Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

The affordable iPhone lookalike tucks a ton of tricks up its sleeve to create a world of fun
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

The ZTE Blade S6 might look like any other phone, or a certain phone we all know, but it has few very persuasive factors.

From the circus-themed launch event to the magician opening act, it’s clear that ZTE Blade S6 was designed with a very specific target audience in mind. Read: the youthful crowd. But is it more gimmicky or genuinely useful? We wrangle a unit away from the horde to figure that out.

Is this an iPhone?

Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

In the time leading up to the launch of the Blade S6, leaked images have suggested that the phone bears more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone. But upon formal introduction, things are not what they seem.

Yes, the white bezels, curved edges and the circular home button might be similar in appearance, but the Blade S6 features a ring around it that lights up blue for notifications. In terms of size, the iPhone 6 Plus, used for comparison here, is thinner at 7.1mm in relation to the Blade S6’s 7.7mm. But the 5in Blade S6 is lighter at 132g than the 172g iPhone 6 Plus. It’s a trade-off, but honestly you can’t compare the two phones as they don't compete in the same smartphone leagues. You’ll see what we mean when you read on.

Tricksy motion controls

Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

ZTE promised a ton of fun with this youthful device, and we quickly realised what they meant when they introduced Smart Sense, the motion and gesture control system that lives in the Blade S6. Raise the sleeping phone up to your face to activate the front-facing camera to use as a mirror, shake the phone to switch on the flashlight function, and draw a ‘V’ in the air to get your music playing. Those are just a few of the gesture options.

However, they come with a caveat. Upon using the phone, we realised they’re not as simple as promised. For example, you’ll have to hold down the volume up button and only release it when you bring it up to your face for mirror activation. And to play your music, you can’t just slash a vague “V” in the air, you need to maintain the phone in a flat position and draw a rather large “V” while holding the volume down button down, which you should definitely not attempt in packed public places. Only the flashlight worked as advertised, and it was a hit and miss affair.

Frankly, it might be a lot more simpler to just tap a few buttons than to draw symbols in the air with our phone. But we understand the appeal of the novelty. And you can always deactivate the settings if you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to yourself in public. For what it’s worth, it was amusing to see the journalists present waving the phones all around. Now that, we can see the fun in.

Picture this

Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

While Smart Sense might not be the smartest or the most sensible, the Blade S6 packs rather impressive imaging hardware courtesy of Sony. The rear camera is all of 13MP while the front facing one checks in at 5MP and has an 80-degree wide angle field of view for wefies (we apologise for inflicting that word on you).

What’s even better is that you can choose to shoot in simple or manual mode via the blue circle at the top of the screen. With the latter, you get to adjust ISO, white balance, and exposure settings. But our favourite has to be the tilt-shift setting that allows you to see if your shot is straight.

Under the hood

Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6
Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

ZTE’s really proud of the fact that the Blade S6 is the first Android L-running smartphone using the Qualcomm octo-core Snapdragon chipset. Opening applications proved to be a lag-free affair but it’s the battery that worries us a little bit. At 2400mAh, it doesn’t seem like it will juice an octo-core processor that long. Although the 5in HD display should alleviate some of that battery pressure. Until we get a set to test for a while, it’s difficult to say for certain though.

The phone also offers dual nano SIM slots and a microSD slot for expansion beyond its native 16GB. It runs its own MiFavor 3.0 user interface that allows for plenty of customisation from the colour of the background right down to page transitions, all easily accessible by swiping up to bring up the options.

It also boasts an interesting feature called AliveShare that allows users to share files and continue gaming with one another even without Wi-Fi or a cellular connection. We’re guessing it works via Bluetooth, but unfortunately didn’t get the time to test out its effectiveness.

The price is right

Hands-on with the ZTE Blade S6

At US$250 (RM910), it makes it a lot easier to forgive the Blade S6 for its transgressions. It sure isn’t the Xiaomi, but it does offer great value for money and innovative though slightly gimmicky features which is always welcomed in the mobile space.

Expect it to land in two colours, matt pink and silver, in Malaysia on 10 February.