nubia Z60 Ultra Review: Challenging Conventions

nubia Z60 Ultra Review: Challenging Conventions

PROS:

  • Distinctive boxy design
  • Gorgeous, hole-less screen
  • Large, long-lasting battery

CONS:

  • A bit on the bulky and heavy side
  • “Metallic glass” material attracts dust too easily

RATINGS:

SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY

EDITOR’S QUOTE:

Taking the road less traveled, the nubia Z60 Ultra’s unconventional rectangular design, flawless screen surface, and choice of camera focal lengths are sure to leave a lasting impression on consumers tired of the same old things.

Despite how smartphone manufacturers try to differentiate the designs of their products, most of them still jump on the same trends, like the curved edge screens of the past, today’s flat sides, or camera bumps of different shapes and sizes. The same is true even for features you don’t immediately see, like camera sensors and lenses that everyone is using, just advertised under a different marketing name. It’s almost too easy to just do what everyone else is doing, riding the waves in the hopes of making a large catch as everyone else. Fortunately, there are outliers that dare to take a different path, and the nubia Z60 Ultra easily stands out as a nonconformist, so we take a closer look to see if it has more to offer than just a different yet oddly familiar face.

Designer: nubia

Aesthetics

The design of the nubia Z60 Ultra is admittedly divisive. Some will appreciate a fresh break from the smooth curves of the current breed of smartphones, while others might scoff at the blast from the past. Anyone who still remembers the Sony Xperia of the past might indeed see some resemblance to this late 2023 newcomer, and it’s not exactly a bad light to be in.

The nubia Z60 Ultra is unabashedly flat and angular, giving off an air of maturity and hardness at the same time. Even the camera bump diverges from circles, squircles, and any other round shape found on most smartphones. Two of the three cameras sit on a strip, not unlike the Google Pixel 8’s visor, except it’s also completely flat and more like a thin block stretching across the width of the phone. This boxy aesthetic is going to be subjective, even more so compared to other phone designs, but there’s no denying that it will leave a lasting impression, positive or otherwise.

If the shape and back of the phone are what immediately catch your attention, it will be the large 6.8-inch display that will probably draw you in. Admittedly, it’s not the brightest nor the most colorful panel, but it’s the flawless, unbroken surface of this screen that will really impress you. Under-display cameras (UDC) aren’t exactly novel, but they’re so rarely used that you’d still be surprised to see one up-close. Even better, the nubia Z60 Ultra uses the company’s fifth-generation UDC technology that improves the pixel density of that spot above the front-facing camera. The result is a screen that is full from edge to edge, and thanks to its completely flat surface, also visible and usable in its entirety.

There are different colorways available, including a “Starry Night” that makes no effort to hide its Van Gogh inspiration. nubia introduces an “AG Metallic Glass” material that covers the rear of the phone, and for the most part, it does offer your hand a new sensation that almost feels like metal. Unfortunately, for some reason, it also seems to act as a huge magnet for dust. It may stay free of oily fingerprint smudges, but you’ll still want to put on the included clear case to keep it clean, among other reasons.

Ergonomics

There’s still an ongoing debate on which design is better for your hand and your grip. Curved edges are claimed to be gentler on the skin, but some claim it makes the phone slip more easily from your grasp. Flat edges and sharp angles add a bit more tooth to improve your grip, but there are those who feel uncomfortable with how it bites into their palm. The latter, of course, is what applies to the nubia Z60 Ultra’s sharp figure, and like its design, is going to split camps.

What everyone will agree on, however, is how bulky and heavy the phone feels in your hand. At 8.78mm thick and 246g heavy, it’s definitely going to give your hand a bit of strain when held up for long periods of time. Add that to the phone’s sharp edges, and you might indeed find your hand feeling a bit uncomfortable sooner rather than later, at least with the protective case that makes all those moot. Fortunately, that heft isn’t without good reason, but it’s still something that prospective buyers will need to consider if they prefer phones that are impossibly thin and light instead.

Performance

The nubia Z60 Ultra has been compared to its gaming-focused cousin, the RedMagic 9 Pro, and the comparison isn’t without basis. Both sport top-notch hardware available in the mobile market, starting with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 that can be paired with up to 16GB of RAM. In terms of raw performance, the nubia Z60 Ultra is pretty much a gaming phone, sans the bells and whistles like a tiny fan or extra buttons on the edges. In a way, this is the more subdued and stylish version of the RedMagic 9 Pro.

The phone’s extra-large battery definitely supports that use case and then some. Rated at 6,000 mAh, it’s definitely one of the highest capacities in the market today, and while you might not hit that advertised 47-hour uptime with average use, you’ll get pretty close to more than a day’s worth. Charging, however, won’t be blazing fast, given it only supports 80W wired charging, pushing the charging time to a little over 30 minutes. This chunk of power is definitely to blame for the nubia Z60 Ultra’s size and weight, but it’s a price worth paying for those who value battery life over comfort and thin profiles.

It isn’t only in design that the nubia Z60 Ultra bucks the trend. While it does put a heavy emphasis on its cameras like any other flagship smartphone, it’s the details that truly make it unique. In a nutshell, nubia has opted to adopt narrower fields of view compared to most smartphones in an effort to appeal to photography enthusiasts who would be more familiar with these focal lengths.

The main 50MP camera, for example, has that 35mm focal length used by classic camera lenses, which is great for taking sharp photos, especially with a natural bokeh effect. Unfortunately, this field of view will be too narrow for videos that will look cropped at the edges. That’s probably why nubia used an ultra-wide camera with a similar 50MP sensor (though from a different manufacturer) to make the transition to a wider view look more seamless. That said, this ultra-wide camera is also narrower than what you’d find in the market, using an 18mm focal length only.

In practice, the nubia Z60 Ultra’s cameras perform impressively, producing images with rich detail, at least in well-lit environments. The small exception is the 64MP telephoto camera with an equally narrow 85mm focal length, which makes close-up shots less doable. The narrow field of view might find fans among more seasoned photographers, but it is also an odd and awkward detail for those already used to the wider range of camera smartphones, especially when it comes to video recording.

Sustainability

So far, the nubia Z60 Ultra is proving to be quite the nonconformist, embracing designs already eschewed by most manufacturers as well as camera specs more popular among photographers than smartphone users. It would have been even more impressive if nubia also became a rebel and embraced sustainable materials and practices wholeheartedly for this smartphone. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

In this regard, the nubia Z60 Ultra is pretty typical when it comes to composition, durability, and repairability. It’s your typical mix of plastic, glass, and metal, none of which were made from post-consumer recycled materials, at least none that nubia is telling. The silver lining here is that the phone is IP68 rated, so it’s not going to join the masses of e-waste littering the planet after a slight splash or dive into water.

Value

The nubia Z60 Ultra is a premium flagship through and through, and its extra-large battery, hole-less screen, and pixel-dense camera sensors push it even higher among its peers. For all of that, you’d expect it to cost as much as your next late 2023 or early 2024 high-end handset, but here’s the clincher: it’s almost half that!

While it does start at $599 for a rather modest 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, the highest configuration with double that memory is only $779. And it’s not like nubia is a new, unknown, and unreliable brand, so such a price tag is downright crazy. Of course, there’s the matter of being able to buy one in the first place, since nubia isn’t available in all markets, but in those regions it does serve, the nubia Z60 Ultra is bound to make an irresistible proposition to go with its undeniable presence.

Verdict

While there is some wisdom in going with tried and true traditions, it’s never an excuse not to think outside the box. There’s no certainty that you will do better or worse, but what’s certain is that you will make some impact. That’s the kind of legacy that the nubia Z60 Ultra will have with a design that is both fresh yet classic, and features that have a clear purpose, even if it swings away from the mainstream smartphone crowd.

It definitely gets a lot of things right, like its impressive performance, its memorable design, and its blemish-free screen, but it’s far from being perfect. There’s no denying that part of its imposing character is its bulk and weight, and the narrow field of view will probably trip up some mobile shutterbugs. With a head-turning price tag, though, you might be willing to look past these flaws, especially if the flaws are features you actually value. Needless to say, the nubia Z60 Ultra is doing quite a difficult balancing act, and to its credit, it’s doing quite an admirable job in keeping on its toes.