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Lenovo seems to be on a roll since adopting Android on their smartphone and tablet front. The company released a slew of new devices last year, and this year as well we’re going to be treated to a number of new devices from the manufacturer. Making its public debut recently was the Lenovo Vibe Z, a 5.5-inch smartphone that is the company’s first LTE-enabled smartphone. I decided to take it for a spin last week to see how the beefier specs on this model compared to other leading smartphones.

Build quality & design

The Vibe Z is certainly a fancier model from its previous counterpart, the Vibe X. Lenovo’s ‘Vibe’ range is designed to evoke a feeling of premium quality, and the Vibe Z does exude a certain air of sophistication. Despite being fitted with a plastic back, the Vibe Z feels sturdy to hold, and doesn’t feel flimsy at all. I only secretly wished that Lenovo had taken a page out of the design of the K900 and opted for a metal finish instead.

Lenovo_vibe_z_01

Around the top of the device you’ll find the power button and headphone jack, with the volume control and SIM tray located on the left and right sides of the device respectively. I’m usually used to having the volume controls on the right side, but I was able to adapt to this new placement fairly quickly. Around the back you’ll find the 13-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash, as well as a 5-megapixel camera on the front.

Specifications

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Benchmarks and Performance

It’s evident from just the first few minutes of using the Vibe Z just how much of a difference the new processor makes. Every single app I launched opened up within a fraction of a second, and even when I ran almost every single app on the phone in the background, there was no lag at all. In our usual benchmarks the Vibe Z did quite well, clocking in decent scores in the 3D tests, which is where some older smartphones tend to struggle. Overall the Vibe Z is a responsive unit, with plenty of horsepower to keep it going strong. When it comes down to LTE speeds, the Vibe Z registered speeds of 7.64Mbps download / 6.84Mbps Upload on the du network, which is fairly decent.

UI and Apps

Like most manufacturers, Lenovo has opted to apply their own twist to the  Android platform, but instead of just a theme they’ve overhauled nearly every single aspect of the OS. The settings app is now divided into three sections, to give you access to quickly used features and settings.  However Lenovo have opted to get rid of the app-drawer that’s familiar on Android, so instead all your apps are visible on your home screens. I much prefer having just the essential apps on display and everything else hidden away, so I wish that Lenovo had retained an option for users to show or hide certain apps. You also have access to a number of themes that you can apply, but to be honest all of them lack any real visual appeal. Many icons just end up looking cartoonish, and it doesn’t really fit with the overall message that this phone is trying to project. Even the “Less is More” theme – while minimalistic – looked a bit out of place.

The Vibe Z came packed with a number of apps and utilities installed – there’s a SECUREit app that scans for malicious programs and can also be used to track your phone if it’s lost or stolen. There’s also an office suite, Evernote, CamCard for scanning in business cards, and the usual suite of Google apps. There are also a number of Lenovo apps for sharing files as well as connecting to wireless displays, as well as a Novice Tutorial that explains all of the phone’s features and settings. I have to note that I experienced an issue with activating Whatsapp on the Vibe Z – the program never seemed to pick up on the authorization SMS, either because it was being blocked by SECUREit or it wasn’t able to see the SMS since the UI automatically pops up on screen with the SMS, so you don’t have to go into the SMS app to read it.

Lenovo’s “Smart Dialer” in action
 

Lenovo have also included a number of unique features in the Vibe Z which I have to say should be looked at by other manufacturers. There’s a Pocket Mode which automatically increases your ringtone volume when your phone is in your pocket, a Smart Call feature that automatically dials a phone number just by placing the phone to your ear, and even a Smart Dialer option that shifts the dialer keys to the left or right depending on which hand you’re holding the phone in, making it easier to dial a number with one hand. You don’t have to use all of these features of course, but it was thoughtful of Lenovo to include them in the Vibe Z.

[section label=”Screen and Camera”]Screen and Camera

The 5.5” screen sports a resolution of 1080 x 1920 – both videos and websites take advantage of the extra screen real estate and render beautifully. Brightness is also very good, with things only taking a slight dip when the phone is used outdoors in bright sunlight. What’s interesting to note however is that because of the larger display, Lenovo have included a multi-app feature which lets you run two applications side by side and resize them accordingly. We’ve seen this feature in a few other smartphones before, and while it’s not a feature I’d personally use, I’m sure that there are users out there who would benefit from it. Moving and resizing on-screen apps can be a bit tricky at times, as often instead of clicking on the resize handle of an app, my touch instead registered on the background, which subsequently closed the app.

The camera on the Vibe Z can snap photos at a resolution of 4160 x 3120, and for the most part it’s able to capture a good amount of detail with every click. What’s more, there are some very interesting filters and effects that you can apply, as well as a ‘Super Night’ mode for better night shots – however this does tend to add a bit more noise to the photo, so use it sparingly.

Sound & Call Quality

Audio on the Vibe Z is provided by the large speaker located on the back of the phone. While loud, this doesn’t direct audio at the user, which means that sometimes video content isn’t as great as it could be. You’ll also need to flip the phone over if you’re using the loudspeaker in a conference call, otherwise the other party appears to sound quite muffled.

Battery life stood strong throughout the day, with plenty of juice left after a hectic work day of emails, calls, browsing, and even a spot of music streaming in the car.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Vibe Z is certainly an interesting phone – the updated specs and LTE speeds make it a great contender against other established smartphones in the market. What I didn’t enjoy so much was the iOS-inspired UI, which felt  a little too forced at times. Despite that, the Vibe Z is a very capable Android phone with some excellent features on the camera and multimedia fronts.

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