Review: Nubia Z11 Android Smartphone

Nubia is a relatively new brand coming out of China. Currently their smartphones are only sold in China, but it's only a matter of time before they are sold in more countries and regions. What really makes their smartphones stand out is the red accents that are used around things like the camera and the red circle that is the home button. Both are present on the Nubia Z11, and it definitely looks amazing. With the Nubia Z11 being such a stunning device, with high-end specs, and only costing around $375 (2499 Yuan in China), did Nubia cut any corners? Is the Nubia Z11 really worth picking up? Let's find out in our full review.

Specs

Spec-wise, the Nubia Z11 is a pretty beefy smartphone. It's sporting a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD display. This gives you a PPI of 403, and is protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass 3. Running the show is Qualcomm's MSM8996 (that's the Snapdragon 820 for those that aren't aware). That is paired with Qualcomm's Adreno 530 GPU along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The Nubia Z11 is also being sold with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, however the model that we have is the cheaper 4GB/64GB.

The rear-facing camera on the Nubia Z11 is a 16-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/2.0. It also sports phase-detection auto-focus and OIS. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel sensor with a f/1.4 aperture. Additionally, both can record video at 1080p, unfortunately there's no 4K support on the rear-facing sensor.

As far as connectivity goes, we're looking at WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, with WiFi Direct, Bluetooth 4.1, A2DP and Bluetooth Low Energy. For location tracking, there's A-GPS and GLONASS included. The Nubia Z11 uses a USB Type-C connector for charging and file transfer and is powered by a 3000mAh battery that is non-removable. Bands supported by the Nubia Z11 include:

GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

CDMA 800

HSDPA 850, 900, 1900, 2100

LTE bands 1, 3, 7, 38, 39, 40, 41

In the Box

Unboxing the Nubia Z11 is actually a pretty pleasant experience. The box isn't your typical cardboard or plastic box, it's got a soft-touch feel. It actually feels a whole lot like the Nexus 5 did a few years ago. It's black with red accents, which has been Nubia's entire branding since they launched. As soon as you open the box, you'll find the Nubia Z11 sitting right there on top. Below that is the warranty card as well as your SIM ejection tool - since the SIM card slot is on the left side of the device, and there is no removable back here. In the bottom of the box, you'll find a USB Type-A to Type-C cable, wall adapter as well as a micro USB to USB Type-C adapter, and a nice pair of headphones included. It's always a bit surprising to see headphones in the box with any smartphone these days.

Hardware

The hardware on the Nubia Z11 isn't really anything special. It's an aluminum unibody with a near bezel-less display on the front. It actually feels quite small in the hand, considering it is a 5.5-inch device. The sides of the Z11 are curved just a little bit, but it's enough to make the device feel even more comfortable in your hand than something that has flat sides. There are a few antenna lines on the top and bottom of the Nubia Z11, which to be honest, you probably won't even notice.

Around the back of the Nubia Z11, there is the 16-megapixel camera in the upper left-hand corner. This has a dual-tone flash to the left of it and the camera has a red ring around it. Which is a bit subtle, but really stands out. That's something that you'll notice a lot here with the Nubia Z11. Just below the camera, is the fingerprint sensor. This is pretty much the perfect spot for the fingerprint sensor, it's not too high, nor too low on the back. At the bottom of the device, there is the Nubia logo. Now with this being a metal unibody smartphone, it does tend to scratch up quite a bit. There have been a few scratches on our review unit here, which has been unfortunate. And it makes us wonder how bad things could get if we used this as our daily driver for a longer period of time.

Nubia has placed the volume rocker and power button on the right-hand side of the device. They aren't way up at the top of the device either, making it easier to use them with one hand. The bottom houses the speaker, USB Type-C connector and microphone. While the top has the 3.5mm headphone jack and the left side houses the SIM card slot. The front of the device is where things start to look pretty interesting. The first thing you'll likely notice is the red circle below the screen. That is your home button. Nubia has two other buttons on either side of the home button, which are also capacitive, and are just simply dots. Allowing you to customize them to do whatever you want, within reason. The display is a 5.5-inch display with 108op resolution.

Performance

Running the show here is the Snapdragon 820 from Qualcomm, along with 4GB of RAM. By this point, we pretty much know what to expect from a smartphone with these internals. As they are the same as what the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10, LG G5 and the Galaxy Note 7 all feature. All of which have amazing performance, but do have a few issues. The Snapdragon 820 inside the Nubia Z11 seems to run a bit cooler than these other smartphones. Now that could be due to a number of factors, but the temperatures do stay a bit cooler. With 4GB of RAM in tow, the Nubia Z11 has plenty of room for keeping your apps open, and unlike other flagships, it's not aggressive in closing your apps that you aren't using often that are running in the background.

When it comes to gameplay, the Nubia Z11 is no joke. It's using the Adreno 530 GPU, which is Qualcomm's latest and greatest GPU, and the Adreno GPU's are said to be the best in the mobile world. So whether you are playing a graphic intensive game like Riptide GP: Renegade or something a bit lower-quality like Subway Surfers, you'll have a great time either way.

Display

In this day and age, most smartphones that are considered "flagships" sport a QHD or 2560x1440 resolution. Typically those that don't, are mocked for having just a 1080p display. For the most part, users won't be able to tell the difference. That is unless they opt to use their device for virtual reality with Google Cardboard or the upcoming Daydream platform that Google is launching soon. The panel that Nubia opted to use here with the Z11 is an IPS display, allowing for the panel to get pretty bright when needed, but it does get pretty dim. Not as dim as a number of the AMOLED panels that are available out there, but it should be decent enough for most people.

Not everyone's eyes or tastes are the same. Some may like a warmer temperature display, some may want it cooler. Luckily, Nubia has added that setting into the Z11. You can choose between Glow, Natural or Standard and then adjust the hue from cool to warm. During the review, we mostly kept it to "Natural", as it gave us a pretty natural looking display, closer to the actual colors that you would see with your own eyes with out an IPS display here.

Now this display is not QHD, but no you cannot see the individual pixels. Remember that this is a 5.5-inch display, and even with a 1080p panel you are still getting about 403 pixels per inch. Which is pretty dense, even in today's world. The panel here isn't the best, but I will say it's likely one of the best IPS panels I've used in quite some time. It almost made me think it was an AMOLED panel, because the blacks were just that dark.

Speakers & Sound

Sure having a bottom-firing speaker isn't the best idea on a smartphone these days, but Nubia makes it work. The Nubia Z11's speakers are pretty impressive, given that this phone is under $400 in China. It does get really loud, which is always nice, even without cupping your hand around the speaker at the bottom of the device. The lows are nice and bassy with the mids and highs being crystal clear, even with the sound turned all the way up. There's no distortion whatsoever with the speakers on the Nubia Z11.

The included headphones with the Nubia Z11 are pretty decent as well. They aren't as comfortable as a pair you'd get from Bose, Sennheiser, Beats or another company like that, but they do provide some amazing sound, especially for being a pair that is included in the box. There's no HiFi audio here, so audiophiles won't be a fan of that, but it's still quite decent.

Phone Calls & Network

Keep in mind here that the Nubia Z11 was announced in China and is currently only being sold in China. The company has not yet made any announcements about bringing it outside of the country, therefore this device is not equipped to run well on US wireless networks. As is typically the case with smartphones sold only in China, the Nubia Z11 does get 2G and some 3G bands here in the US, on T-Mobile and AT&T. We used the device on T-Mobile for about a week, and our results were about what you'd expect. There is no HD Voice or VoLTE features here (unless you are using Google Voice, then you have VoIP on any phone on any network), otherwise making phone calls netted zero issues. Users on the other end said that we sounded just fine.

When it comes to data speeds, remember there's only 2G and just one band of 3G (which is actually HSPA+ on T-Mobile), so depending on your area you may get 3G or you may be stuck with 2G. Our speeds were about the same as with other smartphones. On WiFi, the speed tests showed the same speeds we get with other smartphones as well. Showing that there is indeed, no issues with the modem inside the Nubia Z11.

Fingerprint Scanner

By this point, any fingerprint scanner that doesn't recognize your finger quickly and accurately is dead in the water. Thankfully, Nubia's fingerprint scanner here on the Nubia Z11 works fairly well. It unlocks quickly, although maybe not as quickly as the Honor 8 does, but that is probably the fastest fingerprint scanner available right now. We had no trouble with the fingerprint scanner actually scanning our finger and unlocking. It was accurate about 99% of the time.

Nubia has actually added a few features to the fingerprint scanner here, all of which can be access by going into settings then tapping on Fingerprint Identification. In addition to waking up the device and unlocking it, you can also long-press the fingerprint key to take a picture while using the camera. This here is a pretty interesting feature to be honest. It's not something I used that much, other than to see how useful it really was. You can also press and hold the fingerprint button to enable "Super Screenshot". What a Super Screenshot is basically a screenshot, but with a whole lot of extra features. So you can choose to do a "long screenshot" which is basically a scrolling screenshot, as well as a screen recording. The regular or "free screenshot" does have a few shapes you can use. Like a rectangle, circle, heart-shaped or funny. Finally there's app lock. Allowing you to lock the contents of an app, and it can only be unlocked with your fingerprint. Useful for those times you give your phone to someone to use.

Benchmarks

With the Nubia Z11, we ran AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4 on the device. You can see all of the results below. For a smartphone running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 with 4GB of RAM, it definitely did fairly well, and about what we expected it to do.

Battery Life

Inside there is a 3000mAh battery. On paper, it looks like the 3000mAh battery would perform pretty well, especially with a lower-resolution display, and it does. However, it's a bit tough to show what screen-on time is like with the Nubia Z11 since the device does not show battery stats - other than the graph shown above - in the settings. Leaving us in the dark as to how good the battery really is. Luckily we do have the PC Mark benchmark results below, which will give you a better picture of battery life on the Nubia Z11.

With the Nubia Z11 sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor inside, you'd expect it to feature Quick Charge 3.0, and it sure does. We didn't use the included charger (since it's a EU plug and we are in the US), but we used it with a few Quick Charge 3.0 chargers that we had laying around, and it does still charge fairly fast. We're looking at about an hour from around 10% to 100%. That's pretty similar to what we experience with the LG G5, which has a slightly smaller battery, rated at 2800mAh. This means you'll be able to quickly top off your smartphone before heading out for the evening. Especially useful with smartphones that don't have spectacular battery life.

Software

The software here on the Nubia Z11 is Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Nubia UI v4.0 on top. So it's definitely not stock Android, it's pretty far from it. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Manufacturer skins like the Nubia UI really add quite a few features to the OS, and make it a bit more pretty to some. Nubia has added a ton of features here in Nubia UI v4.0. Some of my favorites have to do with the edge of the display. So if you hold the edge and swipe inward, you can go to your home screen, but also choose which home screen you go to. Now if you want to go back to your last used app, just swipe down on the edge from the top and it'll basically peel away the current app to take you back to the last one. Now if you swipe repeatedly from the bottom of the screen, it will "accelerate" your smartphone. What this means is that it will basically clear out all of the apps and clear up some RAM for you. Finally, there's a double click for the edge, which will just take you back. All of these features can be turned on and off individually.

When it comes to the notification panel here, things are pretty familiar. It's not stock Android, but it works pretty much the same as stock Android. You have three rows of four toggles at the top of the notification panel. These include WIFi, Bluetooth, Data, GPS, Hotspot, Airplane, Vibrate, Ringer, Rotation, Supersnap, Do not Disturb and Flashlight. These can be rearranged, but these are the twelve toggles that you are stuck with here. There is a brightness slider located below the toggles as well, allowing you to quickly adjust the brightness when needed. You also have options to show the notification icon in the status bar, which is a good idea to keep enabled, otherwise you may not know you have notifications waiting. You can also have the current data speed appear in the status bar.

The software on the Nubia Z11 isn't all that bad actually. You always hear about how bad the skins are on Chinese smartphones, but really the only gripe we had about the Nubia UI was the lack of an app drawer, which is a pretty easy fix. There are plenty of third-party launchers in the Play Store which you can use on the Nubia Z11 and get an app drawer back in place if needed. As with any smartphone these days, the most important aspect with software is whether updates will come. That's a tough question to answer seeing as the phone just launched. And it is running a fairly recent security patch in the June 1, 2016 patch. Not the most recent, in fact it's about to be three months old, but it is still more recent than many of the other smartphones that have launched recently. Hopefully Nubia will keep users updated, even though there's no word on when Android 7.0 Nougat will come to the Nubia Z11.

Camera

With the 16-megapixel camera on the back, the Nubia Z11 should be able to compete with the best of them, and for the most part it can. Unfortunately, since the megapixels aren't larger, like what you get on the Galaxy S7, Nexus 6P and a few others, it's not as great in low-light. But otherwise, you should have zero issues with this camera. It even sports a slew of modes. Including Panorama, Slow-Mo, Video, Photo, Pro, Time-Lapse and Camera-Family. Inside Camera-Family, there are a slew of other modes hidden away. Including things like Multi Exposure, Light Painting, Electronic Aperture, Slow Shutter, Star Track, Video Maker, Trajectory, DNG and Clone.

Slow Shutter is perhaps my favorite mode, and one you don't see on a lot of other smartphones, surprisingly. It allows you to take pictures of things that are moving quickly, without them becoming blurry. In the gallery below, there are a couple of pictures taken using the slow shutter of cars traveling down the street (these are going around 45-60MPH) and they aren't blurry at all. Which is pretty amazing, to be honest. In professional mode, you have access to changing all of the necessary settings. This includes things like exposure, white balance and ISO. So you can get the perfect shot.

The camera has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well. You can turn on Snapshot in settings. What this does is it allows you to double click the volume key to capture pictures with the screen being off. It means you won't be able to frame the picture, but you can get the picture quickly, before the moment is gone. Additionally, you can tap anywhere in the viewfinder for the camera to focus, and as soon as it focuses in on that point, it will snap the picture. It's all done pretty fast

Pictures taken with this camera come out looking pretty decent, even in not-so-great lighting. When outdoors in direct sunlight, areas of the picture aren't blown out either, like they are on some other smartphones, unfortunately. They don't come out as saturated as many Samsung smartphones, but still appear pretty decent. Many users won't have any issues with this camera, especially if all they are doing is posting onto social media.

The Good

Build Quality: While it does seem a bit boring, you can't deny that this feels and looks like a solid smartphone.

Display: For a 1080p IPS display, this panel is pretty stunning. Adding in the ability to change the temperature of the display is a good thing too.

Quick Charge 3.0: Great to see yet another smartphone with Quick Charge 3.0 included, meaning it can charge from empty to full in just over an hour.

Camera: This camera is jam packed with features. Something you don't always see these days, but it's definitely welcome.

Nubia UI: Probably one of the best interfaces I've used in quite some time, and that's despite not having an app drawer.

The Bad

Availability: This is always an issue with smartphones out of China, but unfortunately the Nubia Z11 won't be available outside of China, which is very unfortunate.

Battery Life: It appears to be decent, but it is pretty tough to gauge how good it is when the proper stats aren't available.

Nubia UI: For anyone who loves stock Android, you won't like Nubia UI. But it's a double-edged sword, because it is a great UI once you get used to it.

Wrap Up

The Nubia Z11 is their current flagship smartphone, and it really does feel like one. Although it's a bit weird to call this a flagship without a QHD display on board. There's a lot to like about the Nubia Z11, including its camera and interface. It may not be the perfect phone for everyone, but at its price point, it will definitely stand out. Even though OnePlus does deliver more RAM for just a few bucks more.

Should you buy the Nubia Z11?

This depends on a few things. Number one, check the bands to be sure that the Nubia Z11 will work in the country you are in. If it only gets 2G and some 3G bands like here in the US, it's not worth the slow speeds you'll be getting. But if you live in the Middle East or Europe, you should be okay on that front. In that case, it is definitely worth picking up. The Nubia Z11 is a great phone, at a great price. It's hard to find something that we didn't like about the Nubia Z11 that couldn't be fixed with other apps.

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