Over the last year, there has been somewhat of a boom in terms of mid-range priced devices which sport mid-high range specs. With the likes of Xiaomi, Motorola, Huawei and ZTE all looking to cement their position in the mid-range market, the competition alone is enough to fuel a race to give you more for your money. The ZTE Blade 6 is the latest of the devices from ZTE looking to fill the void. The Blade 6 was unveiled by ZTE this year at CES in January and marked its debut in Asia back in February. At present this is a device designed for the European and Asian markets with no obvious signs of whether it will reach the U.S. However, with a device sporting both Android 5.0 (Lollipop) out of the box and a 64-bit processor inside and all for well under $300, the question is whether it is one worth picking up.
Editor Notes: The unit was used in total for just under two weeks for the purposes of the review. An AT&T SIM card was used but as this is not currently compatible with U.S. LTE bands, LTE connections were never established, noted or experienced
There is little escaping the fact that the ZTE Blade S6 looks rather familiar. If you are not a fan of the iPhone 6 then you won't be of this one. The Blade S6 clearly is designed to look, to be shaped and emulate the design of the iPhone and as such adopts a very similar look. That said, looks are the only main similarity between the two. In terms of the actual hardware, this is most notably where the difference in price between a main flagship device and a mid-range device such as this and the iPhone lies. The Blade S6 does not illicit the same premium feel. In fact, the lack of a premium touch is instantly noticeable when you pick up the device for the first time due to its plastic feel.
This continues throughout the rest of the device. The side paneling is again plastic and as such feels this way when using. Buttons do need to be pushed quite hard to be activated and do not have the push factor hoped for. That said, one aspect which did add to a more pleasant feel was the general curviness of the Blade S6. Edges are a thing of the past and this is evident on this device with a nice smooth curving throughout.
Moving on to the front of the device which is the best aspect of the design. Sporting a 5 inch IPS LCD display, the screen is a decent quality and especially for the price-point. The display is only set at a 1280 x 720p resolution, but that said, the display is excellent. Viewing content on the Blade S6 is great and was consistent across images, video, and gaming. Colors were sharp, vibrant and of a great quality. The front is easily the saving grace of the design aspects of the Blade S6.
In terms of position, the Blade is a right-hand side defined device. All control for the device run down the right-hand side, with volume up, down and the power button together. On the other side of the device is where you will find the SIM card slots. As this is a dual-SIM device, there are two SIM sockets located on the left-hand side. One is designed for 3G Use while the second is for 4G LTE. The SIM trays are both nano-SIM (again, taking from the iPhone). Headphone socket is located on the top of the device while the microUSB socket remains on the button. Last up is the speaker and, unfortunately, this is a rear positioned speaker consisting of a small grilled slot. As this is rear-positioned there was a slight issue with sound being muffled once the device is flush down. That said, the speakers were only of a reasonable quality to begin with. As a result, the decrease in sound when laid flat was not a deal-breaking issue.
In terms of software, there is a couple of things to note straight off of the bat. Firstly, the Blades S6 comes running on Android 5.0 (Lollipop) out of the box. As such, all the trims you would expect from the updated operating system are in play. This includes the goodness that is Material Design, heads up locations and much brighter, bolder and clearing coloring, icons, and animations. The second main thing to note about the software is that this is coming from a Chinese OEM. That means there are aspects in play that you might not see in some of the more commonly encountered manufacturers. For instance and in the tradition of Chinese manufacturers, there is no app drawer with the Blade S6. This means that all the apps are present and accounted for on your main screens. There is no way to effectively hide the apps and only display the ones you are using or wanting. That said, the unit does come pre-installed with all Google Apps and they are already sorted for you into a Google folder out of the box. Again, as this is a Chinese manufacturer, the app icons were much more colorful, vibrant and animated.
Moving on to the performance of the software, there were no major issues with the performance of the device. The Blade S6 was smooth, fast and responded very well. Certainly better than might be expected from an average device in the U.S. within the same price bracket. App opening was also responsive with no major delays noted in opening, closing or general navigation. Bloatware was not a significant issue although there are a number of apps which come pre-installed on this device. Once again, these were local apps and as such will not have much use to those based outside of Asia. Either way deleting them was no major issue.
One interesting addition was the customization possible with the Blade S6. More specifically, how easy it was to change the homescreen, color, apply an image and so on. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen (on any page) launches a built-in customization panel, allowing for almost instant changing of the background. Likewise, from here you can set the wallpaper from the gallery.
Another handy feature included on the Blade S6 is the use of the Mi-POP feature. Activating Mi-POP allows for an even easier one-handed use of the device by added a small on-screen multi-purpose control icon. Once in place, this becomes a movable back button which can be placed to anywhere on the screen and when pressed will always return you to the previous screen. Not to mention, once held down and moved in any direction, opens a four-way menu selection for further on-screen navigation controls.
This was a really neat addition to the software on the Blade 6 and certainly improved the one-handed use of the device. In fact, after activating, it felt much more natural to leave the Mi-POP feature permanently in play.
Battery on the Blade S6 unfortunately, remains an undecided issue. The device does come out of the box with a reasonable 2,400mAh battery. However, due to the lack of U.S. LTE connectivity, the device was almost never used in a natural setting or at least in a heavy usage mode. Instead, the device remained permanently on WiFi. With that in mind, the battery life was a little disappointing. It would be expected that on WiFi the device would last longer than when running on LTE or switching between the two. However, battery life was only mediocre at best. the device never lasted a full 24 hours off of a charge and screen time varied from between 2-4 hours depending on activity.
That said, it does need to be pointed out that as this comes with Lollipop, there is the Android 5.0 battery saving mode available. Again, this was not heavily noted during the review due to the dependence on WiFi and the lack of a real-life setting.
The camera is one of the best aspects of the Blade S6. Hardware wise, the device comes with a 13 megapixel camera (4128 x 3096 pixels). The quality of the images was certainly much better than expected and when considering the cost of the device, will be one of the key selling points. There were no obvious or overwhelming issues with the quality of the images taken. Although, admittedly, the low-light use of the device was quite limited and this is where the camera on the Blade S6 suffered. That said, for a device coming in at the $250 marker with a 13 megapixel camera, you could do a lot worse. Software wise, the Blades S6 largely comes in two modes, Simple and Advanced. Its best to think of these as 'do for you' and 'do it yourself'. Although, the expert mode does offer a lot of tweaks and settings, the Simple mode did prove to be more than adequate for most needs.
You can check out some of the images taken with the Blade S6 below.
At the end of the day...
This is a fun device. Running lollipop out of the box and taking advantage of 64-bit processing means this is a snappy little number. Not to mention, the employment of the software, its features, a 5MP selfie camera, all result in a great little device. Of course, the lack of LTE in the U.S. does kinda rule this out as an obvious U.S. choice. However, for Europe and Asia and when factoring in the low $249.99 price tag, this does become a device worth checking out. We picked ours up from Gearbest and they are currently offering our readers $30 off the full price by using promo code "ZTES6". Which means you can pick it up for $220. For that kind of money, the Blade S6 is certainly worth considering.