- Operating system (OS) : Android
- OS version tested : 4.4 KitKat
- Chipset (SoC) : Mediatek MT8392T
- Processor (CPU) : ARM Cortex-A7 2 GHz
- No. of CPU cores : 8
- GPU : Mali-450
While the majority of the tablet market is occupied by the likes of Apple, Samsung and other A-listers, there’s another section of the market that’s been gaining followers month by month: Chinese brands selling Android slates with heavy duty specs at moderate prices. Cube is one of these brands, and every year it releases a handful of Android devices that have become known for boasting powerful components in relation to their price.
The U65GT, or Talk 9X, is a perfect example. It’s a 4:3 slate with a 9.7″ IPS touchscreen that has super-high resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels—exactly the same as the iPad Air. Behind the display are a 2 GHz MediaTek MT8392 octa-core processor with a Mali 450MP GPU and a choice of 16 GB or 32 GB of storage, expandable via microSD. For wireless connectivity it has Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and 3G compatibility for data, calls and texts. The rear camera has 8 Megapixels and the front one has 2 Megapixels.
The operating system is Android 4.4 KitKat, and it’s stock because Cube hasn’t added its own interface. The 16 GB model tends to go for around £150/$225, and we’ve found the 32 GB for as low as £166/$250.
We would like to thank Touch-4U for lending us a unit so that we could write this review.
DESIGN & HANDLING
It’s difficult, nowadays, for a tablet like this, adopting thin aluminium or metal designs, to distinguish itself from Apple’s iPad Air. And like many before it, this model has failed to create for itself a unique identity, the Cube Talk 9X bearing a certain resemblance to its well-known Californian counterpart. Its general look, and especially the reverse of the tablet, are very “iPadesque”, constructed from brushed metal with a plastic strip at the top to facilitate wireless connectivity.
Despite the similarities, the border around the screen is a little larger than on the iPad, but the overall build-quality is good, as is the integration of the various ports (micro-USB, headphone jack, microSD card slots and micro-SIM). There are no sharp edges, no slippery finishes and only very slight heating (not problematic). Cube has obviously paid great attention to detail.
The only real negative is the weight, which, at 550 g, is 100 g more than the iPad Air. You really notice it after a few minutes of use (especially when gaming in landscape mode, with the tablet held in both hands).
Unsurprisingly, this slate hasn’t broken new ground to become the first of Apple’s competitors to recreate its neutral touch-point. This nifty little idea from Apple allows you to hold the device with your thumb on the screen, without the tablet interpreting it as a touch command. This means you can use the screen as normal with the other hand. Currently, this feature is unique to Apple.
With its super high resolution screen, the Talk X goes toe-to-toe against the Big Daddy of the 9.7″, 4:3 world: the iPad Air. First off, the only noteworthy difference between the two is Apple’s use of IGZO panels, which are more compact, more reactive and perhaps just pip the Talk X’s in terms of overall brightness. Despite this, the Cube X holds its own in many areas.
First of all, it has a slightly better contrast: 1060:1 against 1000:1. Then there’s the colours, which are very good and similar to the iPad Air’s. The Cube’s Delta E may be slightly higher (3.2 against 2.7), but the overall picture quality is very balanced, with no real blips. Grey and flesh tones were excellent, and primary colours didn’t disappoint either. A little reminder for those who’ve forgotten: Delta E quantifies the difference between perfect, natural colours and those displayed by the screen—colours are considered accurate below 3.
On the other hand, the blacks lack a bit of depth, but the colour temperature (very stable) was close to perfection at 6431 K, which means no overall colour shift towards blue or yellow. The average gamma, also very stable across the spectrum, gave a very high level of detail in both dark and light tones.
Looks like a pretty perfect set of results, right? Unfortunately, something just had to tarnish that perfect record: max brightness was a pitiful 228 cd/m². It’s still good enough for indoor use, but take a step outside and it’s game over: readability goes right down and gets even worse for video clips. Any direct light, and there’s no hope of navigating the OS.
As for responsiveness, we noticed a few little lags, with an average latency time of 28 ms. This is pretty poor for IPS, but the touch response time (time taken to respond to a touch command) was 79 ms, which, although not as good as the iPad Air’s 21 ms, is pretty respectable compared with the rest of the market, including the flagship models of certain top brands.
The resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels is perfect for this size screen. Whether in portrait or landscape mode, the OS navigation, web browsing and reading of emails/e-books is perfectly comfortable. We barely ever felt the need to zoom or enlarge the font. In this respect, it’s level pegging for the Cube and Apple tablets.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
Cube’s tablet comes with Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of Google’s operating system. Apart from a few backgrounds and a file browsing function, the OS is stock Android, with no personalised touches or overlay interfaces. We’d be tempted to say that this was no bad thing, since many of the home-brand interfaces are pretty power-hungry and aren’t quite fully optimised.
However, Google’s suite of apps isn’t included by default, so you’ll have to download Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Chrome and even Hangouts from the Play Store. The latter is fortunately pre-installed. Running the latest version of Android, the Talk 9X has some pretty useful features, such as the option of creating different sessions for different users, and an Android keyboard offering Swype-like typing (move your finger between the letters of the word, and the predictive text function does the rest). 3G and wireless connectivity are addressed in the inset at the bottom of the page.
In terms of performance, we were impressed by the Cube’s ability to get the most out of the MediaTek octa-core processor. As you might have heard from other sources, the MT8392 chip has truly been pushing the boundaries in the benchmarks, and our tests confirmed this. But how many portable devices, equipped with the latest-generation components, have outperformed the competition in the benchmarks only to be brought down by a lack of optimisation?
And that’s the great thing: the MT8392 makes this slate run like clockwork, not batting an eyelid as it powers the demanding screen, and any number of apps or other functions solicited by the user. It’s a real champion. We noticed very few lags, the worst of which being a slight freeze when we were adding a dynamic widget to the Android home screen. Pretty inconsequential, really.
Web browsing is fluid and responsive, one of the best we’ve encountered on an Android tablet, including the most well known. This Cube model easily matches Samsung and Sony’s products with regard to the download speed of web pages and smooth scrolling through content. The whole experience is further improved by the screen’s very high resolution. In portrait mode, you can comfortably browse the web for relatively long periods of time.
Once you’ve downloaded a third-party app like MX Player, you’ll be able to view the majority of video files. The picture is excellent, the tablet easily displaying Full HD 1080p video, and never skipping, whatever file you open or whatever scene you skip to. However, just like with the iPad Air, the format of the screen means that the black borders get bigger still.
The Talk 9X was a bit of a disappointment regarding gaming. While Cube equipped its tablet with the latest MediaTek octa-core processor, easily capable of running any game available on Google’s Play Store (Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2 weren’t yet compatible at the time of testing), it opted for an old hat Mali-450MP iGPU, which really limits this tablet’s gaming performance. In the end, all games, even the more resource-intensive, ran smoothly, but the graphics were unfortunately not at their best. It’s a real shame.
The headphone jack socket didn’t produce faithful sounds: distortion was too high (5% at full volume), passing the percentage limit (after which distortion can be noticed) with volume at 90%. What’s more, at this volume, the output is pretty weak, only good enough to power the most-undemanding of headphones. Dynamic range and crosstalk were just about average.
The built-in speaker delivers a pretty powerful sound, but the sound itself is very shrill, making it not that nice to listen to. On top of that, saturation was too high at full volume.
Concerning the battery, Cube spared no expense, incorporating a 10,000 mAh version to deliver enough power for the energy-hungry screen and processor (octa-core MediaTek models are certainly not the most economical). The Talk 9X’s battery life ranged from good to average. It lasted 7 hrs 45 mins in HD video playback mode, and 2 hrs 30 less than that when running games. In mixed use, we got a better battery life of 9 hrs 30 mins. These times were measured with Wi-Fi on and 3G off. If you activate 3G, it’s not quite such good news, with the average time dropping to 6 hrs 40 mins.
With this gigantic battery, you’re going to need an equally gigantic dose of patience: to fully charge it from empty will take between 4 hrs 15 mins and 4 hrs 30 mins. A special mention goes to the sleep mode, though, which is very nearly as impressive as the iPad Air’s and the Xperia Z2 Tablet’s. This means you’ll be able to let it sleep for days, without having to worry about it losing much power.
The photo and video capture offered by the Talk 9X is very impressive indeed! Of course, its 8 Mpx camera doesn’t produce anything amazing in low light (grainy, quite red, lacks sharpness), but the picture is still more-or-less usable. In good lighting conditions, the pictures are very good, although a little dull in places.
The first thing worth mentioning is the exceptionally quick shutter release, which is equally as good as the iPad Air and Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet. Pictures are good; while sharp, they are a little noisy, but this isn’t a big problem. Now all you have to do is find a reason to shoot with a 9.7″ tablet—making quick copies of documents or quickly capturing something in class might be a suitable use.
The front-facing camera, with 2 Mpx sensor, gives detailed picture quality, although there’s a bit of ghosting in all light conditions. When all said and done, though, you’ll get good-quality video calls when using this camera.
Cube decided to equip its tablet with 3G connectivity, but, most importantly, with the ability to make/take calls and send/receive texts. To do this, the Cube Talk 9X has some smartphone-like features, including a contacts app—typical stock Android, i.e. basic but functional—a calls app and another for texting. The latter benefits from Google’s Swype-like typing method.
For voice calls, the tablet has a standard phone earpiece speaker, but who’s going to hold a massive tablet to their head every time they want to chat? Instead, you’ll have to use either a Bluetooth headset, which we’d recommend, or the device’s main speaker. This speaker, though, is really too weak and isn’t great to listen to. On the whole, calls were a bit too quiet for our liking, but voices were still audible—the call feature is certainly no mere gimmick. The device works just fine as a back up phone, especially if you have twin micro SIM cards, like many operators are now offering.
Overall, the 3G reception was very good, even in difficult places like lifts and narrow city streets. The Wi-Fi signal strength was very strong, even when several metres from the router and with walls in between. The Cube 9X’s built-in GPS also performed well: it got a fix almost instantaneously with Wi-Fi, just like the best tablets, and after no more than 30 seconds with 3G. Accuracy was perfectly good.