ZTE Nubia Z17 review: Driven by ambition


Getting a new Nubia device is always a different experience for us. It’s never been an overwhelmingly delightful or agonizingly poor first encounter, but always a pretty daunting one to wrap your head around. Bold and distinct design, high-end hardware at a bargain price, original screen gestures – these have always been a prominent part of the package ever since the Nubia Z9.

Nubia Z17 review

The new Z17 keeps throwing curve balls, making it even harder to define what this phone is all about, put a finger on a single signature aspect or feature. The latest Nubia flagship comes with a trendy dual-camera setup and the beastly Snapdragon 835 chipset under the hood. The Z17 boasts Qiuck Charge 4+ support before everybody else and ZTE still managed somehow to hang an extremely competitive price tag on it. At about $465, the Nubia Z17 undercuts the OnePlus 5 and the Xiaomi Mi 6 by a few dollars, pointing to a less-than-subtle stab at the “cheapest Snapdragon 835 phone” title.

Nubia Z17 key features
Body: Aluminum chassis, 2.5D Gorilla Glass. Aurora Blue, Black Gold, Obsidian Black, Solar Gold, Flame Red color schemes.
Display: 5.5″ IPS LCD, 1,920×1,080px resolution, 403ppi.
Rear cameras: Dual 12 MP, f/1.8 + 23 MP, f/2.0, 1/2.55″ sensor size, 1.4um pixel size, phase detection autofocus, 2x lossless zoom, dual-LED (dual tone) flash; 2160p@30fps video recording
Front camera: 16MP Sony IMX371 sensor, 1.0µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture; 1080p/30fps video recording.
OS/Software: Android 7.1.1 Nougat; nubia UI 5.0 custom overlay.
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835: octa-core CPU (Kryo 280, 4×2.35GHz + 4×1.9GHz), Adreno 540 GPU.
Memory: 6/8GB of LPDDR4X RAM; 64/128GB UFS 2.1 storage.
Battery: 3,200mAh Li-Po (sealed); Quick Charge 4+ fast charging support.
Connectivity: Dual SIM; 3-Band carrier aggregation, LTE Cat.9 (450Mbps/50Mbps); USB Type-C (v1.0); Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS, GLONASS, BDS; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0; Infrared port.
Misc: Rear-mounted fingerprint reader; single speaker on the bottom.
Main shortcomings
No ingress protection
No microSD slot
No stereo speakers
No 3.5mm jack

There is clearly a lot of ground to cover and different aspects of the Nubia Z17 to explore. But before we dive head first into that, there is one point of discussion that always seems to emerge when we review a Nubia handset – the ZTE connection. Nubia started as (and still is) a ZTE subsidiary but it’s a stand-alone brand that has always played by slightly different rules. Not unlike Huawei and their Honor brand. Speaking of, ZTE and Huawei are domestic and global rivals in not only consumer devices but telecom and network equipment.

In a broader sense, Nubia is related to ZTE in much the same way OnePlus is to Oppo. Both offshoots seem to have more freedom to experiment and be different, while still enjoying the strong corporate backing and RnD and manufacturing resources. With ZTE fighting its own battles with the likes of the Axon and Blade lineups, Nubia is challenging the big names in the premium tier.

Nubia Z17 in official photos - Nubia Z17 review
Nubia Z17 in official photos - Nubia Z17 review
Nubia Z17 in official photos - Nubia Z17 review
Nubia Z17 in official photos - Nubia Z17 review

Nubia Z17 in official photos

That being said, the big question is whether the Nubia Z17 can, for starters, stand up to the value flagships by OnePlus and Xiaomi. Another potentially interesting relationship to explore is the one between the Nubia Z17 and ZTE Axon 7/7s. We’ll try and find out which approach worked out better.

Nubia Z17 in the hand - Nubia Z17 review
Nubia Z17 in the hand - Nubia Z17 review

Nubia Z17 in the hand

Follow along on the next page for a closer look at the exterior design of the Nubia Z17.