Lately we are facing an avalanche of Chinese tablets coming our way, quite often of pretty shoddy quality and usually built on Android, but software giant Microsoft started an aggressive campaign recently, focused on strengthening the weak Win8 tablets position in the market and so far it seems like its working. Even Chinese manufacturers, who in the past turned blind eye towards Windows in general, started production tablets based on the MS Windows 8 operating system.
One of the first of such devices is iWork 10 (also branded Cube U100GT) from well-known chinese manufacturer Cube and when it came into my possession a few days ago expectations were pretty high. Just like majority of the Czech population I was nursed by good old Windows, so the idea of a tablet running full Windows 8.1 and from Chinese manufacturer with low price is certainly tempting. Well for starters i can already say most of the enthusiasm still remains after few days of testing the device the verdict is still pretty positive. Ooops spoiler alert 🙂
The Cube U100Gt comes with a keyboard dock, which takes on a role of a protective cover too, turning it essentially into a convertible netbook. I will look at the keyboard cover later on in the review, but wanted to say for now that I consider it more or less as a must-have accessory raising the usage to a whole new level.
Two different versions of iWork 10 (Cube U100GT) are on sale through various Chinese resellers, one of which ships with a non activated version of Windows 8 and I strongly suggest that this version be avoided like the plague. Cube is apparently in good relations with Microsoft as they somehow managed to get an exception from 9-inch rule (meaning they don’t need to pay royalties) so there is free Windows licence available, this version of the Cube even comes with Office 365 included. So beware of great deals as most of the sellers are selling the unlicensed version!
The price for tablet itself is around $300-350 + shipping and for the keyboard cover you fork out extra $40-60. So with a little bit of luck you are looking at roughly $350 total damage for a convertible tablet with licensed Win8/Office, which isn’t a bad deal at all I would say.
Design, materials and specifications – Cube U100GT Review
After opening the attractive packaging we are greeted by the tablet in its whole beauty, the accessories in the box are kept to the bare minimum, charger (with US plug), USB cable and some documentation (in Chinese). The build of the tablet itself is of pretty high quality, black matte plastic front and brushed aluminium finished rear, nothing creaks, everything fits as it should and the feel in hand can be considered premium. Dimensions are 258 x 173 x10.4mm and namely the 10.4mm thickness feels even less in hand. Weight is pretty decent too, 605g is a bit over the average weight of 10.1“ Android tablets, but lighter than the comparable Asus Transformer T100TA on the same platform.
Some interesting tech specs :
- 10.1“ IPS display with 1280×800 pixels (16:10 ratio), glossy finish, 10-point touchscreen
- Intel Atom Z3740D CPU, quad core 1.33 GHz (1.83 GHz boost), Intel HD Graphics (7th Gen)
- 2 GB LPDDR3 clocked on 1333 MHz, 32 GB of built-in eMMC Samsung flash memory
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0, microHDMI v 1.4, 3.5mm audio jack, microUSB 2.0 (OTG)
- microSD/TF card slot supporting up to 64 GB, 2 Mpx/2 Mpx back and front cameras, gyroscope, accelerometer
- Li-Po 8000 mAh battery.
Display, ports and body – Cube U100GT Review
The main selling point for every tablet is usually the display and exactly the same applies for iWork 10 which has a really nice 10.1“ IPS display with excellent viewing angles, bright vivid colors and a resolution of 1280 x 800, more than enough for the Windows to look great. Ok it might sound low compared to FullHD and Retina panels but those higher resolutions needs way more horsepower and drains battery much faster. Whats mroe many users will opt to run Windows in the classic desctop mode, in full HD this would require quite a bit of power so overall I’m happy 1280 x 800 and even more with it being 16:10, which is always better than the popular movie ratio 16:9.
The capacitive touchscreen is accurate and responsive, registering up to 10 touch points at once, but maybe getting a capacitive stylus could be an alternative for easier control especially for the desktop mode. The only negative I found is the second protective foil on the display, which is very susceptible to micro scratches and smudges, but didn’t dare to take it off (yet), as it’s still better to have such things on it and not on the screen itself. Under the display we can find touch Windows button, serving as a return function to the Metro UI.
On the left side of the tablet we have the power button, 3.5mm audio jack, micro HDMI for connecting to external display or TV , microUSB slot, mic and AC charging slot. MicroUSB is of course OTG ready so you can connect any USB accessory, ideally some USB hub so you are not limited. I tried various USB gadgets (mouse, gamepad, external HDD) and everything worked without any flaws, even the disk had enough juice to work off the port. One small annoyance is the fact that the AC slot is directly under the microUSB so it’s effectively impossible to use both in case you have L-shaped OTG connector. The upper side of the tablet features only two physical volume buttons, nothing else and bottom has only the magnetic connector for docking with the keyboard cover.
On the back side there are two speakers producing average stereo sound, quality is fine but far from great. Volume of the speakers is just fine so no complaints here. The tablet also has two cameras, both back and front with whopping 2 MP lenses, so pretty unusable for anything else except Skype calls or desperate shots, but who would expect anything else?
Hardware – Cube U100GT Review
A quad-core Intel Atom CPU, specifically Z3740D model, powers the tablet. The clock speed is set at 1.33 GHz with the possibility of TurboBoost raising it up to to 1.83 GHz. The chipset has the Silvermont architecture, produced by 22nm process and based on BayTrail-T platform. Graphical core is an Intel HD Graphics 7th generation, which should be slightly watered down version of HD4000 from desktop IvyBridge. Silvermost architecture is pretty efficient, SDP output shouldnt go over 2.2W, but still able to produce enough horsepower for the CPU, especially compared with the older Atom generation its a huge step forward. Same can be said about the graphical chip, which albeit still very far from being called “gaming“ on eis equipped with all the modern technologies such as DirectX 11 support. The tablet is serviced by 2 GBs of single channel LPDDR3 RAM clocked at 1333 MHz effecting and shared for both the CPU and GPU. Cooling of the components is fully passive so no noise at all and heat build-up is also pretty much non-existent, largely helped by the heat spreading of the metal back.
Built-in storage is limited to 32 GB of flash eMMC memory (Samsung MBG4GC) and as you can see from the Crystal Mark report below both read/write values are fantastic. Of course its not a fully fledged SSD, but during the testing i never felt limited by the storage speed, just for your idea the values are roughly double than the aforementioned Asus Transformer T100TA. A huge issue with the storage size though is the fact a basic Windows 8.1 installation takes up a huge chunk leaving you with just 19GB of free space, which is for the space greedy Win apps and games very much borderline problematic. Getting a 64 GB microSD card is a must then and even tho read/write off the microSD is of course way slower its enough for data storage. I had no problems playing 11 GB .mkv Bluray 1080p video file from it without issues.
In term of connectivity the tablet is equipped with Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, sadly only on 2.4 GHz frequency. Signal strength is good, and didn’t drop too much even when passing through numerous walls during the testing, so the metal back is not hampering the signal as feared. Bluetooth 4.0 is present too, tried and tested with wireless headphones to my full satisfaction. Usual tablet innards like gyroscope and accelerometers are of course not missing either.
Keyboard cover – Cube U100GT Review
As an optional accessory there is keyboard cover, which effectively upgrades the simple tablet to convertible laptop status with touchpad and nifty system of a stand. The cover weighs 400g, material is thick PU and the embedded keyboard is of course plastic. Quality of the keyboard and especially touchpad is nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done without problems. Docking of the keyboard is realized with magnetic connector so its fully intuitive and automatic. The cover serves its purpose with basic shielding from light impact and scratching.
Performance and battery life – Cube U100GT Review
Usage of the tablet is very pleasant, and overall the Cube U100GT reactis lightning fast and waiting times are minimal. The speed of the Atom quad-core is really very good and offers better user experience than majority of the Android based devices and hardware. As an avid gamer I tortured the device with some graphically demanding desktop games (even managed to run Civilization V for example) and the tablet performed adequately so i can say for enjoyment of some older games it’s fine. Everything from the Windows Store are touch based mobile apps are of course running absolutely smoothly and in full detail (eg. Asphalt 8, Halo : Spartan Assault). Once again the storage space can be slightly problematic and installing on the SD card the performance, especially loading times, really suffers. Video playback is flawless, as mentioned before even 11 GB Bluray 1080p rip didnt make the tablet sweat so for the whole audio/video content including heavy Flash videos it passed with flying colors.
Few test results for orientation :
Battery capacity is 8000 mAh and thanks to the extremely efficient CPU the longevity is pretty good, video looping of 720p netted a result of 7h58m. So im pretty sure with some power saving tweaks like lowering brightness settings, turning off wireless networks and similar shenanigans you can break the 9 hours of battery life. Which i think is a very good result once again confirming the smart choice of putting in the 1280 x 800 display instead of the battery greedy FHD panel.
System and software – Cube U100GT Review
Windows 8.1 is most certainly not a bad system and despite some questionable Microsoft changes (cutting Start button and others) it offers user comfort on a high level. There is one big BUT however… The tile based Metro UI would function nicely as pure tablet UI, but the lack of native Metro apps is brutal and forces the user to switch over to the desktop app version more often than he would like, not very user-friendly. This results in a pretty schizophrenic experience, which sours the mood with Metro UI. From a pure tablet user-friendly experience Android or iOS is a better choice, but with Windows you have benefits of desktop mode, which makes this tabler a more functional and productive device, especially when docked with the keyboard.
There is by the way one small obstacle implemented in the BIOS, Windows installation is limited to the 32bit version although the CPU itself of course supports the 64bit instruction set.
Verdict – Cube U100GT Review
One of the first Chinese tablets with Windows 8.1 and it definitely didn’t disappoint its a good choice for anybody looking for more advanced capabilities and productive usage than simply browsing the web and playing games. This is more than just a tablet but a great netbook or even Surface alternative! For simple media consumption is probably better to opt for Android/iOS tablet option, but if you need universal device used both for entertainment and work, and at a fair price, then the Cube U100GT/iWork 10 is without a question a contender. Just don’t forget to get the version with full Win8.1/Office licence and to buy a Micro SD card!