Introduction


*Review based on Chinese model of the ZTE Nubia Z9, running Nubia 3.0 UI, without Google apps out of the box

Nubia is a line of mid-range and high-end smartphones, which are slowly but surely making their way to the Western markets. Although handsets under the brand are manufactured by ZTE, Nubia is treated as a separate, distinct division – one focused on making handsets of higher class.

The Nubia Z9, in particular, is a handset with a striking bezel-less appearance on top of a sleek glass-and-metal body, supplemented by a heavy hardware punch under the hood. Sporting the well-known Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, 3 GB of RAM, a 16 MP Sony Exmor IMX234 sensor-equipped camera, and a 2,900 mAh battery, the phone sure looks like a strong contender in the Game of Flagships: Season 2015. It does, however, come at a pretty hefty price – available from various online retailers, starting from $600 and going as high as $770, one would expect that it has something quite notable to offer, especially in today's cutthroat smartphone market.

So, even at first glance, it's obvious that the Nubia Z9 is made for those on the lookout for a high-class smartphone, but wish to have something rather unique and break away from the clichés. But how does it hold up when put to the test? Let's take a deeper look!

In the box:
  • Nubia Z9 smartphone
  • Wall charger
  • Data cable
  • In-ear headset
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Informational booklet

Design

Glass-and-metal design and a nigh bezel-less look

The Nubia Z9 follows a design language that has grown popular as of late – the glass-and-metal sandwich. But, despite the current popularity of said materials, it doesn't feel like ZTE was simply following a trend – the Z9 tries to look different. But does it pull it off?

Instead of going for the super-thin aesthetic, its front and back panels bulge out quite a bit from the chamfered metal frame. Many will find the device toо heavy, as it weighs 6.77 oz (192 g), though we found it easy to operate in most scenarios. The heft and the glass back may sound like they could cause problems with the device slipping out from the user's hand. However, we found that its narrow profile allows us to have a secure grip on it. The phone's weight usually becomes a problem when it is used in bed or when it is carried in the pockets of light clothing, and the slippery back is an issue when trying to prop the device up against sleek-ish surfaces.

The front panel of the Z9 is certainly one of its more unique features – ZTE went with what it calls a 2.5D aRC (arc Refractive Conduction) borderless design. What this basically means is that the glass panel has had its ends arched in a way that allows the display's light to actually be projected from side to side, touching the phone's metal frame on both ends and giving the display a nigh bezel-less look. We assume that the aRC tech is the reason why the display's glass has so much girth to it.

Under the display, we have the capacitive navigational buttons – a circle for Home, and two dots on each side for Options / Back. These glow in red, giving the Z9 a slightly aggressive appearance. When the home button is not glowing, it does a great job at still reflecting enough light to be easily visible, whereas the red navigational dots are entirely concealed when they are off.

Looking at the phone's frame, we have the power button and the volume rocker on the right – their feedback is great, though, the rocker's travel is just a notch softer than we would've liked. Moving over to the top, we find the 3.5mm headphone jack and an IR blaster, whereas on the bottom, we have the micro USB port with two identical grilles on each side – one for the microphone and one for the speaker. On the left of the frame, we have the dual nano-SIM tray.

On the back, the Z9 is covered by another meaty glass panel – we assume ZTE chose to make it so for consistency's sake and to make sure that the camera sensor doesn't protrude. The stylish Nubia logo is situated well in the center here, while the snapper is located in the top-left corner, together with its LED flash. And, as you might expect, the whole thing is a fingerprint magnet.

Overall, while we can appreciate the attempt at sleek aesthetics, the bulgy design and uncomfortable weight of the device certainly don't do it any favors. We'd have to say that the Z9 is an OK-looking handset, but it won't be blowing any minds any time soon.


nubia Z9

nubia Z9

Dimensions

5.8 x 2.69 x 0.35 inches

147.4 x 68.3 x 8.9 mm

Weight

6.77 oz (192 g)

Samsung Galaxy S6

Samsung Galaxy S6

Dimensions

5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 inches

143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm

Weight

4.87 oz (138 g)

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Dimensions

5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches

138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm

Weight

4.55 oz (129 g)

OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

Dimensions

5.98 x 2.95 x 0.39 inches

151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm

Weight

6.17 oz (175 g)

nubia Z9

nubia Z9

Dimensions

5.8 x 2.69 x 0.35 inches

147.4 x 68.3 x 8.9 mm

Weight

6.77 oz (192 g)

Samsung Galaxy S6

Samsung Galaxy S6

Dimensions

5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 inches

143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm

Weight

4.87 oz (138 g)

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Dimensions

5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches

138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm

Weight

4.55 oz (129 g)

OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

Dimensions

5.98 x 2.95 x 0.39 inches

151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm

Weight

6.17 oz (175 g)

To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page



Display

A bezel-less appearance is not enough

So, sure, the Nubia Z9's display definitely looks like something else when you first lay eyes on it. However, while it gains points for uniqueness, it has its downfalls in terms of picture quality. After some use, it quickly becomes apparent that the screen tends to favor the blues quite a bit. Basically, it looks cold. Our measurements reaffirm that – its color temperature measures at 7,901 K, which is way above the reference value of 6,500 K, and in its normal mode, the display shows a pronounced amount of blue and green while lacking reds.

There are a couple of modes, which the user can tinker with – the saturation of the display can be switched between “Glow”, “Standard”, and “Soft”, while its Hue can be set to “Cool tone”, “Natural”, and “Warm tone”. Out of all these settings, we found “Soft saturation” combined with “Warm tone” to be the most pleasing to our eyes – still not too accurate, but warms up the picture, and is not visually invading in any way.

As far as sharpness goes, we're pleased with what we see on the Z9's screen. Its resolution is not in the insane QHD range – ZTE kept the “mere” 1080 x 1920 pixel count, but this still gives the 5.2” screen a 424 PPI density. It is crisp, clear, and details are a pleasure to look at.

The Z9's brightness peaks at 459 nits – sounds usable on paper, but we often found ourselves looking for shade when using the phone under the open skies. It is somewhat visible, but usage definitely gets hampered. Perhaps the thick glass is a bit too reflective. At minimum, however, the brightness measures at the very comfortable 2 nits, so night-time users will not feel like the phone is poking at their eyes.


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94 Comments

1. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

This review tho...gg

32. Jango

Posts: 372; Member since: Oct 24, 2014

Seems seriously harsh. The phone uses premium materials, great design, superb camera, very good on the benchmarks. Still 4.6? PA, fix up.

45. PhenomFaz

Posts: 1236; Member since: Sep 26, 2012

Now it's just sad. PA is just trolling every Chinese Android phone out there. The last 3 reviews or so on Chinese phones have been getting ratings like this. Whta's up with that??? For example, the battery life on this and iPhone 6 is almost same and so is the chraging time but Iphones get a rating of 9! iOS has amazing ecosystem but you are not rating the ecosystem PA, you're rating the phone! I have played around with ZTE phones and yes they're damn fine! This is just wrong. These phones are great for their price and what they bring to the table. Period.

57. WallStreetWolf

Posts: 289; Member since: Apr 08, 2013

What are you reading? It is far from trolling when something doesn't deliver on software, call quality, ecosystem, and battery life. A phone with a 5.2 inch screen and a 2900 mAh battery should not be this power hungry, even with an 810. An iPhone is much more polished along with offerings from Samsung, LG, Moto, and Sony. Hell, even Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi, Meizu, Oppo, and Huawei rise well above this. They were hard on this phone and deservedly so. This is just a short list of Chinese phone review scores over the past year. Xiaomi Mi4 8.8/10 Meizu M2 Note (I own one) 9/10 ZTE Axon Pro 8.5/10 Xiaomi Redmi 2 7/10 Mi Note Pro 7.2/10 They critically hit this phone, the OP2, Meizu MX5, and Huawei P8 Lite, the latter still being better than this device at a fraction of the cost.

59. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

they just to harsh to chinese product lately.. just like meizu MX 5 get 5.9 oneplus 2 get 5.8 compared to other score on ur post, their score is prettymuch underatted (even failure like HTC M9 get 8.3)

76. may_czos

Posts: 955; Member since: Nov 22, 2014

M9 is a decent phone, definitely not a failure like the Z9.

78. Djz89

Posts: 441; Member since: Aug 25, 2014

Didn't alcatel get 8?

35. rantao333

Posts: 345; Member since: May 21, 2013

mean while note 5 and edge 6+ get 9 and 8.7 respectively.....

46. PhenomFaz

Posts: 1236; Member since: Sep 26, 2012

Exactly! What the heck? I am a Note user and have been so for a while but even I have to admit the Note 5 didn't blow me over. There were so many hallmark features mssing like: 1. Newer design (Notes have always brought something new) 2. Better chassis or at least different chassis 3. more beefed up than S series (even if its the same CPU slightly higher clocks always seemed nice on paper for a value of money proposition) 4. higher camers res 5. A big-a$$ battery for one 6. Newer android version (they went for an early release and we all ended up with the same Lollipops in hand instead of some of us deserving Marshmallows with our Notes!) 7. Bigger or Better screen (I don't care if 4K is overkill, you don't make the Note line for casual users, you make it for Power Users!) 8. NO IR Blaster or SD card??!!! (even when Google just announced native support for sd cards from Android 6.0 onwards....sd cards will be treated like native storage, then why no SD card?) 9. No removable battery ( tho i can forgive that but still....) Note 5 was very good but that was just expected. Anything short would have been just wrong! But this phone at least deserves a 7 or 7.5 for what it brings. Heck 4.5?? Are you kddin' me? You want to promote fruits on PA...then just call it FruitArena

2. CX3NT3_713

Posts: 2349; Member since: Apr 18, 2011

Whoa!!!!!

3. deanylev

Posts: 234; Member since: Mar 11, 2014

Bullshit. This deserves like a 7.5 for it's flaws. Been pretty damn harsh on the chinese phones lately PA.

8. Tronlol

Posts: 35; Member since: Feb 06, 2015

Ya ya.. Ya mad?

10. Busyboy

Posts: 731; Member since: Jan 07, 2015

It's not like anyone actually comes to PA for reviews anyways.

18. TerryTerius unregistered

True. Pretty much a fanboy warzone. It's literally called Phone*Arena*. They're staying true to their name, I'll give them that.

25. DeusExCellula

Posts: 1390; Member since: Oct 05, 2014

uh I do tho

39. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Yeah they suck anyway i don't waste my time reading them anymore. But this review is pretty good and the best thing about is that they don't have a score system:http://www.gsmarena.com/zte_nubia_z9-review-1284.php

61. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

You just don't want your favorite phone get bad score. PA test have better detail in display test and battery testing that make more sense.

63. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Makes more sense better screen tests my favorite phones they'd just laughable. Screen test of PA is really bad cause simply it gets a point about the phone color while different users prefer different colors and also it put the LG G4 screen as poor while it's colors are 98% accurate but according to another standard rather than PAs one gsmarena also have a chart with the sunlight legibility of phones can be compared in it while PA only guess it from the brightness of the phone. I'm pretty sure that everyone would admit and she that gsmarena have the best battery life tests. And why you think I'm mad because it's my favorite phones if you read other reviewers you see that I'm right and PA reviews are rather poor in every section.

77. may_czos

Posts: 955; Member since: Nov 22, 2014

G4's display is accurate to a standard that noone uses. 99% of the mobile content is coded in sRGB standard and thet's the only one that matters. PA doesn't rate sunlight visibility based on brightness itself, they noticed that even though the brightness is decent, Z9's display doesn't do well during sunny day. It means bad reflectivity. Gsmarena's chart confirms bad sunlight contrast ratio.

81. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Yeah i looked it up they don't test it and say it from brightness level see the Lumia 735 review with say it's poor while it's great. And i don't think if anything of mobile connect be coded at sRGB and even if it's then it can be changed its not application it's just a color you ever see an CRT screen?

66. may_czos

Posts: 955; Member since: Nov 22, 2014

"7.5 for its flaws"? This phone is all flaws with good camera.

4. NopeNein

Posts: 147; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

i..cant even..wth pa?

5. kkmkk

Posts: 699; Member since: May 06, 2013

WHAT THE FUKING f**k IS THIS f**k !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARE YOU EVEN SERIOUS 4.5 !!!

42. Manyci

Posts: 116; Member since: Aug 03, 2015

Absolutely... The only phone, that beats the iPhone 6 in graphics and is really premium as well. And they give it 4.5

47. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

Beats The iPhone In Graphics LOL You're Funny.

51. fyahking

Posts: 1146; Member since: Jan 28, 2015

I guess you didn't see the t-rex and Manhattan on screen test where the Nubia is higher? Plus, it's running 1080p and still does better than the 320p iphone 6. You're the funny one.lol

55. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

GFX Is A Terrible Benchmark To measure FPS. If Its Not Gamebench Its Not An Accurate Representation Of Real World FPS While Playing A Game. With The iPhone 6s Releasing Soon I Wouldn't Even Compare Phones To The 2014 iPhone 6 Anymore.

60. fyahking

Posts: 1146; Member since: Jan 28, 2015

If it was the other way around you wouldn't say that. I know it's hard that a 1080p is beating the 750p screen iphone some benchmarks. Plus, i dont really care about these benching anyway, because the iPhone 6 does not have 2k screen or 1080p besides the 6 plus. That's why you always see sites only comparing the iphone 6 benchmarks to 1080p and 2k screen.

62. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

(If it was the other way around you wouldn't say that) Yes I Would, I'm Not Some Ignorant iPhone Fan. The Nubia Was Released 4 Months Ago And The iPhone 6 12 Months Its Only Far To Compare It With The Most Recent iPhone. Sure Its Not Released But The 6s Is Literally Just 9 Days Away And We Know It Will Crush Everything In FPS. And 2k Is Just Stupid Anyway If The GS6 Had 1080p It Would Have Beat The iPhone 6 As Well.

64. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

You can't simply say that cause 810 was released like 6 months ago but iPhone being released 6 months before you can't compare things like this of course a 7 months newer phone chip will be better and 820 will be better than the A9.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Z9
  • Display 5.2" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, Octa-core, 2000 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB
  • Battery 2900 mAh

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