Cube U30GT 2 Quad-Core Super-HD Tablet Review
Today I am happy to announce that Top Notch Tablets will start carrying our first ever tablet with a resolution higher than 1280x800... and significantly higher at that. So that should tip you off that overall this is a favorable review :). But this unit, due to the high-resolution and the performance impact on some applications and gaming in particualr, might not be for everyone. So lets jump right in!
This is the 2nd Cube unit I have ever had the joy of laying hands on. I tested an RK2918 based Cube U9GT2 back before Cube was really even a brand and they were more just an OEM factory. Like many Chinese electronics companies that have come far in a very short amount of time. They have fully branched out their brand and released a Myriad of devices since only a year or so ago when I had my hands on the U9GT2. Also like many Chinese companies, they have a real knack for copying Apple's designs :). The Cube U30GT2 looks a LOT like a giant iPhone 5. It also feels quite solid. Like the iPhone 5 (and the 4/4s before it), cube has incorporated a metal frame around the outside edge and surprisingly, I believe adds a good bit of rigidity and makes the unit significantly more solid rather than simply being cosmetic. Speaking of cosmetics, it also does look VERY good. The device is just the right thickness. I stuck it next to my iPhone 4s and the two units are very close. The iPhone 4s is about a .5 - .75 millimeters thinner. According to the 4s specs it runs about 9.3 mm putting the Cube right around 9.8 - 9.9 mm which is pretty excellent for a tablet of this size.
Continuing with the Apple motif, the front has a thin white plastic lip and white border around the 10.1" screen. The screen is your standard "scratch resistant" flex-glass but probably not the same durable stuff used on the iPhone's. During my rather long testing period of about 2 weeks I have been using it without screen protector and haven't gotten a single scratch on it. The way I have found that it works with China tabs is either A.) it is very hard to scratch the screen or B.) if you breath on it, it gets scratched. There really is no in-between and thankfully the Cube screen is quite scratch resistant.
Cube should also be praised for the physical buttons on this device. They are some of the best "tactile" feeling of any China tab I have used. they are both white plastic (so not the nice metal buttons of the iPhone 4/5) but they are extremely "tight" with almost no wiggle, nor rattle, and they feel really good to press. Real cheap China tabs are notorious for having buttons that are so loose you can hear them rattle every time you touch the device. This is completely the opposite. These look and feel excellent. While we are on this topic, the cube features a Power button, Volume Rocker (YAY!!). There is a small hole on the side but that is apparently the microphone, I am not sure where the reset button is, if it exists, but that is no big deal.
As far as the ports go. It features HDMI-out, MicroSD, a Micro-USB port, Headphone Jack, and DC power jack. Oh! Another + for Cube... is they didn't feel the need to name every port across the back. They did make sure that printed elsewhere on the unit is the words 12v 2000mA (which is the charge rate and can save you from plugging in the wrong power charger). It is so nice NOT to have the keys and ports labeled because it helps keep the look of the nice clean and nice and all of that stuff is obvious anyhow :). The ports are ALL perfectly lined up with the exterior metal frame. I tried to jam my MicroSD card in at an angle and you CAN'T do it. Most tabs the tolerance is so poor between the external casing and the MicroSD port that you can easily jam your card in at an angle if you aren't careful and damage your card or the port or both. Not so here. I had heard bad things about the original U30GT (the RK3066 Dual core predecessor of this device) but I think Cube has worked out a lot of the bugs in their manufacturing.
So.... good looks, sturdy build quality, great design... what's the catch? Unfortunately, Cube opted to use a plastic rear-panel on this device. I will say, it does help with the weight (this device already has a fair bit of heft due to a large battery and the metal frame) and probably helps with Wifi range, but personally I like a device with a metal back because they are less prone to scratching. I will also say that the rear panel DOES look nice. It isn't just a flat "white" plastic but rather has a metallic flecked paint/sheen to it. It is very subtle, which means it actually looks really nice rather than being gaudy. Unfortunately I can't test for scratch resistance on this rear-panel though as this is a tester unit that will ultimately get resold as such... so it is being kept in mint condition as much as possible.
My only real complaint is the slightly protruding oversized rear-camera area on the back. I think it is the only "cheaper" looking part of the whole design. It isn't bad though and it is a right bit nicer looking than that square/plastic chrome thing Pipo stuck on the back of the M9.
I will actually segway from that statement and talk a bit about the rear camera. The U30GT2 is the first China tablet I have ever used that I would really say has a "usable" rear camera. It still doesn't take amazing pictures, but it does take "okay" pictures. I think there is a couple of reasons why...
1. It has real, working, Auto Focus (AF). It works quite well actually. Tap on the view-screen on the item you want it to focus on and that will be the clearest part of the shot. That is where the "focus" will be. The results are quite good.
2. The color balance is decent - Almost every China tab I have tested always has the color-balance WAY off. Either too blue or too yellow... the Cube actually gets pretty close... which means your pictures look decent...
3. It has a usable flash (not just a gimmick). The flash on the back of the device is bright enough to really make a tangible difference for shots of things within two - three foot of the device. So... if you are taking a picture of say... a check... for electronic deposit, you won't have to wrestle (as I have had to do with every other China tab) to get enough light for a clear picture.
4. I am not sure of the actual MP count. The advertise 5.0 Mp (a lot of tabs advertise this when in fact they are like 2 mp) and I actually believe them. The pictures have enough detail that it probably is a legitimate 5 mp sensor.
All that being said, it is still a China Cam sensor and it isn't going to blow you away. But it also won't utterly disappoint like pretty much every other camera in every other China tab will. I think Cube legitimately put some thought into the rear-cam, rather than just tacking it on at the end.
I also only have very good things to say about the front camera. It is 2 mp so it isn't as clear (a bit grainy). However it isn't blurry either and it is totally clear enough for a decent skype call. The color detection is also very good on it and overall I am really impressed.
So the camera compliment on this device is actually quite good by China standards, but nothing to write home about if you are comparing it to most upper-end smart phones today.
As far as "what's under the hood", the U30GT2 represents more or less the current pinnacle of China tab performance. It features a quad-core RK3188 clocked at 1.6 Ghz with a Quad-Core Mali-400 GPU. This is currently THE BEST of the "China Chips" currently available as it blows all rivals out of the water such as the much slower Allwinner A31 and Actions ACT chips which are running in inferior Cortex-A7 and Cortex-A5 cores. That means much faster Web browsing and overall better performance for all tasks in Android. The only comparable chip on the market is the Samsung Exynos Quad (which I do personally prefer but the difference isn't massive and the price tends to be steeper) and they are both very very close. The RK3188 also benefits from being manufactured on a 28 nm process... What does that mean? It means it is "bleeding edge" manufacturing tech because the "parts" (if you can call them that) inside the processor are smaller (I know I am butchering this explanation...). What is the result? Significantly lower power consumption is the biggest advantage, a cooler running chip, lower cost of production, and a higher theoretical clock-rate. That is why the RK3188 can actually have 2 extra cores and still be stably clocked at 1.6 Ghz (and theoretically clocked up to 1.8 ghz) like is dual-core predecessor the RK3066. As a result of this, the battery life on this device is excellent. I haven't done full tests yet, but I can attest to the fact that it can go for days sleeping with very little drain compared to other chipsets and I have played on it for hours at a time without frustration that the next minute might be my last. I will be doing a full battery run-time test and updating this article section in the near future.
That's the processor. Cube has paired the RK188 with not 1 but 2 Gb of DDR3 memory so there is no worry of that being a bottle-neck for multitasking. I would guess the Mali-400 has also been allotted some exta video-memory but that is just speculation.
Continuing with the "going all out" theme, Cube has also give the U30GT2 32 Gb of internal storage. Which is quite massive as most devices come with 16 Gb.
There is also a light-sensor on the front but in my experience auto-brightness didn't seem to be working properly so that should be noted as a CON. Regular brightness adjustment works just fine though and hopefully they will get the Auto-brightness fixed in future firmware releases.
The device also features Bluetooth, which has become much more common on China tabs and is a welcome feature.
It features a 10 pt. touch panel and my testing multi-touch seems to work just fine although I didn't test up to all 10 points.
Wifi range is quite good. I recently upgraded to a Linksys E3000 router as I found my old router was underperforming on Wireless-N speeds and may have in fact been on the way out the door. Anyhow, I do a "real-world" Wifi test where I basically browse Amazon.com as I get further and further away. Based on previous benchmarks with my old router (granted) this unit did very very well. Easily browsing well outside of the office here. I went up to 85 Ft. away and through 2 walls and had 2 bars of Signal and could still browse the web without frustration. Not bad! I think I could have gotten farther away and still been okay.
For those of you wondering how I measure distance... I discovered this nifty tool: http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm
I was also impressed by... the Microphone quality! I test Mic quality by using the built-in voice recorder app and seeing how clearly it can play back my speech. Some china tabs are great and some are just okay and some and downright useless. The U30GT2 was excellent, it recorded very clear audio which means services like talk-to-type, voice search, and google-now should work quite well.
Okay, so that covers a lot of the "extraneous" bits and pieces that honestly I often ignore but they were all notably "better" on this tablet than most that I test so it was all worth mentioning. Now I want to discuss the screen and my thoughts about it. The main "thrust" of this device is the rather incredibly high-resolution 1920x1200 screen. That comes out to roughly 224 DPI (dots per inch). While not quite "retina" it is darn near perfect. It is the same screen resolution as the popular Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and it really is gorgeous to behold.
I have a love / hate relationship with this screen though. The "hate" (which is probably too strong of a word...) primarily has to do with the performance hit your system takes by shoving around that many pixels. For 80% of usage, everything is just fine. Android is very quick and responsive, web browsing is super-slick with no lag in things like "pinch-to-zoom" or page loading. All of your "core" functionality works exactly as it should. And for that very reason, I have decided that TNT will sell the Cube U30GT2 and other devices with 1920x1200 screen resolution AS-LONG-AS they have either an RK3188 --or-- Samsung Exynos 4412 Quad Core processor. Nothing less imho will suffice and you will end up sacrificing majorly on smoothness of operation or battery life if you are trying to use a lesser processor to shove this many pixels or more around. What about the other 20%? Well, I noticed that the Barnes & Noble Nook Application library lags very badly and it really isn't that "intense" of an app, it is probably just not made with this kind of screen in mind. Reading in the Nook app is just fine though so I personally can live with the Library being a bit laggy. The Google Music application is very similar in my opinion as far as "graphical intensity" and it runs very smoothly so I think Nook is just being resource inefficient. Gaming is a "case-by-case" basis at this point. Zen Pinball is decently GPU intensive and it runs perfectly (and looks absolutely STUNNING at this resolution) as long as you are in standard mode. Once I had made our modded firmware for the device I got some other titles. I ran NOVA 3 and found that while it looks amazing, the stuttery low frame-rate makes it unplayable. Wild-Blood is another extremely graphically intense title and it was running at what I would classify as a "lowest level of playability" for me personally. I am not sure what the actual FPS is. It is laggy but you could play the game and be okay as long as you haven't played it on another device where it runs really well and are coming from that. Let me just state up front, that this is the first time on an Android device I have gotten into heavy 3D titles and simply just thought.... WOW, this looks awesome. The high-resolution means that "Aliasing" (google it) is less noticeable and textures are also much clearer and games therefore just look incredible. But you are limited in what you can actually play because at that resolution the GPU really starts to struggle with anything intense. I found that Temple Run 2 plays fine at standard graphics mode and actually plays just fine in high-graphics mode with only the occasional stutter.
I was actually pleasantly surprised. I had expected all 3D gaming to be out. But for light to moderate 3D titles most folks will still be just fine. Any of the high-end stuff though is pretty much a no-go. I think right now the kernel for the RK3188 is still not very well optimized and that as a result the GPU and CPU are running at much lower clockspeeds than they can achieve. Perhaps once we get the GPU clock pushed up we will actually see quite good gaming performance. This is just conjecture though and my advice to folks is to always "buy the device that is being sold today, not what you hope it will be tomorrow."
So the resolution is great. But there is more to be said about this screen and unfortunately not all good. I normally use a Quantum Meson... which more or less has a screen that is so bright that I have to worry I am going to get a tan on my face from using it for any length of time. So next the Meson, other tablets often look a bit darker. The Cube U30GT2 is no exception. The screen is a little bit dim for my tastes but in the general run of China Tabs it is quite decent. I am sitting in my extremely well-lit and very very sunny office right now and the tablet is just fine. So indoor use is not going to be a problem for anyone. Outdoor use on an overcast day will probably be fine. But if I stepped outside on this fine spring day and attempted to whip the U30GT2 out I doubt I could use the device. Whereas with the Quantum Meson you can still actually use the unit. Please understand this is really "rigorous" on my part as pretty much only a handful of China tabs (only a handful of android tablets in general) have screens bright enough to use in that environment.
Viewing angles are all really quite good with only a slight amount of color shift when tilting to the left in wide-screen mode.
Color saturation is nothing short of excellent. The colors really really "pop" on this panel. The Meson has a very "bright" screen, as does the Ployer Momo 12, however the colors on both look a bit "washed out" by comparison to the U30GT2.
So that brings up a final point regarding the screen that should be discussed. There is a rumor, and I believe it to be true, that this is NOT an IPS screen. Rather it is another technology called AHVA. It really explains quite a bit. A really high-end IPS panel would be a bit brighter than this, however IPS panels don't produce "black levels" as well as AHVA screens (i.e. the blacks aren't as dark or as black as they could be)... so contrast and saturation aren't as good. IPS screen have pretty much no discernible contrast shift or color shift when you change viewing angles, this screen has very very subtle contrast shift, so much so that most folks won't even notice unless they are really looking for it at the extreme angles of viewing.
My final verdict on the screen? I would give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. The resolution and color saturation are excellent but I would deduct half a star for the brightness and a whole star for the performance hit. My personal perspective on it if I had to choose? I would still lean towards what I would call a more "well balanced" device with a lower resolution 1280x800 screen that otherwise was very much so like the Cube. BUT... and this is a BIG BUT.... Only because I want the option to play more games. If it weren't for the "high-end" gamer in me, I would go for the Cube U30GT2 every time. The performance hit just isn't that noticeable.
The last thing I will bring up, and my biggest complaint about the Cube U30GT2 is the speaker placement. Cube is using a "mono" speaker configuration on the U30GT2. The speaker is on the front RIGHT side of the device... not on the left where all the ports all. That little "dotted" grille is unfortunately not a speaker, it is purely cosmetic or maybe for the microphone. The speaker has a tiny set of openings on the front right hand side of the device. To be fair, the speaker is decently loud (if not amazing) and pretty darn clean/clear even at max volume playing rap music with deep bass (not that you can hear the bass, but the speakers don't distort at all which is surprisingly good). However if you are holding the device in widescreen (for example playing a game) your hand pretty much has to cover the speaker which almost completely mutes the device. Go figure. I want to kick the person that made that design decision.
Final Verdict on the Device as a Whole?
Welcome Cube U30GT2... new king of China Tabs. Yes the performance hit caused by the high-res screen is annoying but the benefits of having that clean of a screen far outweigh the cons for most average users. The internal specs are unparalleled and if you are a consumer of video, love to browse the internet, and want a well-built, solid device with good WiFi and excellent battery life... the Cube is an amazing pick. You also get the bonus of have a somewhat usable rear camera which is something you will be hard pressed to find in very many other China tabs. The speaker placement is a bit annoying but certainly livable. The 32 GB of storage, 2 GB of ram and top tier processor make this one of the best "top end" choices among China brand tablets.