ZTE Nubia Z5 Review – Yesterday’s Flagship or Today’s Cheap Phone?

by Linus 3

“Cheap phones are getting good and good phones are getting cheap” – MKBHD (Marques Brownlee). We have lots of budget phones that are worth your attention but what if we take a look at the flagship from 2013, which used to cost over $500 but now costs below $130. Which one should you choose? Today’s cheap phone or yesterdays flagship? This is what we are going to find out in a review of the ZTE Nubia Z5.
Thanks to Pandawill for sending ZTE Nubia Z5 for a review.

ZTE Nubia Z5 Review: VIDEO

ZTE Nubia Z5 Review: UNBOXING

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You will notice the flagship grade quality as soon as to pick up the box, because everything just screams premium.
In fact, you are getting two high quality plastic boxes where all the contents are packed neatly. ZTE supplied the Z5 with a pair of good sounding earphones, charging plug along with the USB cable in one box and instruction manuals, SIM ejector pin and NFC tag in another.

ZTE Nubia Z5 Review: DESIGN

When it comes to the design, we are looking at what is becoming a rare phenomenon these days – a very compact device with a 5” display. It has a metal frame around the sides along with the metal buttons, which have a very good tactile feedback.
There is a volume rocker on the left, a power key on the right, the the micro USB port on the bottom and on headset jack along with the single micro SIM card slot on the top.
Back in 2013 selfies were not that big, so we have just a 2MP shooter on the front top.
On the bottom there are 3 nicely backlit capacitive keys and the home button also doubles as a pulsing notification light.
As far as optics, Nubia Z5 doesn’t seem to lag behind todays phones as it has a 13MP Sony camera, which, however, protrudes quite a bit from the glossy yet high quality plastic backplate.
When it comes to the sound, you can find a dual rear mounted speakers.
Overall, the Nubia Z5 is very well constructed and feels like a high-end phone even today.

ZTE Nubia Z5 Review: DISPLAY

As far as display, the 5” 1080p panel is sharp, vivid and bright enough to please your eyes and I have no complaints about it.

ZTE Nubia Z5 Review: UI

When it comes to the UI, the Nubia Z5 runs on the outdated Android 4.4.2 Kitkat with a highly customized Nubia’s skin on top of it.
As usual to the Chinese phones, there is no app drawer and all the apps sit on the home screens.
You are not getting a lot of extra features that you haven’t seen before. Still, some of them are quite useful like gesture controls while others like split screen feature on a 5” display sounds useless to me.
When it comes to customisation, you can select from a variety of themes, change the layout of the capacitive keys and so on.
Overall, the UI is running pretty smoothly but I have to say that there are some hiccups there and there while simply navigating.



At the time of the release, Nubia Z5 had a true flagship-grade spec-sheet. That includes a quad-core Snapdragon 600 chip, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which is not expandable.
Can it still handle 3D gaming? Well, yes. It still does better than a lot of cheap phones but don’t expect premium experience either. The max. graphics on the Asphalt 8 can be set to medium. Well, it is the same as with the Mediatek Helio X10 chip. The overall performance is good but not great as there is occasional stutter and some skipped frames. The good point is that the phone does not heat up whatsoever.


Watching HD content is a great experience on a sharp full-HD display and the loudspeaker is really good except for the distortions at the maximum volume setting.
The sound via earphones is pretty good too.

ZTE Nubia Z5 Review: CAMERA

When it comes to the camera app, we have a pretty simple interface and there are not too many features or settings to play with in the auto mode but the included pro mode gives you a bit more freedom.
The shutter speed is pretty slow in general but it is faster than many of the sub-$130 phones.


The 13MP camera on the back is a hit or miss. Sometimes you can capture decent looking images but other times the sensor struggles with focusing, the colours are not always accurate and some shots are underexposed. On the other hand, other shots look pretty good and they may even rival some of the today’s mid-rangers.
The night-shots are… pretty much terrible but they are still better than lots of cheap China phones I’ve recently tested.
A 2MP selfie shooter is actually not bad at all despite having a low-resolution which leads to less details.
When it comes to the 1080P video, we see the quality that is comparable to today’s low-end phones as it lacks in details and the video could look sharper overall.


As far as connectivity goes, I have no complaints about the call quality, signal reception or wifi but GPS is kind of disappointment. It was slow to get a lock speed and it was simply inaccurate during my testing.


The sealed-in 2300mAh battery is kind of another let down of this phone. I could barely pass 2 hours of screen-on time on the daily use, which didn’t involve any gaming.


So there you have it, ZTE Nubia Z5, the flagship from the past. It has a great design, excellent build quality, vibrant display, decent gaming performance and it is very compact.
However, the UI is not the most fluid out there as there is occasional stutter, the camera is unreliable and the battery life is a disappointment.
How does it stack up against today’s low-end phones that have similar price? Well, pretty good I would say. For the price of $130, Nubia Z5 will most likely have a better build quality, display and audio quality. However, the difference may not be that significant and you may find some newly released low-end phones with a faster UI performance including a newer Android version, more reliable camera and much better battery life.
At the end of the day, you have to decide what are your personal preferences.

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