Lenovo Z5 Pro full review
Lenovo's Z5 Pro is a really interesting proposition in the mid-range phone market, mixing flagship specs with a Snapdragon 710 processor to keep down the price to an affordable level. It has the premium design of the Mi Mix 3 and Honor Magic 2, but comes in significantly cheaper with a current special offer bringing the price down to just £282.58/US$357.99.
With a sliding screen mechanism it is able to offer a full-screen display without a punch-hole or notch in which to house the selfie camera. And with the dual-lens camera hidden behind the display Lenovo achieves a 95% screen-to-body ratio. There's also an in-display fingerprint sensor, which remains a relatively rare feature even among flagships, so to see it in a circa-£300 phone is a welcome surprise.
The trouble with the Z5 Pro is it's not officially sold in the UK, and our review sample was shipped from China via GearVita. That in itself is not a problem, though setup is a headache - we had to resort to Google Translate for navigating the Chinese-language configuration and Settings menu. Fortunately, having worked it out ourselves we can make this easier for you (jump straight to how to set up the Lenovo Z5 Pro for UK use).
In common with many Chinese phones it also lacks support for one of the three main bands used in the UK for 4G LTE connectivity: Band 20, aka 800MHz. Most networks also use bands 3 and 7, but customers of O2 and the operators that piggyback its network (Sky Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile, LycaMobile and TalkTalk) will not be able to receive 4G. You'll still be able to get online using 3G data or Wi-Fi.
Where to buy Lenovo Z5 Pro
At the time of writing the 64GB model costs £367.05 plus £4.07 shipping via UK Priority Line, or US$461.99 plus $8.78 shipping via US Priority Line.
You can reduce this price to £282.58/$357.99 using the coupon code TAZ5Pro64 at checkout (use TAZ5Pro128 for the 128GB model and pay only £299.16/$378.99).
Do note that when shipping goods from China to the UK you are liable for import duty if it is requested. This is charged at 20% of the value printed on the shipping paperwork.
(Also see: Best budget Chinese phones.)
Lenovo Z5 Pro Design & Build
With a 6.39in full-screen display and cool sliding screen mechanism the Lenovo Z5 Pro is a futuristic and premium-looking device. It's on the chunky side at 9.3mm, and slightly thicker than the Honor Magic 2 and Mi Mix 3 with which it shares a similar design, but much of this comes down to that sliding screen.
Actually we don't mind the extra width, since it helps the phone feel more steady in the hand when you're opening and closing the screen.
Much more impressively, despite all three phones housing a 6.39in 19.5:9 Super AMOLED display, the Lenovo is the shortest and narrowest of the lot, which means it has done the best job of minimising the screen bezels - here down to just 2.07mm.
The screen itself is gorgeous, vibrant with punchy colours, deep blacks and brilliant whites. In our tests it was brighter than the 407cd/m2 Mi Mix 3 and 386cd/m2 Honor Magic 2 at 416cd/m2. That should make it easily visible in direct sunlight.
In common with the Magic 2 there's a fingerprint sensor built right into that screen, and Lenovo refers to the tech behind it as 'fifth-generation photoelectric'. We were surprised by how well it works - better, we reckon, than on our Mi 8 Pro. You can also use a standard PIN, pattern or passcode, or face unlock which works perfectly well even in the dark.
Overall the design is nice, though its glossy surface is incredibly slippery so you need to be careful where you set it down.
The groove where the aluminium frame meets the glass panel is more noticeable than on many phones due to way it curves in around the volume rocker and power button, but we prefer the central mounting of the slightly protruding dual-lens camera as it makes the Z5 Pro more steady when used on a desk or flat surface.
Though the slider feels smooth in action, with a satisfying click into place, without extensive use we have no way of knowing for how long this will be the case nor how much grime will find its way behind the display.
We'd like to see an Always-on Display, as on the Mi Mix 3, so that you don't need to operate the slider to check the time or for any notifications, though one of the options in the ZUI Lab menu lets you wake the screen by raising the phone, and you can always tap the power button instead.
A nice touch is the ability to have the lock screen scroll through a gallery of images so you see something different each time you pick it up, but other than this there's no room for customisation of the slider.
You can use it to answer calls (which you'll want to do anyway since the earpiece is behind the screen), or if you have the camera app open it will switch the view to the selfie camera, but otherwise the sliding screen has no use other than to conceal the front cameras.
It's reasonably unusual to see the volume rocker on a phone's left side, since it can make use of that button awkward when the phone is carried in a wallet-style case. But the design of the Z5 Pro makes it unlikely that you would select such a case. In fact, you're probably not going to be able to use anything other than a standard rear cover case. You will find a couple of screen protectors are supplied in the box.
The pin-operated SIM tray is at the top of the device, and this accepts two nano-SIMs but there's no room for microSD. Even the entry-level 64GB model we've reviewed here is reasonably generous, but if you think you're going to need more storage you should opt for the 128GB version.
There's no headphone jack here, but audio can be delivered via USB-C with the necessary headphone adaptor supplied in the box. The Z5 Pro also has a downward-firing mono speaker, which is functional but not great. There's a lot of distortion at max volume, which in itself is not overly loud, and though the Z5 Pro can handle the mid-range either extreme sounds muffled. Smartphones are typically tuned toward pop music, but even that doesn't sound amazing to our ears.
The USB-C port is of course also used for charging, and you get a two-pin 18W fast charger in the box. There's no support for wireless charging. With a 3,350mAh battery inside the Z5 Pro should last you a full day, but runtime will naturally depend on your usage.
Lenovo Z5 Pro Core Hardware & Performance
The Lenovo is the first phone we've benchmarked that runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor, which is a mid-range chip built on the 10nm manufacturing process. It's faster than the 14nm Snapdragon 660 seen in the Mi 8 Lite, but not as fast as the flagship 10nm Snapdragon 845. In the Z5 Pro you also get 6GB of RAM and either 64- or 128GB of storage.
The Snapdragon 710 integrates the Adreno 616 GPU with a third-gen Kryo 360 CPU. It is one of the best mid-range chips on the market, building on the Snapdragon 660 with 20- and 40% reduction in power consumption for streaming video and gaming respectively, and offering up to a 20% uplift in overall performance. Apps also launch up to 15% faster, and on that note in the ZUI Lab menu you'll find an option to add six apps of your choice to a flash launch feature.
In January a Z5 Pro GT will be announced with the Snapdragon 855 and a huge 12GB of RAM, so if you like the sound of the Pro but want ultimate performance that phone will be worth a look.
But don't rule out the Z5 Pro. The Snapdragon 710 is a very capable chip, and its inclusion here has enabled Lenovo to keep down costs while still offering very capable daily performance.
Because there's little for us to compare it with, in the chart below you can see how the Z5 Pro stacks up against the 660-toting Mi 8 Lite, as well as the Snapdragon 845 Mi Mix 3 and Kirin 980 Honor Magic 2, but remember the latter two are both flagship phones that cost more.
Lenovo Z5 Pro Cameras & Photography
The Z5 Pro has four cameras in total, with two lenses at the front and two at the rear, allowing you to capture that popular blurred background bokeh effect from either side.
The primary camera combines a 16Mp, f/1.8 Sony IMX576 lens with a 24Mp, f.1.8 Sony IMX519 lens. It supports large 1.8um pixels, which should mean it performs better at capturing detail in low light, though we weren't overly impressed with its ability in our test shots such as the scene shown below. In low light the camera struggles to focus and does a poor job of lighting the scene. There is a lot of noticeable blurring and noise.
In good lighting the Lenovo Z5 Pro fares much better, with realistic colours, but viewed at full size there is a lot of over-smoothing and evidence of lost detail.
We usually like to test the quality of HDR shots too, but we couldn't find a setting for this anywhere within the app.
Round the front you get a 16Mp, f/2.2 + 8Mp dual-lens selfie camera, which supports the Dual, Best, Photo and Video modes within the camera app, but not the AI, Pro or Panorama modes. There are some filters and beauty presets, but with little customisation available.
The Z5 Pro has so much potential in the mid-range market, but the one thing that's really holding it back for an English-language audience is its Chinese setup procedure. It seems unfair to complain that a Chinese phone is too Chinese, of course, but for some UK users it will feel exactly that out of the box.
Turn on the phone and you'll be greeted with a ZUI 10 splash screen. ZUI 10 is a custom version of Android Oreo 8.1, which has since been suceeded by Android 9.0 Pie, though the security patches installed on the phone go to the end of September so it's not that far behind. There is only one possible button you could press on this page, so tap that.
The next screen wants you to connect to your Wi-Fi network, so you should be able to find yours in the list and enter your password without too much trouble. When you've entered it hit the button at the bottom right of the keyboard where you'd normally find the Enter key.
The next two screens are to do with setting up cloud storage and the fingerprint sensor, but it's a lot easier to do this later when everything's in English, so we want to skip this. Do not press either of the buttons at the bottom of the screen; instead tap the link at the top right corner of the screen just below the notification bar. Do this twice to skip both cloud storage and fingerprint setup.
The next screen wants to preload a bunch of apps on the phone, and we don't want any of them because all are Chinese. Tap each of these apps to remove the green tick icon, then press the button at the bottom of the screen.
Setup is now complete, which we presume the next screen is trying to tell us, so hit the only clickable button at the bottom of that screen.
You should now be staring at the home screen. You'll likely be able to work out what many of the icons are by their images, but the legends are all in Chinese. Look for a cog wheel icon which represents the Settings menu, and click this.
Scroll right to the bottom of the Settings menu and look at the option just above the line - it should have another cog wheel icon. This is the Advanced Settings menu - tap this.
The very top option here is for Languages & Input. Tap this, and on the next screen again choose the top option, which is Languages. You should now be presented with a list of four languages, with three in Chinese and the final option US English. Use the Move icon to the right side to drag and drop the US English option to the top of the list, then click the back button to save. Suddenly everything is English.
Before exiting this screen select the Current Keyboard option and choose English US. Again click the back button to exit this menu and save your changes.
You'll also want to change the Time & Date settings (in Settings, Advanced Settings, Date & Time), which by default will be eight hours ahead. Not only is this important to see what is the actual time, but having your device set to the wrong time can cause problems with the internet connection.
Now is a good time to set up the in-display fingerprint sensor, which you can do via Settings, 'Passcode&fingerprints and...' We're not sure what the final option is there, perhaps Face Unlock since Lenovo claims the Z5 Pro can also be unlocked using your face in zero light conditions.
The next hurdle is getting the Google Play store on to the phone, since they do not use Google Play services in China. On most Chinese phones that are not preloaded with Google you need to download the Google Installer APK, though here you'll find the services are already installed but Google Play itself is not so this will not worked.
Open the Settings menu again and choose the top option, where it will say 'Not logged in'. Choose Other Account, Add Account, and select Google. Enter your login and accept the terms and conditions.
Go back to the home screen and launch the App Center. It's going to try to install those Chinese apps again, so you'll either need to install and then uninstall them, or again deselect them all and tap the button below to bypass the prompt. We chose the latter.
When you are looking at the main App Center screen select the search bar at the top and search for Google Play. When you see it in the list tap the green button to its side to install the app. Once installed you can launch Google Play and start installing the likes of Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Music and any other services you routinely use.
The final step is to uninstall any Chinese apps preloaded on the Z5 Pro that you won't use - just tap and hold the icon on the home screen, then click the X that appears and choose Uninstall. We deleted Amap, MeiTuan, Tencent News, Tencent Video, iQiyi, QQ, Weibo, Baidu, Alipay, XimalayaFM, Dianping, Sesami and some other apps we didn't recognise. It's fair to say there is a lot of bloatware on this phone, but it's also easy to remove.
At this point the Lenovo Z5 Pro should look and act like any other UK Android phone, though you have to jump through quite a few hoops to get there and that makes it really difficult for us to recommend.
ZUI 10 lacks an app tray but is otherwise not a huge departure from standard Android, so you should be able to find the options you need fairly easily. It even has a delightfully named 'Left One Screen', which is basically a swipe in from the left of the home screen and offers quick access to popular apps, contacts and mobile payment services. Even more delightfully it greets you: "Good afternoon, my master."
You can opt to use onscreen back, home and mutli-tasking buttons, or switch to U-Touch full-screen gestures for navigating the phone. In the Settings you'll also find options to change the Theme and Font, plus some extras such as PIP and a Game mode in the ZUI Lab.
Lenovo Z5 Pro Verdict
If you can get past the complicated Chinese setup, the Lenovo Z5 Pro is a cracking phone at around £300. It has the design and many of the features of the flagships, along with one of the best mid-range processors on the market. Unfortunately audio and photography let it down.
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Lenovo Z5 Pro: Specs
- 6.39in Full-HD+ (1080x2340, 19.5:9) Samsung Super AMOLED display, 95.06% screen-to-body ratio, 2.07mm bezels
- ZUI 10 (Android 8.1 Oreo)
- 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 10nm octa-core processor
- Adreno 616 GPU
- 6GB RAM
- 64GB storage
- in-display fingerprint sensor (fifth generation 'photoelectric' screen)
- zero light face unlock
- dual-SIM dual-standby (2x nano)
- supports UK 4G bands 3 and 7
- dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0
- A-GPS, GLONASS
- 16Mp, f/1.8 + 24Mp, f/1.8 Sony IMX576 + IMX519 AI rear camera, 1.8um pixels, 1/2.6in sensor, 4K video, 120fps @ 1080p
- 16Mp, f/2.2 + 8Mp front camera
- USB-C audio (adaptor included)
- 3350mAh battery, 18W Quick Charge