Since the start of the new year I have been making good on a promise to use only phones that aren’t in the premium price range. For 2016 I have given up my Nexus 6P, LG V10, and Samsung Galaxy Note5. Why in the world would I do such a thing? Because I truly believe the smartphone movement towards affordable devices is the new trend.
There are some writers and editors at AndroidGuys.com who can never get enough. Some of them don’t spend enough time with smartphones to give you a long term review. It’s one of the perks of writing. We get many phones and it is our job to change devices so we can give you more reviews. Many of you readers have the same enthusiasm that we writers have, but realistically the enthusiasts represent a small portion of the actual market. The vast majority of smartphone users typically don’t need 128GB of storage, 2k displays, ultra-fast processors, and multi gigabytes of RAM. And the vast majority of smartphone users typically switch their phones out once every two years.
If I wanted, I could review different premium phones all year long and not bat an eye. But it isn’t responsible for me to only write about those phones when everyone else already does, CNET, Engadget, Android Central, etc. while avoiding the huge wave of unlocked devices that cost under $300. As press we get access to almost everything, and while that is really fun and cool, the impact on your wallets is unforgiving, and I cannot sleep at night knowing I knew better than to recommend an ultra premium device that you do not need.
I am on a personal quest to test and use the latest offerings of budget and mid-range devices to truly offer you an honest and informed evaluation. I don’t know what the future holds, but I hope it is full of positive experiences I can bring you. The first smartphone under $300 I have been using in 2016 is the Nuu Mobile Z8. Nuu what? Nuu who?
Nuu Mobile is a relatively newcomer to the smartphone scene getting its start in 2012. The company saw a huge gap in the market with smartphones being very expensive. The true cost of smartphones was being masked by carriers with dubious two-year contracts where customers thought they were buying a devices for $200, only to pay over $1000 over the course of that contract.
Nu Mobile aimed to break that barrier of phones that cost over $500 and offer great devices and even better prices. The first phone I get to review from them is the Nuu Mobile Z8.
The Nuu Mobile Z8 out of the box is surprisingly more premium than I expected. At first glance it looks like a typical smartphone in black with brushed metal accents. It has a brushed plastic removable rear cover that feels quite grippable in my hand with a cold metal frame that surrounds the device. That metal frame makes the Z8 feel really solid as it provides the skeleton that holds the phone together.
In the box is a standard micro USB charger, premium headphones with a microphone, screen protector and a microfiber cloth.
The brushed metal feel, in combination with the curved back makes it ones of the most comfortable phones I have ever held. It is lightweight, easy to grip and the 5.5″ display fits my needs perfectly. There is a standard micro USB port to charge the phone with a power button and volume rocker on the sides.
A very cool feature is the glow notification light that comes on under the display. It’s a “breathing light” where instead of an LED indicator light that flashes to signify a notification, a bright glow light replaces that and illuminates across the bottom of the display. It’s a very neat and useful feature and quite a surprise on a phone of this price.
There is nothing about the Z8 that screams premium flagship, but there is also nothing to signify this phone is cost conscience. Most importantly this phone has the build that should last 2-3 years as long as you’re not the type to drop your devices.
What I have learned in recent months is that processor specs carry little weight. The return on investment for processor price versus performance is very low these days. Whether you’re using Samsung’s latest octa-core Exynos or Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon, the only real important factor is how does the processor perform in daily use. Even the latest Google Nexus devices use different processors – the Nexus 6P uses a high end Snapdragon octa-core processor while the 5X uses a hexa-core processor. Both of those phones perform identically in real world usage.
While I could run performance and benchmark tests for you, I won’t. I rarely have ever done this as it means almost nothing to me. Some manufacturers cheat those benchmark tests, and that’s all you really need to know when it comes to that. Once the truth was exposed about how manufacturers view these tests, you should view them the same way too. With a grain of salt.
I treat all of my phones the same. I don’t push them harder when they are new or when I am testing them. That isn’t realistic nor fair to the phone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use my phones. I use them heavily and what they are meant to be used for.
The primary purpose of my smartphone is to serve my professional career first. If it doesn’t work for me there, it will get donated to a friend immediately. Speed, battery life, clear display, and multi-tasking are all must have items on my phone. I read and reply to dozens of emails daily, respond to countless text messages, take regular phone calls where I cannot have dropped calls, play games, use navigation, access a chemical/biological database, take notes and browse the web. I’m one of those people who sets the curve when it comes to how many times a person checks their phone. Without question my phone is the most used item in my daily routine.
With the technology today, I expect speed to not be an issue. Lag issues are usually due to software bugs with over customization or new releases of Android. It’s something that even LG and Samsung flagships experience due to the nature of the customization layer they add to Android. The Nuu Mobile Z8 is quick and snappy. In the last two months it has been a daily driver, and not one time did I experience unexplainable lag. The most graphic intense game I play is Boom Beach by Supercell, and even with that it performed no differently than phones twice its price.
32GB of memory onboard made plenty of room for my Google Play Music playlists that I always download to my phones for better quality. There is a slot for a microSD card upgrade, but I rarely ever use that much space on a phone. I did throw a microSD card just to test it out and had photos stored on it, and again it performed flawlessly.
The Z8 is a true example of what mid range prices can get you these days. Put all of the spec hardware hype aside, and you can get a complete experience in the performance category that is no different than what you would get from phones twice the price.
I’d say battery life is the most important feature I need in a phone. I don’t always have the luxury of sitting at a desk where I can charge my phone. Working as a chemist means I am in the lab almost all of the time. My phone is in my pocket and I don’t want to leave it in my office for I might miss an important phone call or text.
Travel is also a big factor in my job as I do need to travel for conferences and large robotics purchases for my lab. Nothing really stresses a phone’s battery life more than travel since you’re away from wall outlets.
While I usually have backup batteries on myself when I travel, I never found the need to pull it out and charge the Nuu Mobile Z8 even on cross country trips from San Diego to Boston. And with free WiFi on Jet Blue, I was emailing, watching video and browsing the web on most of the flight. The battery itself is surprisingly small at 2650mAh, but it lasts longer than my LG V10 and just as long as the Nexus 6P.
One of the major benefits the Z8 has is not being plagued by a heavily modified user interface like found on LG and Samsung devices. And that is the reason why the battery lasts so long.
I almost never find myself looking for a charger before bed after a full day of work, exercising, walking the dog and talking on the phone. And that is all I ask for. A phone that can get me through the entire day – a real workday.
The camera is typically an area where mid-range and budget phones fall down and is one of the most important features to smartphones users with the explosion of Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Almost everyone is documenting their lives in some fashion and the camera is the best way to do it.
The Z8 uses a 13MP Sony rear camera with HDR, panorama, tap to focus and autofocus all built into the software. The Nuu Mobile Z8 camera takes very clear pictures, but it doesn’t quite get colors or light balance done right. The pictures I took were more than acceptable, but I would say Nuu could work on adjusting the image quality a bit. You can view my sample gallery by following this LINK.
Even though the pictures weren’t quite the best, I still found the camera to be more than acceptable. I’d gladly use it without complaint. It’s mainly for the purposes of this review that I need to actually look at my pictures for flaws. Clarity is spot on, but the camera lets in a bit too much light.
One feature I refuse to compromise on is display quality. The Z8 doesn’t compromise with a full 1080p HD IPS display that is clear and bright. I had no issues with it in full daylight, but I did notice there was a slight blue tinge to it. It’s a calibration preference, but after a couple of days of using the Z8, I got used to the display and only noticed the blue tinge when I looked at another phone.
At 1080p the Z8’s display is crisp and the phone also has reasonably sized bezels making it feel like a premium device.
While smartphones are a major passion of mine, there are worse hobbies, I find it very important to review phones that actually matter. I know there were some really cool devices that were released at MWC 2016 last week. The Galaxy S7 edge is a beast, but it also costs $800. The LG G5 is a great concept, but it’s probably going to cost $650-750 for the base model. Add in each module (no pricing as of yet) and you could easily be in over $1000 for the total cost of the phone.
While having incredible displays, cameras, builds, and tons of other high-end specs are cool, at the end of the day and after about a month of usage, the phone is the same as your previous one. What I mean by that is you aren’t going to be doing anything new with your latest smartphone. You’re going to be using social media, sending texts, taking pictures, browsing the web, and using navigation. It’s not like the Samsung Galaxy S7 is going to wash your car or cook you dinner.
The time for $800 smartphones was once necessary, but today it is almost a joke. While there are the enthusiasts who will always get the latest iteration of each device, the practical uses of phones is the same. And for people like me, who don’t do anything outrageous with their phones, the Nuu Mobile Z8 is a rock star. At $299 it is a bargain compared to the $649 iPhone 6S and LG V10. It’s an even bigger bargain compared to the $800 Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.
Performance wise, it matches the best of the best when it comes to daily tasks. The minimal changes to Android help the Z8 stay speedy and bug free. And because it is $299 I worry less about protecting the phone with a case and screen protector that also adds to the cost. If I do happen to break it, I could buy another and still spend less than what I would have spent on one flagship from the big manufacturers. I also save tons of money by not worrying about mobile insurance.
If you are willing to not buy into the advertising crap that the big companies fill our heads with, and are willing to listen to reason, I highly recommend you give the Nuu Mobile Z8 a run. It’s well built, quick, has plenty of memory, works contract free, and overall is a great phone for just $299.
Android™ 5.0 Lollipop
1.7 GHz Octa-Core Processor
64 bit ARM Cortex-A53
5.5” Full HD
IPS Gapless Screen
1920 x 1080 (400 PPI)
Rear: 13 MP with Sony lens
– Auto Focus
– Tap to Focus
Front: 8 MP with wide-angle lens
0.5 W Speaker
3.5mm Audio Jack
2650mAh with PMIC
Built-in ROM: 32 GB
RAM: 2 GB
Expandable with microSD (up to 64 GB)
LTE + GSM (Dual-Sim, Dual-Standby)
– SIM 1: 4G LTE (micro-SIM)
– SIM 2: 4G LTE (micro-SIM)
LTE up to 150 Mbps
GSM: 850, 900, 1900
WCDMA: 850, 1900, 1700/2100
LTE Bands: 2, 4, 7, 17
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac
micro USB v2.0
6.02 x 3.01 x 0.37 (in)
USB to micro USB Data Cable
USB Power Adapter
Earbuds with Microphone
Quick Start Guide