ZTE Nubia Z9 Review

Introduction


*Review based on Chinese model of the ZTE Nubia Z9, running Nubia 3.0 UI, without Google apps out of the box

ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
Nubia is a line of mid-range and high-end smartphones, which are slowly but surely making their way to the Western markets. Although handsets under the brand are manufactured by ZTE, Nubia is treated as a separate, distinct division – one focused on making handsets of higher class.

The Nubia Z9, in particular, is a handset with a striking bezel-less appearance on top of a sleek glass-and-metal body, supplemented by a heavy hardware punch under the hood. Sporting the well-known Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, 3 GB of RAM, a 16 MP Sony Exmor IMX234 sensor-equipped camera, and a 2,900 mAh battery, the _phone_ sure looks like a strong contender in the Game of Flagships: Season 2015. It does, however, come at a pretty hefty price – available from various online retailers, starting from $600 and going as high as $770, one would expect that it has something quite notable to offer, especially in today's cutthroat smartphone market.

So, even at first glance, it's obvious that the Nubia Z9 is made for those on the lookout for a high-class smartphone, but wish to have something rather unique and break away from the clichés. But how does it hold up when put to the test? Let's take a deeper look!

In the box:
  • Nubia Z9 smartphone
  • Wall charger
  • Data cable
  • In-ear headset
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Informational booklet

Design

Glass-and-metal design and a nigh bezel-less look

The Nubia Z9 follows a design language that has grown popular as of late – the glass-and-metal sandwich. But, despite the current popularity of said materials, it doesn't feel like ZTE was simply following a trend – the Z9 tries to look different. But does it pull it off?

Instead of going for the super-thin aesthetic, its front and back panels bulge out quite a bit from the chamfered metal frame. Many will find the device toо heavy, as it weighs 6.77 oz (192 g), though we found it easy to operate in most scenarios. The heft and the glass back may sound like they could cause problems with the device slipping out from the user's hand. However, we found that its narrow profile allows us to have a secure grip on it. The phone's weight usually becomes a problem when it is used in bed or when it is carried in the pockets of light clothing, and the slippery back is an issue when trying to prop the device up against sleek-ish surfaces.

The front panel of the Z9 is certainly one of its more unique features – ZTE went with what it calls a 2.5D aRC (arc Refractive Conduction) borderless design. What this basically means is that the glass panel has had its ends arched in a way that allows the display's light to actually be projected from side to side, touching the phone's metal frame on both ends and giving the display a nigh bezel-less look. We assume that the aRC tech is the reason why the display's glass has so much girth to it.

Under the display, we have the capacitive navigational buttons – a circle for Home, and two dots on each side for Options / Back. These glow in red, giving the Z9 a slightly aggressive appearance. When the home button is not glowing, it does a great job at still reflecting enough light to be easily visible, whereas the red navigational dots are entirely concealed when they are off.

Looking at the phone's frame, we have the power button and the volume rocker on the right – their feedback is great, though, the rocker's travel is just a notch softer than we would've liked. Moving over to the top, we find the 3.5mm headphone jack and an IR blaster, whereas on the bottom, we have the micro USB port with two identical grilles on each side – one for the microphone and one for the speaker. On the left of the frame, we have the dual nano-SIM tray.

On the back, the Z9 is covered by another meaty glass panel – we assume ZTE chose to make it so for consistency's sake and to make sure that the camera sensor doesn't protrude. The stylish Nubia logo is situated well in the center here, while the snapper is located in the top-left corner, together with its LED flash. And, as you might expect, the whole thing is a fingerprint magnet.

Overall, while we can appreciate the attempt at sleek aesthetics, the bulgy design and uncomfortable weight of the device certainly don't do it any favors. We'd have to say that the Z9 is an OK-looking handset, but it won't be blowing any minds any time soon.

 

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Front view | Side view
ZTE Nubia Z9
ZTE Nubia Z9
5.8 x 2.69 x 0.35 inches
147.4 x 68.3 x 8.9 mm
6.77 oz (192 g)

ZTE Nubia Z9

Samsung Galaxy S6
Samsung Galaxy S6
5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 inches
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm
4.87 oz (138 g)

Samsung Galaxy S6

Apple iPhone 6
Apple iPhone 6
5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches
138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm
4.55 oz (129 g)

Apple iPhone 6

OnePlus 2
OnePlus 2
5.98 x 2.95 x 0.39 inches
151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm
6.17 oz (175 g)

OnePlus 2


ZTE Nubia Z9 Review

ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
Display

A bezel-less appearance is not enough

So, sure, the Nubia Z9's display definitely looks like something else when you first lay eyes on it. However, while it gains points for uniqueness, it has its downfalls in terms of picture quality. After some use, it quickly becomes apparent that the screen tends to favor the blues quite a bit. Basically, it looks cold. Our measurements reaffirm that – its color temperature measures at 7,901 K, which is way above the reference value of 6,500 K, and in its normal mode, the display shows a pronounced amount of blue and green while lacking reds.

There are a couple of modes, which the user can tinker with – the saturation of the display can be switched between “Glow”, “Standard”, and “Soft”, while its Hue can be set to “Cool tone”, “Natural”, and “Warm tone”. Out of all these settings, we found “Soft saturation” combined with “Warm tone” to be the most pleasing to our eyes – still not too accurate, but warms up the picture, and is not visually invading in any way.

As far as sharpness goes, we're pleased with what we see on the Z9's screen. Its resolution is not in the insane QHD range – ZTE kept the “mere” 1080 x 1920 pixel count, but this still gives the 5.2” screen a 424 PPI density. It is crisp, clear, and details are a pleasure to look at.

The Z9's brightness peaks at 459 nits – sounds usable on paper, but we often found ourselves looking for shade when using the _phone_ under the open skies. It is somewhat visible, but usage definitely gets hampered. Perhaps the thick glass is a bit too reflective. At minimum, however, the brightness measures at the very comfortable 2 nits, so night-time users will not feel like the phone is poking at their eyes.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Apple iPhone 6 606
(Excellent)
7
(Good)
1:1563
(Excellent)
7162
(Good)
2.23
2.79
(Good)
3
(Good)
OnePlus 2 564
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
1:2091
(Excellent)
7554
(Average)
2.46
2.18
(Good)
4.7
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy S6 563
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6584
(Excellent)
2.11
2.02
(Good)
2.94
(Good)
ZTE Nubia Z9 459
(Good)
2
(Excellent)
1:816
(Average)
7901
(Average)
2.1
3.5
(Good)
6.11
(Average)
View all

The numbers below represent the amount of deviation in the respective property, observed when a display is viewed from a 45-degree angle as opposed to direct viewing.

Maximum brightness Lower is better Minimum brightness Lower is better Contrast Lower is better Color temperature Lower is better Gamma Lower is better Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 56.1%
50%
unmeasurable
0.7%
1.9%
193.1%
216%
OnePlus 2 79.3%
85%
80.4%
11.1%
5.3%
58.7%
50.9%
ZTE Nubia Z9 81.7%
80%
68.5%
16.1%
0.5%
5.4%
3.4%
Apple iPhone 6 82.3%
85.7%
86.9%
2.3%
10.8%
34.1%
24%
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all

ZTE Nubia Z9 Review

Introduction


*Review based on Chinese model of the ZTE Nubia Z9, running Nubia 3.0 UI, without Google apps out of the box

ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
Nubia is a line of mid-range and high-end smartphones, which are slowly but surely making their way to the Western markets. Although handsets under the brand are manufactured by ZTE, Nubia is treated as a separate, distinct division – one focused on making handsets of higher class.

The Nubia Z9, in particular, is a handset with a striking bezel-less appearance on top of a sleek glass-and-metal body, supplemented by a heavy hardware punch under the hood. Sporting the well-known Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, 3 GB of RAM, a 16 MP Sony Exmor IMX234 sensor-equipped camera, and a 2,900 mAh battery, the phone sure looks like a strong contender in the Game of Flagships: Season 2015. It does, however, come at a pretty hefty price – available from various online retailers, starting from $600 and going as high as $770, one would expect that it has something quite notable to offer, especially in today's cutthroat smartphone market.

So, even at first glance, it's obvious that the Nubia Z9 is made for those on the lookout for a high-class smartphone, but wish to have something rather unique and break away from the clichés. But how does it hold up when put to the test? Let's take a deeper look!

In the box:
  • Nubia Z9 smartphone
  • Wall charger
  • Data cable
  • In-ear headset
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Informational booklet

Design

Glass-and-metal design and a nigh bezel-less look

The Nubia Z9 follows a design language that has grown popular as of late – the glass-and-metal sandwich. But, despite the current popularity of said materials, it doesn't feel like ZTE was simply following a trend – the Z9 tries to look different. But does it pull it off?

Instead of going for the super-thin aesthetic, its front and back panels bulge out quite a bit from the chamfered metal frame. Many will find the device toо heavy, as it weighs 6.77 oz (192 g), though we found it easy to operate in most scenarios. The heft and the glass back may sound like they could cause problems with the device slipping out from the user's hand. However, we found that its narrow profile allows us to have a secure grip on it. The phone's weight usually becomes a problem when it is used in bed or when it is carried in the pockets of light clothing, and the slippery back is an issue when trying to prop the device up against sleek-ish surfaces.

The front panel of the Z9 is certainly one of its more unique features – ZTE went with what it calls a 2.5D aRC (arc Refractive Conduction) borderless design. What this basically means is that the glass panel has had its ends arched in a way that allows the display's light to actually be projected from side to side, touching the phone's metal frame on both ends and giving the display a nigh bezel-less look. We assume that the aRC tech is the reason why the display's glass has so much girth to it.

Under the display, we have the capacitive navigational buttons – a circle for Home, and two dots on each side for Options / Back. These glow in red, giving the Z9 a slightly aggressive appearance. When the home button is not glowing, it does a great job at still reflecting enough light to be easily visible, whereas the red navigational dots are entirely concealed when they are off.

Looking at the phone's frame, we have the power button and the volume rocker on the right – their feedback is great, though, the rocker's travel is just a notch softer than we would've liked. Moving over to the top, we find the 3.5mm headphone jack and an IR blaster, whereas on the bottom, we have the micro USB port with two identical grilles on each side – one for the microphone and one for the speaker. On the left of the frame, we have the dual nano-SIM tray.

On the back, the Z9 is covered by another meaty glass panel – we assume ZTE chose to make it so for consistency's sake and to make sure that the camera sensor doesn't protrude. The stylish Nubia logo is situated well in the center here, while the snapper is located in the top-left corner, together with its LED flash. And, as you might expect, the whole thing is a fingerprint magnet.

Overall, while we can appreciate the attempt at sleek aesthetics, the bulgy design and uncomfortable weight of the device certainly don't do it any favors. We'd have to say that the Z9 is an OK-looking handset, but it won't be blowing any minds any time soon.


Front view | Side view
ZTE Nubia Z9
ZTE Nubia Z9
5.8 x 2.69 x 0.35 inches
147.4 x 68.3 x 8.9 mm
6.77 oz (192 g)

ZTE Nubia Z9

Samsung Galaxy S6
Samsung Galaxy S6
5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 inches
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm
4.87 oz (138 g)

Samsung Galaxy S6

Apple iPhone 6
Apple iPhone 6
5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches
138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm
4.55 oz (129 g)

Apple iPhone 6

OnePlus 2
OnePlus 2
5.98 x 2.95 x 0.39 inches
151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm
6.17 oz (175 g)

OnePlus 2


ZTE Nubia Z9 Review

ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
Display

A bezel-less appearance is not enough

So, sure, the Nubia Z9's display definitely looks like something else when you first lay eyes on it. However, while it gains points for uniqueness, it has its downfalls in terms of picture quality. After some use, it quickly becomes apparent that the screen tends to favor the blues quite a bit. Basically, it looks cold. Our measurements reaffirm that – its color temperature measures at 7,901 K, which is way above the reference value of 6,500 K, and in its normal mode, the display shows a pronounced amount of blue and green while lacking reds.

There are a couple of modes, which the user can tinker with – the saturation of the display can be switched between “Glow”, “Standard”, and “Soft”, while its Hue can be set to “Cool tone”, “Natural”, and “Warm tone”. Out of all these settings, we found “Soft saturation” combined with “Warm tone” to be the most pleasing to our eyes – still not too accurate, but warms up the picture, and is not visually invading in any way.

As far as sharpness goes, we're pleased with what we see on the Z9's screen. Its resolution is not in the insane QHD range – ZTE kept the “mere” 1080 x 1920 pixel count, but this still gives the 5.2” screen a 424 PPI density. It is crisp, clear, and details are a pleasure to look at.

The Z9's brightness peaks at 459 nits – sounds usable on paper, but we often found ourselves looking for shade when using the phone under the open skies. It is somewhat visible, but usage definitely gets hampered. Perhaps the thick glass is a bit too reflective. At minimum, however, the brightness measures at the very comfortable 2 nits, so night-time users will not feel like the phone is poking at their eyes.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Apple iPhone 6 606
(Excellent)
7
(Good)
1:1563
(Excellent)
7162
(Good)
2.23
2.79
(Good)
3
(Good)
OnePlus 2 564
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
1:2091
(Excellent)
7554
(Average)
2.46
2.18
(Good)
4.7
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy S6 563
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6584
(Excellent)
2.11
2.02
(Good)
2.94
(Good)
ZTE Nubia Z9 459
(Good)
2
(Excellent)
1:816
(Average)
7901
(Average)
2.1
3.5
(Good)
6.11
(Average)
View all

The numbers below represent the amount of deviation in the respective property, observed when a display is viewed from a 45-degree angle as opposed to direct viewing.

Maximum brightness Lower is better Minimum brightness Lower is better Contrast Lower is better Color temperature Lower is better Gamma Lower is better Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 56.1%
50%
unmeasurable
0.7%
1.9%
193.1%
216%
OnePlus 2 79.3%
85%
80.4%
11.1%
5.3%
58.7%
50.9%
ZTE Nubia Z9 81.7%
80%
68.5%
16.1%
0.5%
5.4%
3.4%
Apple iPhone 6 82.3%
85.7%
86.9%
2.3%
10.8%
34.1%
24%
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all

Interface

Not for the light of heart

Before we dig deep into the Nubia's interface, we wish to warn you that if you are looking to purchase the phone right now – you will only be able to get the Chinese version of the handset. Its user interface does have an English translation, but the phone comes with no Google framework installed. This means that if you want to get Google Play Store, Gmail, Play Music, YouTube, et cetera Google services, you will need to root the Z9 and install them manually. The task doesn't require a degree in rocket science, sure, but it's not for the light user, who just wants a pick-up-and-go smartphone. Of course, this could all be remedied if ZTE launches the phone for US markets, which was reportedly planned for Q3 of 2015, though, it hasn't happened yet, and September is nearing its end.

Now that we've got that issue aside, let's check out the interface. As with phones from other China-based companies, the iOS influence is quite apparent – from the lack of an app drawer, to the design of system icons and toggles. Still, the manufacturer added quite a bit of its own style and tools, so we wouldn't call the interface a clone.

It is obvious that ZTE wanted to create a very slimmed-down UI – it's drop-down menu is much less cluttered than the ones on many other Android handsets, with only a brightness bar and three toggles – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Mobile data – greeting you as you pull it down. Another button reveals the rest of the essential controls – Airplane mode, Auto-rotate, Vibrate, et cetera. Under the toggles panel, you can find your notifications, which can be filtered – if you often find this area to be full of information you don't care about, a Notifications sub-menu in settings gives you the choice to not display certain apps' notifications.

The settings menu is a bit too simple, we'd say – so much so that it will even stump experienced Android users, as some well-known options are flat-out gone. For example, we have absolutely no access to Android's well-known battery usage diagram. Instead, we have to rely on a separate Powersaver app, which is much less informative, and quite unrealistic in its “remaining usage time” calculations. Additionally, a lot of the English translations for the different settings are way off and give next to no information – it is up to an experienced Android user to figure out what exactly the text is about, and we imagine that someone who hasn't met with a variety of similar options before would have a hard time trying to set up everything.

We also found the notifications of the phone to be a bit unreliable. For the first few hours of real-life use, chat programs, such as Facebook Messenger, Viber, Hangouts, did not produce any sort of sound. It was not a settings issue – the phone would ring for calls and alarms just fine, and for chats – it would display all the proper notifications and chat heads. However, it produced no sound until we entered the Notifications Management menu and made sure that the apps are allowed to actually pop up in the Notification bar. They were, and we changed nothing in the menu, but the mere act of entering it “unclogged” whatever pipe our sounds were stuck in and the problem was gone.

Additionally, the phone's “close all apps” button is quite the powerful tool – it literally obliterates all background processes, which, in some cases, left us with a lot of Facebook messages not being pushed through until we started the chat app manually (or just coming through late). This particular feature just makes the phone an unreliable tool for chats (and potentially other processes as well), and we recommend anyone who intends to get a Z9, or already has one, to use “Close all” (or “Accelerate phone”, as ZTE calls it) with care!

Still, we do have some words of praise for the Niudin security app. It gives us access to all of the apps' permissions and lets us single them out – revoke a permission, make the app prompt us for one each time it needs a specific asset, or allow it indefinitely. It holds an “Autostart apps” whitelist, which we assume should be a remedy for our previous complaint about the “Accelerate phone” feature, however, we did not find it to work as desired – with Messenger whitelisted, chats were still stuck until we actually opened the app.

There are a couple of things in the interface that we do really like, however. For one, the split-screen functionality we found pretty impressive. In fact, we would like to call it “True split-screen”, as it literally allows you to load anything in the display's halves – you could have two home screens if you so desire, or two different games, or any two apps. In comparison, dual-screen UI functions from Samsung and LG will only allow users to have certain apps in split-screen mode.

All in all, we really like where ZTE was going with the Z9's interface. It's simplistic at first sight, but has a layer of neat trickery underneath. However, the whole experience left us feeling like the software still requires a lot of polish, as it is unreliable, a bit hard to understand, and lacks options where one would logically expect to find them. So, we reiterate – even though it may try to look like it, this UI is not for the user who just wants a pick-up-and-go smartphone, at least not yet.

Edge Touch


The Nubia Z9's Edge touch control is an interesting idea. ZTE made use of the rounded-off edges of the screen by giving them gesture control support. These consist of the following: swipe up, swipe down, quickly rub an edge, and swipe while touching both edges simultaneously. The latter will control the phone's brightness and is not customizable, aside from turning it on or off. Rubbing an edge will cause the phone to launch its “Accelerate” function, which basically “close all apps” – this is also an un-customizable gesture. The swipe up and swipe down, however, can be set to perform user-customizable tasks – for example, you can set swipes along the left edge of the phone to cycle through your recent apps, while swiping up and down on the right edge can be set to launch two of your favorite or most often-used apps. There are also advanced functions that will enable one-handed mode or will open the camera, depending on how you grip the device – palm the Z9 and wrap your fingers around the edges and the screen will shrink towards your thumb; hold it with two hands and raise it as a viewfinder, with your fingers barely touching the edges of the screen in all 4 corners, and the phone will start the camera app.

Processor and Memory

Bleeding-edge hardware, uninspiring performance

The Nubia Z9 is armed with the 64-bit, octa-core, flagship-class Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, clocked at 2 GHz and coupled with 3 GB of RAM. We encountered no hiccups or slowdown issues with the phone. Gaming-wise, it was a hit-and-miss experience – Mortal Kombat X ran absolutely fine, Hearthstone ran with no issues or force-closes, but Modern Combat 5 would sometimes cause framerate drops. So, despite the edgy hardware, and some impressive benchmark scores, power users may not be too pleased by the Z9's performance.

As far as heat goes, we did notice that the phone tends to warm up a bit too quickly, both when dealing with heavy tasks, such as watching video or playing games, and while doing something as simple as browsing our photos. On the flip side, the phone doesn't get hot to a point where it is uncomfortable to hold, even after prolonged use.

Storage-wise, the Nubia Z9 comes with 32 GB of internal space, 6.8 GB of which are taken up by the system, leaving the user with a bit more than 25 GB to work with. Unfortunately, there is no microSD card slot for extra breathing room.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 58382
ZTE Nubia Z9 52320
OnePlus 2 50188
Vellamo Metal
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 2237
ZTE Nubia Z9 1841
OnePlus 2 2258
Vellamo Browser
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 5751
ZTE Nubia Z9 2102
OnePlus 2 3479
Sunspider
Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 354.5
ZTE Nubia Z9 851
OnePlus 2 1236.9
Apple iPhone 6 353.4
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 37
ZTE Nubia Z9 50
OnePlus 2 45
Apple iPhone 6 48.9
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 16
ZTE Nubia Z9 26
OnePlus 2 15
Apple iPhone 6 25.8
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 1767
ZTE Nubia Z9 1228
OnePlus 2 1068
Apple iPhone 6 1239
Geekbench 3 single-core
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 1440
ZTE Nubia Z9 1027
OnePlus 2 876
Apple iPhone 6 1630
Geekbench 3 multi-core
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 5127
ZTE Nubia Z9 3880
OnePlus 2 3673
Apple iPhone 6 2927
View all

Internet and Connectivity


As an Internet-browsing and streaming device, the Nubia Z9 is solid. The stock browser has the Safari-inspired looks, but we found it to be a bit unreliable in performance and slow with tab-switching. Fortunately, Google's Chrome ran without a hitch on the device.

The Z9's screen lends itself great for both text and clips, while the phone's hardware assures that all activities go smoothly. It's LTE-capable, though the current model only covers the following TD-LTE Chinese bands: 3, 1, 7, 39, 40, 41, 38. The phone, of course, supports Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n. The Nubia is of the dual-SIM kind, and its slots accept nano-SIM only.


Camera

Probably the Z9's saving grace

The Nubia Z9 sports a 16 MP Sony Exmor IMX234 sensor with an F2.0 aperture and optical image stabilization for a main camera, and a 8 MP sensor for a selfie snapper. It has its left-most home screen permanently dedicated to all of the camera's different modes, which include time-lapse, light painting, various filters, panorama, slow shutter, et cetera. Disappointingly, there is no slow motion mode to be found.

The camera app is pretty well put together – we especially appreciate that the Pro mode toggle and controls are both easily accessible. Not all is perfect, however, as some software functions are just disappointing. For example, the camera's HDR tames the bright areas and lights up the dark spots, but the effect looks unnatural and forced. Additionally, it amps up the colors by quite a bit and blurs out details – the effect can be seen in samples 2, 6, and 13 in the slideshow below. Many of the different camera modes are simply variations of “Slow shutter” – even the bombastically named “Electronic Aperture” mode seems to only affect the speed of the shutter – samples 8 and 9 show two Electronic Aperture takes, one with the F setting on minimum and the second one with it cranked up to max. See a difference? Neither do we.


All of that aside, in auto mode and pro mode, the camera takes stellar photos and we can say that it's the single saving grace of the otherwise unreliable handset. Colors are accurate and vivid, details are sharp, and the camera is really good at dealing with aggressive lighting sources within a shot – check out pictures 3, 4, and 5, where the sun is clearly blasting into the sensor, yet we get a pretty nice shot none the less. These are all made with the software's Auto shot setup – rest assured that it does a great job, and you will only feel the need to reach for the “Pro mode” if you are looking for a specific effect.



Camera speed

Taking a pic (sec)Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec)Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Apple iPhone 6 1.9
2
619
432
Samsung Galaxy S6 2.2
2.4
No data
No data
OnePlus 2 3.7
4.3
No data
No data
ZTE Nubia Z9 4.2
6.5
No data
No data
View all


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As for video recording – the Nubia Z9 can shoot clips in up to 4K resolution, which could become a space issue, considering the phone lacks a microSD card slot. As far as quality goes – the videos are quite pleasing, showing the same amount of details that we can see in the phone's photos. The Z9 has continuous auto-focus, which is a bit slow to react, but at least does so reliably, without wobbling too much. The exposure, however, does like to fluctuate quite a bit as you move around light sources, and we found it a tad annoying. The clips' sound is pretty full and pleasing, albeit a bit muddied up by a pronounced lower mid-range.

Multimedia

An enjoyable player

The Nubia Z9's crisp display and borderless appearance makes for a good time when watching clips on the go. Its colors may not be entirely too accurate, but they do strike a good balance of being vivid, without actually being too punchy or eye-gouging. In fact, the only issue we had with using the phone as a movie player had to do with its design – the glass back made it hard to prop-up on most surfaces, while the weight made it awkward to use when lying down.

Those of you that are concerned about a phone's loudspeaker audio are in for a treat as well. On its own, the Z9's speaker is pretty flat-sounding and weak. However, the included Dolby Digital Plus app quickly remedies that. You can choose one of 4 audio presets or make your own, and we really suggest the latter. It won't be long before you strike a sound that pleases you. Details do get lost as you boost the bass, but at least the speaker starts sounding respectable – we've definitely heard much worse sounds on other, more famous flagships. On the Z9, watching our favorite TV series without attaching external hardware is easily possible.

Audio output

Headphones output power (Volts)
Higher is better
Apple iPhone 6 1.017
OnePlus 2 0.91
ZTE Nubia Z9 0.57
Samsung Galaxy S6 0.54
Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
Apple iPhone 6 74.5
OnePlus 2 76
ZTE Nubia Z9 75
Samsung Galaxy S6 73.7
View all


ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
Call Quality

It's best if you don't have much to say

The Z9's earpiece is loud and, for the most part, clear. It may be lacking a bit in the high range, but there is barely any muddiness to the sound, and you won't have much trouble understanding the opposite party during a call.

It's microphone, however, is a different story – other callers would often complain of a quiet, muffled sound, sometimes causing losses of entire words, so we'd have to repeat ourselves.

Battery Life

Prepare for the wall-hugging

ZTE Nubia Z9 Review
The handset sports a 2,900 mAh battery – definitely not among the biggest ones right now, but certainly a generous juicer for a 5.2”-screened handset. We had great expectations for the Z9's battery life, especially considering the fact that Nubia didn't go for a Quad HD display. So, imagine our surprise when the handset only made it to 5 hours and 14 minutes on our battery life test.

We took the Nubia out for a ride as a daily driver with medium usage. This includes a 2-hour morning routine (read emails, check web, listen to Google Play Music), then some sporadic use throughout the day (download and test a new app, chat on different messengers), and an evening routine of some more chatting, web-browsing, and listening to Play Music. With such sparse usage, by the 10th hour of off-the-plug time, the Z9 could easily be down to less than 30% of battery left. By the 12th – you will probably be hesitant to turn the screen on, if you are not near an outlet. All in all, it can take a casual user through their day without issue, but power users need look elsewhere.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 7h 14 min (Good)
OnePlus 2 6h 38 min (Average)
Apple iPhone 6 5h 22 min (Poor)
ZTE Nubia Z9 5h 14 min (Poor)
Charging time (minutes)
Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 78
OnePlus 2 150
Apple iPhone 6 147
ZTE Nubia Z9 149
View all

Conclusion


So the Nubia Z9 is an interesting handset, which involves powerful hardware under the hood. But would we suggest one spends $600 on it? In its current state – most certainly not.

While the Nubia Z9 does have the hardware needed for a premium offering, and while the camera has great potential, the software is certainly on the other end of the spectrum. The UI's lack of functionality may have been a byproduct of an attempt to make it look “simple”, but resulted in it looking underdeveloped instead. The bugs are aplenty, as we felt the need to restart the phone at least once per day, because different parts of the software would just go haywire. And, of course, there's the issue of our chat notifications not showing up, which paints “unreliable” all over this handset.

We like what the Nubia team was going for, but without a pretty major update to its UI, we wouldn't dare rely on it as a main phone – its communication is iffy and its battery life just won't last, should an emergency pull us away from an outlet. The Nubia Z9 is a decent attempt to produce a high-level phone, but for $600 – we would pass.

Software version at time of review:
Android version: 5.0.2
nubia UI: V3.0.8
Build number: NX508J_CNCommon_v1.19
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