Back in 2010, ZTE launched the original Blade. With a 3.5” WVGA device – that was a big screen at the time – and a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, it was an unexpected hit, with specifications that belied its bargain price and a vibrant hacking and modding community
Fast-forward to 2015 and we have what feels like a spiritual successor to the original device. Many Blades have come and gone, but this is arguably the first to capture that special blend of ingredients that truly makes a low to mid-tier device a great.
What makes the S6 special – and what made the original so coveted – is that it breaks with the formula used by so many of its rivals. Non-premium processor? No – the phone has a 64-bit, Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 on-board. Outdated and heavily modified Operating System? On the contrary – the Blade S6 is the first device to ship with Android Lollipop on top of the 615 chipset. A shortage of RAM? Not in the slightest – the 2GB found on this phone matches the specifications of all but the very best of flagships. Meagre internal storage? Hardly – with 16GB it matches the Xperia Z3 (which is more than 3 times the price) and it can also be expanded via microSD. The list goes on. Add in dual band WiFi, a vast array of sensors, an impressive 5” IPS screen and even a high end Sony camera sensor and it soon becomes clear that the device really packs some punch for the price.
Of course, the Blade S6 clearly isn’t up to flagship standard in its entirety, so where have the corners been cut? Primarily in design and, to a lesser extent, in materials. The device is a rather blatant tribute to an iPhone 6, even down to the ‘Designed in California’ text on the back of the case. Subtle? Not at all.
That’s not to say that the design doesn’t work. As you’d expect, it feels good in the hand like an iPhone does. The device is completely plastic, but it is good quality plastic, with minimal flex and an attractive silver finish on the back. Without the need for antenna isolation strips, the design actually looks less fussy than it does on Apple’s device. At 7.7mm thick it feels suitably slimline given that it has a 2400mAh battery on board.
The front of the device is white, with three blue backlit capacitive buttons at the bottom which, while marked with just dots, perform the back, home and menu functions (a long press on the menu button opens the recent apps page). The front is, of course, dominated by the 5” 720P IPS screen, which includes in-cell touch technology and is an extremely impressive, responsive screen. Together with the speedy processor and snappy OS (Lollipop with its ART runtime), it makes for a great experience.
ZTE is keen to promote the camera experience on the Blade S6, specifically highlighting that the phone has the Sony IMX214 on-board, which is also found in the Xiaomi Mi4, OnePlus One and other high-end devices. The press materials promoting it as ‘SLR quality’ are more than optimistic, but it does take great shots, helped by a camera application that can be used in a fully automatic mode or in an expert configuration, which offers a wealth of manual controls. The front facing camera too is impressive, with automatic beautify and smile shot modes.
The Blade S6 includes what ZTE calls ‘Hi-Fi’ sound. In reality, the device includes only a single speaker on the back of the device (with the tiniest of dimples to keep it lifted when placed on a flat surface) and while the quality is pretty reasonable, it’s not particularly loud and you’re never going to get great stereo sound from a single speaker.