The world of Android smartphones is vast and varied, and that’s not even counting the many devices that release outside of the US, UK and Australia. For every Samsung Galaxy S8 or HTC U11, many others slip under the radar.
The Nubia Z17 is one of those phones, but we actually got our hands on it to see what we’re missing out on. And to be honest, I liked this phone far more than I expected to.
We normally run each and every phone through our in-depth review process, but as this phone isn’t built with Google services baked-in, nor is it loaded with full English regionalization, we’re just going to take a dive into what makes this phone tick. That said, if you live in India or China (where the Z17 is available), we encourage you to seek out this phone to try it yourselves.
As far as its components are concerned, the Nubia Z17 is as competent as the OnePlus 5. Commonly found online for less than $500, this phone packs in a Snapdragon 835 and 6GB of RAM that work to power what you see on its vibrant 5.5-inch 1080p display.
We stated earlier that this phone doesn’t come with Google services, but Nubia was nice enough to send along a custom ROM that essentially injects them into the company’s version of Android Nougat 7.1. With that, we were able to download any and all apps from the Google Play Store, however, the integration is buggy and many apps are prone to not working as intended.
Moreover, installing the Google Now Launcher was met with incompatibility issues. The Z17’s many built-in widgets and apps weren’t discoverable through Google’s official launcher.
If this device was made for audiences outside of China, it’s likely that more effort would have been spent on baking in the Google-powered goods, so while it’s disappointing to not have things work correctly, it’s understandable.
What’s there to work with is pretty intimidating in the shoes of someone used to Google’s launcher. The Nubia is loaded with on-screen elements and even the camera’s many features are individually broken out into separate app icons. It’s all a bit messy and confusing.
Making your way around the phone, it’s coated in smooth aluminum and has a premium-feeling heft to it. In an industry filled with divisive design, the Nubia Z17 is a straight-shooter. As such, there’s not a whole lot going on, which actually works to satisfy me as a minimalist.
Looking at it head-on, it has bezels surrounding its screen’s top and bottom. But as the Google Pixel 2 showed us, bezels can still be rocked if done correctly (which the Z17 does). Near the bottom of the display, the Z17 features a colored home button that illuminates when pressed. As expected, it’s flanked by the usual capacitive buttons to its left and right.
Interestingly, the Nubia Z17 has ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack, which leaves just the USB-C charging port to pump out the audio, that is, if you’re not ready to cut the cord completely for Bluetooth audio.
Flipped over on its back, Nubia’s branding is nicely subtle, sitting right next to an ideally-located fingerprint sensor. Sitting close to the phone’s top is its dual-lens camera unit. These lenses sit in an enclosure that’s slightly raised from the phone.
If photography is your thing, this phone almost overwhelms with camera features. In my shoes, this is never a bad thing, but it’s far more than most consumers ever need.
And with some surprisingly robust software combined with two rear lenses, the results aren’t too bad either.
First off, I’ll say that the photos taken with the Z17 definitely pale in comparison to the S8 and Google Pixel, with most photos lacking color depth or the sharpness that we like to see. The breadth of features almost makes up for it, many of which you can see put on display below.
Whatever complaints we have with the camera, it boots quickly and offers a lot of interesting features to discover, like 3D Photo, which takes a series of photos of an object and later lets you scroll through them in an entertaining flipbook style.
Broken down to pieces, the Nubia Z17 is a stellar phone for its target audiences, which includes those in India and China. But considering it as a whole in the hands of someone who couldn’t otherwise purchase it, it feels incomplete. It doesn’t ship with Google services installed and the operating system isn’t fully regionalized for English.
Take that as you will, that doesn’t detract this phone’s bucketload of features, competitive price point and impressive design.
If you’re able to try out the Nubia Z17 for yourself, we encourage you to do so. But if you’re itching to import one from the likes of eBay or another destination, it might not cost you as much as your typical flagship, but keep in mind that it might not live up to your standards of a typical Android smartphone.
With that being said, Nubia, won’t you see about bringing this one to the US, UK and Australia?