This is turning out to be a wonderful year for all those who believe that one should not be forking out a fortune (or heck, the price of a MacBook Air) for a good smartphone. At the very beginning of the year came the Moto G in India, making it possible for a consumer to have a very good smartphone for as little as Rs 12,999 (~$210). The whoops of joy in the Indian geek circles had scarcely subsided when the Moto E popped up, giving a very good user experience for Rs 6,999 (~$115). Asus then leapt in with the superb ZenFone 5, which had a design award and a 64-bit Intel processor to its credit and a price tag of Rs 9,999 (~$160). Nokia/Microsoft joined the fray in the middle with the Lumia 630, which brought Windows Phone 8.1 to Indian shores at Rs 10,500 (~$172). And then came Xiaomi…but heavens, don’t we know enough of THAT story? (Read our reviews of the astonishingly priced Mi 3 and Redmi 1S, if your memory fails you).
And just when we thought we had seen pretty much everything, Lenovo has coaxed a rabbit out of its hat with the Vibe Z2 Pro (or Lenovo K920), which makes the price tags of all the Android flagships in the market seem downright obese.
It’s got the looks!
We think Lenovo turned a massive design corner last year with the Lenovo K900 and the Vibe X. The company had been in the phone business before those two worthies came along, but it was the K900 with its metallic build and the insanely thin Vibe X (6.9mm, remember?) that it was those two that suddenly marked it out as special, and different from the run of the mill Androids being released in the market. And the Vibe Z2 Pro builds on that heritage. You can read our impressions of its appearance in detail in our first impressions of the device, but here’s a brief summary.
Yes, it is a big phone, but no, you do not realise that it sports a 6.0-inch display until you see the spec sheet, thanks to some spectacular bezel cutting by Lenovo. It is actually shorter in length than the iPhone 6 Plus, and is actually smaller in all three dimensions (length, height, width) than the Nexus 6, which has a display of almost the same size. And at 179 grammes, it is not too far off the weight of the iPhone 6 Plus (172 grammes) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (176 grammes). But it is not just about dimensions and weight, the phone has a VERY classy look to it, with the jet black front, metal weave on the back and the red ring around the camera (which is placed in a zone of its own, on a panel with screws – some might call it ‘industrial,’ we rather like it). We hate to dip into cliches, but if ever a phone exuded power, it is this one. It is big, metallic and seems to belong in a suit (put a missile launcher, nuclear weapons tracker, Mars orbiter guider and lipstick smear remover in it and give to Mr Bond, we say!).
It’s got the specs
Mind you, it has every right to exude power, because it comes with some pretty hefty specs. In fact, at the time of writing, I guess we can safely say that this is perhaps one of the most powerful hardware combinations you will get to see in the Indian market. The 6.0-inch display is a quad HD one (2560 x 1440 pixels) and has a pixel density of 493 ppi. The phone is powered by a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5 GHz, and has 3GB RAM and 32 GB inbuilt storage (non-expandable, alas).
That camera at the back is a 16.0-megapixel affair and comes with a dual LED flash, and when it comes to connectivity, the Vibe Z2 Pro has pretty much covered all bases – 3G, LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and yes, even NFC. It also has a front facing 5.0-megapixel camera putting it in the selfie shooter league. It runs Android 4.4.2, and last but not least, comes with a massive 4000 mAh battery, pretty much the heftiest we have seen in any flagship Android out there. How Lenovo managed to keep the device’s weight down with that battery and the metal elements in the build is a matter of design mystery and mastery (a mighty combo, that).
Gawd, it’s got the performance
But as we keep saying, it is one thing to have the specs, it is quite another to deliver a performance worthy of them. Well, the Vibe Z2 Pro delivers. In spades. And not just in terms of benchmark scores (you can see them too, if you like that sort of thing), but in real life situations.
That display is definitely superior to the other two quad HD displays we have seen in the Indian market at the time of writing (the Oppo Find 7 and the LG G3) and in our opinion more than matches the stunning Super AMOLED one on the Galaxy Note 4 (which we have not used extensively yet) – it is very clear even in bright sunlight and makes reading and browsing a pleasure.
HD games like the Asphalt series and FIFA played beautifully without any hitch and sounded very good too on the loudspeaker (something that was a bit of an Achilles Heel in some of the previous Lenovo devices). No, it does not quite match up to the front facing speakers of the HTC One series, but it is pretty much on par with the best that Samsung, Sony, LG and Apple can offer. Sound quality on headphones was excellent – Lenovo need to be complimented for bundling a decent pair of headphones with the package.
The camera once again is a star – we had loved the cameras on the K900 and the Vibe Z and the one on the Vibe Z2 Pro takes things to a higher level with much faster response and surprisingly brilliant close up shots. There’s optical image stabilisation on board for those with shaky hands, and video quality is very good as well. We think this actually pushes the Xperia Z3 and the Gionee Elife E7 as being one of the best Android phone cameras out there. Just do not leave it running in the background, as it can cause the phone to heat up a bit (something we have seen happening in a number of devices of late, especially the HTC One M8 and the Sony Xperia Z3).
Multi-tasking worked very well indeed, and the battery life was frankly amazing – we easily saw off close to two days of very hefty use on a single charge. All in all, this is a powerhouse and definitely superior to most of the Android flagships out there, thanks to that display and camera. And it certainly is the only high-end Android with a great camera since the Note 3 that has been able to see off almost two days of use on a single charge. That battery performance for us is a terrific differentiator and one that other manufacturers need to replicate at the high end.
…and some neat touches!
But ‘twould be a travesty to judge the Vibe Z2 Pro purely in terms of hardware. For, the device comes with some very neat software touches as well. And no, we do not mean the “wave in the air to move the screen” sort of gesture controls that are becoming a staple feature in most handsets, but some actually solid software tweaks. The phone allows you you to build an entirely different area of your own, complete with wallpapers and apps, within the phone called the Secure Zone, which as the name indicates is pretty much your area where others dare not trespass, although both the ‘open’ zone and the secure zone share the call log, message log and contacts to ensure smooth regular operations. Once again, there are neat touches – notifications from apps you have placed in the secure zone appear in the open zone with a red dot on them. It seems complicated for the normal user, but we can see the enterprise types warming to the idea of having two sides to their phone – one more private than the others. Mind you, it is the also the place where we wonder whether an expandable memory option would have been a good idea.
There is more. If you find the display too big to handle with one hand (we did, and neither of us has small hands), all you need to do is draw an inverted C from the outer part of the right hand side from the phone to the lower part of the same side – the screen gets shrunk and becomes a micro screen, which remains fully functional however. You can also change wallpapers by simply flicking the top right corner of the display, and we saved the best for last – if you do not like Lenovo’s interface (it is the Vibe UI, with no app drawers, which it unveiled last year), you can simply activate developer mode and boot the device into a stock Android one. So yes, you can literally have something like a Nexus device in your hands, with what many geeks consider ‘bloatware’ set aside. No, it will not get automatic Android updates (although Lenovo has said that the Vibe Z2 Pro will get Lollipop) a la the Nexus, but yes, the whole “clean Android” experience is just a reboot away.
And well, it has got the price
Oh, and all of the above is for Rs 32,999 (~$540).
Frankly, that is a staggeringly good price, no matter which way you look at it. For, there are only three other quad HD display devices in the market at the moment – the LG 3, the Oppo Find 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and all three cost significantly more (the Find 7 comes closest at Rs 37,990, the LG G3 is retailing at Rs 39,990 and the Note 4 starts at Rs 58,300. If one looks at the other Android flagships – be it the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the Sony Xperia Z3 – all cost more while lagging behind in the display department. At that price, honestly, there is no phone that really comes close to beating the Vibe Z2 Pro – the HTC One E8 is the closest we can think, but even that does not really match the Z2 Pro in the camera, build and display department. In fact, the Vibe Z2 Pro is offering better hardware and a superb performance at a price that is in the vicinity of last year’s 32 GB Nexus 5, which was staggeringly good value for money in its own right at that time.
NOW you understand why we went with that headline?
It is not often that we get handsets at which we cannot not point a significant finger of reproof, and the Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro is in this rare territory. Apart from the fact that its size is on the bigger side (it is small for a device with a 6.0-inch display, but all said and done, this is a BIG phone) and that it does not have expandable memory (but then I am a person who has never used more than a 16 GB iPhone and has managed just fine), we really could poke no holes in its armour. It looks good (if a tad large), has great hardware, some very innovative software, performs brilliantly (we cannot over emphasise that almost two-day battery life), and has a price tag that is delightfully low for what it offers.
What more could one ask for? Expandable memory, if one was being greedy. Maybe a dedicated camera button. But all said and done, we think Lenovo has just laid down the price benchmark for high performance, high end smartphones with the Vibe Z2 Pro (Flipkart link). And like Xiaomi, it will make us shake our head in surprise whenever someone releases a phone with similar specs at a higher price. For whenever someone releases a flagship that is priced above Rs 35,000, the statement will pop up in our heads: “But the Vibe Z2 Pro costs lesser.”
Oh yes, this is a wonderful year indeed. Some of the big brands might be wincing but we cannot hear consumers complaining. Not one bit. We certainly are not.