48 Hours with Cyanogen OS on the ZUK Z1

October 10, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Last month, a brand new smartphone manufacturer out of China, ZUK, announced their very first smartphone in the Z1. In China, it is selling with their own UI, known as ZUI. However, the international model will be running Cyanogen OS. We’ve already reviewed the ZUK Z1, and we were quite impressed with it, especially with the massive 4100mAh battery inside. Now it’s time to take a look at the ZUK Z1 with Cyanogen OS installed. We’ve been running Cyanogen on the ZUK Z1 for about 48 hours, as the title states, so it’s time to give everyone some thoughts on Cyanogen on the ZUK Z1, especially with how it compares to ZUI on the ZUK Z1.

We’ll start off with the hardware, which is a bit different. The biggest difference you’ll find is the two dots on either side of the home button. Those were not enabled on ZUI, but are here on Cyanogen to give us the ability to use them for recents and back keys. You can also decide to use the on-screen navigation buttons. But with this only being a 5.5-inch display, many of us will want as much screen real-estate  as possible. The other difference in the hardware, isn’t really a difference. The fingerprint reader is still compatible with Cyanogen OS, and it’s still lightning fast. As you’ll see in the video at the bottom of this post, press the home button and it’s unlocked almost instantly. One of my favorite features of the ZUK Z1, to be honest. Unfortunately it can only be used for unlocking the phone, the fingerprint reader cannot be used for apps like PayPal or LastPass, like Samsung’s fingerprint readers can be.

Now let’s talk software, after all that’s the big difference here. We’re looking at Cyanogen OS 12.1 which is based off of Android 5.1.1. Now compared to Stock Android there are quite a few differences, but most of them are subtle changes and ones that I really like. The app drawer now scrolls vertically like the Google Now Launcher does now. They are sorted in alphabetical order, and you can skip to a certain letter from the bottom of the screen. So if you are looking for Todoist, you can tap on the “T” at the bottom, and then you’re there with Todoist, Twitter, and the other apps that start with a T. There’s not a whole lot of options here for the launcher, unfortunately. However, this is Android, so you can easily install a third-party launcher like Nova Launcher.

Cyanogen also has the AudioFX equalizer here on the ZUK Z1. This is a system-wide EQ which allows you to get some great performance out of the speaker that’s at the bottom of the ZUK Z1. Now, unfortunately, the sound isn’t working on the ZUK Z1 with the build that we have here. We have reported the bug to Cyanogen and ZUK, so hopefully the next build will have it fixed. And we’ll be sure to update this as soon as that happens.

In the Quick Settings panel there are a few changes compared to vanilla Android 5.1 Lollipop. That includes a shortcut to AudioFX which we talked about above, and a toggle for the display. So you can toggle the brightness for indoor, night, or outdoors. So when you’re outdoors, the phone will light the display up much brighter. It’s a really nice trick that Cyanogen has thrown in here, making the screen much more visible when outdoors, especially in direct sunlight. At the top, across from the time and date, you’ll see the weather as well as the city you’re currently in. It’s subtle but still pretty useful. Unlike in other versions of Cyanogen, and CyanogenMod, the Quick Settings are not customizable this time around, unfortunately.

Themes have always been a big feature of Cyanogen, and pre-installed on the ZUK Z1, we have a ZUK theme as well as the system default theme. I personally, like the default system theme on the Z1, looks more like stock Android. Of course, you can download more from the theme store, if you really want something else. You can also theme the apps on the ZUK Z1.

So how does the battery life change compared to the ZUI? Battery life is still really, really good. Getting around 5+ hours on screen time during our short time using the ZUK Z1. The device is now available throughout Europe for $299, so you can grab it with Cyanogen 12 right now! Definitely a great buy.