Good, powerful laptops have been few and far between, as far as Chinese manufacturers are concerned. We have seen the recent deluge of Apollo Lake laptops, some good, some bad, flood the market, but those that use higher power Core M3/i5 processors are pretty scarce. Cube has entered with what appears to be a direct competitor with the Surface Laptop, a Core M3, Surface Book screen for a low price.
Cube Thinker i35 Review
Further inspection of the laptop reveals that this is intended (or miraculous coincidence) as a Surface Laptop competitor. Where the Surface Laptop starts at $999 for an i5 processor and a gimped version of Windows, the Cube Thinker provides a very similar laptop with a slightly less powerful Core M3-7y30 processor.
However, the price tag starts at a good $324 cheaper than the Surface laptop, and that doesn’t even count taxes that you would have to pay depending on where you live. Not only that, this laptop presents some serious competition to the new Kaby Lake Xiaomi Air 12, which starts at a relatively pricey $830USD for lesser specifications. However, is the Cube Thinker a complete product? Let’s find out.
Taking aim at Microsoft and Xiaomi
Cube Thinker i35 Specifications
|Processor||Intel Core M3-7y30 Kaby Lake|
|Display||13.5” 3000×2000 IPS LCD with Surface Digitizer|
|Operating System||Windows 10|
|Physical Dimensions||1680g, 312 x 238 x 15.2 mm|
Cube Thinker i35 Hardware
The build on this laptop is incredibly premium. The entire body is made out of magnesium alloy and there isn’t much flex to speak of in any area. The size of the laptop is respectable but definitely not as compact as a 12” Macbook or the Xiaomi Air 12.
It’s quite a bit wider and taller than both aforementioned laptops due to the Surface Book’s 3:2 display, and speaking of the display, we do find significant black bezels around the screen, they aren’t overly massive but they could definitely do with some reducing.
Cube has placed two USB 3.0 ports on this computer along with a USB-C port that is capable of charging and data transfer at the same time assuming you have a proper USB hub. I was hoping for a MicroSD card slot and a full size HDMI port but we have to settle here.The keyboard on the Cube is not backlit and is plastic as well. The typing experience is definitely passable, it requires an above average amount of force to actuate each key and it springs back quite readily also. The power button is located just above the backspace key, and unlike other laptops, the power button requires the same amount of force to actuate as regular keys,resulting in the laptop sleeping when you wanted to delete a word. Other than that, I don’t think anyone will find fault with the keyboard, but neither will anyone rave about it either.The trackpad is not bad, single finger accuracy is great, and multi finger gestures are enabled as well. However, two finger scrolling is not as smooth as I would like, it’s definitely still useable, but it falls far behind the Macbook and XPS13, and fairly behind the Xiaomi Air 12. I hope this can be improved with software, but for now let’s assume that this is the best its going to get. The fingerprint sensor in the top left doesn’t get in the way much and is very accurate and fast as well.
The build quality is top notch here, and I don’t have many complaints. It definitely feels quite a bit more sturdy than the Xiaomi Air 12. If I had to level a few against the Cube Thinker, it would be the multi-finger gestures on the trackpad and the size of the laptop. The Cube Thinker is by no means big, but compare it to other laptops like the XPS13 or the Macbook and the Cube Thinker starts looking pretty big.
No complaints, almost
Cube Thinker i35 Display
As a jaded device reviewer you’d think that not much impresses me nowadays, but the Surface Book’s display still gets me. Every. Single. Time. I first laid eyes on the Surface Book display, well, in a Surface Book, and it looked absolutely brilliant back then. The second time was the Chuwi Hi13, and my jaw dropped when flipping through some high resolution pictures.
I put my jaw back in place for the third time with the Cube Thinker, and the first thing I thought of was “How am I ever going to go back to the Xiaomi Air 12?” Well, the display is going to play a huge role in deciding whether or not I switch to the Cube Thinker from the Xiaomi Air 12.
I’ll try to talk a bit more about the display without gushing too much. The 3000×2000 PixelSense display is incredibly crisp, text, photos, movies (Now I have an excuse to obtain 4K material) all look incredibly sharp. As someone who usually dismisses having anything higher than a 1080p resolution on a laptop, this PixelSense display is singlehandedly making me come around.
This display not only excels in pixel density but in colour reproduction as well. The deep, vivid blacks are second to one (OLEDs) and colours pop consistently on the screen. It does have a modest colour gamut according to the myriad other reviews on the Surface Book, but it is more than enough to blow away any normal layman, even one used to high resolution displays. Max brightness is quite good for a laptop, topping out at around 450 nits.
The 3:2 aspect ratio means the screen is significantly taller than an equivalent 16:9 one. There is quite a considerable amount of screen real estate when browsing the web, working on Excel spreadsheets, or scrolling through tedious PDF documents. In fact, this screen is ideal for viewing two Letter or A4 size sheets side by side, as the resulting aspect ratio ranges from 1.4-1.54, an almost perfect fit for the 3:2 (1.5) screen.
This makes this aspect ratio ideal for those looking to get some productivity out of this machine. You do get some incredibly severe letterboxing when watching movies, which is something certain people find a huge issue but others don’t. I personally am not affected by this, and it actually allows me to watch a movie up top while doing something below.
The last aspect of the display would be the touchscreen. It is quite sensitive, not as sensitive as a top end smartphone, but more than enough for a laptop. It also has an N-Trig digitizer which means any stylus that supports N-Trig will be compatible.
I tried out the Chuwi HiPen H3 on it and it works well, I was able to sketch an X-Wing (the only thing I know how to draw decently) appropriately. However, I don’t think that using a stylus on a laptop is conducive to a hinge that is incapable of rotating into tablet mode.
If I were to look for a downside to this display, it would be the minimum brightness, it is too bright to use in pitch dark.
Cube Thinker i35 Audio
There are dual speakers located above the keyboard and they pump out some very loud sound, more than enough for most situations. Audio quality is not bad, I do hear some bass from the speakers but it is still quite far off from what you find on the Mi Pad 3 or the Air 12.
Cube Thinker i35 Battery
The battery life here is one of the weaker points of this laptop. There is a 10,000mAh battery powering a Core M and that power hungry Surface Book screen, and as expected, I was able to get 6 hours of screen on time performing relatively light tasks. I spent most of the time in Chrome, email, and Word as well. if you do more intense tasks, expect battery life to top out at 3 hours. I’m quite disappointed with the battery in this laptop, and I hope Cube doesn’t make the same mistake in any future iterations of the Thinker.
Inadequate battery life
Cube Thinker i35 Software
We find Windows 10 Home installed on this laptop with multiple languages available and performance here is great. The combination of the SSD and the Kaby Lake Core M3 makes it a breeze to perform light tasks such as Chrome, email, or word. You won’t see any slowdowns here, and streaming 4K Youtube is also easy as well.
Moving on to items that tax systems a lot more, we go to Premiere. I was able to easily edit 1080p video using Premiere, timeline performance was great, but 4K editing is quite horrendous without using proxies. Rendering times are atrocious, taking upwards of 15 minutes to render every minute of 4K footage.
I also tried installing AutoCAD education edition but it would not install on this laptop, telling me that the minimum specifications were not met.
Moving on to gaming, performance on the Kaby Lake chipset is horrendous at the native 3000×2000 resolution. However, bump that down to a more reasonable 1920×1080 and you start getting playable framerates.
Games like League of Legends were playable at around 30fps, Call of Duty was also playable, up to 45fps. You’ll definitely be able to do some gaming on this laptop, but do note that the left side of the keyboard gets quite hot when gaming, and I recommend you do the thermal mod by Chris over at Techtablets.
Cube Thinker i35 Connectivity and Camera
I was able to get some decent speeds over WiFi and the Thinker connected to all my Bluetooth headsets easily as well. Both the USB ports powered my external hard drives as well. The camera here is still nothing to write home about, it does the job but it will be woefully inadequate for anything other than basic video calls.
Cube Thinker i35 Verdict
The Cube Thinker is a great laptop. It boasts some good specifications for the price and also provides the user with an incredibly stunning display. But of course, the Cube Thinker has its weaknesses. I find the lack of battery capacity here frankly the biggest hurdle to my switch from the Xiaomi Air 12 to this laptop, even with that incredible screen beckoning me.
That being said, I still consider the Cube Thinker a better laptop overall than the Xiaomi Air 12, even with the battery life pulling it down (the screen buoys it up significantly).
Now that you know the major flaw in this laptop, if that doesn’t bother you, this is the best laptop you’re going to get from a chinese manufacturer in a while. Starting at $675, it’s quite well priced, but I’ve seen the price go down as low as $616 with a coupon code, and that makes it quite an attractive proposition.
If you asked me to pick between the Cube Thinker i35 and the current price of the new Xiaomi Air 12 with the kaby lake processor, this Cube Thinker is the clear winner, its $200 cheaper, has 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and has a way better screen.