The ZTE Blade S6 looks almost embarrassingly like the, right down to the round edges and faux-aluminum rear (it's actually plastic). Missing only are the antenna band markings.
Intended for Southeast Asia and Europe, the phone sells online at Aliexpress for $250 (which converts to around AU$320) with free shipping, and should soon be available in stores in India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It's also now available in the UK via eBay, for £180.
The Blade S6 exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations -- I'm not a fan of the design, given that most copycat phones from China tend to focus on imitating a popular design while failing on the software part. That said, ZTE has done well to get the software part right -- adding some useful gesture features -- and the copycat design makes the phone look refined and cool, even if it does feel like a cheap plastic phone at the end of the day.
Still, $250 isn't a bad deal if you're in the market for an iPhone lookalike but don't want to pay the iPhone premium. It's no iPhone though. At best it's a decently performing Android phone with some interesting features, a disappointingly plastic build and a poor camera.
It definitely shouldn't be your first choice, but if you're on a budget and looking for a unlocked phone with some design panache and interesting features, it's worth looking into.
Let's be brutally honest here. The ZTE Blade S6 rips off the iPhone's design, to the point where I had friends asking me if I had started using the iPhone again. When they picked it up, however, they discovered two things: one, the phone feels much lighter than you'd expect, and two, it doesn't feel as classy as the Cupertino-designed handset.
The Blade S6 is slightly larger with a 5-inch display and thicker at 7.7mm. It's also no surprise to find that the phone's front glass display shares the same rounded corners as the iPhone 6.
You'll find the home button at the bottom of the display, a round circle that seems to invoke Apple's TouchID sensor (but there isn't one). There are two additional buttons, the back and menu, but these are hidden when not in use. You're able to switch the back button to either the right or left, too. These keys are touch sensitive and vibrate when tapped.
Turn the phone around and you'll find a faux-aluminum plastic rear. It feels cheap to hold, and there's even a "Designed by ZTE in California" marking, seemingly just to further emulate Apple. Located further up on the back is the 13-megapixel camera, and the placement's pretty similar to where you'll find it on the iPhone. As it's quite close to the edge, however, you'll have to make sure not to block it with your fingers when taking landscape shots.
On the left side, you'll find the microSD card slot and the dual 4G nano-SIM slots. Instead of having two separate trays for the SIM cards, the ZTE Blade combines both into one tray. The audio jack is located right at the top of the phone.
On the whole, I didn't like the Blade S6's design. It seems to blatantly rip off Apple's thoughtful design process, which is not uncommon with some China-made phones. Other Chinese companies such as OnePlus and Xiaomi have already shown they are capable of being original, however, so it just seems to be bad form on ZTE's part. Furthermore, the liberal borrowing of Apple design elements means it's unlikely to be released in the US, where I suspect Apple would be more than happy to take legal action to defend its work.
Hardware and software
For a $250 phone, the Blade S6 is no slouch but it won't exactly set the world on fire, either. It packs a midrange 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, a 13-megapixel camera and 4G LTE dual-SIM capabilities.
Of course, to get hardware like that at this price point, compromises need to be made -- particularly the screen. It has a 720p display, not the 1080p resolution usually found on higher-end devices. This isn't necessarily bad, since it's usually very hard to tell the difference between these resolutions on a smaller device. The colors, vibrancy and viewing angles of the display are pretty good as well, so it's no loss here.
Internally, it has 2GB RAM and 16GB of onboard storage, and a microSD card slot as well. The phone is powered by a 2,400mAh battery, which is a tad on the low side these days (see below for my battery test).
Like newer phones released this year, the Blade S6 comes running Android Lollipop 5.0, but with a custom MiFavor 3.0 skin on top. The skin comes with its own color schemes, themes and the ability to change the animations of the home screen easily. The flat UI of MiFavor helps give the phone a little more style, but that's not all the ZTE has up its sleeve.
To stand out from other Lollipop phones, ZTE has included a software tweak called Smart Sense, which are basically gesture commands you can use to quickly access certain features. Before you get all hung up over the custom skin job though, ZTE has kept some elements of stock Lollipop, such as the notification system and the dialer.
The Smart Sense features aren't turned on by default, so you'll need to enable them in the settings. From there, you can select the various features you want enabled. For example, shake the phone to turn the flashlight on and off, or raise the phone up to a landscape position and hit the volume up button to turn on the rear camera.