Another important difference between available Nubia Z9 versions is the storage capacity. The Classic model comes with 32 GB, while the Elite and Exclusive iterations are granted a nice 64 GB of storage. If this is an important factor for you, though, you should make the right choice from the get-go. This phone does not feature expandable storage, which means you will be stuck with whatever amount you choose when you purchase the device.
Once we move past storage we start finding out this is a very well-endowed smartphone. Even audiophiles get a special treat in the form of HiFi audio and Dolby 7.1 surround sound. You will really notice the difference while listening with a good pair of headphones. The integrated speakers are not built to take full advantage of these features, but they still pack quite the punch.
The speaker is loud enough to hear even in relatively noisy environment, and the sound is fairly clean. My only complaint is that the speaker’s location makes it susceptible to muffling with the hand, especially when in landscape mode. Not to mention the fact that all the sound comes from a single speaker on one side of the phone, which makes for an unbalanced listening experience.
Another great hardware feature was the inclusion of a fingerprint reader, but this one is not for everybody. It is exclusive to the… Exclusive version. The placement of the fingerprint reader will certainly have some people raising eyebrows, as it’s located on the side of the phone, as opposed to the front or back. This is unlike what we are used to seeing, and sadly we really can’t comment on how well it works. Our version of the smartphone doesn’t have a fingerprint reader.
The Nubia Z9 runs on Lollipop, but you would never know this if you didn’t jump into the settings to check all the details. Nubia’s UI is completely different and doesn’t go in line with Google’s Material Design. Instead you get a much more colorful interface filled with transparency effects. Thankfully there are plenty of themes in the built-in theme store, which will help you customize the design to your liking.
The biggest difference you will find in the Nubia Z9 is that the company ditched Google’s standard app drawer. Nubia focuses on the experience by dumping all apps and widgets straight into your home screen (much like iOS).
Aside from that, we would like to say the Nubia Z9 does have a bunch of very neat software tricks up its sleeve. I personally like Screen Division, which is practically Nubia’s version of Multi-Window. One can also take advantage of the convenient double-tapping to wake function. It’s easy to shrink the screen for one-handed use by simply long-pressing the back button. Drag 3 fingers upwards and the phone will create a screenshot.
Those are just some examples of the software optimizations found in the Z9, but things get more interesting once you start messing with Nubia’s FiT (Frame Interactive Technology). This is what we were talking about when we mentioned the curved screen edges were used for some pretty awesome features.
You can swipe up on either side of the glass to launch a specific application or switch to apps that are currently running in the background. In addition, one can quickly launch the camera app by turning the phone sideways and touching four fingertips on the edge of the glass. You can also perform various grip-based gestures to unlock the phone, or take a screenshot just by simply squeezing the phone.
These may seem like odd gestures at first, but they totally change your experience once you get used to them. Nubia swears they will save you plenty of your precious seconds in the long run.
Nubia needs to offer amazing camera quality if it really wants to go toe-to-toe with all the major flagships in the USA, and we are glad to report the Nubia Z9 shooter handles itself pretty well. The device sports a 16 MP rear camera with OIS (optical image stabilization), and they also didn’t skimp out on the front-facing shooter, which features an 8 MP sensor.
The manufacturer has been known for placing high emphasis on their camera software, which usually comes with a plethora of manual options for fine-tuning your shots. This device offers a bevy of features, including time-lapse, multi-exposure, slow shutter, HDR, panorama and full manual controls.
Picture quality was surprisingly good, with great color reproduction, dynamic range and pristine detail. I do have to say HDR is a bit too aggressive in processing. It makes colors a bit over-saturated, skin tones appear unnatural and shadows are heavily reduced. This makes for very unrealistic photos that make the image resemble a watercolor painting.
Low-light photos are average and I found the camera can handle prominent light sources (like lamp posts) pretty well. There’s a big increase in noise once you start taking pictures indoors, in dimly lit environments. This is due to the higher ISO levels the camera needs to use to take in more light. It’s really the biggest downfall to the camera, but the phone offers a relatively pleasant shooting experience with fair results, even if it’s not the best in-class.
You will be happy Nubia added a few millimeters to the Z9 when you realize this phone packs a 3000 mAh battery. Battery life is impressive, guys. Even with several hours of heavy gaming and plenty of pictures taken, the phone was still able to go a full day without charging. Screen-on time was anywhere between 4 to 4.5 hours. You will be able to extend those numbers much farther with casual or light usage.
Do keep in mind our version of the phone is Chinese, though. This device doesn’t feature Google Play services, so the phone doesn’t have to handle any typical data syncing. This will likely have an effect on battery life.
Price and conclusion
The Nubia Z9 is available in other markets, but we have to wait until Q3 2015 to see it launch in the USA. Prices start at $564 for the Nubia Z9 Classic edition. The price tag is then raised to $645 and $725 for the Elite and Exclusive versions, relatively.
These are certainly high-end prices. And even if the Nubia Z9 is a high-end phone all in all, it will have a lot of catching up to do against competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4. The USA is a very competitive market, but Nubia has what it takes to at least make an impression.
Regardless, Nubia looks to be taking the USA market very seriously with the Nubia Z9. It’s especially impressive to see a Chinese manufacturer releasing one of their high-end phones in the USA, whereas most other Chinese phone makers only release their budget devices. We have to tip our hats to Nubia for their courage.
This phone is going up against the big guys, and it has all the specs and features to provide a fair battle. We are not sure if this will be enough to “change the game”, but that bezel-less screen will definitely turn some heads. Overall, we believe it’s one hell of a phone and users will certainly enjoy it, probably even more than some of those popular flagship smartphones.