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Until very recently, the norm in the Android world was that there was a very clear distinction in every aspect between the high-end, mid-range, and the entry-level, be it with regards to build quality, specifications, features, and sometimes even the version of the Android OS the device would be running. While the big names in Android fought hard in the high-end arena, smaller companies had the opportunity to make a name for themselves in the affordable smartphone segment.
This may be the status quo no longer, particularly in 2015, but there are still some good devices on offer from some lesser known brands. One such company is Hong Kong based NUU Mobile, with the company bringing an affordable, 4G LTE-enabled device intended for the US market. Does this smartphone manage to stand out in the ever-growing crowd? We find out, in this full review of the NUU Mobile Z8!
As far as the design language is concerned, the NUU Mobile Z8 doesn’t stray too far from the standard, offering a familiar look and feel, albeit without an obvious inspiration. The glossy plastic rear cover comes with a faux metallic finish, that helps keep it resistant to fingerprints, and its tapered edges allows for the device to fit snugly in the hand. The back cover is a little difficult to remove though, which is a slight concern, given that you have to to access the microSD card slot, dual SIM card slots, and the replaceable battery. With a thickness of 9.4 mm and weighing 146 grams, the device does feel solid in the hand as well.
Looking around the device, the volume rocker and the power button are on the left and right sides respectively, and the buttons do offer a solid tactile feel when pressed. Considering the larger overall footprint of the device though, a slightly lower placement of the power button would have made for a better handling experience. The capacitive navigation keys are found below the display, and depending on which device you are switching from, the placement of the Recent Apps key on the left and back button on the right can take some getting used to. The headphone jack is up top, and the microUSB port can be found along the bottom of the right side.
An unique design aspect with the Z8 is the inclusion of a notification light integrated into the chin of the device, similar to what was seen with the OPPO Find 7, but in a slightly different implementation. There’s no denying that the breathing effect that this non-traditional notification light allows for looks great, and is a great addition to an otherwise uninspired design.
The NUU Mobile Z8 features a 5.5-inch gapless IPS LCD display, with a 1080p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 401 ppi. Quad HD may be all the rage nowadays, but Full HD certainly more than gets the job done, especially when considering the mid-range nature of this device. The display performs very well, with excellent color reproduction and great viewing angles. The maximum brightness is still relatively dim though, which does negatively affect outdoor visibility.
This particular review unit arrived with an LCD bright spot out of the box, and while NUU Mobile confirmed that you will be able to pick up a replacement under their standard 2-year warranty, it does raise some concerns. Further, this screen is quite the fingerprint magnet, which can be annoying to some users. A tempered glass screen protector will be available in a few weeks for the Z8 however, which will hopefully make this less of an issue.
Under the hood, the NUU Mobile Z8 packs an octa-core, 64-bit MediaTek MT6752 processor, clocked at 1.7 GHz, and backed by the Mali-T760 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. This processing package proved to be a solid and reliable performer, and handled day to day activities with relative ease. 2 GB of RAM allows for some comfortable multi-tasking, and the device also handled gaming very well.
The overall experience felt just as fast as the Asus Zenfone 2, with its arguably superior processing package, and this similarity is reflected in the benchmark scores as well. Of course, some of the credit for this smooth performance has to be given to the stock Android software, which does allow for a very fluid and stutter-free experience.
The NUU Mobile Z8 comes with 16 GB or 32 GB built-in storage options, with the latter available now, and the former being released early next month. Both versions come with support for expandable storage, via microSD card, by up to 64 GB. The device also comes with a standard suite of connectivity options, including MediaTek’s take on NFC, which is the HotKnot data exchange feature, which is limited to just smartphones and tablets featuring MediaTek processing packages. There were some noticeable connectivity issues however, with the Wi-Fi not very strong, leading to a lot of dropped connections, along with the GPS failing to find a lock indoors, and requiring some time when outdoors. Once connected, there were fortunately no issues after that.
The device does come with full HSPA+ support on the AT&T and T-Mobile network, and while the dual SIM phone does allow for 4G LTE connectivity, it might be difficult to get because of some particular LTE bands not supported. That should change soon though, as NUU Mobile did mention working closely with the network carriers to add these bands, and should be activated soon, which users will receive via an OTA update.
As far as the rear speaker is concerned, the single speaker on the Z8 does get plenty loud, but can sound a bit distorted, which is disappointing. As is the case with any rear speaker setup as well, it is easy to muffle the sound when the device is placed on a flat surface.
On the battery front, the NUU Mobile Z8 packs a removable 2,650 mAh battery, that unfortunately didn’t provide the best in terms of battery life. In my initial testing, the device lasted for just 7.5 hours with a screen-on time of 2.5 hours, which is below average by any standard. A software update that followed did result in a slight improvement, with the total time being pushed close to 10 hours, with the screen-on time jumping to 3.5 hours. As such, even average smartphone users will have a difficult time getting a full day of use comfortably out of this device. NUU Mobile did mention that they will continue to improve in this area with future updates, and for now, you do have the option to carry around a spare.
The NUU Mobile Z8 comes with a 13 MP rear camera which did allow for some nice looking shots. Autofocus can be a little slow, but capturing the shot after that is fairly quick. There can be a lack of saturation in some images, especially when compared to other similar camera setups, like the Asus Zenfone 2, which actually does tend to oversaturate pictures. Some exposure issues came up as well, where tapping on a light object drops the exposure significantly, and vice versa.
All of the images, however, were very sharp and not lacking in detail. Understandably, the camera does struggle in low light conditions, even when the flash is on. Once again, NUU Mobile confirmed that they will try their best to improve image processing that will be made available to users in future firmware updates. As far as the camera application is concerned, it is the standard open source MediaTek app, and doesn’t really pack a whole lot, apart from a few modes, as well as some granular control over aspects like white balance and ISO.
On the software side of things, the NUU Mobile Z8 runs a near-stock iteration of Android 5.0 Lollipop, which provides an excellent software experience. Some additions over stock Android include a few gestures, as well as a Clear All Apps button in the multi-tasking screen, which is certainly a very useful addition. The launcher is very similar to the Google Now launcher, except without featuring Google Now, and the Google keyboard is also the default out of the box. What is particularly refreshing is the fact that there is absolutely no bloatware to be found anywhere.
Some of the gestures added include double tap to wake, drawing an “o” to launch the camera, shaking the device to turn the flashlight on, flip to mute, and wave to mute. All these gestures work very well, but the one to activate the flashlight is limited to only the lockscreen. This functionality will also be improved upon in future updates. Speaking of updates, NUU Mobile promises that this device will receive an official update to Android 5.1 Lollipop, but there is some uncertainty with it going beyond that.
|Display||5.5-inch IPS LGCD display|
1080p, 401 ppi
1.7 GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6752 processor
expandable via microSD up to 64 GB
Android 5.0 Lollipop
13 MP rear camera with LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera with wide angle lens
152.9 x 76.5 x 9.4 mm
Pricing and final thoughts
The NUU Mobile Z8 is available officially through the company website, as well as via various re-sellers like Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and HSN. The 16 GB variant, when released, will be priced at $249, and the 32 GB version is currently available for $299, with the included color options being white and black.
So there you have it for this closer look at the NUU Mobile Z8! The device is certainly a solid offering in the affordable smartphone space, from a company that is relatively new to the US market. There are some positives here, like the excellent display, smooth performance, and fluid software experience. Of course, there are notable drawbacks as well, with its connectivity issues, distorted audio, and poor battery life. There is a lot that can be resolved with future updates, but for now, the Z8 does feel like a work in progress, and given the intense competition in this space, with other fantastic, but similarly-priced, smartphones, this phone is difficult to recommend, at least for now.