ZTE Blade S6 review

Derivative looks do no favours, but there's a lot to love on the inside

ZTE Blade S6 review
Blade S6 - shouldn't need to be an homage

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The ZTE Blade S6 is a solid general performer, which is aided by that light UI layered over stock Android 5.0 Lollipop.

This means that you get the stock Google phone and contacts apps, which serve the purpose of making and receiving calls very well indeed. That includes a smart dialer that predicts the number you're dialing as you tap it out – whether numerical or alphabetical.

Speaking of calls, call quality was fairly poor during my time with the phone. Calls were stable enough, but the sound was slightly muffled and distant compared to more premium phones like the LG G3.

The standard messaging app feels a little out of place in this shiny Lollipop environment. Its design feels old fashioned, clashing with the aforementioned core phone and contacts apps.

I'd recommend downloading Google's own Messages app from the Google Play Store, which has a much more fitting Material Design aesthetic.

ZTE Blade S6 review

When it comes to typing out those messages, though, the ZTE Blade S6 is quite strong. The TouchPal keyboard is one of the better default examples I've used, with a novel but genuinely useful swipe system for alternative characters.

Inputting a comma, for example, is a simple case of touching the M key and swiping down. It's quick and impressively reliable, and beats the usual press-and-hold technique hands-down.

Visually, it doesn't sit too well with the Material Design aesthetic that of Android 5.0 – it's closer to the Jelly Bean and KitKat-era keyboard – but this was one of those rare cases where I didn't feel impelled to head straight to the Google Play Store to download SwiftKey or Google Keyboard.

As well as a by-now-typical joined-up typing system, there's also an interesting new word prediction technology to the TouchPal keyboard that sees suggested words emerging from the relevant letters. You then pull the suggested words down to the space bar to select them.

ZTE Blade S6 review

It wasn't something I found compelling or useful enough to adopt in day-to-day use, but as ever with keyboards, it's a very personal thing that will take a lot longer than a week to really click.

If you're thinking of consuming a lot of media on the ZTE Blade S6, you're really going to need to bring along a set of headphones. Of course, we'd say that about any smartphone - even the HTC One M8 with its excellent BoomSound speakers. But in this case, the less you have to rely on the phone's speaker the better.

The Blade S6's sole rear-mounted speaker is tinny and weedy, outputting an ear-achingly bad garble of noise for anything but the simplest of sounds. It's clearly been an area of compromise.