- Solid metal build
- Stunning bezel-less display
- Good performance
- Good camera
- microSD expansion
- Fingerprint reader
- Weak speaker
- Nubia’s UI feels unpolished
Nubia is still a relatively unknown brand in the Android world, but the Chinese company has been making in-roads into the competitive European and US markets with a slew of fantastic smartphones. Nubia is hoping to continue their rise in popularity with their latest flagship offering, the Nubia Z11, which has recently been released in Europe, with an US launch imminent as well.
Does this high-end smartphone bring enough to the table to stand out from the crowd and can it survive in the increasingly-competitive US market? We find out, in this comprehensive Nubia Z11 review!
The Nubia Z11 may not have the most eye catching or original design, but it’s still a good looking phone that features a solid build quality. The device basically features a rectangular slab design, with a full metal unibody construction that puts its build quality at par with a lot of current generation flagships.
The rounded corners and slight tapers around the back and sides make it more comfortable to hold, but because the metal body doesn’t have any sharp or flat edges to help with the grip, the phone can be a little slippery and difficult to hold onto at times.
If you’ve come across a Nubia smartphone before, you will be familiar with the red accents that the company uses with their devices to make the phone stand out a bit, such as the ring around the camera and the bright red capacitive navigation keys that are found below the display. This particular unit is the standard silver model, but there is also a black and gold dual tone version that is more flashy, and looks really good and more unique.
Taking a look around the device, the volume rocker and power button are on the right side, and are positioned well enough to be comfortably within reach of your thumb. The buttons are also made of metal, with a nice tactile feel to them. On the left is the dual SIM card slot, with the secondary SIM slot also doubling as a microSD card slot, and up top is the headphone jack and IR blaster.
An IR blaster isn’t something that is often seen with smartphones anymore, but does provide a convenient way of controlling your television and other peripherals. Finally, at the bottom is the USB Type-C port which is flanked by what appears to be dual stereo speakers. However, the dual speaker grill design is present just for the sake of symmetry, with only the right side housing a single speaker unit.
The Nubia Z11 comes with a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display, but unlike other competing flagships, the display resolution is 1080p instead of Quad HD, resulting in a pixel density of 403 ppi. The display gets very bright, features very saturated colors and good viewing angles, and provides plenty of sharpness. Doing anything, including reading text, watching videos, and playing games, is enjoyable, so unless you are using this device for VR, you aren’t going to easily notice the difference in resolution.
The Nubia Z11 features an eye catching display, but what makes it really stand out is that there appears to be no bezel on the left and right sides of it, something that Nubia was able to achieve by curving down the sides of the screen.
This design aspect is something you will be familiar with if you’ve used previous Nubia flagships, but it remains impressive to look at, and really makes it feel like you are holding just a screen in your hand. With the side bezels being so thin, the phone also feels a lot more compact when compared to other smartphones that feature 5.5-inch displays.
The curves on the side aren’t as drastic as what you will find with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge or Galaxy Note 7, but that didn’t stop Nubia from adding some software tweaks to take advantage of these slightly curved sides.
You can perform a variety of functions, like adjusting the display brightness by sliding two fingers up and down along the edges of the display, swiping up or down from the edge to switch between apps that are running in the background, swiping repeatedly from the edge to close all recent apps, or holding along the edge and swiping inwards to quickly switch to a specific homescreen.
This feature can be really useful, but is a little awkward to use, with there also being the fact that some of them aren’t that much faster than doing things the traditional way. I also ran into a lot of issues with accidentally triggering these features by just holding the phone. Fortunately, all of them can disabled if you come across the same problems, or don’t find them particularly useful.
Under the hood, the Nubia Z11 packs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB of RAM, which is the standard processing package across the board when considering 2016 flagships. The black and gold version of the device not only looks better, but also comes with 6 GB of RAM and double the on-board storage.
The performance has been perfectly fine with the 4 GB of RAM version of the device. Even with Nubia’s heavy skin, it’s been very fast in day to day use, and handles launching apps, browsing the web, watching videos, and playing graphically-intensive games well. The only exception to the otherwise smooth performance is when it comes to multi-tasking, with the experience feeling very slow and clunky.
There is no dedicated recent apps key, so the way to access it is via a long press of the back button. The recent apps screen itself takes a few seconds to load. The apps are laid out in a horizontal swiping view, allowing you to see only a couple of apps at the same time, and swiping back and forth to switch between apps is a lot slower in comparison to something like the card stack layout of stock Android.
64 GB is the available on-board storage, but as mentioned, the black and gold version with 6 GB of RAM doubles that to 128 GB. Expandable storage via microSD card for an additional 256 GB is an option as well, but since this utilizes the second SIM slot, users will have to make the choice between expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.
There is a single speaker unit that is bottom-firing, which isn’t an ideal placement. However, the speaker itself sounds fine, and doesn’t get distorted or sound tinny at the highest volume. It is on the quieter side though, and can be a little difficult to hear with the volume set at around the 50% mark or lower.
On the back of the phone is a fingerprint sensor, that has worked extremely well. It is fast and accurate, doesn’t require a lot of time to setup, and there have been no problems when using it to unlock the phone. The scanner has been very reliable, and rarely has it misread my fingerprint, which easily puts it at par with some of the best smartphone fingerprint sensors currently available in the market.
The Z11 comes with a 3,000 mAh battery, and while Nubia claims that their battery optimizations will allow up to 2 days of battery life, my experience hasn’t matched that claim. With regular usage that involves social media, surfing the web, and a couple of hours of watching videos or playing games, the device comfortably allows for a full day of use, which is fine, but nowhere near what Nubia claims the battery is capable of.
If battery life is a concern, the device comes with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, allowing you to get back to a full charge in a short amount of time.
When it comes to the camera, the Nubia Z11 may not be packing any fancy dual lens setups that we’ve been seeing with a lot of other smartphones, but you do get some rather interesting features here. Up front is an 8 MP camera, which is definitely more than good enough to take care of all your selfie needs. On the back is a 16 MP shooter, with a f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, and phase detection auto focus.
The camera app is straightforward and easy to use, but it does feel very iOS-like. You can swipe left or right to switch between different camera modes, and there are some built into this camera that make it unique and a lot of fun to use. For example, there is a Clone mode, that will overlap several photos to make it appear as though there are multiples of a person or object in a single shot. It does a good job of stitching these photos together for the most part, but it isn’t always perfect.
Another interesting mode is called Electronic Aperture, that lets you select an aperture from as wide a f/2.8, to as narrow as f/44. Changing the aperture will effectively change the shutter speed from as quick as 0.3 seconds to as long as 72 seconds, with the longer shutter speeds allowing you to capture some silky smooth motion blur with moving objects, while still keeping everything that is stationary in focus.
The Z11 has three types of stabilization built in to allow you to use this feature with just your hands, but in my experience, the results were still much better with a tripod, especially if you are using shutter speeds that are over a minute long.
The general picture quality is actually quite good. The shots taken are pleasantly sharp and detailed, and there’s enough color to make them pleasing to the eye, but without going overboard and looking oversaturated and unnatural. However, it does have the tendency to overexpose and blow out highlights, but this issue can be alleviated by using HDR mode.
What I like most about HDR mode with this camera is that it will automatically take a standard shot and HDR shot in one take, which can ultimately save you a lot of time, and avoid the hassle of switching back and forth between HDR and standard modes.
In low light situations, the camera tends to hunt for focus a lot, which makes the shooting experience feel a lot slower. That said, shots taken in poorly-lit environments still have a relatively good amount of detail. There isn’t a whole lot of grain or noticeable noise reduction to be seen, but there are still problems with properly exposing highlights, which is also seen with day time shots.
On the software side of things, the Nubia Z11 is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with version 4.0 of Nubia’s user interface, which drastically changes the entire Android experience. The interface is cluttered with bright and cartoon-ish icons, there are a lot of transparency effects, and there is also no app drawer.
It is jam packed with a slew of interesting features though. If you long press on the fingerprint scanner, or hold the volume down button and volume rocker, you will get the option to take a long scrollable screenshot, a standard screenshot that you can crop different shapes like hearts or circles out of, or create a recording of the screen.
My favorite feature has to do with how this phone handles split screen multi-tasking. To enter this mode, all you have do is swipe up from the bottom of the display, but instead of giving you a list of applications like you would see with other smartphones that feature split screen multi-tasking, the Nubia Z11 splits the screen into two separate desktops.
It’s a very different approach, but by doing it this way, you are able to use virtually any application you want, with the exception being the camera. That said, just because you can use any app doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. For example, apps like games can open in the split screen view, but these aren’t exactly split screen friendly. However, apps for social media, email, text, and web browsing all work just as you would expect.
|Display||5.5-inch IPS LCD display
1080p resolution, 403 ppi
|Processor||2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Adreno 530 GPU
expandable via microSD up to an additional 256 GB
|Camera||16 MP rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, OIS, PDAF, dual LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
GPS + GLONASS
USB Type-C 1.0
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions||151.8 x 72.3 x 7.5 mm
Pricing and final thoughts
Pricing for the Nubia Z11 in the US is still to be determined, but in Europe, the device is currently priced at €499 (~$560) for the standard version, and €599 (~$673) for the black and gold edition. Hopefully these prices are not an indication of what the eventual cost in the US will be, as these will make the Nubia Z11 a rather expensive smartphone to get your hands on.
There you have it for this in-depth review of the Nubia Z11 ! The big question here is whether this smartphone is worth getting over other current generation flagships. The Z11 is a solid high-end device from Nubia, but it doesn’t necessarily offer a lot of compelling reasons to be considered a better option that its competition. Had it released in the US a lot earlier, it would have garnered a lot more attention, but at this point, there are numerous great options at different price points, and Nubia might be a little late to the party.