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October 10, 2016

Nubia Z11 preview: Edge-to-edge screen, sleek design and custom Android

by John_A

Nubia chose IFA 2016 in Berlin to show off its latest feature-rich smartphone, and to let us know that we’ll be able to get our hands on them in Europe. This sub-£500 phone boasts a specs and features which impress on first read through, but will they translate to a great experience in today’s saturated smartphone world? 

We got our hands on the latest Nubia phone to see if it would cut it against so many other affordable and exciting smartphones. 

Nubia Z11 preview: Design

As far as design goes, there’s only one element that’ll force a step back, and catch your eye. That’s the edge-to-edge screen on the front. Unlike many other devices claiming to offer a screen without borders, this one gets mighty close to being a true edge-to-edge display.

There’s no bezel on either side, just the metal frame on the edges. Because of the slightly curved glass towards the edges, you can barely see the black screen gap, but if you look closely it’s still there. It’s so slim, you’ll more than likely not notice it, at least not from arm’s length. As with so many phones these days, the metal edges are slightly rounded, bead-blasted for a soft finish and polished with angled chamfers to add a reflective border.

Because of this, the phone is noticeably narrower than either the OnePlus 3 and Huawei P9 Plus, despite having the same sized display. That makes it slightly more comfortable to hold in one hand than either of those two.

Rather than go with a full metal case for the back with antenna bands, the manufacturer opted for a metal panel with plastic caps on the top and the bottom. The camera and dual LED camera sit in the top panel, while the round fingerprint sensor sits in the centre of the metal back panel.

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The bottom edge is home to a USB Type-C port and two sets of machined holes, only one of which covers a speaker, the other covers the mic. There’s a 3.5mm jack on the top edge, along with an infrared blaster and noise cancellation mic.

To add at least a hint of individuality to the front panel, the capacitive home button is marked by a simple red ring which lights up when pressed. Likewise, the two capacitive option buttons are invisible until touched, when they’re indicated by single red LEDs. It reminds us slightly of the original LG Chocolate, from years ago.

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Nubia Z11 preview: Hardware

As specifications go, there’s little to separate the Nubia Z11 from flagship devices. A Quad HD resolution display would be nice, but the 1080p IPS LCD panel on the front is plenty sharp enough and has settings options which allow you to adjust colour temperature and saturation to suit your preference.

Apart from that, there’s the 4GB RAM inside paired with Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor and a generous 64GB storage. Of course, that storage is expandable via microSD card, if you opt to use the second slot in the dual SIM tray to shove in a memory card.

As well as those there’s the 3,000mAh battery which should easily get through the day and a Quick Charge 3.0 adapter in the box to ensure it fills up speedily once depleted.

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Nubia Z11 preview: Software

Underneath the custom Nubia UI skin, Android 6.0 Marshmallow powers the phone, but you’d be hard pushed to tell it was Android at all. Like so many other Chinese smartphones with custom software, there’s no app drawer, and there are many non-removable duplicate apps like the calendar, web browser, messaging, calculator and clock apps.

Confusingly, there are even individual app icons to launch a software update check and one for locking the home screen. Perhaps more confusingly, there’s no TV or Quick Remote app to take advantage of the built-in IR blaster on the top edge.

Overall, the skin is quite colourful, although – due to their size and flat design – the app icons don’t quite match up with the regular Android icons.

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Nubia Z11 preview: Camera

When it comes to the camera, it’s not necessarily the 16-megapixel sensor, or 4K video capture we find most appealing. We’ve seen those before, many times. Rather, it’s the built in optical image stabilisation and other stabilisation features.

Nubia speaks about “Hand-Held Electronic Aperture” and HIS “Hand-held image stabilisation”, and claims that it’s so good, you’ll be able to shoot long exposure shots without a tripod. That means you can take sharp, on-point panoramas as well as misty river or waterfall shots, just holding the phone in your hands. How well it performs is yet to be seen, but we’ll be testing it before we publish our full review.

Similar to Huawei’s phones, the camera app also has built in modes for light-painting, and for creating star-tracking images in the night. It also has a number of multiple-exposure options for overlaying images on to each other, or creating “clones”, as well as a “PRO” mode for manually adjusting important settings. 

First Impressions

From a hardware perspective, the Nubia Z11 seems like a decent device on first impressions. It’s not quite as premium, material-wise, as something like the OnePlus 3, but it matches a number of its specifications. With a retail price of around €499 (currently £450), it’s more than £100 dearer than the OnePlus, and its software experience may not please many Android fans, so it’ll be a hard push to get anyone to stump up the cash for this over its competition. 

Still, the bezel-free display is something to behold, and the camera features could be fantastic if they live up to their claims. What’s more, if the battery can really last two days in regular use, this could be one of the most competitive premium mid-rangers on the market

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