A number of Chinese smartphone makers such as Huawei (Honor), Lenovo (ZUK) and BBK (OnePlus, Oppo and Vivo) have launched their sub-brands for selling devices through online stores and at an affordable price. Huawei with its Honor brand has received some success in Asian countries and is making a push in the American market. One of Huawei's oldest competitors in China, ZTE, is also taking a similar approach with its Nubia brand and is looking to expand to new markets such as the US, Europe and India.

Nubia launched the Z11 family of flagship smartphones in June, which included the following devices:

  • Z11 - flagship smartphone powered by the Snapdragon 820
  • Z11 Mini - mid-range smartphone powered by Snapdragon 617
  • Z11 Max - mid-range phablet powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 652
  • Z11 Max - mid-range phablet powered by MediaTek Helio P10

The flagship Z11 would go international soon, and the Z11 Mini is expected to launch in India this month, but there is no word about its larger variant, the Z11 Max yet. Nevertheless, we have the MediaTek Helio-powered variant of the device with us now, and we have tested it out to see whether it's a good buy.

The 6-inch phablet comes in two variants and is available for a starting price of 1900 RMB (~$290) in China. With the Z11 Max, Nubia aims to take on Xiaomi's Mi Max and other large screen phablets from Huawei and Lenovo. Although ZTE is creating a bit of buzz with its Axon 7 flagship, the Nubia brand is yet to make a name for itself. Let us see whether the Z11 Max can make a good impression about the company in our minds.

Specifications

  • 6-inch Full HD (1920x1080) AMOLED capacitive screen protected with 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 3
  • CPU: MediaTek Helio P10 MTK6755M Octa-core 1.8GHz
  • 3 GB RAM / 64 GB ROM, micro SD card support up to 128 GB
  • 13 MP rear camera with dual-tone LED Flash, f/2.0 aperture, 8 MP front-facing camera with 80-degree wide-angle lens, f/2.4 aperture
  • Li-ion 4000 mAh battery
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop with Nubia UI 4.0.0
  • Dual-sim support (Hybrid nano-sim slot)
  • Network bands supported: 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, 3G: WCDMA 900/2100MHz 4G: FDD-LTE 1800/2100/2600 TDD-LTE 1900/2300/2500/2600
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Dimensions: 159.2 × 82.3 × 7.4 mm
  • Weight: 185 grams

What's in the box?

The Nubia Z11 Max is positioned as a premium mid-range device and the company has done a decent job of conveying this with their packaging. There's a nice soft-touch finish on the box and the company has put in a bit of effort on the design to make it feel more than just a plain package. The outer side of the box is completely black with a circular golden embossing around the Nubia logo, while the inside of the box is completely golden. Even though it is minimalistic, the matte finish and the color combination gives it a premium feel.

That being said, there is nothing extraordinary inside the box. It contains the smartphone, a USB-C cable, a travel charger, a sticker and instruction booklets. As with all my recent review devices, there are no headphones, extra connectors or protective material provided with the device.

Hardware & Design

The Z11 Max is a very well designed device and the minimal bezels enhance its look even more. The metal body of the device has a very good finish and the smartphone certainly feels premium in hand. The bezels are almost non-existent and this has greatly helped the device stay pocketable despite its large 6-inch screen.

Our review device came in soft gold colour, which I am not a big fan of. However, it wasn't too flashy so I was fine with it. Silver and grey are the other colour variants of the device, but I haven't seen them on sale anywhere yet. The anodized metal build is very well done and there are no signs of unevenness or dents on the device. Its rounded edges are similar to the iPhone and also feel like them.

The Z11 Max has rounded off edges all over and it has a very good in-hand feel to it. Even with its large size, the smartphone fits in one hand, though reaching the edges is difficult single-handedly. On its front, the device is covered by the 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 3, which houses three capacitive keys at the bottom, the 8-megapixel camera at the top along with proximity and ambient light sensors. The home capacitive key features a rounded breathing light which can be configured to stay on or light up only for notifications.

On the rear side, the Z11 Max features the 13-megapixel rear camera with dual-tone LED flash, a fingerprint sensor and the Nubia branding. The smartphone features a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and a USB Type-C connector at the bottom. It comes with bottom facing speakers concealed behind a grille. Overall, the device looks really good and the build quality is superb.

Display

The display is yet another factor where the Z11 Max shines owing to the punchy colors on its large AMOLED screen and the edge-to-edge display. The 6-inch display has a resolution of 1920x1080 which translates to a density of 368 pixels per inch. It is a high quality display, but those who prefer close to natural colors might be a bit disappointed as the color reproduction on the AMOLED screen is a bit oversaturated.

In general usage, the viewing angles are decent and so is the outdoor visibility. Even in the brightest of lighting conditions, the display was sufficiently visible and colors didn't look washed out as much as LCDs. Nubia has provided a few additional settings to tune the color reproduction and temperature. The standard configuration of the display is on the warmer side, but users who prefer bright whites can use the calibration setting to adjust it accordingly.

Audio & Call Quality

Nubia's loudspeaker is at the bottom and gets muffled by the hand when the phone is held in landscape mode without paying much attention. This is the only real issue I had with the device's audio output. Its in-call volume and reception was good and the microphone did its job satisfactorily.

Using headphones, the sound was clear and the volume levels were much better than my recently reviewed Redmi 3S Prime. The Z11 Max comes with a Dolby Digital Plus setting, which changes the output as per certain preset profiles such as music, movies, game or voice. It can also be changed manually with choice of equalizer setting, loudness and dialogue enhancer. The feature is a good one and worked well for movies and music.

The Z11 Max with its standard 64 GB internal storage and the option to add a microSD card, combined with the audio quality will certainly be a good option for multimedia enthusiasts on-the-go.

Camera

The Standard Edition of the Nubia Z11 Max comes with a 13-megapixel rear camera which has a f/2.0 aperture, and an 8-megapixel front camera with a f/2.4 aperture and a 80-degree wide angle lens. Both cameras do a decent job capturing images in auto mode and have fast shutter speeds for their price.

Nubia has added plenty of tricks to the camera application, and I particularly liked the ability to take slo-mo videos. The captured images look great on the Z11 Max's AMOLED screen but there is a bit of a difference when viewed on displays other than the phone's screen, which is a bit disappointing.

I was generally pleased with the images captured by the rear camera since they were sharp, bright and colourful. Images taken in dimly lit areas were a mixed bag as the level of detail dropped in most cases and there was a high amount of noise in some, while others were decent enough for Instagram posts or sharing.

The 8-megapixel front camera of the Z11 Max produces very soft images, and is a bit disappointing compared to the rear camera. Although it worked well in low light as well as bright conditions and retained most colours, a bit of sharpness could have made a ton of difference in the captured images.

Video quality from the rear camera for day as well as night scenes was good. There's a bit of hollowness in the captured audio, but I haven't used any other devices in this price range that can claim to do better audio in general.

Video recording while moving wasn't as shaky as I thought it would be. The resulting video quality was decent enough.

Overall, the cameras are quite good for most usage scenarios though the front camera images could use some sharpness.

Software

This is where the Z11 Max really begins to lose some of its appeal. The smartphone runs on the two year old Android 5.1.1 Lollipop even though the device itself was launched just a few months ago. It does have a recent Android security update, but that's about it. I found it rather strange that the regular Z11 comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Nubia hasn't committed to any upgrades for the Z11 Max and it seems very unlikely to get a version upgrade.

Nubia has put its own custom skin called Nubia UI 4.0.0, which closely resembles MIUI, but isn't half as good. It is inconsistent with the styling and lacks an overall feel of completeness. There is a lot of scope for improvement on the software side of things for Nubia if it is looking to make its devices available in international markets.

Since our unit was imported from China, English support is not yet complete. There were plenty of error messages and help texts in the UI that are Chinese, and those in English seemed like they were translated directly and made no sense. The system update application shows details about the updates in Chinese as well.

Other than the translation issues, there's a bit of bloatware such as the UC Browser and a custom search app on the device which generate notifications from time to time. The overall UI and Nubia's own apps didn't have the same level of polish as MIUI. As the device launches in other markets, it is likely to get local apps pre-loaded instead of the ones that were on the review device.

I like custom skins from phone manufacturers, but this time I felt very disappointed because the device's positives are totally negated by the UI's inconsistencies. If I can find a decent custom ROM for the Z11 Max, I'd certainly move to that. Even with these issues, the OS was stable and performed decently, but I didn't feel satisfied due to these visible atrocities every now and then.

Performance

The Nubia Z11 Max is available in two variants based on the chipset and RAM. These are as follows:

  1. MediaTek Helio P10 octa-core CPU clocked up to 1.8 GHz and 3 GB RAM (Standard Edition)
  2. Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 octa-core CPU clocked up to 1.8 GHz and 4 GB RAM

I reviewed the Standard Edition of the device with the MediaTek chipset and 3 GB of RAM. I found the Helio P10 octa-core CPU good enough at handling multiple tasks and it also worked well for games. The smartphone's 3 GB RAM ensured that I didn't have to kill background applications and kept the device running smoothly throughout my time with it.

On Geekbench, AnTuTu and Vellamo benchmarks, the MediaTek chipset performed decent enough and the resulting scores are comparable to some of the older flagship smartphones such as the Galaxy S5, the LG Nexus 5 or the Motorola Nexus 6.

I found the device highly responsive at all times and didn't have a lot to complain with regards to performance. The apps that I used on the device include Microsoft Office, OneDrive, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Slack, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and Facebook Messenger.

To check the gaming performance, I played Asphalt 8: Airborne and Dead Trigger 2. The games ran at smooth frame rates, though the loading times could have been better. The apps and games didn't crash or freeze owing to the ample amount of RAM present on the device.

The device's real world performance was perfectly fine as well. There was no sluggishness while using regular apps such as the phone dialer, contacts, messaging or calendar. If you can live with the poor user experience, the device offers good performance among many other things.

Battery

The Nubia Z11 Max's slim profile is a bit deceptive when it comes to the battery capacity, as it packs a 4000mAh battery while maintaining a 7.4 mm thickness and is relatively lightweight. The battery lasts for at least a day and a half on a single charge with moderate use and up to 20 hours with heavy usage.

Nubia has added some optimizations that keep the battery from draining while not in use, but those resulted in the device not receiving push notifications on many occasions. I eventually disabled all such settings and still managed to get decent uptime from the smartphone.

Charging the device is quite fast, though the MediaTek version isn't mentioned to have support for any sort of fast charging. With a high output charger, I could charge the Max from 0 to 100 percent in about 45 minutes. Using the bundled charger, the time taken was extended to around one and half hours for fully charging the device.

Conclusion

The Nubia Z11 Max is a premium device that offers good hardware, camera, battery and a high quality build. However, it does not provide as much value for money as the Xiaomi Mi Max, which we reviewed back in July, and also lacks a good software experience. If it wants to make any waves in the international market, the smartphone-maker needs to shift its focus towards software and create something that the users would enjoy using. For starters, they can at least give the latest version of Android or provide an update to Marshmallow.

Xiaomi's Mi Max, which is one of the main competitors for the Z11 Max, offers the latest version of Android, a cohesive UI and is also priced cheaper at around $245. The only things that are better on the Z11 Max than the Mi Max are its rear camera, the AMOLED screen and the design.

For someone interested in buying a large screen smartphone for watching videos or read on the go, one with a 6-inch AMOLED might seem like a better option, but it would be hard to ignore the value proposition presented by the Mi Max. The Snapdragon 652-powered variant of the Z11 Max, which is better positioned to compete with the Mi Max, is priced at $389.99 on Amazon US, which is a 100 dollars more than the MediaTek version.

If it were priced better and loaded with minimal UI customizations, this device would have scored much higher for me. With upcoming devices such as the Honor Note 8 and the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro that offer more features, we might see a drop in the price of the Z11 Max. In its current state the device feels like a waste of impressive hardware, unless you are planning to flash a custom ROM or get the device for its hardware features and are fine with its software. It should be noted that there aren't many English ROMs for the device out there yet.

The review unit was supplied by TOMTOP. If you would like to purchase the device, you can head here to purchase the smartphone which currently is priced at around $282.99 USD. You can check out more information about other products available from TOMTOP at its website.

 

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