Having spent about 5 solid days with the
Max M9 I feel like I
am ready to share my initial thoughts about the China Tab
Market's first Quad-Core Rockchip RK3188 device. Let me just
state up front that my final impressions are highly favorable
however I have some concerns regarding the unit as things stand.
So without further ado', let's jump right in!
Let's start by talking specs... and I will highlight some of the
good and bad I as move through. Hardware IS something this
device packs in well... The Pipo Max M9 is the first unit out of
China to offer the much anticipated Rockchip RK3188. Why is this
much anticipated? Frankly, in this reviewer's opinion it is
highly anticipated because of the RK3066, a dual-core chip from
Rockchip that has transformed the China mobile chip market's
target audience from the occasional (and serious) Western a
hobbyist to the much more... harder to please... Western
consumer. Why harder to please? Because the Western markets have
been dominated by devices packing IPS displays and dual-core
Tegra II and now quad-core Tegra III chips for the better part
of 3 years now. Yes, a dual-core A9 chipset for the better part
of 3 years in Western devices. The RK3066 was the first quality
dual-core A9 chipset to come out of China that could even begin
to compete on a level with what we have had in the West. Better
yet, rather than just beat out a Tegra II by some slim margin,
the RK3066 (with only 2 cores) easily offers Tegra III levels of
performance which is anywhere from 2 - 3x faster than a Tegra
II. Previous China chips couldn't even touch a Tegra II. So that
is the interesting history lesson which brings us to the
present, the RK3188. Rockchip announced the RK3188 as a
cool-running 28 nm Quad-Core A9 chip that would be clocked at
1.8 Ghz and while having the same GPU as the RK3066, the
Mali-400 MP4, it's GPU would be nearly double-clocked. So...
hotly anticipated considering what an incredible success the
RK3066 was (and still is)... we basically expected a "double
helping" of RK3066... and therein also lies the biggest
disappointment regarding the
Max M9... but we will get to that
Continuing on down the specs list for the
Max M9... here is
something that makes this device extremely unique in both the
Eastern AND Western Tablet world... 2 GB of DDR3 Ram... Yeah...
2 GB.... In a tablet, that is massive. Pretty much double of
every top device presently on the market... and I mean EVERY TOP
device. The only tablet currently on the Western Market to offer
2 Gb of Ram that I am aware of is Google's Nexus 10... which is
an absolute beast... but is well outside of the price-range of
Max M9 so it isn't a fair comparison :). In short, the fact that
Max M9 packs 2 Gb of ram is nothing short of wonderful and quite
unique at present. (Yes there are some Allwinner A31 tablets
that also now offer 2 Gb of ram, but the A31 can't touch the
RK3188 in regards to performance so it is being ignored for the
So far so good...
Let's talk screen... The screen on the
Max M9 is what I
would now call high-end "China Tab" -standard- fare... What does
that mean? It means it is a 10.1" IPS panel with a respectable
1280x800 display resolution. In regards to quality, it is quite
good but not excellent. It is decent bright and viewing angles
or good. But it does look a bit muted and a bit darker next to
say the panel in the Ployer Momo 12 or the Yuandao N90
II/Quantum Meson..., which are IMHO the two best/brightest
"normal resolution" IPS panels currently available on the
market. It is VERY good, don't get me wrong, and I am quite
happy with it. Colors are decently vibrant and the panel is
bright enough that I have been using my unit on the lowest
brightness setting all week (all indoors in well-lit settings)
and haven't been bothered in the least. I also am reviewing a
Freelander PD80 Vogue (TNT WILL NOT BE SELLING THIS MODEL
BECAUSE OF THE PANEL) which has a pretty aweful IPS 9.7" panel.
I have some comparison pictures showing the PD80 Vogue (which is
bad) next to the
Max M9 (which is quite good) next to the
Quantum Meson (excellent) and you can see the difference. Now, I
am talking strictly about the brightness and color vibrancy
here, not resolution. Once again, in my opinion, 1280x800 on a
10.1" screen is just about the perfect amount of Pixels per inch
of screen. Everything is very sharp and that is one thing that I
do miss when I switch back to the 9.7" Meson screen at a
resolution of 1024x768 which equals a lower PPI. I will also
mention that my unit did have a single dead pixel near the top
edge of the display but it hasn't been too bothersome (because
the pixels are so tiny...) so no major complaints.
Now.... the speakers.. one of the best surprises of this device
was the extraordinarily (for a tablet) loud, rear-firing, stereo
speakers. You need good volume and sound? This is the tablet to
get. They DO distort a bit when you max the volume and you are
on a song or movie with some extremely loud sequences. I found
that around 80% volume, sound was never distorted and at 80%
they were probably still 150% louder than any other competing
device. Perhaps that is exaggeration as I don't have a decibel
meter here to measure, but, suffice to say, this unit has some
of the best speakers available for a China Tablet.
As far as sensors and connectivity goes. This has fairly
standard fare however I will mention that you get Bluetooth,
AND... a light-sensor. The Light sensor is yet another nice
"first" for me as far as China Tabs go. Automatic Brightness
adjustment for the screen therefore works :). You also get a
rear 5 MP camera and a front 2 MP camera. The rear camera has a
flash but I will just go ahead and say it is useless.. The flash
is a gimmick. The only possibly difference it will make is if
you are perhaps 6 inches or less from the subject you are trying
to take a picture of. So... if you are a spy and are trying to
get up close shots of government documents... yay, you get a
flash. Everyone else won't care.
Regarding connectivity you get TWO USB ports however I haven't
tested to see if both can be used simultaneously. You also get a
microSD card port and HDMI out. Finally it has a headphone jack
and dedicated charging port, both of which are welcome... and
expected... in a higher-end unit like the
Max M9. Regarding
buttons, you get a power button and a back button along with
your standard recessed reset button.
Oh yes... you get 16 Gb of internal storage which is fine :).
Nothing extraordinary. You never want to get a device with less
than 8 Gb and these days I personally don't like to settle for
less than 16 Gb if I can help it. That being said, I have never
really felt the need for MORE than 16 Gb as ample use of Wifi
and Cloud Services negates the need for a lot of internal
PERFORMANCE - System and
Let's consider performance now for a moment... this is both a
success and a failing of this device depending on what your
expectations are. Personally, I had imagined incredible things
because I follow the market and like many that do likewise have
been eagerly anticipating the arrival of this juggernaut from
Rockchip based on how wonderful my RK3066 devices have all been.
However, thus far, for day-to-day usage, and surprisingly
gaming, I have found this chip to be no faster than an RK3066
many tasks. I have been testing our RK3066 powered TNT branded
Quantum Meson unit alongside this unit. The Meson is based on an
OEM Yuandao N90 II so it has a lower resolution 9.7" IPS Panel
and the dual-core RK3066. So, I am very used to how the RK3066
performs and this chip isn't much different. There is some
reasons for this though... Let me explain...
1. The RK3188 is currently only clocked at 1.6 Ghz, not the
anticipated 1.8 Ghz, (which hopefully will come later with
better firmware/newer kernels). While it does have two extra
cores, most apps don't make good use of more than 2 cores which
effectively renders this advantage "null" for most activities.
So the RK3066 is currently maxed in my Meson tablet at 1.6
Ghz... which means these chips are effectively offering the same
computational power for most applications.
2. To further shoot the RK3188 in the foot, the GPU is only
"slightly" higher clocked than same GPU which is also found in
the RK3066. It isn't nearly double-clocked as promised... which
is really quite sad. The fact that the
Max M9 has a slightly higher
resolution display vs. the Meson and well.... you do the math...
when it comes to gaming I have found the two to be about equal.
That being said... I am once again hoping that firmware
improvements will not only improve performance through
efficiency and bug fixes, but will also get us a higher GPU
Now some people are going to say I am really dogging this chip
at this point. I mean, c'mon... it's a Quad. Let me just say
this, it isn't just a Quad... it is THE BEST A9 chipset
currently available on the market. Now, I haven't had much...
luck... with the Samsung Quad chipset yet... and I have heard
good things and the two are more or less equal on paper with the
Samsung winning in a few areas and the Rockchip winning in a few
others. But Rockchip has the feather in its cap of running Jelly
Bean while Samsung Quad units are still stuck on ICS. So, as of
this writing, this is the best A9 chipset you can get. There...
I am being fair...
EDIT: After spending a day or so with a Samsung Quad my opinion
on this matter has changed a bit. The Samsung Exynos 4412 runs
more smooth right now than the RK3188, noticeably so and
personally I do prefer it. The RK3188 is brilliant and in
benchmarks is the stronger of the two but I have found
real-world usage of the Samsung Quad to edge it out. Honestly
they are neck-n-neck and right now (03/18/2012 3pm EST) I
definitely prefer the Samsung Exynos 4412, that may change
though as better firmware smooths out some of the RK3188's rough
Now... I personally think comparing it more to the RK3066 is a
bit more interesting so let me say a few positive words to that
There are several reasons to prefer the RK3188 over the
1. It is a Quad and it DOES do a few vital things noticeably
better... Namely multi-tasking. Like having a big app
download/install queue going and doing... pretty much anything
else at the same time... I have noted that historically this
kind of activity really can make system performance choppy on
the RK3066... On the RK3188 that isn't the case. Happy factor
goes up, annoyance factor goes down. Oh yeah, it boots really
fast to... And oh yes... Internet Browsing... more snappy :)...
more happy! Now, I did do "side-by-side" tests of things like
application loading... The RK3188 and RK3066 are more or less
2. It is a Quad and it is 28 nm and it is very very new... this
means there is a very legitimate chance that performance will
get significantly (perhaps even drastically) better with
improved software/firmware and increased clock speeds. The Quad
is important because more and more applications and android
itself WILL make better use of all 4-cores. The 28 nm process is
important because there is legitimate "hardware headroom" for
increasing the clock-speed of this chip. The RK3066 is fabbed on
a 40 nm process (bigger process means more heat, more power
consumption, and less efficiency) so it is pretty much maxxed at
1.6 Ghz. We will only see marginal improvements, at best, moving
forward, but the RK3188 has some real room to grow. Finally...
this chip is bleeding edge new and the fact that it isn't bug
ridden is incredible (the device is very stable!). But I
guarantee there is major room for improvement in the firmware
that will come forth in time.
3. It is 28 nm... That means battery efficiency is better. I
haven't done hard battery measurements yet but it does seem to
do quite well.
So while you are going to pay for it, there is the reasoning for
getting an RK3188 vs the RK3066. Let's consider other chips. I
am going to keep this brief. Apart from the Samsung Exynos Quad,
there is no other chip currently on the market out of China
worth considering. That is a strong statement to make, let me
back it up. The Allwinner A31 is the "nearest" contendor but it
only packs 4 x Cortex-A7 cores... A7... You are looking at
anywhere from a 20 - 50% performance improvement in an A9 core
vs an A7 core. The A31 is a bargain-chip, not a serious
performance solution but it is being sold at "serious
performance solution" prices. Not to mention that early devices
have all been very buggy. It isn't worth your money right now.
The ActionTech chips aren't worth mentioning. Performance is
very low and they use a lower power and oft-unsupported GPU
solution. The only advantage is their possible pricing maybe
power efficiency. Don't expect much support for them though.
PERFORMANCE - WiFi
While we are talking performance I think it would be fitting to
also mention Wifi. In short, it is workable but they could have
done better. I don't get why China can't spend $3 more and put
in a killer Wifi antennae and fix our woes. Unfortunately they
didn't. I have found the range to be moderate-to-good but not
excellent. In the light of all China tabs it is decidely okay
and probably in the top 25% or so. To give some numbers... In
the same room with the router about 3 feet away, Wifi Analyzer
shows about -42dBm (-40dBm is perfect, so this is slightly less
than perfect). Let me show you the comparison between the
Quantum Meson WiFi as we stretch out the distance...
Same Room: -40 dBm
Next Room(10 ft): -40 to -42 dBm
Next Room (35 ft): -60 dBm
Same Room: -40 to -42 dbm
Next Room(10 ft): -48 db to -60db (average about -52 dBm)
Next Room (35 ft): -62 to -68
----Anything more than -70 dBm (all of the above) is quite
usable in my experience if we are talking just internet
browsing, even on content heavy sites like, for example, Amazon
(lots of images).----
Max M9 seemed to be more erratic but there are two
different ways to interpret that. Often the Meson would be a bit
slow to update its stat readings and the
Max M9 would be quicker.
However when left in the same area the
Max M9 would jump back and
forth between a fairly wide range as shown above in the 10 foot
test, whereas the Meson would jump but only a bit. So the
question is, is the
Max M9 Wifi a bit unstable? Or is is the device
just updating more quickly? I would like to think the Wifi is
unstable and firmware will fix it =) but my guess is that that
Wifi is probably a bit unstable on both devices and my router is
to blame. The
Max M9 is just showing the signal update a bit more
quickly. Honestly I am not sure so I did a real-world test and
the result was interesting. I loaded up the youtube app on both
devices and started up the same HD video on both. The results?
Nearly identical in ALL locations. Each would buffer and play at
more or less the exact same time with less buffer close to the
router and more farther away as is expected. So, the signal
strength appears to be a bit stronger on the Meson but the
doesn't seem to be negatively affected by it. Now, if I had had
my original N90 II to test against it would have been even more
interesting as it had extremely good WiFi for a China tab.
Performance conclusion.... there is a lot of potential... and
paired with 2 Gb of RAM well... there is a WHOLE lot of
potential. Right now, you are getting a slight upgrade from the
RK3066 that has a lot of head-room for future improvement. As
the chip is proving to be very stable, there is no reason to
"avoid" the RK3188 right now, not at all. So if you have the
cash, buy an RK3188 device.
Regarding the Wifi... I wish it could have better signal quality
but the "real-world" test showed that it was decent and
definitely usable from a fair distance with a wall or so
in-between so most folks should be happy.
AND BUILD QUALITY
Styling is a big win for the
Max M9 and I only have a few
minor gripes. First, this device is wonderfully thin and
decently lightweight. In my opinion, it is right at the limits
of being "too thin" for comfort... which is the perfect place to
The rear of the device looks slick. The brushed metal back panel
looks very modern industrial and very cool. The plastic rear
side panels have a bit of "grip" to them which makes them
functional. Personally, I think the plastic detracts a little
bit but not enough for me to take marks away. The one gripe I
have is the bloody rear camera. It's like PiPo had an excellent
team of designers and then when they got to the camera design,
they pretty much brought in someone from the factory line and
gave them a pencil and asked them to stencil in how the felt
like the camera should look with no input from their fabulous
design team that, you know... designed everythign else.
Basically, the camera sits in a small, plasticy cheap painted
chrome squared that protrudes slightly from the rear of the
device. In the grand scheme of things, it is a very minor
quibble, but when you look at it closely you just kind of "sigh"
and remember that yes, at the end of the day, this device is
built AND designed in China. Now to balance that, I will say the
rear speakers are implemented nicely and look slick. Finally,
the ports... the ports are ALL along the top of the device. I
wish other device makers would stop and take note. It is
WONDERFUL having the bloody ports at the top of the device. The
only thing I woud change is I would have put the headphone jack
on one of the sides but aside from that, having the ports (and
buttons) up there is the best move ever. It keeps them out of
the way for 90% of your activity and it makes the HDMI way
easier to use.
Regarding build-quality... okay... next to a Momo 12 this unit
does feel a bit more "cheap" but that is next to a Momo 12,
which is one of the best built units currently available from
China. If I were going to rank build quality on units out of
China though, this unit would be in the top 10%. It is very well
built all the way around and the final result is excellent.
Please understand I am also a bit "biased" here because I am
VERY used to use a 9.7" 4:3 formfactor device and very much so
prefer the feel and screen-size of such a device. Personally, I
find the 10.1" size a bit awkward but this is all personal
preference and others will have the opposite opinion. I just
mention this as it probably does effect my thoughts as it goes
into the "comfort level" of use the unit for me.
Finally, I did get busy and I did disassemble the unit. The
front screen and guts pop out from the rear panel which the
speakers are attached to by adhesive tape. Internally it looks
good. I was impressed by the cleanliness and layout of the
internals on my old PiPo M1 and that thought continues with the
Shew... that was a whole lot of typing... in the end, the
Max M9 is pretty much one of the best China tabs you can pick up
at the moment. The hardware combination is more-or-less
unrivaled and the build quality and incredible speakers are
icing on the cake. While the RK3188 is a bit lackluster at the
moment, it is currently still an improvement over the RK3066
(which was excellent in its own rite) and has a lot of headroom
for growth in the coming months as better firmware is released
and we hopefully get the clock bump we all want.
Wifi could be better, but I can (and do) say that about pretty
much all China tabs save for the Yuandao N90 II I used to own
which apparently was a bit of a unicorn...
So, if you have the cash, buy this device. If you don't, the
RK3066 is still a great option and a very mature chipset at this
point. My 2-cents is that every should still avoid both the
Allwinner A31 -and- any and all retina display units as
performance is severely hampered on the latter and performance
is lacking at that price-point on the former.
Permalink Submitted by MIke Russon (not verified) on Fri,
04/19/2013 - 11:52.
Great Review! I bought one and personally I love it. Having used
others from Ramos, the Pipo is a winner for me.
Permalink Submitted by Gaz (not verified) on Fri, 04/19/2013 -
Great review Roman. May I add
Great review Roman. May I add that some comment on the
performance of the front and rear cameras would be useful for
prospective buyers. As well as the stills resolution,
information on the video resolutions and some still image
samples if at all possible. Thanks!
Permalink Submitted by tecknight (not verified) on Thu,
05/02/2013 - 06:00.
Excellent review !!
thanks for the excellent review. by far the best review i have
seen for this device and it answers all of my questions !!
Permalink Submitted by SPECTRA9 (not verified) on Thu,
05/02/2013 - 09:13.
Great and thorough review
Great review. However, as you've mentioned somewhere that you do
prefer the Exynos 4412 tablet in term of overall smoothness, I'd
love to see the
Max M9 head to head with an Exynos 4412 based tabs
such as the Hyundai T10, both in day to day common task, as well
some heavy 3D gaming
Permalink Submitted by albert gamatan (not verified) on Sat,
05/04/2013 - 02:54.
Sir is firmware available in the playstore? for example i'll but
Max M9 now, how will i upgrade my firmware if the
Max M9 firmware is available?
Permalink Submitted by nbeam85 on Mon, 05/06/2013 - 09:55.
You don't get firmware from the play store. For china tabs you
pretty much have to get it from the manufacturer's website and
then you use a special tool to flash it. TNT also provides a lot
of custom firmware for all the models we sell. you can visit our
sister site http://www.rockchipfirmware.com if you are
interested in some of our custom roms. Regards!
Permalink Submitted by Devin tabacsko (not verified) on Sun,
05/12/2013 - 19:41.
Thanks Alot Bud, Your review was very thorough and complete.
everything i was wondering about has been discussed here. thank
yoyu so much. the average joe like me will benefit greatly from
your expertise. i am in fact going to buy one of these tomorrow