We review the ZTE Blade S6 4G, the best-looking ZTE phone of all time packing an HD screen, 13-megapixel camera and octa-core processor.
The ZTE Blade S6 may be named like Samsung’s latest flagship phone, but it looks an awful lot like Apple’s iPhone 6 instead. The glossy white frontage gives way to silver edging, which curves around to the back of the handset – but rather than a solid, metallic rear, the Blade S6 sports a plastic back that flexes a little when poked. It also scuffs up rather easily, with none of the protection afforded by Apple’s premium materials, although it’s tough enough to endure a few knocks and tumbles.
Still, the Blade S6 is pleasingly light and slender, at 134g and 7.7mm – just a wee bit chunkier than the iPhone 6. The narrow screen and bezels make it easy enough to clutch and operate with one hand, although you’ll struggle to stretch your thumb up to the very top of the 5-inch screen.
You can’t prise the back off, so the micro SD memory card and SIM card slots are housed on the side, in Apple-style pin-operated drawers.
ZTE has injected some sexiness in the form of a light-up circular home button, found underneath the screen. This glows a seductive blue colour when you’re using the handset, and also pulses when you have a notification waiting. It’s a responsive touch-sensitive effort rather than a push-in affair, like Apple’s iconic home button, and it helps the phone to stand out against an army of similar handsets.
Screen and media
The Blade S6’s 5-inch display is a vibrant little effort, with colours popping out at your eyeballs. It’s also bright enough to cut through sun glare and viewing angles are impressively wide.
Like fellow mid-rangers such as the Samsung Galaxy A5, the Blade S6 only manages 720p HD visuals – no Full HD here. All the same, high def movies are more than watchable and reasonably sharp, even if they don’t quite look their best.
Audio quality isn’t quite as strong, with the solo rear-mounted speaker struggling to conjure up any kind of power. It’d probably be drowned out by an asthmatic tortoise wheezing in the general vicinity. Still, that’s what headphones are for, right?
Performance and battery life
An octa-core Snapdragon 615 powers the Blade S6 and proves more than a match for HD video, photo editing apps and games. The likes of Dead Trigger 2 ran near perfectly, with just the odd dropped frame.
Battery life is also surprisingly decent. Hammer the Blade S6 with non-stop video streaming and you’ll still get a handy seven hours of playback from a single charge, good news if you’re often stuck on long-arse train or plane journeys. And you can easily get a full day with general everyday use.
Features and interface
Android Lollipop is present and correct when you boot up the phone, which makes a refreshing change for a mid-range handset – no waiting a few months for an update from KitKat, hooray! That means you get Smart Lock intelligent security, multiple profiles and all of the other nifty additions that Lollipop brought to Android.
Of course, ZTE has taken a crowbar to Google’s baby, so now it more closely resembles the twisted lovechild of Android and iOS. Pretty much all of the usual Android features are still there, but the desktops now more closely resemble Apple’s efforts, with rounded icons and no apps tray. That means all of your apps are stuck there in full view, and the only way of hiding them is setting up your own folders.
As you might have ascertained from the name of the phone, the Blade S6 4G supports LTE here in the UK. That means you can stream media and browse the web without godawful ‘buffering’ messages and the like.
Slapped on the back of the Blade S6 is a 13-megapixel snapper, and it’s a decent mid-range camera for everyday shots. Occasionally it struggles with the lighting conditions and you’ll need to tap the screen to adjust the exposure levels, but once the lens sorts itself out, photos tend to boast realistic colours and plenty of detail.
There’s an HDR mode for those super-tricky contrast situations and a flash for low light shots, which you’ll need to make full use of when you hit the pub. To be fair, the Blade S6 performs admirably when things get dim, sucking up as much light as possible, but photos are predictably grainy without flash assistance.
The Blade S6’s camera interface itself is a little cluttered on advanced mode, which gives you full manual control over the likes of white balance and ISO levels, as well as a spirit level-style line so you know if your shot’s wonky. Switch to simple mode and it’s still not quite as tidy as the likes of LG and Motorola’s camera app, but it is a little better.
You can shoot Full HD 1080p video, although there’s no flashy tech like OIS to cut out on hand shakes and you have to be careful that your subject is in focus when shooting. There’s also a solid 5-megapixel front-facing camera with a wide-angle lens, so you can cram your whole crew into your sexy selfies.
The Blade S6 is a decent mid-range handset, packing the major features that you’d expect such as 4G support. At around £170 it’s worthy competition for the Moto G, packing a similarly bright 5-inch 720p screen and a reasonably reliable 13-megapixel camera, although we’re not sold on ZTE’s Android tweaks and the plastic shell scuffs up rather easily.