Lenovo's ZUK phone puts other Chinese flagships to shame

The ZUK Z2 Pro has top specs, syncs with iCloud and is surprisingly affordable.

ZUK, a Chinese smartphone brand that you may have already forgotten about, has recently joined the ranks of Moto and Vibe to become Lenovo's latest mobile sub-brand. That wasn't the plan when Lenovo started restructuring its mobile division last year, but now it's included the startup to make its earlier investment worthwhile. Which is a good move, given how awesome and good-looking the freshly-announced ZUK Z2 Pro turned out to be. The company emphasized that its new 5.2-inch device makes full use of Qualcomm's 2.15GHz, quad-core Snapdragon 820, so it also comes with speedy UFS 2.0 storage of up to 128GB, LPDDR4 RAM of up to 6GB, USB 3.1 connectivity with Type-C port, Cat 6 LTE, dual Nano SIM slots and Quick Charge 3.0 -- you'll want that for the big 3,100 mAh battery.

Alas, the Z2 Pro has left out NFC for some reason, but that shouldn't bother mobile payment users in China who are more used to in-app payments, such as AliPay, WeChat, JD and Bestpay. These can all take advantage of the Z2 Pro's front-facing fingerprint reader which apparently tolerates wet fingers, and it also has self-learning ability to increase reading accuracy. As part of ZUK's Android-based ZUI 2.0, you can customize various finger gestures -- including single tap, double tap, horizontal scrolling and long press -- to perform specific tasks using the fingerprint reader.

One of the main focuses of the Z2 Pro is fitness, so first and foremost, it's equipped with a bright 5.2-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen -- shielded by a piece of 2.5D Gorilla Glass 3 -- that goes all the way up to 500 nits for outdoor usage, though it can also dial down to just 1 nit for night time reading. It also features 100 percent NTSC and sRGB color gamut, as well as a near-invisible 0.05mm-thick black border around the screen.

ZUK says you won't have to worry as much about potentially dropping the phone while you go running with it, as it features a ThinkPad-inspired rollcage design -- there's a shock-absorbing layer between the curved glass backside and the 4.6mm-thick metallic mid-frame. But of course, there's still no guarantee that this will prevent the glass pieces from shattering upon impact.

On the back, you'll find an optical heart rate sensor that can also measure oxygen saturation. For those who get bored easily, ZUK's added a fun but gimmicky feature that lets you use this sensor to take a selfie and also add a heart-shaped label showing your heart rate at the time, which can be fun for when you're taking selfies with your idols or just any friend. But going back to health and fitness, the Z2 Pro also does more precise activity tracking by taking uphill movements and running cadence (as opposed to just steps) into account. The main camera there also serves as a 15-level UV detector, which can come in handy when you're about to head out for a run on a sunny day.

Speaking of cameras, the main one features a Samsung 13-megapixel 1.34um sensor with a bright f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, optical image stabilization and dual-tone flash. ZUK added that its new phone does a much better job at stabilizing video shots than the iPhones, but we'll believe it when we've tried it ourselves. As for the front camera, it uses an unknown 8-megapixel sensor with slightly larger 1.4um pixels, a reasonable f/2.0 aperture and a smart beautification mode that can apply the right amount of enhancement by detecting your gender.

Last but not least, we're rather amused by the fact that ZUK has added the ability to let the Z2 Pro sync with Apple's iCloud, which should makes lives much easier for users who are migrating from an iPhone to this Android phone. But whether this will work as smoothly as advertised or whether Apple will put a stop to this remains to be seen. At least it made us smile during the keynote.

Now, the prices. To our delight, the Z2 Pro's elite edition (6GB RAM with 128GB storage) will cost just 2,699 yuan or about $420, and it's available for pre-ordering in China tomorrow. ZUK cheekily pointed out that the maxxed-out Vivo Xplay5 with near-identical specs costs 4,288 yuan, which got a loud cheer from the audience. Similarly, even Xiaomi's Mi 5 Pro with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is also asking for 2,699 yuan, and LeEco's top-spec Le Max 2 (6GB of RAM and just 64GB of storage) will only save you 200 yuan. But if this is still too much for you, ZUK will also be offering a cheaper "flagship edition" Z2 Pro with just 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but there's no price announced just yet for its May 10th pre-ordering.

According to a company spokesperson, ZUK does have plans to continue serving its European and Middle Eastern markets (they've been mostly online), but we'll have to wait and see if these prices will match, and also whether it'll continue partnering with Cyanogen for its international devices.

Update: Well, here comes the party pooper. Lenovo's PR rep just reached out to say that the Z2 Pro is just for China and "will not be for sale in EMEA."