A recent report by research firm Canalys revealed that Lenovo jumped to the number two spot in India’s smartphone market in Q3 2016, displacing Micromax to third place. That’s an impressive feat for a brand that’s been focussed on smartphones for only the last few years. Lenovo’s forte has always been in the affordable segment, with devices from its K Note and Vibe series doing all the heavy lifting. Earlier this year, Lenovo launched the ZUK Z1 (review), a power-packed smartphone from its sub-brand that came powered by Cyanogen OS. The device offered compelling features and performance at an affordable price, but still felt short of the flagship standard. Plus, the ZUK Z1 was launched in India almost nine months after its original release in China, making it a bit outdated on the specs front. Lenovo has now launched the Z2 Plus (called the ZUK Z2 in China) in India. Unlike the ZUK Z1, the Z2 Plus forgoes Cyanogen for near-stock Android, but more importantly, comes equipped with a Snapdragon 820 chipset, making it the cheapest phone in the country to sport this processor. With a killer spec sheet and price, is the Lenovo Z2 Plus the best affordable flagship you can buy?
Specs at a Glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Dual core, 2.15 GHz + Dual core, 1.59 GHz, Snapdragon 820|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|Capacity||3500 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable|
|Primary camera||13 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
Design: sturdy, but uninspiring
The Lenovo Z2 Plus is a compact, sturdy little device, but don’t expect it to turn any heads. It’s very solid thanks to a fibreglass frame which is stronger than aluminium. Lenovo’s used a ‘roll-cage’ design for the Z2 Plus, meaning that the individual components are stacked on top of each other, which the company says can protect the phone in case of drops. The Z2 Plus features 2.5D curved glass on both the front and the back, but it’s not much of a curve, so you don’t get those stunning edges seen on the Honor 8, for instance. The back panel, being made of glass, is prone to getting smudged and unfortunately, scratched very easily as well. It’s a good thing Lenovo’s included a case in the retail box, which we strongly suggest you use.
In terms of the port and button placement, the Z2 Plus offers the standard placement of the power button and volume toggle on the right. Also on the right you’ll find an ejectable tray which accepts two nano-SIM cards. The bottom is home to the USB Type-C port, 3.5mm audio jack, primary microphone and loudspeaker.
Above the screen, you’ll find the earpiece, notification LED, front camera and sensors. The only navigation key you’ll find on the Z2 Plus is the U-Touch home button, which also integrates a fingerprint sensor. The home button on the Z2 Plus also takes care of the back and recent apps functions, similar to how the mBack button on MEIZU smartphones works. The button is both physical and capacitive. You can tap once to go back, or press to go home. Double pressing the button brings up the recent apps, while sliding left or right along the button switches between open apps.
You can further customise a long press or long touch action for the button. If you prefer to have an onscreen navigation bar, this can be enabled as well.
Display: curved and compact
The Z2 Plus sports a compact 5-inch display, which is great for one-handed use. With full HD resolution, you get a pixel density of 441ppi. The screen is crisp with bright colours, although viewing angles aren’t the best.
In display settings, you can tweak the colour temperature to your liking, and enable a night mode (which can also be scheduled) to cut out the blue light to reduce eye strain. Double tap to wake can also be enabled from settings. The display gets a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 for protection.
Cameras: good, but not the best
The Z2 Plus sports a 13MP primary camera with PDAF and f/2.2 aperture, and an 8MP selfie shooter with face detection. The camera app is very simple, but it’s too barebones for our liking. Swiping to the right on the viewfinder will bring up a range of filters you can apply in real time. A button at the top opens up modes like HDR, Slo-mo, Time-lapse, Flash, Pano and an option to adjust the aspect ratio. You’ll also find quick access toggles to the flash and HDR mode (including an auto HDR option) on top. The Z2 Plus doesn’t feature a dedicated camera app. Instead, the phone uses Google Photos as the default camera app, much like Cyanogen OS.
As far as the image quality goes, the Z2 Plus is a decent performer. It captures crisp images with natural colours. In daylight, images display plenty of detail, whether close-ups or landscape-style shots. In most images though, we found evidence of noise, which got progressively worse in darker environments. The HDR mode does a decent job of improving the dynamic range, and it’s effective without being in your face. In low light, images are very grainy, and we often ended up with blurred shots indoors. The flash does a decent job though, with an evenly coloured tone that is a bit on the warmer side. The front camera can take good selfies in daylight, but indoors and in low light it’s not great. Here are some image samples to give you a better idea.
Software: vanilla Android with a few extras
One of the biggest complaints we’ve had about Lenovo smartphones in the past is Vibe UI, which is a bit too tacky for our liking. The Lenovo ZUK Z1 was powered by Cyanogen OS, which was a welcome change, but the Z2 Plus takes it a notch higher with a pretty much vanilla Android interface that the company is calling ZUI.
Running Android 6.0.1 as a base, the Z2 Plus features the regular Google Now launcher with a dedicated app drawer. The only real distinguishing feature from the outset is the notification bar and quick settings menu. For the Z2 Plus, Lenovo has opted for an iOS-inspired swipe up from the bottom for the quick settings, which the company is calling the Quick Switch panel. You can choose the shortcuts that appear in this menu from settings.
The Z2 Plus features a slightly modified settings menu where you’ll find dedicated options for wallpaper and the camera. The wallpapers you find in phone settings are different from those you can access from the homescreen, since these are Lenovo’s own wallpapers. The camera settings can also be accessed from within the camera app, so we’re not sure why Lenovo chose to add a separate shortcut here. A neat feature on the Z2 Plus is the ability to take scrolling screenshots. You can do this by keeping the power and volume down toggle pressed until you see the option to scroll down.
The Z2 Plus comes with an app called U-Health, which makes use of the phone’ inbuilt pedometer to track your daily step count. Another app called Superb Cleaner clears up background processes and frees up memory. The other pre-loaded apps on the phone include 9Apps, Amazon Shopping, Hasoffer, Hotoday and SHAREit. A strange feature we noticed on the Z2 Plus was that Now on Tap doesn’t work with only the U-Touch home button. In order to get the feature, you need to enable the onscreen navigation controls, and you can then long press the virtual home button and perform a screen search.
Performance: smooth, for the most part
The Z2 Plus is powered by a Snapdragon 820 SoC clocked at 2.15GHz. It comes in both 3GB and 4GB RAM configurations, which offer 32GB and 64GB of non-expandable internal storage respectively. We had the latter for review, and on our unit, we got about 52.86GB out of the box.
In terms of day-to-day performance, the Z2 Plus was smooth for the most part. We played games like Alto’s Adventure and Dead Trigger 2 without any undue lags or frame drops, although the phone starts heating up within 5-1o minutes of gameplay. Unfortunately, the loudspeaker on the Z2 Plus doesn’t offer adequate volumes, so you might want to use headphones while gaming or watching videos. Multitasking is no problem on the device, but we did notice the odd app freeze and crash. In particular, we found that on Facebook, the U-Touch button didn’t perform the return function on occasion if we were watching a video or browsing through photos, but this seemed to be more of a software glitch that Lenovo could fix with an update. The fingerprint sensor on the Z2 Plus is really fast, and can unlock the phone from sleep with a touch. Overall, the Z2 Plus is a smooth daily driver, but it’s not a beast.
The battery on the Z2 Plus is a generous 3,500mAh unit, which in our battery drain test lasted an impressive 15 hours and 30 minutes. In our experience though, we rarely got more than four hours of screen-on time, which is disappointing. This is usage with a mix of both Wi-Fi and 4G use, including an hour or so of calls, watching videos on Netflix and the usual social media and camera usage. The Z2 Plus supports Quick Charge 3.0, but the included charger is not Quick Charge compatible, which is disappointing. In our tests it took 2 hours and 23 minutes to charge the phone from 0 to 100 percent using the bundled charger. The Z2 Plus comes with an ‘Intelligent Charge cut-off’ feature which disconnects the battery and runs on AC power once the device charges to 100 percent to extend the health of the battery.
The connectivity options on the Z2 Plus include 4G, VoLTE, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth, GPS and USB OTG. NFC isn’t supported though.
At its starting price of Rs 17,999 for the 3GB RAM/32GB option, the Lenovo Z2 Plus is possibly the best budget flagship you can buy. Our 4GB/64GB unit is priced at Rs 19,999, which is still more affordable than the Xiaomi Mi 5 (review), which costs Rs 22,999. A Snapdragon 820 SoC at this price point is pretty much a steal deal, but that said, don’t expect the same performance you’d get on a device like the OnePlus 3 (review), for instance. The Z2 Plus has its flaws too – the design is plain Jane, the cameras are okay, the battery life could be better and the lack of expandable storage is a turn off. All said and done, the Lenovo Z2 Plus isn’t perfect, but at its price, you can’t do much better.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Solid build
- Almost vanilla Android interface
- Stable performance
- Great value for money
- No expandable storage
- Average cameras
- Design is boring