ZUK has very quickly managed to make a name for themselves by offering top end specs at a budget price. The first offering from this Lenovo subsidiary, the ZUK Z1, was an impressive smartphone, but it did not manage to make the dent in the market that was hoped. It did, however, manage to build a small but strong following. For 2016 ZUK is back, this time with two offerings, the ZUK Z2 Pro—the flagship level device—and the more affordable ZUK Z2. While the Z2 Pro may have more bells and whistles, the ZUK Z2 may be the most exciting offering, especially when you consider it’s available for under $300USD.
The ZUK Z2 is set up to be on a level playing field with many of the high-end smartphones currently available. The Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820, 3500 mAh battery and a 5-inch FHD IPS panel, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of ROM are all specs you would expect from the likes of OnePlus or the AXON 7, yet it costs less than both these offerings. The ZUK Z2 manages to stand out from the crowd, and makes for a compelling offering if you are willing to import it.
The ZUK Z2 is similar in style and look to the Apple iPhone 5 or 5S. The front and back scratch-resistant glass wraps around the solid metal frame. While the glass and matte finish on the frame give the ZUK Z2 a premium look and feel, it also leads to the slippery nature of the device. Unlike many other smartphone offerings of 2016 such as the Xiaomi's Mi 5 or Samsung's Galaxy S7, the Z2 manages to stand out, even looking like a much sleeker phone. The device also feels very sturdy in hand, and although it is thicker than some other phones on the market, it never feels bulky.
ZUK have opted for a single button interface rather than the three standard Android buttons. Utilizing a touch sensitive button that doubles as a finger print sensor, you must use a combination of button presses and gestures to get around the interface. While at first it may seem confusing, it quickly becomes second nature. If you are coming from an iPhone you should feel right at home using the ZUK Z2.
For storage, the ZUK comes equipped with 64GB of eMMC 5.1 storage that should offer plenty of space for photos, music and games. In testing, we found that users were left with just over 53GB of storage after accounting for the operating system and pre-installed software.
The ZUK Z2 is also a notably smaller phone than many other flagship models releasing this year. Coming equipped with a 5.2-inch screen rather than a larger offering means the device will fit comfortably in a pocket or purse, and despite the smaller size everything looks crisp and text is comfortable to read on the Full HD IPS panel.
The display has a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels and a pixel density of 424 PPI, and even with many phones now launching with QHD displays and above, you should not be able to see any pixels, even when looking closely at the screen. The screen has some fantastic black levels, meaning even when outside, text, videos and games are still visible. Even when viewing at off angles, you should have no issues using your phone, even on the sunniest of days.
The ZUK Z2 comes in two Android flavours. If you are buying the phone outside of China, you have the choice of buying the International Edition, and the Chinese edition. The International Edition comes with a stock Android user experience; with a few visual flairs such as a quick toggle panel you access by swiping from the bottom and a simple notification panel that can be pulled from the top. It is, for the most part, inoffensive, although I am much more a fan of a pure Android experience. On the other hand, if you choose to pick up the Chinese variant of the phone, you will be presented with ZUI, an iPhone-like user experience that was a bit of a hassle to use. If you have the option, go for the International version, as it offers a far better overall experience.
The camera on the ZUK Z2 is a pleasant surprise for the price. The rear facing 13MP camera offers an f/2.2 wide aperture lense with phase detection, and autofocus with a focus time of 0.1 seconds. The image sensor comes from Samsung (ISOCELL technology), and the camera comes with a dual-LED flash and optical image stabilizer (OIS).
The photo quality of the camera is clear and bright. Images in daylight show a high range of colour and clarity, while the night shots, as with many smartphone cameras, show a bit of grain and blurriness. The front-facing camera offers 8MP with an aperture of f/2.0. While the camera will not be winning any awards, its clarity and sharpness were good enough for selfies and video chatting.
The performance of the device was nothing short of amazing for the price. The Zuk Z2 and its Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 MSM8996 with 4GB RAM manages to stand at par with many of the top smartphones currently on the market. The Zuk Z2 scores a 5,400 on Geekbench, compared to the LG G5 that scored a 5,507, and the OnePlus 3 that got a 5,646. On AnTuTu the Zuk Z2 got a 122,513 just behind the HTC 10 at 131866 and the Samsung S7 at 127,902. All in all the ZUK Z2 scored far better than expected, and in everyday use, most users will not see any noticeable difference.
ZUK have also implemented an “Overclock Mode” that will push the phone beyond the standard 2.15GHz to a higher 2.30GHz at the cost of some battery life and heat. Most users will never need to activate this mode, as in testing it offered little improvement beyond the already phenomenal performance we experienced with the device, yet it is there for the person who loves to get the most out of the devices they own.
The battery was what you would expect from an FHD screen paired with a 3500 mAh smartphone. In testing, the Zuk Z2 managed to make it through a full day with moderate to heavy use. When the phone was only used for checking messages and making calls, it easily made it home with more than 30%-40% worth of charge left. While it is not a full 24/h battery by any means, it should fit most on the go lifestyles without any issue.
The sound on the Z2 was acceptable but not comparable to the AXON 7 or other high-end offerings. This is one area where the ZUK shows its price. The single speaker on the bottom while acceptable at low volumes is tinny and unpleasant at higher volumes. Although, unlike other offerings, it does manage to come equipped with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack that makes plugging in your favourite set of headphones an option. If you are using the ZUK Z2 for any media, you will want to bring a Bluetooth speaker or headphones along for the ride.
Gaming, as you would expect, was fantastic with the Z2. From the casual Fallout Shelter to more intensive games such as N.O.V.A 3 or Asphalt 8 all played smoothly with no drops in framerate or visual quality. It was a pleasure to play games on the Z2, and despite the smaller size of the screen, the bright, vibrant display was ideal for any gaming. Also, due to the scale of the battery, I managed to play hours of games on a long cross country flight while using the phone without having to worry about the device being dead at the end of the flight. It is one of the best gaming phones we have tested in 2016, and a welcome addition to the lineup of fantastic low-cost gaming smartphones.
At the end of the day, the ZUK Z2 is an excellent phone at a fraction of the price of other flagship models. From the performance to the battery life, the Z2 feels premium. Combine that with a solid camera and a striking design, and ZUK has a winner on their hands. It is a pity this phone is not more widely available in North America (currently only available from online retails) since few phones can match the bang for the buck the Zuk Z2 offers. A fantastic phone, and for the price, it is hard to beat. If you can find the ZUK Z2, it is well worth picking up.
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