We review the ZUK Z1!
If you’re shopping for a new, branded smartphone for Christmas, chances are your budget falls in the 10K – 20K category, or what we usually call the mid-range market. That market is fast becoming the latest battleground for international brands, and if you’ve been an avid follower of Unbox you know just how many great, solid phones there are in that particular price segment. While we still strongly recommend ASUS’ Zenfone 2 in that price range, a solid, albeit relatively unknown contender has managed to grab our attention: ZUK (pronounced as Z-U-K).
While company is new, the people behind ZUK aren’t newcomers per se. It’s a company created by Lenovo in collaboration with Qihoo 360 meant to combat the rise of online-only companies like Xiaomi in China though in the Philippines, the company is looking to sell their phones in the same brick-and-mortar stores as their competitors. Is ZUK’s first smartphone worth purchasing?
A design that’s a little uninspired but wholly appealing
For the Z1, ZUK obviously had Apple’s iPhone in mind when they hit the drawing board. There’s certainly a lot of iPhone-like qualities that you’ll see in the Z1, which includes the rounded corners and antenna placement and the chamfered edges. Like we said before this isn’t really a bad thing though the slate grey colored Z1 makes the phone look more like the iPhone 6 compared to the glossy white version.
Even though the design is a little bit uninspired, there’s no denying that the phone looks good. The chassis of the Z1 uses aviation-grade aluminum, with curved corners and chamfered edges. The phone feels hefty to the hand – no surprise considering it weighs around 175 grams, though there’s a good reason for that which we’ll get in later.
On the bottom of the phone lies the speaker grille, along with the USB Type-C port and the microphone. The right side of the phone features the power and volume buttons while the right side has the dual SIM slots. The top of the phone has the 3.5mm jack and two antenna bands which are also present on the bottom of the phone.
The phone uses a physical home button that hides a fingerprint scanner. That’s flanked by both the back and recent apps key, though both keys are represented by dots instead of the typical icons that are associated with them. The phone uses a 5.5-inch full HD IPS panel that has a total pixel density of 401ppi. It’s nice and bright, responsive as heck, has excellent color reproduction and fantastic viewing angles all around.
We were a little concerned that the fingerprint scanner wouldn’t be as fast or as intuitive as the offerings of other brands we’ve tested locally, but we needn’t worry. The fingerprint scanner is relatively quick to unlock your phone and is not prone to mis-presses.
Turn the phone over you’ll see the plastic, non-removable back cover as well as the 13-megapixel rear camera. The phone’s back curves a tiny bit, partly to allow you to hold on to the phone better when you’re using it one-handed, and partly to house the massive 4100mAh battery that powers it.
We’ve seen both the white and grey (actually slate grey) variants of the Z1, and we prefer the grey one more. The white variant of the phone looks a little too glossy in our opinion, and while the grey version is more iPhone-like, we’re more than happy to grab that over the other variant.
The Z1 ships with CyanagenMod running on top of Android 5.1 Lollipop. Phones from China with custom UI’s are pretty common, but what is surprising is that CyanogenMod isn’t your typical Chinese UI. Aside from retaining the app drawer that long time Android users have always cherished, CyanagenMod adds a whole host of enhancements, features and customization on top of Android that most people will appreciate.
Dated, but reliable processor keeps everything running smoothly
Unlike other smartphones in the market, ZUK decided to put Qualcomm’s dated (but still formidable) Snapdragon 801 processor into the Z1 instead of the more common Snapdragon 615. That’s an unusual, but clever, processor choice – Snapdragon 801 still has plenty of teeth, and it has a comfortable lead in synthetic benchmark numbers over the more common Snapdragon 615 processor that’s typically used in other mid-range devices. It runs cooler as well, and is very reliable – something that comes from being in the market for a long while.
Probably the only mark against the Snapdragon 801 processor is battery consumption though that’s rendered moot with the 4100mAh battery in the Z1.
Since the Snapdragon 801 is a known quantity, most of you already have an idea how well the Z1 ran with it. Paired with 3GB of RAM, the Snapdragon 801 processor does a great job of keeping everything nice, smooth and more importantly, cool even when the phone was under full load.
While the Z1 doesn’t have expandable storage, we’re confident that the 64GB of built-in storage is more than enough for most people.
Not so awesome camera
Armed with a 13-megapixel rear camera, the Z1 looks, on paper, to be roughly equivalent to the offerings of other brands. In practice though, that’s not really the case. For one thing, we found that photos taken with the phone were too soft and lacking sharpness. Image noise is also noticeable in several indoor photos, which was a little disappointing. The camera of the Z1 is probably the weakest link in the otherwise excellent phone.
Beastly battery that can give you around 2 days of battery
While the Z1 isn’t the thinnest phone in the market and has a rather chunky 8.9mm frame, we’ll give it a pass since the phone’s girth is the reason why it has a massive 4100mAh battery inside. That battery gave the Z1 an impressive 8 hour and 12 minute run time during the battery benchmark test. We’ve had the Z1 for a fair bit of time, and we can honestly say it’s one of the few smartphones we’ve tested recently that can really keep up with us during a busy day of events.
Verdit: A must buy if you’re looking for a bang-for-the-buck mid-range phone
Despite being the freshman effort of a relatively unknown manufacturer, ZUK’s Z1 is a very solid bang-for-the-buck phone. While the camera experience left much to be desired, everything else – performance, battery life, display quality, UI and navigation – was top notch. With a price tag of Php 15,290 and offline availability, the ZUK Z1 is one of those phones that almost gets everything right, and is a must buy for people looking for a powerful, long-lasting and good-looking smartphone for themselves or their loved ones this Christmas.