during business trips. With the keyboard base connected, the i7 CM can do everything a normal laptop does, and offers a better battery life. The touchscreen can also come in handy when dealing with some special tasks.
The i7 CM might have been marketed as a business-focused tablet, but its potential in entertainment and social networking is also limitless. With countless desktop media consuming apps and traditional PC games at our disposal, we no longer need our iPads or Android tablets for tasks such as streaming TV shows and live sports, or browsing the updates on Facebook or Twitter. The large display of the i7 CM can even help you do many things simultaneously.
As power-efficiency is one of the greatest selling points of the Core M processors, you might expect an amazing battery life from the i7 CM. In fact, though, the runtime is not really all that exciting, especially when you compare it to those Atom-based models. With the keyboard base removed, the i7 CM held up through 7 hours and 21 minutes of continuous video playback. That’s only ranked in the middle of the battery performances of today’s super-skinny laptops.
In a test which imitated the real everyday use, we opened 5-6 Google Chrome tabs, streaming high bitrate video on YouTube, with some social networking applications running in the background, we managed to run the i7 CM for 5 hours and 15 minutes. This may not look impressive for a tablet, but it’s definitely a very solid result for a system PC.
After a certain point, I suppose, you either need to make room for a bigger battery, or settle for slightly shorter runtime. That’s a reasonable trade-off, but I also wouldn’t want the battery life to be much shorter than this.
Cameras and Microphone
2 megapixels at the front, 5 megapixels on the rear. How do both cameras perform? The 5-megapixel primary camera just doesn’t deliver, with distorted colors and grainy snaps even in daylight. The front-facing camera is not good, either, but it should suffice for Skype chats.
Recordings with the stereo microphone are affected by a consistent noise that sounds like a subtle rustling. However, the voice is recorded with an almost consistent volume no matter whether from a distance of 30 centimeters or two meters.
The i7 CM offers a lot of power in a compact and portable form factor. The 11.6-inch IPS screen with full HD resolution is quite good, and on maximum brightness it is even usable outdoors.
The keyboard base of the i7 CM is probably the one of the best tablet keyboard docks out there, with comfortable key size and decent key travel, and also two extra USB 2.0 ports to enhance connectivity.
In daily use, the i7 CM could become a relatively affordable tablet that replaces a laptop, tablet, and desktop and allows enterprises to focus on the task at hand rather than having to manage files, synchronize documents, and track changes to files if they were to use different computing devices.
While the i7 CM delivers great performance in both tablet and laptop mode, usage as a tablet, especially when it is held in portrait orientation is a little awkward. Because of the 16:9 aspect ratio, portrait orientation made the tablet a little too long to be comfortable. In this view, reading letter-sized PDFs, digital magazines, and ebooks left a huge amount of black letterboxing at the top and bottom of the screen.
Additionally, the 11.6-inch widescreen display feels a lot more cramped than the 12.2-inch 3:2 aspect ratio of the newer Surface Pro 3. Personally, I wish Dell had gone with a screen with 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio, which feels more comfortable to deal with business tasks.
The keyboard base, as heavy as it is, doesn’t have a battery in it, so it has to rely on the power output from the tablet, thus shortens the battery life of the i7 CM.
The i7 CM offers a nice balance of performance and portability in a travel-friendly size. It allows you to access CPU and GPU taxing apps which the Atom-based tablets or convertibles just couldn’t handle, and also gives you the kind of portability you can’t find in business laptops. With a $392 price tag (the keyboard base is sold separately for $62.6), it is definitely much more cost-efficient than similar products from more celebrated brands. The Lenovo Yoga 3 11, which also features a Core M 5Y10c processor and 11.6-inch display, costs $799. The Microsoft Surface 3 (64GB model), with a weakerl Atom Z Cherry-trail processor, a slower eMMc drive and only 2GB RAM, is priced at $499, and you need to spend $129 for the Type Cover.
For those who relies heavily on horsepower and performance, the confines of an 11.6-inch display may be a little too rigid to maximize productivity. Opening more than a few windows on the small display will trigger claustrophobia. If you need to be more productive, there are bigger ultrabooks with touchscreen, such as the Lenovo Yoga 13 and the Dell XPS 13, but they all require you to dig a lot deeper into your pocket.