With the help of Intel and Microsoft, many Chinese companies based in Shenzhen have been transformed from budget Android tablet makers to PC manufacturers. Cube, as one of the front-running Shenzhen brands, released in January, 2015 their first business-focused tablet – the Cube i7, which is also known as the first Core-M powered tablet from China. The Cube i7 was proved to be a huge success for the Chinese company. It won numerous awards and got more than 99% of positive feedback from the buyers on JD.com, the largest Chinese online shopping mall. With this much confidence, Cube released their second Core-M tablet recently, and this time it is paired with a Wacom pen.
The i7 Stylus, which comes with a much lower price compared to the original i7, has attracted lots of attentions since its announcement. The domestic price of the i7 Stylus is RMB2,099($338), and the price for oversea buyers is $499, but Cube will host many sales event where buyers could get the tablet for only $299 including shipping, the first event held on Aliexpress on July, 23rd was extremely successful, 3,000 units were sold in just one day.
Cube i7 Stylus Specs
OS: Windows 8.1 (will be updated to Windows 10 soon)
Screen: 10.6-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
Camera: 5MP back camera, 2MP front camera
Ports: Micro SD Card Slot, Micro USB 3.0 Port, 3.5mm Headphone Jack, DC Charging Port
Size: 273.77*172.03*10.5mm, Weight: 690g, Color: Black front and blue rear
The packaging of the i7 Stylus is very nicely designed, inside we found a i7 Stylus tablet, a DC charger of 12V-2.5A, an OTG adapter, a user manual, a warranty card, a VIP card, and a quality certificate.
Design and build
If you’ve seen the Cube i7 in the flesh, the i7 Stylus looks utterly familiar. The similar sturdy but sleek metal body, the similar gently curved corners and wide black bezel, the same subtle Windows logo on the front. The i7 Stylus consistently feels great in hand, and shrugs off smudges well. With the proper screen protection, it could easily survive the day-to-day rigors of a traveling professional, and even the occasional drop. The Cube i7 is once remarked as one of the best built non-mainstream devices on the market, and we believe that the i7 Stylus could get the same rating in this particular area.
Although the i7 Stylus is not really a light tablet, the weight is evenly distributed, and no points flex or creek under moderate pressure.
The front of the tablet is dominated by the screen and relatively big bezels, below the screen you will find a touch-sensitive Windows key, and above the screen is a 2MP front-facing camera for video chat.
The i7 Stylus has a Micro SD slot, a Micro USB 3.0 port, a Micro HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a DC charging port along with the power button and volume rocker on its outer surface.
The magnetic connectors on the bottom edge instantly catch hold of the optional keyboard base, so that you never really have to guide them in. And once they’re in place, you can dangle the tablet from the keyboard if you want — that thing is staying put. Although the i7 Stylus has a footprint different from the i7, but it does have the same magnetic docking seen on the i7. As a result, it is compatible with the keyboard base designed for the later.
My only complaint about the design is the absence of a full USB port on the tablet. You always need to carry an adapter or the keyboard base if you want to connect the tablet with input devices or storage via USB. Compared to the design language of the i7 Stylus, I really do prefer Ramos’ approach with the M12, which comes with a full USB 3.0 port and an adjustable kickstand.
Display and Speakers
The Cube i7 Stylus has a 10.6-inch IPS display, with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. In terms of pixel density, the i7 Stylus has about 208 pixels per inch, whereas the Cube i7 has about 189 PPI.
As expected, the i7 Stylus’ screen looks great. Viewing angles are wide, colors accurate, and it shrugs off glare quite well, definitely much better than the LCD panels on average laptops.
Even compared to superb displays such as the one on the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro, the i7 Stylus’ screen still holds its ground. I admit that I do prefer the somewhat over-saturated colors on Samsung’s PLS screen most of the time, but there are people more comfortable with the slightly more true-to-life colors on the i7 Stylus’ IPS display.
If there is a complaint, it’s that things can feel a bit tinnier on the desktop side compared to the Cube i7 and Microsoft Surface Pro 3, owing to the slightly smaller screen. Though it supports touch, users will likely turn to a mouse, trackpad, or pen for navigation here, as the desktop requires a good amount of precision.
The speakers are very well placed on the right side of the tablet. The sound is flat, but it’s balanced well enough with little to no distortion, and the volume is acceptable for watching videos in a quiet room. If you plug in a pair of high-end headphones or nice speakers, you will notice that the i7 Stylus in no average Chinese tablet in terms of sound quality, thanks to the wonderful Realtek ALC269 sound card used in the tablet.
Pen and touchscreen
The stylus is a big point of differentiation from most other Core-M powered Windows 8 hybrids. The good news is that the pen paired with the Cube i7 Stylus is based on Wacom technology, which means it is snappy and super responsive, and a genuine pleasure to use on the tablet’s high-resolution screen, the bad news is that you won’t find it in the retail package of the i7 Stylus tablet because the pen is sold separately for $32.
Unlike the tiny pen hidden in the back of the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro, the pen that’s paired with the i7 Stylus is the size of a normal ink pen, with an eraser button on one end and a large button placed comfortably on the side. Click it and you have a right-mouse button with a beautifully positive action.
I have seen Wacom pens which have shallow, flimsy buttons that make it hard to tell when you’ve pressed them, but no such problems occur to the pen that comes with the i7 Stylus. Turn it over and you can wipe out what you just wrote or drew.
Writing with the pen in applications such as OneNote for Windows 8, in the Microsoft Office programs or in the handwriting recognition panel of the on-screen keyboard is smooth and accurate.
And while the handwriting recognition isn’t perfect, it’s accurate enough to make notes searchable or to let you write in a URL. Certain applications can even make use of the pen’s 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. For example, it makes the pen very much of a joy for working in Photoshop or in natural media painting tools such as ArtRage or Fresh Paint.
If you’re using a watercolour brush or a pastel crayon on a textured surface, drawing with your finger gives you a single, solid weight – more like a felt-tip pen or a bucket fill. With the Wacom pen, you can stroke lightly to get a thin light, light wash or gentle crayon stroke, or scribble fast and hard to get thicker, heavier lines.
The pen is also very accurate for selecting small icons in a complex interface such as Photoshop, or opening a link on an heavily loaded web page (much easier than the small touchpad on the Keyboard base, or your finger on the screen).
The combination of pen and touchscreen makes i7 Stylus extraordinarily versatile for drawing, sketching, painting, image editing and note taking.
Cube claims that the keyboard base designed for the i7 Stylus will feature a slot for the Wacom pen, so when you are not using it, you can just push it into the keyboard. But as we have neither received the keyboard nor seen one, we’re in no position to say whether it is a smart design or not.
In an ideal world, we’d prefer to have a permanent place to keep the pen on the tablet itself, instead of on the keyboard base. As we do often use the i7 Stylus as a standalone tablet, and only need to connect it to the keyboard base when we need to do a lot of typing.
Software and interface
The i7 Stylus ships with licensed Windows 8.1 with bing, and will be updated to Windows 10 within August. Unlike the Cube i7, the i7 Stylus does come with 1 year of authorization of Microsoft Office 365, the most important productive tools for any Windows tablets. Both the Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 are something of a hybrid, with both desktop and the Windows Store apps, touch and keyboard, the control panel and the finger-friendly PC Settings app.
On the i7 Stylus, as long as you’re comfortable with gestures such as swiping to open the charms bar, switching apps and closing an app you don’t want, the two fit together almost seamlessly.
You can swipe across the Start screen fluidly, pinch for semantic zoom, swipe up to get rid of tiles you don’t want, snap two apps (including the desktop) side by side – that’s great for chatting on Facebook or Skype while you work in one or two office programs.
I often read my business Emails and signed some of the attached PDF files with the Wacom pen at the same time.
All of this works on any Windows 8 PC with high enough screen resolution, but it is extremely smooth on the i7 Stylus – as the slate is powered by one of the stronger processors.
The Cube i7 Stylus is powered by a Core-M 5Y10c processor. The dual-core CPU has a base clock of 0.8GHz and a turbo clock of 2.0GHz, while the GPU is a mighty Intel HD Graphics 5300 running at 1GHz. There is 4GB RAM on board to take care of big productivity programs and multi-tasking, There is 64GB SSD internal storage as well as a Micro SD card slot which supports cards up to 128GB.
As you’d expect from an Ultrabook that just happens not to have a permanent keyboard, the i7 Stylus is fast. It boots in less than 10 seconds, and takes the same time to resume from hibernation, thanks to the high-speed SSD.
If you haven’t used the Core-M powered tablets or Ultrabook and don’t know what to expect from the i7 Stylus. Well, it’s almost on par with the latest Core i3 processors in terms of processing power. If you want us to compare the Cube i7 Stylus to the Atom Bay-trail powered Windows tablets such as the ASUS A100T or the latest Microsoft Surface 3, the i7 Stylus is definitely much, much faster. The benchmark scores above tell the story.
When running Photoshop and applying complex filters, editing 15GB raw images in Lightroom, rendering HD videos in Premiere Pro, watching 450 fish swimming at 60fps in the FishIE benchmark, the Core-M 5Y10c in the I7 Stylus shows its speed and power.
You’ll have no problem transcoding audio and video, running Visual Studio or using modelling and CAD software.
Unfortunately, as the i7 Stylus is fanless, its metallic rear side did get quite hot when we were running big applications and benchmarks, sometimes even to a point where I want to get it off my hands.
The i7 Stylus packs a 9,000mAh Li-Po battery, with the screen at a comfortable brightness (around 30%) for working indoor, running several desktop programs and Windows Store apps at the same time, with Wi-Fi on and the keyboard base in use, browsing the web and receiving and sending email, we were routinely able to work around 6 hours.
Depending on what you do, this is going to vary the way it does on any other notebook or tablet. Play games or browse complex web pages that use the GPU more, and you’ll get shorter battery life. Turn off Wi-Fi and turn the brightness down and unplug the keyboard and you’ll get longer battery life.
In our standard cngadget battery rundown test, we loop a 1080P video on the i7 Stylus with 50% screen brightness and 50% volume from the built-in speakers, the tablet lasted 5 hours and 12 minutes until automatic shutdown. This result put the i7 Stylus behind most of the fanless Windows tablets we’ve tested. It is also less screen time than what the Surface Pro 3 or Surface 3 are able to offer.
The i7 Stylus offer many connectivity options: it has dual-band 2.4G/5G WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, a Micro USB 3.0 port for hosting input and external storage, a Micro SD card slot which supports cards up to 128GB, and a Micro HDMI port to output the visuals to a larger display. With the keyboard base connected, you will have two extra USB 2.0 ports, which frees you from the awkward OTG adapter. The i7 Stylus doesn't come with a Micro SIM card slot seen on the i7, but it isn't really a letdown since most of the Windows tablets and Ultrabooks don't have one. And the fact that even the cheapest budget smartphones now come with 4G data access and Wi-Fi hotspot functions makes the SIM card slot on a tablet even less of a selling point.
We’ve seen outstanding camera performances on some of Cube’s flagship Android slates such as the Talk 9X and T9, but with the i7 Stylus, it is a whole different story. While the 2MP front-facing camera is decent enough for video chat, the 5MP main camera is really bad, probably one of the worst we have seen on any tablet.
Even with decent lighting, the photos can still be very noisy and not clear enough for Facebook or Instagram updates.
Even with a pen-enabled high-resolution screen, a capable Core-M processor, 4GB RAM, SSD and a well-built keyboard base, the i7 Stylus still struggles to provide the same experience as a full-blown laptop: the standing angle is not adjustable; the 64GB internal storage is too small for a PC; without a left and right button, the touchpad on the keyboard base is not always easy to use….
However, if you’ve ever wanted a lightweight tablet PC for taking handwritten notes and sketching on, and prefer not to spend as much as $600 on a Microsoft Surface 3 or to tolerate the somewhat sluggish performance of the Atom based Windows tablets, the i7 Stylus could be what you’ve been looking for.
The 10.6-inch Full HD IPS display has wide viewing angles, true-to-life colors and amazing brightness.
The Core-M 5Y10c processor and 4GM RAM are more than capable of dealing with heavy business tasks.
The i7 Stylus is shipped with Licensed Windows 8.1, which will soom be updated to Windows 10, and there is also one year of free subscription of Office 365.
With a Wacom-made digitizer layer under the touchscreen, the i7 Stylus works wonderfully with a Wacom pen, which further enhances its productivity.
The SSD in the i7 Stylus is fast, many times faster than the eMMc storage in the PIPO W8 and Microsoft Surface 3.
Priced at only $338, it is arguably one of the most cost-efficient business-focused Windows tablets out there.
The battery life of the i7 is below the average of Core-M powered tablets.
The rear side gets quite hot when the CPU is running at full load.
The rear-facing camera is low-quality and not useful at all.