- Great screen
- Plenty of power
- Lots of storage for the price
- Beware of custom firmware
- No LTE band 20 support
- Glossy design is slippery
- No NFC = no Android Pay
WHAT IS THE LENOVO ZUK Z2?
The Lenovo Zuk Z2 is a Chinese smartphone that packs a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, fingerprint scanner and pin-sharp 5-inch screen.
It runs Android 6.0.1 underneath a custom ZUI user interface and boasts a 13-megapixel camera on the rear that’s capable of capturing 4K video; on the front there’s an 8-megapixel selfie camera.
Remarkably, all of this tech comes in for less than £200/$300. Lenovo is already famous in the realm of computers and its recent acquisition of Motorola has bolstered its standing in the smartphone arena – which makes the launch of the China-only Zuk range all the more puzzling. Despite the fame of its brand, Lenovo has declined to feature its logo on the Z2; it clearly wants the Zuk name to stand out on its own.
LENOVO ZUK Z2 – DESIGN
Although it retails for less than £200/$300, the Zuk Z2 has the kind of build quality you’d expect to find on a handset that costs twice, maybe three times as much.
There’s 2.5D glass on the front and rear, which rounds off neatly along the edges and appears to have some kind of coating that keeps greasy fingerprints to a minimum.
There’s no denying that the Z2 feels great in the hand, but the flat and glossy back panel mean that it slides off pretty much every surface you place it on, so it might be advisable to invest in a protective case.
The edge of the device feel like plastic, but it’s actually metal covered in a matte material to increase grip. The power and volume keys are fashioned from plastic and can be found on the right-hand side of the phone.
The only other physical input is the home button, which doubles as a fingerprint scanner and is situated below the screen. This button feels a little cheap when pressed and certainly doesn’t give the same reassuring “click” you’d get from a Home button on a Samsung or Apple device.
Despite the cheap feel, the Home button hides some neat tricks. Swiping from right to left switches to the last-used application, while swiping from left to right takes you in the opposite direction. This allows you to multi-task and toggle between apps without having to drop back to Android’s dedicated active app screen (which is accessed by double-clicking the home button if you so wish).
A single tap on the home button – not a full press – acts as the “back” command. It works really well once you become accustomed to it.
With dimensions of 8.5 x 142 x 69mm, this is quite a compact device – when placed next to the iPhone 7, there isn’t much difference in terms of overall size. The Z2 is a lot lighter, however, coming in at just 149g. This gives it heft without feeling cheap and insubstantial.
On the bottom edge you’ll find the USB Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone socket and mono speaker. The SIM card tray is found on the right-hand side of the phone, and accepts two nano-SIMs – a common feature on phones intended for the Chinese market. There’s no microSD card slot; the phone comes with 64GB of storage as standard, which should be more than enough space for the typical user.
LENOVO ZUK Z2 – DISPLAY
The Z2’s IPS 5-inch screen has a resolution of 1,080 x 1,920 pixels, giving it a PPI of 414. The LTPS screen is similar to the one used in the iPhone 7, and you can expect comparable performance but a higher overall resolution. It doesn’t have quite the colour reproduction an iPhone does, but considering the price you’re getting a good panel here.
Images look sharp, colours are replicated well, and legibility in sunlight is excellent. Brightness can be jacked up to impressive levels too, again something rarely seen on more affordable handsets.
Viewing angles are also rock-solid and there isn’t any banding – odd colour movement – when you tilt the phone.
LENOVO ZUK Z2 – SOFTWARE
The Z2 runs Android 6.0.1 right out of the box, which is the norm for most modern Android phones – only the likes of the Google Pixel XL are lucky enough to have Android 7.0 at the moment.
The custom ZUI interface is clean and unoffensive, as well as being refreshingly light on bloatware. In fact, the phone lacks a large volume of apps on startup, with many core Google services missing. The app drawer is also missing – a common trait with Chinese Android phones.
The software installed on my review unit was flashed by the Chinese reseller that sent the phone, and has been set up very much with an international buyer in mind.
Google Play Store support is included, so grabbing the likes of YouTube, Google Mail and Google Drive isn’t an issue, but there’s no way to update the phone’s firmware.
Presumably this option has been omitted because Lenovo’s OTA updates don’t work outside of China, but it’s a rather extreme workaround – it means that out of the box, the Z2 will never receive any automatic updates. I also noticed annoying bugs, such as downloads randomly hanging in the Google Play Store.
As is often the case with Android, it’s relatively easy to flash the official Chinese ROM, switch the language to English and source APK files for core Google apps, thus solving these irksome issues.
However, casual users might find this process a little intimidating, and flashing ROMs always carries a risk; you could potentially brick your shiny new phone.
Alas, these are unavoidable quirks when you’re importing a mobile from abroad. As is the case with the vast majority of Xiaomi’s products, the Z2 simply isn’t intended for use outside of the Asian continent.
LENOVO ZUK Z2 – PERFORMANCE
The Zuk Z2 has a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset beating at its heart, which puts it in the same performance category as the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, Xiaomi Mi 5 and LG V20. The 4GB of RAM included alongside keeps things ticking along nicely.
Benchmarks confirm the Z2’s status as an Android frontrunner when it comes to raw processing power. In Geekbench 4, the phone posts a single-core score of 1,727 and a multi-core score of 3,840 – compare that to the Galaxy S7’s ranking in the same benchmark test (1,786 single-core, 5,204 multi-core) and it gives you a fairly solid indication of how much power you’re getting for just £200/$300.
Like many of Xiaomi’s phones the Z2 offers 4G, but it lacks support for LTE band 20, which means those of you on the O2 network (or one of its dependants, such as Tesco and giffgaff) might be advised to look elsewhere since you’ll be limited to 3G data when not connected to Wi-Fi.
Also lacking is NFC support, so the Z2 can’t handle Google’s new Android Pay contactless payment service. It also means that you can’t pair devices with the phone using NFC – something I found quite disappointing as I have several audio products in my house that use this method of connection.
The Z2’s single speaker is a bit of a let down. It isn’t loud enough and the quality is quite tinny and lacking in bass. Thankfully, call quality is excellent – and when you connect a pair of headphones to the 3.5mm socket, your music sounds infinitely better than it does coming out of that feeble mono speaker.
LENOVO ZUK Z2 – CAMERA
The rear-facing 13-megapixel camera boasts an image sensor made by Samsung and offers a aperture of f/2.2. Phase-detection autofocus is also included, and a dual-LED flash illuminates shots in dark environments. Surprisingly for a phone in this price bracket, optical image stabilisation is present, reducing the impact of hand movement on your photos.
When it comes to mobile phone cameras, one of the most important areas for me personally is focus time – the best image sensor in the world is worthless if it takes an age to actually focus and take the snap.
Colours are good and bright
Lower light photos aren’t the best
In good light it focuses at lightning speed, and it’s only in low-light situation that it sometimes takes its time. Even then, the wait is less than a second. In short, Lenovo’s phone is incredibly swift when it comes to capturing images, which pleases me immensely.
The caveat is that image quality isn’t quite up there with that of the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7, but then it’s possibly a bit churlish to expect it to be when you take into account the sizeable gulf in price.
Colour replication and contrast are both good, although the sensor does have a tendency to saturate certain scenes – which can lead to some striking photos, but also results in lighter parts of the image become overexposed.
Furthermore, in low-light conditions it sometimes takes a couple of shots before you get one with which you’re happy. In addition to photos, you can record 4K video at 30fp with the rear-facing camera.
The front-facing 8-megapixel camera is perfect for video calling and selfies, and can record 1080p video at 30fps.
LENOVO ZUK Z2 – BATTERY
Despite the Z2’s slim frame, it houses a 3,500mAh battery – this is larger than the one seen inside the Galaxy S7 (3,000mAh), iPhone 7 (1,960mAh) and even the phablet-sized Google Pixel XL (3,450mAh).
Not surprisingly, stamina is excellent. With moderate usage I was able to make the Z2 last for almost two entire days on a single charge – something that doesn’t happen that often in the world of smartphones.
To give you an indication of how the Z2 stands up to extreme usage, I streamed a HD video for an hour with the screen brightness at maximum and the volume turned all the way up, and it shaved less than 10% off the battery.
Since it uses Qualcomm tech, the phone also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard, which allows you to fully charge the battery from empty in around 90 minutes – when using the supplied charger, of course.
SHOULD I BUY THE LENOVO ZUK Z2?
The Zuk Z2 shows just how far mid-to-budget range Android phones have come in the past few years. Not only does it pack a powerful processor, 4GB of RAM and plenty of internal storage, it also has a great screen, gorgeous design and creature comforts such as quick charging and a super-responsive fingerprint scanner.
Other phones in this sector – such as the Moto G4 and Alcatel Idol 4S – typically don’t offer the same kind of package. Plus it’s fair to say that the Zuk Z2 puts more expensive phones such as the Sony Xperia X Compact to shame.
All of this for £200/$300 is almost too good to be true, but there are some niggles. The lack of NFC is disappointing, especially since Android Pay is now available and contactless payments are really taking off. Even entry-level handsets boast NFC chips these days, so the omission is puzzling.
Since it isn’t intended for sale outside of China, the Z2 comes with custom “global” firmware applied by the reseller, and this throws up all kinds of bugs and issues regarding OTA updates.
Anyone serious about buying the phone will therefore need to investigate flashing the official Chinese firmware onto the device as soon as possible, lest they miss out on future updates entirely. This may well be beyond the remit of many buyers, so purchase with caution. If you’re on O2, you’ll also need to contend with the fact that the phone doesn’t support your network’s 4G band.
This aside, the Z2 is one of the best low-cost Android phones money can currently buy. It ticks all of the right boxes regarding power, battery life, photography and build quality, coming close to the standard you’d expect from a handset that costs £600/$900 or more.
One of the best phones to come out of China this year, the Zuk Z2 offers cutting-edge specs at a fraction of the cost – but beware of resellers flashing ropey firmware to imported handsets.