ZTE Blade S6 review: A dual-SIM, 4G smartphone for less than $300

A budget smartphone worth your time

ZTE Blade S6
  • ZTE Blade S6
  • ZTE Blade S6
  • ZTE Blade S6
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Well backlit 5-inch screen
  • 4G and dual-SIM
  • Good 13MP and 5MP camera performance for its price
  • Near stock Android 5.0 software

Cons

  • Expandable storage does not support 64GB and above
  • Battery life could be better
  • Unoriginal styling

Would you buy this?

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” goes the old adage. Apple and Samsung must be blushing then because ZTE’s latest smartphone, the Blade S6, borrows its moniker from Samsung and its styling from Apple.

Samsung has been working towards the S6 branding for five years and past ZTE smartphones follow different naming conventions. ZTE is using the ‘S6’ branding simply because Apple and Samsung has made it fashionable.

Place it on a table at social gatherings and no one will tell from a glance that it isn’t an iPhone 6. The front is white and the back is silver, just like an iPhone. Its home button is circular and its camera nestles in its top-left corner, just like an iPhone. And the glass on its front tapers subtly into its sides to encourage gesture swipes, just like an iPhone. The ZTE Blade S6 then is no eyesore.

Individual character is forged from the Blade’s small differences, such as the glowing blue buttons below its screen. They are capacitive and the circular home buttons pulses blue whenever a notification goes unchecked. Typical notification lights can be harsh on eyes at night. This solution is subtle, soft, integrated and aesthetic.

Unlike Apple and Samsung’s flagship, the Blade S6 is a dual-SIM smartphone. It has been priced to compete against Motorola’s Moto G, but whereas the Motorola smartphone is limited to 3G Internet speeds, the Blade S6 proves superior with support for 4G Internet.

Only one SIM can be used for Internet in this smartphone as the secondary tray works on 2G networks. Pop in a 4G SIM connected to a cheap Internet plan and another abundant in voice call value, and a smartphone like the Blade S6 could lower phone bills.

Read more: Microsoft Lumia 640 review: Honouring Nokia's legacy
1. Dual-SIM settings; 2. The messaging interface; 3. The stock dialer
1. Dual-SIM settings; 2. The messaging interface; 3. The stock dialer

ZTE has gingerly tweaked the software to aid this pursuit. The Android 5.0 operating system remains largely stock, sans for some small changes. Compose a text message and there are two send buttons; one for each SIM. Write a message larger than 160 characters and this smartphone will warn two texts will be sent. Heavy users may not see the value, but this small tweak will draw the intrigue of the young and the thrifty.

Few liberties have been taken with the operating system. Most of it remains vanilla, with the major departures involving the music player and camera interface. Keeping the software stock works in the Blade’s favour.

Last year’s Blade Vec was a standout in the budget smartphone space because it had a large, rich screen. The Blade S6 follows, with its 5-inch, 1280x720 screen packing 294 pixels into each inch. These specs are on par with its rivals; what sets the ZTE smartphone apart is its punchy colours and strong backlighting.

Read more: Optus, Vodafone bringing Wi-Fi Calling to Australia

ZTE has turned to Sony again for its rear 13 megapixel camera. How well the photos turn out depends on the lighting and the time of day. Take photos outdoors on a sunny day and the Blade’s camera will outperform similarly priced rivals. Landscape shots look particularly good with bold colours and enough detail to be viewed on a large screen television.

It’s when lighting becomes scarce that the camera begins to struggle. Take a photo indoors and the light from a fluorescent bulb or a window will flare and result in a loss of detail. Night photos taken outdoors are grainy, even when they are viewed on the smartphone’s screen. Too much image noise often deems photos taken at night unusable.

Read more: 5 reasons to jump on the smartwatch bandwagon

And it is the same with the front-facing 5 megapixel camera, which captures above-average ‘selfies’ in well lit situations and less appealing ones at night.

A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent
A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent

Read more: Apple outs reported iPhone 6C on its website

Powering the Blade S6 is a Snapdragon 615 CPU. This is an octa-core processor that alternates between a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU and another 1GHz quad-core CPU, depending on the computational power needed. It works with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, which can be expanded with microSD cards no larger 32GB.

Whereas the ZTE Vec would stutter and strain under a few tasks, the Blade S6 does not. Overall performance is smooth and consistent. Even heavy games can be played on this smartphone, such as Real Racing 3, though it will drop frames and occasionally stutter.

Benchmarking the S6 against the Vec reveals it is a significant upgrade. 3DMark’s ice storm unlimited test awarded the year-old Vec with a score of 2836, while the Blade S6 scored 8680 in the same test.

Built into the smartphone is a 2400 milliamp-hour battery and its longevity between charges depends on how intensely the smartphone is used. Good Gear Guide’s testing found the battery’s range can last from 13 hours to 28 hours. Our most consistent result was around the 20 hour mark, and that is significantly less than the Microsoft Lumia 640 reviewed a week ago, but in keeping with the second-generation Motorola Moto G we reviewed late last year.

No doubt the Blade S6 looks like Apple’s flagship, but that is part of its charm. You could whisk this budget smartphone out and most people won’t notice it costs a fraction of the price. The same goes with most of its features because it can keep up with more expensive rivals. Consider that it outperforms Microsoft's Lumia 640 and Motorola’s Moto G by offering both dual-SIM capabilities and 4G Internet. As far as inexpensive smartphones go, ZTE’s Blade S6 is among the best.

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Read more on these topics: Google, Apple, Android, samsung, blade, ZTE, galaxy, Lollipop, 5.0, Blade Vec, S6
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