Lenovo ZUK Z1 review: the VFM segment’s dark horse

Expert Rating
  • Glitch-free performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Cyanogen OS brings added tweaks
  • Boring design
  • No expandable storage
  • Older processor could put off some users

Lenovo ZUK Z1_1

Over the past two years, Lenovo has transitioned seamlessly from being a household name in the PC business to becoming one of the fastest growing smartphone brands in India. Lenovo’s main success has been in the budget segment, thanks to its popular A6000 and K Note series. However, the brand’s last few entries – namely the K5 Plus (review), Vibe P1 (review) and Vibe X3 (first impressions) haven’t offered the same mass appeal as its previous launches. The ZUK Z1 (unboxing) changes all this. The device was launched in China almost nine months ago, as the product of a startup backed by Lenovo. The smartphone has finally made its way to India, with Lenovo branding in tow. With attractive pricing under its belt, along with a refreshing taste of Cyanogen, the ZUK Z1 could help Lenovo gain valuable traction in the budget space. We’ve been using the device as our primary driver for the past week, and here’s what we think.

Specs at a glance

Size5.5 Inch
ResolutionFull HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
CPU Quad core, 2.5 GHz, Snapdragon 801
Internal memory64 GB
Capacity4100 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable
Primary camera13 MP
Secondary camera8 MP
Network supportDual SIM 4G
Other options Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
Battery Capacity4100
Operating systemAndroid 5.1.1 Lollipop

Design: staid, but sensible fare

Dimensions: 155.7 x 77.3 x 8.9 mm
Weight: 177 grams

Lenovo ZUK Z1_13

We’re not going to lie, the design of the Lenovo ZUK Z1 won’t turn any heads. It’s not ugly or chunky, but it’s boring. Our unit sported the same old black façade, with a plastic back panel that takes away from the solid metal rim and chamfered edges. We can’t complain about the ergonomics though – the slightly curved rear panel and rounded sides make it fit comfortably in the hand. Plus, with a waistline of 8.9mm and weight of 175g, it’s hard to believe the ZUK Z1 packs a 4,100mAh battery inside. This also makes the smartphone fairly easy to operate with one hand, despite its phablet-grade display.

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As far as the port and button placement is concerned, you’re greeted with standard fare. The front features the earpiece, sensors, front camera and notification LED above the display, while at the bottom you’ll find a rectangular home button / fingerprint sensor, flanked by backlit capacitive navigation buttons. The right side is home to the power button and volume rocker, while the left contains an ejectable tray that accepts two nano-SIM cards. The bottom edge features a USB Type-C port in the centre, with a primary microphone on the left and a loudspeaker grill on the right. The top edge features a lone 3.5mm audio jack.

Lenovo ZUK Z1_4

The back panel is made of matte-finished plastic, but is liable to pick up scratches quite easily. You’ll find the primary camera module on top, followed by the dual-tone LED flash. Our review unit featured just ZUK branding at the bottom, but the final Indian retail unit has a Lenovo logo plastered there as well. Overall, the design of the ZUK Z1 won’t make you look twice, but it’s simple and sensible, and that should suffice for most users.

Display: smooth as silk

Size: 5.5 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: IPS LCD
Pixel Density: 401 ppi

Lenovo ZUK Z1_12

The Lenovo ZUK Z1 falls into phablet category with its 5.5-inch display. With full HD resolution and a pixel density of 401ppi, you won’t find any reason to complain about the display’s sharpness or clarity. The viewing angles are good, and brightness and sunlight legibility, while not the best in class, are decent. The colours on the screen are rich but not oversaturated.

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In the display settings, you can enable a feature called Live Display, where you can switch between different display modes like Day, Night and Outdoor, either manually or automatically. While the Night mode cuts out the blue light to reduce eye strain, the Outdoor mode maximises the brightness for better sunlight legibility. You can adjust the tint and temperature of the display in settings as well, to make it warmer or cooler depending on your preference. There’s also an option to calibrate the screen colours. Other display settings include the ability to change the LCD density, and enable double tap to wake and double tap to sleep gestures.

Software: the sweet taste of Cyanogen

Operating System: Android
OS Version: 5.1.1, Lollipop

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Lenovo’s smartphones have traditionally featured its custom user interface, Vibe UI. We’ve always found Vibe UI to be tacky and lacking in useful features, which is why having Cyanogen OS on the ZUK Z1 is a real treat. For those unaware, Cyanogen OS is a custom Android-based ROM that we first saw on the OnePlus One, and on various YU smartphones thereafter. Cyanogen has been embroiled in various ‘exclusive’ partnerships over the past couple of years, but now that it isn’t tied to any particular brand, we’re likely to see it on more devices going forward. 

The ZUK Z1 runs Cyanogen OS 12.1, which is based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The custom OS brings several additional features to an otherwise stock Android interface. By default, you’re greeted by a simple version of the OS, but you can enable advanced features by going to Settings > About Phone > Advanced Mode.

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Themes have become commonplace on Android smartphones thanks to the various custom UI’s that are now a standard with Chinese brands, but Cyanogen takes this a step further. For each theme, you can tweak various options like the status bar, icons, fonts, wallpapers, controls, sounds and ringtones and even the boot animation. You can even change the theme for individual supported apps. You can download a range of free or paid themes from the Themes app, but you’ll need to create a Cyanogen account to do this. Apart from the theme store, you’ll also find another standard Cyanogen app called AudioFX, which lets you enable and tweak various audio profiles.

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It’s not just themes though, Cyanogen OS lets you customise pretty much every part of the interface. You can enable an on-screen navigation bar, even if you have capacitive buttons on the device. You can enable a left-handed mode if you prefer, and change the layout of the onscreen controls. The home button can be programmed to wake up the device and answer a call, and you can further customise a long press or double tap action. You can also configure a short press and long press action for the recents key.

Apart from the buttons, the status bar can also be customised with specific clock and battery styles. You can choose to display the number of pending notifications in the status bar, and turn it into a brightness control meter as well. The notification drawer also has a few customisations on offer, such as reordering tiles, enlarging the first row of tiles, displaying the weather and letting you pull down from the right to access quick settings.

Lenovo ZUK Z1_system profiles Lenovo ZUK Z1_privacy guard

CM 12.1 also includes the ability to add and change system profiles, which you can enable either manually, or when certain Wi-Fi or Bluetooth triggers are detected. Other neat features include enhanced privacy settings, such as a privacy guard to select which apps have access to your data, and a blocked caller list. 

Cameras: better than the competition

Primary camera: 13 MP
Flash: Dual LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP

Lenovo ZUK Z1_5

The ZUK Z1 features a 13MP rear camera with a Sony IMX 214 sensor, OIS and dual-LED flash. The front-facing snapper is an 8MP unit with an f/2.2 aperture. The camera app is standard Cyanogen OS fare, with various shooting modes and filters you can switch between by swiping down on the viewfinder. The interface is simple, with a large shutter button, video button and panorama button on one side. You’ll also find shortcuts to switch to the front camera and toggle flash options on the viewfinder. The only manual controls you can access are for the white balance, exposure and ISO.

Lenovo ZUK Z1_camera on Lenovo ZUK Z1_camera modes

The camera itself is quick to focus and shoot, ideal for images you need to take in a jiffy. The OIS does help to eliminate blur, especially for moving shots. Macro shots are detailed with great depth of field, while landscape images are evenly exposed for the most part. The HDR mode is one of the pain points, artificially brightening images and modifying colours. We also found that the white balance tends to lean towards the warmer side. Low light images are decent, but are very grainy, and any movement often results in blur. The front camera can capture a decent selfie, but again, any images snapped in artificial lighting are compromised on quality. Here are a few images captured with the primary camera. Open the thumbnails in a new tab to view them in full resolution.

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Performance: hiccup-free

CPU:  Quad core, 2.5 GHz, Snapdrago…
GPU: Adreno 330
Memory: 64 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Battery: 4100 mAH

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One of the main moot points potential customers have voiced about the ZUK Z1 is the fact that it uses a Snapdragon 801 processor. The two-year old chipset might not be the newest kid on the block, but it doesn’t have the overheating issues that plagued some of its successors, like the Snapdragon 810. If you can ignore the age (and the fact that it isn’t 64-bit), there’s no real reason the Snapdragon 801 is a problem.

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Coupled with the ZUK Z1’s 3GB of RAM and Cyanogen OS, you’ve got performance that’s silky smooth. We’ve been using the ZUK Z1 as our primary driver for two weeks now, and we still haven’t come across an instance where the phone has frozen or displayed concerning lags. Apps open quickly, and multi-tasking is smooth and quick. If you enjoy gaming, the good news is that the phone doesn’t overheat, even after 20-30 minute sessions with graphics-heavy games like Dead Trigger 2. The ZUK Z1 doesn’t feature a microSD card slot for expansion, but the 64GB of inbuilt storage should be enough for most users. You’ll get about 54.7GB of free space to use out of the box.

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As mentioned earlier, the ZUK Z1 features a front-mounted fingerprint sensor. The sensor is easy to set up, and can store the standard of five fingerprints. As far as the sensitivity goes, the fingerprint sensor is very accurate, and instances when it didn’t register were extremely rare. The sensor is fast and snappy, although if the screen is off, you will need to press the home button in order to wake up the screen and activate the sensor. Our only qualm with the sensor was that it vibrates while unlocking, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to disable this vibration.

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We’ve already mentioned that the ZUK Z1 features a 4,100mAh battery. What’s great about the phone though is that it doesn’t feel like one of those big battery smartphones. Even the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, which has an identical battery, is much bulkier and heavier than the ZUK Z1. The battery life on the smartphone is one of its highlight features. We easily managed 5-6 hours of screen-on time on most days, using apps like Netflix, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, the browser, camera and a few phone calls. You can enable a battery saver profile once the battery drops below a specified threshold. Most users should manage a day and a half of usage with the smartphone, but rest assured, you’ll be able to manage an entire day without worrying about carrying a charger or power bank. In our video loop battery drain test, the Z1 lasted for a whopping 17 hours and 7 minutes, beating the Redmi Note 3’s 12 hours and 45 minutes by a significant margin. It does take a while to charge completely though – it took 2 hours and 45 minutes to go from 0 to 100 percent, using the included charger and cable.

On the connectivity front, the ZUK Z1 supports 4G LTE on both SIMs. Apart from the USB Type-C port, the remaining features are standard fare – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. 


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At its price point of Rs 13,499, the Lenovo ZUK Z1 is a very attractive proposition. Granted, this is partly due to its late launch in India (remember the Xiaomi Mi 3?), but it’s still enough to send the competition into a tizzy.

But it isn’t just the price that works in the ZUK Z1’s favour – it’s also the glitch-free performance and excellent battery life – making the smartphone an enticing option for power users looking for a capable budget phablet. The ZUK Z1 has a fair bit of competition from the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (review), MEIZU m3 note (first impressions) and LeEco Le 1s (review), but we think Cyanogen OS will be the deciding factor for many users here. In the end, it all boils down to your personal preference, but if we had to pick, our money would be on the ZUK Z1. 


Editor’s Rating: 4 / 5



  • Glitch-free performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Cyanogen OS brings added tweaks



  • Boring design
  • No expandable storage
  • Older processor could put off some users