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Lenovo Zuk Z1 review: A battery overachiever with a poor camera

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The Good The Lenovo Zuk Z1 has a clean software interface and a comfortable Apple iPhone-ish frame. Battery life is fantastic, too.

The Bad The camera performs terribly with lots of image noise, and the fingerprint sensor doesn't always sense your fingers to unlock the phone.

The Bottom Line Buy the Lenovo Zuk Z1 only if you're in need of super long battery life and don't care about camera quality. Otherwise, there are more well-rounded options available.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 5
  • Battery 9

Review Sections

The Lenovo Zuk Z1 is a $320 Android phone that looks a lot like an iPhone 6S Plus. Its rear camera takes mediocre pictures and its fingerprint scanner doesn't always read your fingerprint. Its biggest saving grace is the phone's super-long battery life.

The Zuk Z1 comes to us from the Chinese electronics giant's subsidiary brand, Zuk Mobile. The phone is not officially available in western markets, but can be found at Zuk's online third-party retailers that sell Chinese phones.

Founded in April this year, the Z1 is Zuk Mobile's first smartphone, and like most Chinese handsets, it retails at an incredibly attractive price. Unfortunately, the phone has flaws you won't find in similarly priced competitors.

However, if you're a fan of the iPhone's design and Android's software -- in this case, the open-source CyanogenMod, which is basically a modification of stock Android designed to replace the default operating software on some phones -- well, this is probably the closest you can get without picking up a full-on copycat iPhone.

It's not a bad phone, but there are other phones available that more successfully achieve a balance among features, performance and price.

Design

  • 5.5-inch display with 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution
  • 6.13 by 3.04 by 0.35 inches (155 by 77.3 by 8.9mm)
  • 6.17 ounces (175 grams)
  • Comes in white or dark gray

It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Zuk Z1 serves this sentiment well. If you were to put the Zuk Z1 and the iPhone 6S Plus side by side, you'd be hard-pressed to make out which was which at a glance. Both devices share an identical front color scheme -- pure white with metal antenna bandings, and while the Z1's fingerprint sensor and home button are different shapes than those on the iPhone 6 Plus, the positioning feels the same under your fingers.

The resemblance is also noticeable at the sides -- the Zuk Z1 sports curved metal bands with white antenna strips. The bottom of the phone is where this resemblance is the closest -- the Z1 has similar speaker grilles and the Type-C USB port looks very much like Apple's Lightning port.

The design feels very similar to the iPhone. Aloysius Low/CNET

It's only when you flip the phone over that things start to look different -- instead of a metal rear, the Z1 sports a glossy plastic white shell. I was worried the phone would feel slippery, but this wasn't an issue at all.

Apart from the Apple resemblance, there aren't really any risky design decisions. The phone has a 5.5-inch full-HD display with a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch (ppi), and has touch-sensitive navigation keys below the display. You'll also find the fingerprint sensor there -- and oddly, I did encounter occasions where the sensor just simply failed to detect my finger when attempting to use it.

The screen also has a LiveDisplay mode, where it customizes the brightness and colors to your surroundings -- at night, it turns the display to a warmer, eye-friendly hue. Overall, the quality of the display is good. Colors are vibrant and viewing angles are decent.

Located on the left, and within easy reach, are the volume and power buttons. The 3.5mm audio jack is located on the top. The phone supports dual-SIM 4G, with the SIM card tray located on the left side. As is becoming more common with new phones, there's no microSD card slot for expandable memory.

On the rear, you'll find the 13-megapixel camera and the dual-LED flash. The rear cover isn't removable, and you won't be able to swap out the embedded 4,100mAh battery should you run out of juice.

The one thing that bothered me was how easily dirt could get trapped in the edges of the front glass and on the rear edges between the metal frame and the plastic chassis. I'm not sure if it's because the phone's a review-ready production sample, but if the final retail units have the same problem, the dirt will be an eyesore for sure.

Overall, the phone is comfortable to hold in one hand and other than the finicky fingerprint sensor, I didn't experience any major comfort issues.

The design of the Zuk Z1 feels very much like an iPhone clone. Aloysius Low/CNET

Hardware

  • 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor from Qualcomm
  • 64GB of storage
  • No expandable memory
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 4,100mAh embedded battery

Meant to compete somewhat with the flagships of today and the other higher-end phones from its Chinese competitors, the Zuk Z1 sports last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 octa-core processor clocked at 2.5GHz. While some of you may scoff at the fact it's using an older processor, I found the performance of the phone to be buttery smooth. You'll have no issues with games either, as Asphalt 8 ran without a hitch.

The slightly dated processor aside, the phone otherwise packs decent hardware -- it has 3GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. It also has a large 4,1000mAh battery and has the new USB Type-C port. Do note that this port isn't compatible with your current Micro-USB cables, so you'll need to rely on the bundled cable, get yourself extras, or snag one of Xiaomi's super cheap converters.

In terms of 4G support, the Zuk Z1 will work with LTE networks in the UK such as Three and EE, while in Australia, it should work with Optus and Telstra networks. Unfortunately, it lacks support for US carriers' LTE bands.

The phone packs 3GB of RAM, 64GB of onboard storage and a huge 4,100mAh battery. Aloysius Low/CNET

Software and apps

  • Google Android 5.1.1 Lollipop OS
  • CyanogenMod 12
  • Customizable themes
  • Close to stock Android experience

If an experience close to what you'll find on the Nexus phones is something you desire, then the Zuk Z1 is your best candidate. The phone runs popular, community-built Android-based firmware CyanogenMod, which is designed to improve on performance and reliability compared with the usual Android operating system.

It has support for themes, the FLAC audio codec, a built-in OpenVPN client and tons of customization features, such as the ability to tweak how your status bar looks, the sort of notifications that appear, the buttons on your notification drawer, and so on. The options can be a tad overwhelming for casual users, but don't worry: the default settings give you basically everything you need you won't get prodded to change settings.

One of my grouses with phones with larger screens is how they don't properly make use of the space, by having huge gaps between app icons. Thankfully, CyanogenMod lets you customize the grid layout -- you can choose from three icon sizes as well as a super-packed mode or customize the size of the grid to your liking.

lenovozukz1-screenshot01.jpg
If you're familiar with Android, CyanogenMod will be no stranger to you. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

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