Nubia is the premium subsidiary of Chinese manufacturer ZTE. Their new phone, Nubia Z17, offers high-end technology at its best. The smartphone houses the Snapdragon 835, which is currently the fastest processor in the world. In addition, you get 6 or even 8GB of RAM (depending on the version), a dual-camera and a bezel-less 5.5-inch full-HD display. Further, LTE frequencies are supported. Nubia Z17 has the potential to compete with Xiaomi Mi6 or Oneplus 5. Whether or not the phone does a good job, you’ll find out in the following review.
Design and build quality
Nubia smartphones are well-known for their fine appearance. Luckily, Nubia Z17 is not an exception. If you’re holding the phone in the hand, you feel the premium quality. The bezel-less display, the bright red home button and the solid metal casing are the main points of a simple design, which puts emphasis on few but thoughtful spots.
Below the display, you find 3 soft touch buttons. The home button is marked with a bright red circle around it. If you touch the two other soft touch buttons next to it, a red dot appears. The smartphone is rather heavy with a weight of 173g, which however underlines the high quality appearance. The dimensions of 152 x 72 x 7.9mm are on average for current 5.5-inch smartphones. In comparison, Oneplus 5 is thinner, but also wider and longer (Oneplus 5: 154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25mm). Rear side and frame consist of metal. One of two antenna lines is a plastic strip on the rear, whose color matches the casing and therefore, it barely stands out. The other antenna line is even better incorporated in the casing and runs almost invisibly at the smartphone’s top.
At the bottom, you can find a USB Type-C port, which is flanked by speaker ports/holes. Only one of them is actually a speaker, the other one features the microphone. Unfortunately, the audio jack is no longer integrated in Nubia Z17. In order to listen to music with your phone, you have to use either Bluetooth/ USB Type-C headphones or the provided adapter. I’m still not sure if I get to like this trend, which was started by Apple. Maybe I won’t have any other choice. Fact is that Nubia Z17 is not waterproof, despite the missing headphone connection. In my opinion, the manufacturer could have made the phone at least waterproof as a consolation. Furthermore, the surface at front and rear side is quite smooth, which makes the phone a bit slippery when you hold it in the hand.
Apart from the slippery casing and the missing audio jack, the smartphone is a fine device with premium design and build quality.
Nubia Z17 belongs to the category of bezel-less smartphones. The display extends over the whole front and contributes to the fine appearance. However, it is not a curved display, as you may know it from Samsung S7 Edge or Galaxy S8. The glass, which is rounded off at the sides, is formed in a way that it appears to extend over the edge. This effect results from a distortion and produces a slight stretching of the display content towards the edge. Nubia Z17 cannot keep up with the new generation of bezel-less and infinity displays of Xiaomi Mi Mix or Samsung Galaxy S8, but the bezel-less display is a nice gimmick and improves the smartphone’s appearance.
The display is a 5.5-inch IPS panel with a full-HD resolution of 1920*1080pixels, resulting in a pixel density of 403PPI. You cannot detect any single pixels. Viewing angles are always stable. The brightness (390cd/m²) is a bit below a high-end smartphone’s average. There is a mode available which should increase display brightness further in bright sunlight, but it does not help a lot. Fortunately, Nubia Z17 compensates for low brightness with good contrasts. As a result, reading contents outside in bright sunlight is not a problem.
You can customize color representation in the settings. You can choose between a colder and a warmer color representation. We liked the balanced standard adjustment best. In addition, there is a thought out system with which you can use edge gestures. It is a nice idea, although I thought the gestures not to be too useful in daily use.
Nubia Z17 scope of delivery
Besides the smartphone, the scope of delivery contains:
- Protective cover made of rubber
- USB Type-C cable
- Quick reference guide (Chinese)
- Quick-charge 3 power plug (Chinese) + adapter
- USB Type-C adapter to 3.5mm audio jack
It is nice that the manufacturer provided a protective cover in the scope of delivery. On the other hand, there is “only” one Quick-charge 3 adapter provided. Nubia Z17 is the first phone in the world to support Quick-charge 4, however, QC4 power plugs are not available yet.
Nubia Z17 houses the currently fastest mobile processor. The Snapdragon 835 is divided into two clusters. There is one power cluster with 4×2.35GHz Kryo-cores and one energy saving cluster with 4×1.9GHz Kryo. The Adreno 540 GPU completes the package and secures a top performance in terms of graphics as well. The powerful chip is supported by 6GB of RAM in the smaller version and 8GB of RAM in the bigger version. Although I do not understand why you would need 8GB of RAM in a smartphone, the numbers are pretty impressive. In daily use, you have absolutely no problems with multitasking, even with the “smaller” version. Nubia Z17 performs every task easily and at a top speed. You can use games and demanding apps fluently with barely any load time. In short, Nubia Z17 manages high-end apps without any problems and is able to perform any task blindfolded. Heat development is always unproblematic. Playing 3D games on the phone, it gets noticeably warm, but never hot. Concerning the benchmarks, Nubia Z17 can keep up with Oneplus 5, but not with Xiaomi Mi6. The reading/writing speed of the UFS 2.0 memory module is quite impressive with 700/200MB/s. The speed of the RAM on the other hand is only on average with 6GB/s.
In terms of performance, you get everything you could wish for with Nubia Z17. The Nubia phone meets any current requirements on smartphones. Gamers, too, could not wish for a better chipset than the Snapdragon 835. Even the “smaller” version with 6GB or RAM provides enough multitasking capability for any user profile. We only recommend buying the bigger version if you need its 128GB of storage.
Android 7.1.1 with Nubia UI 5.0
Nubia UI is a strongly modified Android surface with its own design and several additional functions. The surface looks stylish and makes the use easy for smartphone beginners as well as for experts. System appearance and feeling are convincing. There is no button for the app drawer. The icons have a nice tile design and in the settings menu you find a lot of possibilities to configure them.
You can lock certain apps with a fingerprint and a function to clone apps is available as well. In addition, Nubia integrated useful edge-gestures. For example, you can regulate the brightness by swiping up or down on both sides and you can switch between the home screens. Nubia Z17 has a lot of settings to offer. There is a thought out safety and permission center. You can also change the function of the soft touch buttons and you can allocate a special function to the home button, which is carried out when pressing and holding it. One of the home screens is reserved for the quick links to the several camera functions (we’ll discuss them later on). The access to the quick-toggles is new in Nubia UI5. They are no longer located at the upper status bar; instead, they appear now when swiping upwards from the left soft touch button. The look strongly resembles iOS. Swiping upwards from the home button, the split-screen mode is activated, which was designed well and allows you to open several apps simultaneously. You can adjust the size of the screens, too.
Furthermore, there is a theme app available, in which you can download numerous wallpapers and layouts for the interface.
The Google Playstore problem
The original Chinese firmware is multi-language, but the Google Play Store is not preinstalled.
Our device was provided by CECT-Shop. In this shop, you can choose between the original firmware and a modified multi-language one with Google Play Store. We received the device with the Custom ROM and luckily, there were no problems. The Google Play Store works perfectly and the system is stable. Unfortunately, these Custom ROMs do not get any software updates. However, there are grounds for hope: the recently launched Nubia Z17 Mini already has an international multi-language firmware with Play Store. If we’re lucky, Nubia Z17 will get one, too. We recommend using the official ROM with our Play Store-FIX.
Nubia Z17 belongs to the latest generation of dual-camera smartphones. The rear houses a 23MP camera with an f/2.0 aperture and a 12MP camera with an f/1.8 aperture. The setup is supported by a Phase Detection autofocus and a dual-LED flash. The dual-camera offers common features like double zoom and Bokeh-effect. Additionally, when taking normal pictures, the two images are added. However, Nubia Z17 lacks an image stabilizer: neither optical nor electrical image stabilization are available.
Experimenting with Nubia Z17’s camera, you notice the excellent camera app. All functions can be found easily and fast and there is a pro-mode with all possible settings as well. Those who would like to use the numerous features of the camera need some time to get used to them. The user can choose from 16 presets. For example, there is a mode with which you can photograph a starry sky for a long time (star trail). You can also use a motionless background to clone a person repeatedly into a picture. Furthermore, you can move the camera around an object in order to create a 3D image. Pictures can be saved in the RAW format with the DNG mode. There you can choose, which of the two cameras should be used. Nubia Z17 also provides a portrait mode with Bokeh-effect, although Xiaomi Mi6 takes significantly better Bokeh pictures. In order to get useful portrait pictures with Nubia Z17, you have to take 3-5 pictures and delete the unsuccessful ones.
Photo lovers who like to experiment will absolutely enjoy Nubia Z17. Awesome! But what about image quality?
Pictures taken in daylight have a flagship-worthy image quality. The pictures have enough sharpness even when zooming in. Nubia Z17 can easily keep up with Oneplus 5, Samsung S8 and Xiaomi Mi6 and it often offers even more details. Compared to these top smartphones, color representation is slightly paler, but more authentic. Dynamic range is convincing as well. The HDR mode on the other hand sometimes creates overexposed images and oversteps the mark a bit. Here, the competitors do a better job. Concerning the focus, the camera works reliably with PDAF technology in daylight.
Night shots taken with Nubia Z17 are quite nice. Compared to Mi6, Nubia has a similar image quality. The pictures have a good color representation and the low ISO value is impressive. However, the pictures depict strong image noise. In pictures taken with Oneplus 5, image noise occurs less strongly.
The 16MP front camera takes nice pictures indoors as well as outdoors with very good sharpness. Even in low light you get decent photos. Nubia Z17 is perfect for selfie lovers.
You can record videos with [email protected], [email protected]/30fps and 720p. While the camera app offers numerous features, there are few extras for recording videos. For example, there is no slow-motion mode available. Video quality is convincing in daylight as well as at night and the videos contain a high number of details and lively colors. However, we miss optical image stabilization. As soon as you move with the camera, the videos are blurred. Even simple walking makes the videos blurred. An image stabilizer (as it is available in Mi6) would have been great. Despite the good image quality, we cannot recommend Nubia Z17 to video fans because of the missing image stabilizer.
Nubia Z17’s dual-camera can keep up with cameras of current flagship smartphones. Pictures taken in daylight offer excellent image quality and the numerous camera features make photo lovers happy. However, we have to deduct points for the night shots and the missing image stabilizer.
Nubia Z17 supports the following frequencies:
GSM 850 MHz, GSM 900 MHz, GSM 1800 MHz, GSM 1900 MHz, UMTS 850 MHz, UMTS 900 MHz, UMTS 1900 MHz, UMTS 2100 MHz, LTE 800 MHz, LTE 850 MHz, LTE 1700/2100 MHz, LTE 1800 MHz, LTE 2100 MHz, LTE 2600 MHz, LTE-TDD 1900 MHz (B39), LTE-TDD 2300 MHz (B40), LTE-TDD 2500 MHz (B41), LTE-TDD 2600 MHz (B38), LTE 700 MHz (B12)
You can use two Nano-SIM cards simultaneously, but storage expansion is not available. Voice quality during telephoning is high and you can use the speakerphone without any problems.
Wi-Fi is supported with a/n/ac standard in 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. Reception is great and you have internet even if you’re several rooms away from the router. The phone “only” supports Bluetooth 4.1. In daily use, this shouldn’t be a problem for most users, but we have to add that here Samsung, Oneplus and Xiaomi are way out in front. Nubia Z17 offers NFC and an infrared remote control as additional features. GPS is supported with GLONASS and BeiDou satellites. The smartphone determines the position fast and precisely. Car as well as pedestrian navigation (with integrated e-compass) worked perfectly.
Nubia Z17’s speaker quality is only on average. The sound is loud and differentiated and sounds quite promising at first glance. Comparing the device to Samsung Galaxy S8, Xiaomi Mi6 or Oneplus 5, you notice that those have an even more balanced and clearer sound quality. Connecting 3.5mm headphones via the provided adapter, you get a good sound, which however cannot keep up with other high-end devices either. We recommend real music lovers rather to use USB-Type C or Bluetooth headphones.
Nubia Z17 does a really nice job in terms of connectivity. The mediocre speakers and the missing headphone connection are the only weak spots.
Nubia Z17 houses a 3200mAh battery, which is comparable to Oneplus 5. During our test phase, we have never had problems to get through the day. One hour of surfing the internet costs about 10%. In the video test, Nubia Z17 reached great 12.5 hours with medium display brightness. Playing demanding 3D games like Asphalt 8 consumes about 14% per hour. These values are comparable to other high-end devices, although Oneplus 5 has a slightly better battery life. Depending on the intensity, you can actively use the phone for 5-6 hours a day. Those using their phone only 1-2 hours a day can also get 2 days of runtime.
Nubia Z17 is the first smartphone to support the new Qualcomm Quick-charge 4 function. However, QC4 adapter are currently not available yet, and Nubia Z17’s scope of delivery provides just a QC3 power plug. The phone is fully charged in 1 hour and 40 minutes with this charger. Nubia Z17 is clearly slower than Xiaomi and Oneplus, as they only need about one hour to be fully charged. With the right Quick-charge 4 power plug, the load time should be on the same level with the competitors, but I doubt that many users would buy a new power plug.
* Incl. VAT and, if applicable, delivery costs – subject to interim changes.