With its white chassis, curved corners and round, glowing home button, it’s pretty obvious which smartphone the ZTE Blade S6 is trying to emulate. The illusion even extends into ZTE’s version of Android, as its lack of app tray couldn’t be more like iOS if it tried. However, for all its aspirations to be the most iPhone-like Android handset out there, the Blade S6 drops the ball when it comes to overall build quality, as I not only noticed its plastic unibody chassis had a noticeable amount of flex in the back panel, but it also accumulated its fair share of nicks and dents while I had it in for testing.
This is to be somewhat expected from a phone that only costs £150 SIM-free, though, so I can forgive it for not living up to the same standards as Apple’s metal and glass flagships. It’s a pretty good-looking handset, too, and at 7.7mm thick it’s considerably thinner than the 3rd Gen Moto G. The smooth edges also make it very comfortable to hold.
The Blade S6 also has some pretty competitive specs, giving it a considerable advantage over similarly-priced rivals. While most £150 smartphones use a quad-core, 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor – including the 3rd Gen Moto G – the Blade S6 is one of the few handsets in this price range with an octa-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615.
Paired with 2GB of RAM, this gives the Blade S6 a very welcome speed boost over the competition, and the four extra cores really come in handy when you’re running multiple applications at once. With a score of 2,273 in Geekbench 3’s multicore test and 661 in the single core test, the Blade S6 is streets ahead of the 3rd Gen Moto G, which only managed 1,598 and 532 respectively, and I could see the difference in day-to-day use, too, as apps often loaded much faster on the Blade S6 than the Moto G.
Likewise, the Blade S6’s graphics capabilities are excellent, as it produced a highly respectable 700 frames (around 11fps) in the onscreen Manhatten test of GFX Bench GL, and 356 frames (around 5.8fps) in the offscreen test – the latter being more than double what the Moto G managed. This is excellent for a phone of this price, and I was able to play all sorts of games, from Hearthstone to Threes, with no problem whatsoever.
The Moto G closed the gap in our web browsing tests, as its Peacekeeper score of 731 is only a fraction off the Blade S6’s result of 886. However, the Moto G was still a touch jerky when scrolling up and down complex news articles on the Guardian, for instance, making it feel a little sluggish compared to the silky smooth browsing I encountered on the Blade S6.
This puts the Blade S6 at a clear advantage over the Moto G, but the extra speed doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to use. I found the dedicated navigation buttons quite frustrating to use, as their rear LED backlight is rather dim, making them difficult to pick out when you’re in a rush. The home button feels just a fraction too low when you’re using it single-handed, and I often either missed it or didn’t tap it hard enough for it to register, making it a bit frustrating during day-to-day use.
The ZTE Blade S6 can’t match the Moto G’s battery life either, as its 2,400mAh battery only managed a rather disappointing 9h 25m in the Expert Reviews continuous video playback test. This is almost two hours less than the Moto G, and under what I’d normally expect to see from a 2015 smartphone, even at this price. Under 10 hours would have been pretty normal last year, but when nearly every other 2015 handset I’ve tested has managed to hit double-figures, it leaves the Blade S6 feeling decidedly below average.
Of course, battery life will decrease even faster when the screen brightness is set to maximum, which you’ll almost certainly need when using the phone outside; its peak brightness level measures just 377.66cd/m2. Any lower and the screen becomes increasingly more difficult to see clearly when you step outside, and I struggled to get a clear view even in fairly overcast weather conditions.
This is a shame, as image quality is excellent. The 5in, 1,280×720 resolution display provides ample room for web pages and apps, and its 93% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut ensures colours are rich and punchy. Black levels were also respectable at 0.37cd/m2, and a contrast ratio of 1,019:1 provides images with plenty of detail.