- Gorgeous design
- Strong optics
- Long battery life
- Usability issues
Nubia Z11 review: The first mobile from Chinese firm Nubia to hit the UK is the very cool Z11 smartphone. On paper, this funky and feature-packed handset sounds identical to the excellent OnePlus 3, one of the best Android blowers of 2016. But is the Z11 as strong, and can it set itself apart from rival phones?
Nubia is still a baby compared with mobile giants such as Samsung and Sony, popping into existence just four short years ago. However, this intriguing Chinese manufacturer has already pumped out a fair few handsets and now it’s finally hitting the UK, with the rather cool Nubia Z11.
Rocking a 5.5-inch Full HD screen, Snapdragon 820 processor and 16-megapixel camera, the Nubia Z11 sounds suspiciously similar to the rather lovely OnePlus 3. However, Nubia has packed in plenty of style and unique features to help this mobile stand out from the crowd.
Is the Nubia Z11 worth your time and is it better than the OnePlus 3? Here’s our full in-depth review.
Nubia Z11 review: Design
One of the best bits of the Nubia Z11 is undoubtedly its gorgeous chassis. That 5.5-inch display stretches edge-to-edge, with no bezels to bulk the phone up, so it’s surprisingly comfortable to clutch. You’ll likely still struggle to use the phone without two hands of course, and it’s a shame that there’s no one-handed mode – something we liked on the Huawei P9 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, to name just two.
That said, you can at least drag your thumb down your desktops to pull down the notifications tab, without having to reach up to the very top of the display. It’s some small form of compensation and just one of the Nubia Z11’s many cool supported gestures.
Beneath the mighty screen you get some stylish touch buttons, which glow whenever the phone’s in use, or to alert you to waiting notifications. They look undeniably cool and you can even switch the back and menu buttons around, depending on your personal preference.
The phone’s sleek metallic edges are pleasingly curved, to help the Z11 fit neatly in your palm. On the left edge you get a SIM and memory card drawer, while the power and volume buttons reside on the right. Up top you get the headphone jack and an infrared blaster. And on the bottom edge, there are two built-in speakers either side of the Type-C USB port.
Flip the Nubia Z11 over and you’ll see the metal surfacing continues across the back, and it seems to be reassuringly resistant to scratches and scuffs. There’s a fingerprint sensor mounted in the middle, while the rear camera lens sits flush with the rear of the phone. No annoying jutting bits in sight.
Nubia Z11 review: Screen and media
Media fans should really enjoy the spacious 5.5-inch display that fills the Z11’s front panel. It’s a Full HD screen, so you’ll struggle to make out individual pixels, while colours are impressively rich and vibrant.
You can also tinker with the display warmth in the settings. That’s particularly handy at night, where you can boost up the warmth for an easy-on-the-eye experience. Visibility isn’t a problem either. On maximum brightness, the Z11’s display can counter the very worst glare, while viewing angles are also strong. You’ll have no trouble watching a movie with your BFF on the go.
Dolby Atmos audio is supported for a sensory aural experience, as long as you plug in some decent headphones. And if you want to rely on the built-in speaker, it’s not too shabby. On top volume it’s certainly powerful, easily cutting through the background clamour of a busy street. Just don’t expect crisp sound reproduction.
Nubia Z11 review: Features
That edge-to-edge screen doesn’t just look fantastic; Nubia has added in some cool ‘Edge Gestures’ too, which provides a different way to jump between apps and perform basic operations like altering the screen brightness.
For instance, tap the very edge of the Z11’s display and the icons for your two most recently-used apps will appear on-screen. You can then drag your finger towards one of them to switch, complete with a funky page-turning effect. You can also swipe repeatedly to clear all apps from memory.
The Edge Gestures aren’t always recognised first time but on the whole work well. You can also individually activate and deactivate them in the settings menu, turning the lot of them off if you so desire. This is good news, as we found our palms often accidentally strayed onto the edges by accident when clutching the Z11, which called up the app selection when it wasn’t wanted.
Dual Instance is another cool and original feature, which creates a second copy of select apps and allows you to login with two different accounts, one on each. This is handy for those irritating apps where you can’t have two different profiles on the go at one time.
Screen recording is also pleasingly simple. Just hold down the power button and a volume key and you’ll have the option of taking a screenshot (with or without the help of shaped templates), or filming a video. You can also jump into this feature by tapping the fingerprint sensor when the phone is already unlocked, but we deactivated this almost immediately as it’s far too easy to accidentally activate.
On the back end of the Z11 you get a fingerprint sensor too, something found in the majority of modern smartphones. It’s only a tiny fraction slower than the OnePlus 3’s excellent scanner and just as accurate, rarely throwing up a ‘please try again’ message.
And unlike the OnePlus 3, you can expand the on-board memory with a microSD card.
Nubia Z11 review: Performance and battery life
A Snapdragon 820 is packed inside the Z11, along with 4GB of RAM in the silver/grey model and 6GB in the black/gold version. That means you’ll get smooth everyday use and have no trouble blasting through the latest Android games.
In fact, you can even open a very cool multi-view mode which splits the screen into two and gives you two different versions of your desktop. You can open pretty much any app in each half and adjust the size of each section to suit your needs. We used this feature a lot to run two apps at the same time, with pretty much no drop in performance.
Battery life is just as strong as the OnePlus 3’s. Our Z11 happily survived for a full 36 hours between charges, even with plenty of use. And while it doesn’t charge quite as quickly as the OnePlus 3 (which boasts the excellent Dash Charge tech), Nubia’s handset still powers up as quickly as most rivals.
Nubia Z11 review: Cameras
One area where the Nubia Z11 definitely improves on the OnePlus 3 is its excellent camera tech.
That 16-megapixel camera can shoot detailed, perfectly sharp photos even when faced with tricky contrast and annoying lighting conditions. Simply flick to HDR mode and you can capture a monument framed by a super-bright sky, for instance. Moving subjects tend to be shot with minimal blur, particularly handy when trying to snap your kids or pets.
The only area where the Z11 falls down is low light shots. There’s a flash to compensate, but photos taken in bars, clubs and other dingy environments tend to pale in comparison to the Galaxy S7’s shots.
You can shoot video in 4K UHD or Full HD at 30 or 60 frames per second. Image stabilisation could be better, but it’s only really an issue if you’re moving fast while shooting. The focus occasionally ‘pops’ too, as the lens tries to keep track of a moving subject. But on the whole, results are perfectly fine for home movies.
You can also record slow-mo or time-lapse video, if you’re looking for more arty results.
Nubia Z11 review: Verdict
The Nubia Z11 is a great handset with no real flaws. Design is sleek and sexy, the 5.5-inch screen is truly beautiful and there’s enough power packed in to run two apps side-by-side. Battery life is just as good and the cameras are dependable in almost any conditions.
Of course, the Z11 is a bit more expensive than the OnePlus 3, which is almost as great in every way. Only the OnePlus’ camera tech let us down, so if you’re after a really strong set of optics, check out the Nubia Z11 instead.