Running a few benchmark tests, the Z1 scored 2,275 on GeekBench 3’s multi-core test — around the same as the LG G3 — and 24,201 on Quadrant. Playing Groove Coaster and Love Live: School Idol Festival the phone didn’t break a sweat, and Colin McRae’s Rally was smooth and super fast. There are some app compatibility problems, but they’re few and far between. The popular benchmarking tool 3D Mark wouldn’t work, for example, but everything else including several of my more unusual go-to games for testing worked perfectly.
Cyanogen and an average camera
In China, the Z1 has its own version of Android installed with the ZUI skin over the top. I used this briefly before flashing the Cyanogen software and it was decent, although not very helpful outside China due to the lack of Google apps. This problem is fixed using Cyanogen, which has Google Play, Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, and all the rest pre-installed. Order the international version, where it comes pre-installed.
Despite the horror stories attached to Cyanogen on the OnePlus, it performed excellently on the Z1, and never suffered from crashes or other odd behavior. It looks very similar to stock Android, but with a fancy alphabetical list of apps in the app drawer. It’s based on Android 5.1.1, so all the security updates are in place, and the overall user experience is no different to a Nexus 5. The OS is also highly customizable, with many different themes, a dizzying array of pre-installed ringtones, and even my favorite LG phone feature, the double-tap to wake the screen hidden as an option in the menu.
The 13-megapixel rear camera takes attractive photos outside, and using it on sunny autumnal days in the city and the countryside produced results I was happy with, which could easily be improved with some editing. The f/2.2 aperture means bright sunlight can wash some photos out in varying conditions, and the transition can be quite drastic just by shifting the focal point around.
It’s not a fan of lowlight either, and nighttime pictures lack detail, even those taken under street or car lights. Show it a really dark scene, and there’s hardly any detail at all. Inside, things are better, but again only if there’s a good source of natural light.
Zuk uses Cyanogen’s camera app, which comes with an effective HDR mode, along with various preset scenes — acton, beach, landscape and so on — with a few live filters for good measure. There’s also a panorama mode. The standard editing tool in the gallery app provides the option to crop photos, add a few effects, and tweak the output. A personal favorite is the cool graduated image tool, which is like a more versatile edge focus that can produce some fun effects on the right picture.
Overall, the camera isn’t the best we’ve seen, and the OnePlus 2 performs better, particularly at night. However, shooting in the day can produce some great pictures, and I was pleased with those snapped around Canary Wharf in London on a sunny afternoon.
More than two days from the massive battery
Finally, we come to perhaps the Zuk Z1’s biggest plus, its giant, 4,100mAh battery. You can easily get two days of solid use with the Z1, and I got three days with careful use. Occasions where the battery died after two days included doing everything from GPS, games, and photos, to general email and messages. It’s a huge bonus to the Z1.
We’ll continue testing the phone with Bluetooth connections, and a wider range of use scenarios to find out its limitations, but at the moment, it’s one of the strongest performers in terms of battery life we’ve seen in a while. The downside is that the battery makes the phone thicker, and that it’s not removable, but there are many people out there who won’t care. Just a couple of other points to consider. There’s no expandable storage, but it does have 64GB of its own, there’s a dual-SIM slot, and the speaker is pretty terrible.
An honest smartphone
This year we’ve seen a wide range of excellent, and well-priced, smartphones go on sale. Each represents an excellent reason not to buy your next phone with a contract through a network, but to grab an unconnected device instead. Should you add the Zuk Z1 to your wish list?
While it’s undeniably a well-made, and decently specified device, it’s not grab-your-wallet-right-now cheap. The design is also really understated, and anyone wanting some flash for their money will probably be tempted to look elsewhere. However, the Z1’s battery life is superb, the build quality excellent, and the software different enough to be cool.
The Z1 is an honest smartphone — it doesn’t try too hard, and comes out all the better for it — and it equals the OnePlus 2 as an almost willfully unfussy device. I quite like that, and if you’re keen to save $300 over buying one of Samsung’s or HTC’s space-age smartphones, the Z1 should be a strong contender for your money.