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Nubia Z20 review: the dual-screen smartphone

Nubia Z20 review: the dual-screen smartphone

The Nubia Z20 is the last flagship from the Chinese manufacturer to land in Europe. Like the Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition and Meizu Pro 7, the smartphone offers two screens: one on each side of the device. If the concept is original in a market that lacks innovation, you have to wonder about its usefulness. So, how does the Nubia Z20 work on a daily basis? Is this the pleasant surprise of the end of 2019? The answer is in our complete review.

Rating

Good

  • Design and concept
  • 2 AMOLED screens
  • Solid performance
  • Good battery life
  • Price

Bad

  • No gesture navigation
  • Mono sound
  • No water resistance

Nubia Z20 release date and price

The Nubia Z20 is available for sale starting October 14 for €549 (around $600). Only one model is available with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. Two colors are available: Twilight Blue and Diamond Black.

It does not fold but offers two screens

The concept of a dual-screen smartphone is not new. We didn't have to wait for the Chinese manufacturer Nubia and this Z20 to see this type of device on the market. The Yotaphone is certainly the most famous (and oldest) smartphone of this kind. Fortunately, Nubia has greatly modernized its vision of the dual-screen smartphone with this one.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Front 1
The Nubia Z20 has a premium style / © AndroidPIT

At first glance, you might think that the Nubia Z20 is a traditional smartphone, with a large bezel-less display at the front protected by a Gorilla Glass 5 glass that curves on both sides. It is only when you turn the device over that you realize that you also have a second screen built into the glass.

When the phone is switched off, this second screen is barely noticeable as the screen boundaries are well hidden. It is only when you activate this screen or when it is in standby (in Always-on mode) that you will notice that this other screen is smaller than the main screen. The work done by Nubia is remarkable.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Back
It is difficult to detect the second screen when the unit is turned off / © AndroidPIT

In the color of our test model (Twilight Blue), the smartphone has a rather premium look with a very successful colored metal chassis. The glass rear, where we find the three cameras aligned horizontally, creates reflective effects with light. On the other side of the coin, it also easily accumulates fingerprints. This is even more important (and visible) if you use the second screen extensively.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Back Screen 2
We find the Nubia logo (yes I know it looks like 'nuoio') at the bottom on the back / © AndroidPIT

It is interesting to note that the smartphone has two fingerprint readers (also acting as a standby button) located on each side of the device. This feature is intended to provide the same user experience no matter which screen you use, but we will come back to it later. The smartphone can also be "squeezed" at the sides, like a Google Pixel, to activate the feature you have chosen in the settings.

In the end, the smartphone makes an excellent impression with a reasonable weight (186 grams) and handy dimensions (158.6 x 75.3 x 9 mm). The finish is of very good quality and the Nubia Z20 is an elegant smartphone. It is a pity that it does not offer any certification against water and dust and that it is not possible to find a case that protects both sides of the device.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Fingerprint Sensor
A fingerprint reader is located on each side of the phone / © AndroidPIT

Two screens for the price of one

The Nubia Z20, therefore, has the particularity of offering two displays . The first is a 6.42-inch AMOLED display with a Full-HD+ (1080 x 2340 pixels) resolution and HDR10 support. There is no notch, so the size to screen ratio is very good and perfect for multimedia content.

In daily life, the screen is excellent. The brightness is high enough to use it under the sun, the contrasts are perfect and the colors are bright. The main screen of the Nubia Z20 may have a tendency to turn blue but you can change this in the settings.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Front 2
The large borderless display is pleasant to use on a daily basis / © AndroidPIT

The second screen on the back of the smartphone is still an AMOLED screen but is 5.1 inches and has an HD definition (720 x 1,520 pixels). The brightness is also good but less powerful than the main screen. The colors are also less bright but overall it's very good. The fluidity and reactivity time is also impeccable. Its size is also sufficient for all uses.

In practice, it is very easy to switch from one screen to another. A switch button is present in the notification bar and it is possible to leave a virtual one on the screen at any time. Change is happening quickly. Nubia offers a choice of a mirror effect (both displays display the same interface) or a multitasking effect (e.g. Chrome on one display and WhatsApp on the other).

You can also use and unlock the screen you want by using one of the two fingerprint readers of your choice (no facial recognition, of course). The smartphone automatically detects the screen you are using according to the position of your hands and fingers.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Back Screen 1
The second screen also features an Always-on mode / © AndroidPIT

Nubia also has many settings to activate effects on the second screen when you use the main screen, for example when you play games, receive a call or when you listen to music. Both screens also feature Always-on modes to display various contextualized information. To take a selfie or make a video call, you can also use the second screen.

androidpit second display nubia
The second screen offers a lot of options / © AndroidPIT

Overall, the design of the two screens is very well done. However, it is really difficult to distinguish the real utility of the second screen in everyday life. I liked switching from one screen to another but I was doing it more out of pleasure than necessity. Using the second screen can help to save some battery life because the screen is less energy-consuming.

No Android 10 on the menu

A smartphone is not just about the technical specs. Software obviously has an important part (if not the largest part) to play in the success of a device. This concerns the user experience offered by the manufacturer but also the follow-up support.

Unfortunately, Nubia is not the best student at this game. First of all, the smartphone does not run the latest Android 10 version but Android 9 Pie with the Nubia UI 7 home interface (and the August 2019 security patch ) .

If it is not the only manufacturer to do the same (check out the Samsung Galaxy Note 10), I remain very skeptical about the availability and arrival of Android 10 on the device. Nubia is not known for attaching such importance to the software updates of its smartphones, and chances are this phone does not change that. And even though Android 10 is coming "soon", I'm not convinced that the Z20 will benefit from the new Android 11 version that will be launched next summer.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Menu
Forget gesture navigation on the Nubia Z20 / © AndroidPIT

For the rest, the Nubia UI 7 is a slightly modified version of what we know as Android Stock. All icons are completely square and an application drawer is also included. You can customize many things but unfortunately, Nubia does not allow you to choose gesture navigation. It's a pity because it doesn't really allow you to enjoy the screens. You will be comforted by the Game Space feature, which allows you not to be disturbed when you play or to film your games.

In terms of fluidity, the Z20 does not disappoint, including when switching to the second screen. Applications open and close quickly. I have noticed some application crashes and small bugs at times but these problems should be fixed with the final version of the software promised by the Chinese manufacturer.

androidpit nubia os z20
You have to like square icons / © AndroidPIT

More power than you need

Under the hood, there are components quite similar to what can be found in all flagships at the end of 2019. The Nubia Z20 features the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor with an Adreno 640 GPU and 8GB of RAM, so the experience is no surprise, both on the main screen and on the secondary screen.

If you're looking for a powerful smartphone that can withstand all uses, including the most demanding games, the Nubia Z20 will do just fine, especially since its price positioning is interesting, navigation is smooth and multitasking is no problem. A good point also is that the smartphone does not overheat excessively keeping an acceptable temperature even when it is heavily used.

You can get an idea of the potential of the device by consulting the results of the Nubia Z20 scores for our various benchmarks tests.

Nubia Z20: comparison of benchmarks results

  Nubia Z20 Samsung Galaxy Note 10 OnePlus 7 Pro OnePlus 7T
3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1 5724 4905 5374 6020
3D Mark Sling Shot Vulkan 5058 4146 4758 5245
3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0 7326 4872 6958 6649
3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited ES 2.0 75871 53 189 65 808 72 408
Geekbench 5 (Single / Multi) 749 / 2514 704 / 2283 733 / 2748 786 / 2825
PassMark Memory 32 210 19 730 31 375 32 960
PassMark Disk 73 609 73 145 69 984 50 068

Also, if you store a lot of data, just know that the 128GB of internal storage is not expandable by a microSD card.

Mono sound and no headphone jack

Unlike most flagships, the Nubia Z20 offers only one speaker located on the lower edge, next to the USB-C port. This domain is perhaps the most neglected area by Nubia on its smartphones. The sound quality is quite typical for a smartphone with only one speaker. Even if it is enough to watch multimedia content or make calls, we are a little disappointed. At higher volumes, the sound quickly becomes metallic and very distorted.

If you prefer to use headphones, you will have to use the Bluetooth connection since the Nubia has also given in to the temptation and has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack plug for this Z20.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Charging Port 2
At least, Nubia did not have the temptation to create a second false loudspeaker grid to create a symmetrical design / © AndroidPIT

During my tests, the quality of the calls was impeccable. I had no difficulty communicating, even in a crowded place like a train during rush hour. You can use both screens to make calls (in duplex or reverse mode) without any worries.

A triple photo sensor

In concrete terms, on paper, the Nubia Z20 offers a rather interesting photo configuration with three sensors (and two LED flashes) which is composed of as follows:

  • A 48 MP sensor (Sony IMX586) with f/1.7, 26mm aperture
  • An 8 MP telephoto lens with f/2.4 aperture and 3x optical zoom
  • A 16 MP ultrawide-angle sensor with f/2.2 aperture and 122.2-degree field of view
AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Camera
A triple sensor that shows great capabilities / © AndroidPIT

Let us be clear. We can't say that it's a real revolution in the high-end market, but the Nubia Z20 offers a good experience with fairly good results. The presence of the ultrawide-angle sensor is a pleasure, but the color calibration differs slightly from the main sensor. I also noted that the colors with photos in 48-megapixel resolution differed somewhat from those in 12-megapixel.

When the light is good, the results are overwhelmingly positive. The dynamics of the images are good, the colors are bright but the Nubia Z20 has a tendency to smooth the pictures a little too much sometimes. This is even truer when you take portraits. The 3x optical zoom is satisfactory, and the 30x digital zoom can be used at a concert or at a stadium. However, at 30x zoom the noise is easily visible.

In low-light conditions, however, it is a little more disappointing than other competing smartphones. The details are easily lost and there is a lot of noise. The night mode is fortunately present to 'bring' a little light to your shots but the result is sometimes far from natural. The camera also offers different video recording modes, including hyperlapse and slow motion, while the portrait mode is also good.

Like the ZenFone 6, the Nubia Z20 allows the same sensors to be used for self-portraits. As far as selfies are concerned, given the quality is very good, Snapchat and selfies fans will appreciate the device.

A smartphone with stamina

With two AMOLED displays and a battery of 'only' 4,000 mAh, one might fear for the endurance of the Nubia Z20. However, this is not the case in reality and I was pleasantly surprised by the battery life. The smartphone can hold more than five hours of screen time. With even sustained use (emails, Telegram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, Netflix and some podcasts), the device can last a full day. With slightly more moderate use, you can reach 1.5 days but not much more.

Without succeeding in achieving what some of the other flagships (Galaxy Note 10 Plus, iPhone 11 Pro Max, Huawei P30 Pro) can, the Nubia Z20 still keeps its head up high. In the PC Mark battery test, the Nubia Z20 obtained a result of 10 hours and 48 minutes with the brightness reduced to 50 percent.

AndroidPIT Nubia Z20 Charging Port 1
The smartphone has good battery life given the presence of these two displays / © AndroidPIT

Nubia also offers a 27-Watt fast-charging system that allows you to recharge the device very quickly, with 50 percent of charge available in 30 minutes and a full charge in just over an hour. Of course, given the presence of a second display on the back of the smartphone, the Z20 does not support wireless charging.

Nubia Z20 technical specifications

Dimensions: 158.6 x 75.3 x 9 mm
Weight: 186 g
Battery size: 4000 mAh
Screen size: 6.42 in
Display technology: AMOLED
Screen: 2340 x 1080 pixels (401 ppi)
Rear camera: 48 megapixels
Flashlight: Dual-LED
Android version: 9 - Pie
RAM: 8 GB
Internal storage: 128 GB
Removable storage: Not available
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, NFC, Dual-SIM , Bluetooth 5.0

Final verdict

Yes, the Nubia Z20 is a different smartphone. At a time when all phones are very similar, the Nubia brings a little freshness to the market if not revolutionizing it. With its elegant design, long battery life (and 27-Watt fast-charging) and solid performance, the Nubia Z20 is a pleasant companion to use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the usefulness of the two screens remains relative, with the second screen mainly serving in the taking of selfies. While we can applaud the Chinese manufacturer's boldness and originality, the dual-screen smartphone in this style will probably not prevail in the future.

If you want a smartphone that stands out, the Nubia Z20 may interest you. If this is not the case, other devices such as the OnePlus 7T or the Galaxy S10 are more recommended.

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