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Nubia Z20 review

In the age of the modern smartphone you don't come across too many ideas that are significantly different to what most other smartphones are doing. Usually, that's because companies generally have a good idea of what technologies are important to consumers, and so they know how to build their phones. But that doesn't mean there aren't interesting ideas out there.

One company: Nubia seems to live and breathe slightly wacky ideas. In 2019 it showed off a bizarre smartwatch that was also a mini flexible smartphone. It also launched the Z20: a smartphone with two displays and no front facing camera. It's packed with great specs, and it's actually a reasonable price, so should you buy one?

Design

Look at it from the front, and you probably won't notice anything all that remarkable about the Nubia Z20. For the most part, it looks like a smartphone. It's the usual combination of glass and metal, where the front glass is curved at the edges. Power up the display, there's something we took a while to notice: there's no notch and no hole-punch cutout for a selfie camera.

What that means in turn is that the phones has slim bezels all the way around the display, and there's nothing creeping into the screen's space. We like that a lot. As seems to still be the case for most Android phone makers, the bottom edge is still chunkier than the others. This still seems to be an area that's proving difficult to shrink down.

Still, the overall effect is that - when powered on - you have this big, colourful and bright screen dominating the view, with nothing to distract you from the content.

We really like the finish of the polished metal around the edges too. It has this dark, glossy look to it that's not quite pitch black, but more of a really dark smokey grey. And this is where you first notice something unusual: it has a fingerprint sensor/power button on both sides, placed at exactly the same height on both right and left edges.

To its credit, the placement is ideal for using with a thumb on either hand, and that makes it a truly ambidextrous phone that's as convenient for the left handed user as it is for right handed people. Of course, it also means you can use it easily whether you're using the primary or secondary screen on the back. Using our thumb, we found it also had a high accuracy rate, unlocking the phone quickly virtually every single time, without any 'not recognised errors'.

It's perhaps not the most technologically advanced fingerprint sensor, but we understand why it's done this way. An in-display fingerprint sensor would mean it only worked on one side. Likewise, using advanced facial recognition would require a hefty notch in the front and additional camera/scanners on the back. It's the best compromise for what Nubia wanted to achieve.

Turn it around to the back and this where you get the first glimpse at the Z20's selling point (or discussion point): there's a screen.

It is worth remembering, Nubia is not the first company to think putting a screen on the back of its phone is a good idea. YotaPhone's only selling point was the fact that it had an e-ink display on the back of its phone, kinda like a mini Kindle. Chinese manufacturer, Meizu also had a screen on the back of one of its phones, except this one was a tiny, colour screen that did little more than show notifications and the weather.

Nubia's approach is vastly different to both. It has a full colour, high refresh rate, proper screen on the back. It's not as big as the main display, but it's not tiny like the secondary display on the Meizu one either. Similarly, it's not a low refresh rate e-ink screen like the weird and wonderful YotaPhone had.

Is the secondary screen actually useful?

Now we don't mind companies thinking outside the box. In fact, as tech fans that like to get excited by new things, we encourage it. After all, the last thing we want is for everything to be exactly the same.

After more than a decade of primarily using smartphones with one main screen, there's definitely a bit of a learning curve trying to remember that there's a second screen on the back. It's not instinctive to flip it over and use the secondary screen. The only time it feel natural to use is when taking selfies.

Because there's no dedicated front facing camera, the rear screen becomes your selfie screen when taking photos of yourself. That does mean you don't have to use a much poorer camera to take selfies - which is normally the case - and that would be great, if the main cameras were really good. We'll come to it a bit later, but, the cameras on the back aren't top notch.

Where we do perhaps see some use for the screen is with the phone turned over on the desk. You still have an always-on display, which can show you when you have notifications. And if you want to check them quickly without using a lot of the phone's battery, you can switch the screen to its most battery efficient state - essentially black and white. And we found in this mode, we're less likely to use it for much more than the essentials, conserving a lot of power.

Is it useful? Yes, sometimes. Is it essential? Not even a little bit. While interesting, even after using it for a while, it feels like it really doesn't need to be there. What's more, the fact that it's on the back, and mostly being held in the hand, it quickly gets covered with finger and hand smudges.

Media consumption hit and miss

As for the primary screen on the front, that's actually a decent panel. It's a big, colourful screen which - as we've already mentioned - takes up nearly all of the space on the front. Colours are vibrant, blacks are deep and it's plenty bright enough.

Use it to display the right content, and it looks quite stunning at times. It's sharp and vivid. Launch a game like Alto's Odyssey and the colours and detail just pops on the screen to give you a fantastic visual treat. Sadly, with Netflix, that's not the case. It seems Nubia's phone can't play the highest resolution on the streaming giant's mobile app, and so while colours, light and shadows look good, details are a little fuzzy.

It's a shame, because technically, it's one of the nicest looking panels around at the moment when used to its fullest. But when one of the most popular video apps on the Play Store doesn't seem to be used optimally, it's disappointing. Similarly, with the rounded corners, sometimes we found parts of the images, or icons on screen were slightly cut off.

Add that to the fact that you only have one loudspeaker firing sound out of the bottom edge, and it can feel a little underwhelming at times. The loudspeaker itself isn't the best quality either, the sound can get loud, but is quite tinny and doesn't have any of the bass we've become accustomed to in modern flagships.

Flagship performance

For the most part, the Z20 acts like the flagship it is, thanks to being powered by one of Qualcomm's most powerful processors. It's the Snapdragon 855, the same you'd find in pretty much every high end Android phone from 2019.

What that means is when loading apps, or gliding around the user interface, it launches quickly and smoothly. Put it side by side with the uber smooth OnePlus 7 Pro, and you might notice a little stuttering and touch of lag.

Camera

Veredito

O Nubia Z20 é um celular perfeitamente bom, principalmente pelo seu preço. Ele tem um bom desempenho, boa aparência, possui uma ótima tela (principal) e uma versão do Android que não está sobrecarregada com muito inchaço extra ou uma aparência personalizada pesada.

O seu maior problema, na verdade, é que nem sequer mencionamos a segunda tela - porque parece um pouco estranho tirar muito proveito dela. Como esse é o principal ponto de venda aqui, lutamos para ser seduzidos.

Além disso, há uma forte concorrência por aí. Por um preço semelhante, você pode escolher algo no OnePlus e obter um telefone mais suave e rápido com uma tela - e apenas um! - essa é sem dúvida uma das melhores telas do mercado. O Nubia pode ter duas telas, mas isso não a torna melhor que uma.

Alternativas a considerar

Pocket-lint

OnePlus 7T

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Se você deseja um telefone equipado com Snapdragon 855+ com desempenho rápido e suave e uma câmera tripla, pode obtê-lo no OnePlus. O OnePlus 7T é um dispositivo fantástico e, embora custe um pouco mais do que o telefone da Nubia, é muito mais disponível.

Pocket-lint

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro

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Se o preço é importante para você, mas você ainda deseja um ótimo desempenho e pode lidar com uma experiência de software um pouco irregular, o Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro é super fácil de recomendar. É um telefone impressionante por seu preço.