Lenovo’s smartphones may not be available for sale anywhere in Europe, but that hasn’t stop the world’s largest PC vendor from showcasing its latest smartphones here at IFA 2014. It’s even announced three new mobile devices here: the Vibe Z2, Vibe X2 and the Tab S8. Given that Lenovo smartphones are officially available in Malaysia, there’s one smartphone we’re particularly interested in: the Vibe Z2 Pro, one of the most powerful Android smartphones to date.
In terms of hardware, the Vibe Z2 Pro sits right up there with the mainstream phone makers. Powered by a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor with 3GB of RAM, the Vibe Z2 Pro also sports a 6-inch 2560 x 1440 IPS display. As if that’s not impressive enough, here’s the rest of the Vibe Z2 Pro’s hardware: 16MP rear camera with OIS, 32GB of non-expandable storage, 4000mAh battery, and a metal body that’s just 7.7mm thick and weighing 179g.
On paper at least, the Vibe Z2 Pro seems like a beast. Look at it from the front, though, and it is a slightly different story. While the display takes up an impressive amount of real estate with stunningly thin bezels, the front of the Vibe Z2 Pro is a little…boring, especially compared to the back, which has a handsome metallic weave design.
The next issue that I encountered on the Vibe Z2 Pro left me a little dumbfounded. The Android capacitive buttons, especially the Back button, have responsive areas that are slightly away from the illuminated symbols. That means if you tap on the illuminated Back button, it may not register, requiring you to tap repeatedly until there’s a vibration that lets you know you’ve hit it – in my experience, it is a little to the bottom right side of the backlit Back button. Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve experienced this on a smartphone, and to be fair, it may be limited to these marketing units which are usually not the final product.
If you’re not a fan of big phones, you won’t like what’s coming with the Z2 Pro. While Lenovo has done an impressive job fitting that large display into a body that’s still grippable with one hand, it is almost impossible to use with one hand. Even the metallic weave design, which thankfully adds plenty of grip, doesn’t make it easier for one-handed operation. It won’t be easy fitting this into your slim-fit jeans, either.
In terms of software, the new batch of Lenovo smartphones are all running on Android 4.4 KitKat – again, that’s impressive considering Lenovo’s…cautious approach to updating its software.
On top of the OS is Lenovo’s Vibe UI, which honestly has an icon pack that is spectacularly amateur. The system icons are all flat, square 2D tiles that are highly simplistic, and clashes badly when placed next to app icons such as Chrome, which has a circular logo. As a result, the Chrome icon has a white outline to make it square. Horrific.
Of course, the Theme Center lets you download new icon packs and wallpapers, but it doesn’t hide the fact that this default icon pack looks decidedly childish.
Moving on to the camera on the Vibe Z2 Pro. The new Vibe UI introduces a new minimalistic camera UI called Smart Camera, but the Vibe Z2 Pro also has a secondary UI called Professional Camera, which…borrows liberally from Nokia’s Pro Camera app UI in its Lumia smartphones. Both Smart Camera and Professional Camera sport concentric circular menus, from the manual controls on Professional Camera mode to the various settings available on Smart Camera mode.
As for the camera performance itself, here are some sample images taken from the Vibe Z2 Pro’s 16MP shooter (all in Smart Camera mode at Auto settings):
Overall, the Vibe Z2 Pro feels rather unbalanced. While its spec sheet demands attention, the device itself seems to lack a defining edge, an X-factor that makes it desirable. Its predecessor, the K900, while also unwieldy, oozes class that the Vibe Z2 Pro quite simply does not have. Whether it was due to the wonky capacitive buttons or the amateurish software UI, this was one smartphone whose first impressions have left me a little disappointed.
The Vibe Z2 Pro promised so much – and may yet deliver, given that this is just a brief hands on – but I left the Lenovo booth feeling that the Vibe Z2 Pro was more of a “me too” release, a scream for attention from the fast-growing mobile division that it too can produce powerful Android smartphones.