Hands on: Lenovo Vibe Z

Aside from Lenovo’s heavily modified version of Android, the 5.5-inch Vibe Z is a quick, attractive smartphone that makes us wish U.S. carriers would finally start to offer it.

Lenovo has often talked about spreading its smartphone wings out into the wider world, and while it has moved out of China it hasn’t succeeded in making the jump to the U.S. or Europe. Not that it’s been slacking because of this. In the meantime it has amassed a significant enough market share to make it the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer. However, up until now, it has never produced a phone which we really wanted. This changed at CES 2014, where we got the chance to play with the recently announced Vibe Z. And Lenovo, if you’re reading, we’d quite like this one to go on sale in the West. Please?

Unfortunately, despite some rumors to the contrary, Lenovo had nothing to announce about a Vibe Z U.S. or European release. It’s not for want of trying apparently, as a Lenovo spokesperson told us the problem was trying to reach some kind of compromise with the all-controlling networks. So, now you know you can’t have it, we best tell you why that’s a bad thing.

First off, it looks great. It comes in two shades, gunmetal grey and titanium black, the latter of which looks best and really sets off the chrome base of the device. To give the polycarbonate rear panel a different look, a laser-etched pattern has been applied. In reality, this isn’t as amazing as it sounds, but it does give the surface plenty of grip and adds some character missing from smooth polycarbonate panels.

Lenovo Vibe Z hands on ces 2014 screen 2

Flip the phone over and you’re met with a 5.5-inch, 1080p resolution display, which shows Android 4.3. It’s more heavily skinned than we’d like, and does away with the app drawer so we’re left with pages of icons to stare at, just like iOS. To make up for it, Lenovo has added in a selection of bonus features. Our favorites focus (sorry) on the camera, particularly the lens above the screen. While Huawei’s Ascend Mate 2 can safely be crowned king of the selfies at CES 2014, the Vibe Z comes a very close second.

The front camera has 5-megapixels and an 84-degree wide angle, therefore it doesn’t need the panoramic mode seen on the Mate 2 to fit your mates into the shot. Lenovo wants you all looking your best, and has added a “Beautify” feature which automatically tweaks the picture for the best results. If that’s not enough, an editing tool can give you a tan, widen your eyes, or even shave off a few pounds. It works well enough that’s we’ll never look at a selfie in the same way again.

Lenovo knows the Vibe Z’s a big phone, and we liked the adjustments made to the onscreen keypad to enable one-hand use. Tilt it one way and the keyboard shifts over, so your thumb can reach the furthest away keys. A lift-to-answer gesture means you don’t have to try and awkwardly mess about with buttons or sliders when you just want to talk. To leave us well and truly teased, the Vibe Z is also Lenovo’s first smartphone with 4G LTE connectivity.

It’s not perfect though, and the decision not to put the sleep/wake key on the side of the phone where it belongs, but instead on top is very frustrating. It was made worse by its final position, which made finding it by touch frustratingly difficult.

However, by far the worst thing about the Vibe Z is that we can’t pop out and buy one. Those in Lenovo’s major markets such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines will see the Vibe Z in February, but the rest of us must wait until the legal and contractual wrangling between Lenovo and the networks has been worked out. For the first time, we’re really rooting for the suits to sort something out very soon, as the Vibe Z is good enough to ruffle some feathers.

Highs

  • Good looking and well made.
  • Cool photo software features
  • Impressive 5-megapixel front camera
  • 4G LTE connectivity and a Snapdragon 800 processor

Lows

  • Awkward power button placement
  • Android has been heavily skinned
  • We can’t buy one
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