Keep your eyes on ZUK, they aren’t the same as other start-ups


ZUK understand that being a spin off brand from Lenovo is going to attract comparisons with OnePlus and Oppo, but they more I spoke to the team behind the company the more I realised they are really rather different.

I entered the ZUK launch thinking to myself that ZUK (pronounced Z.U.K not ZUCK) were just another spin-off brand. Like Honor is to Huawei, Nubia to ZTE and OnePlus and Oppo, but things are different for ZUK and the differences are good news for the end customer.

In a question and answer session with the ZUK and CyanogenMod teams there were a lot of comparisons made to other brands (some more than others), but the more we spoke the more I came to realise that ZUK are different.

ZUK have been honest about Lenovo from the start

zuk lenovo

ZUK haven’t tried to hide the fact that they are owned by Lenovo. During the event they openly told us all that Lenovo own 70% of the company, and they even use Lenovo branding on their international packing.

They also openly admit that many of their staff came from Lenovo, and that Lenovo have been a crucial part of getting CyanogenOS on the Z1 and Qualcomm (plus others) to supply the components.

ZUK already have a huge staff

ZUK are not some small team of marketing people trying to sell a phone designed by their owners. Instead ZUK designed the Z1 from the ground up and have a staff of 450 people already! Many of those 450 people came from Lenovo (plus other Chinese tech companies) and already understand the market and how to create, manufacture, sell and distribute a smartphone.

ZUK are hoping to be a phone to upgrade too

zuk z1 specifications

ZUK don’t say that their phone is a flagship killer or make any other bold claims, instead they have targeted themselves at customers who already have an entry-level device and want an affordable upgrade. During the event ZUK mentioned that they are especially looking to become the phone students will upgrade to from their Xiaomi Redmi’s and similar.

The Z1 has been designed for heavy users in mind

zuk heavy users

As mentioned above the ZUK Z1 isn’t a self proclaimed flagship killer, and ZUK know that there are phones out there with a higher specification. Instead they want their phone to attract people who use their phones a lot through the day. This is evident with the choice of a 4100mAh battery, quick charge and 1920 x 1080 display, but the choice of 64GB internal memory (plenty for movies) and USB Type C 3.0 (making moving large movie files a fast process) back this up.

Gizchina News of the week

ZUK are concentrating on user experience first

Both ZUK and Cyanogen said they want to concentrate on user experience first and only hope to make a small amount of money. Yes, we hear this from a lot of companies, but ZUK’s sales aims are quite modest when compared to other phone makers. For this first year they hope to sell 100k phones a month or 1.2million in the year. Compared to LeTV’s 1 million in 3 months and Xiaomi’s amazing performances, ZUK have easily achievable goals.

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Cyanogen seem very happy

zuk z1 cyanogen

We have seen Cyanogen partner with other companies over the years, but this latest cooperation with ZUK (thanks to Lenovo) seems to fit the ROM maker well. From discussions with both teams, it sounds like Cyanogen have the freedom they need to make the ROM that they are happy with releasing. This freedom should lead to a healthy, long lasting relationship (fingers crossed).

Sales, shipping, customer service and warranty support are already in place

Many people questioned ZUK on how they will cover warranty, support, sales etc, but ZUK already have all of this in place. Remember Lenovo are a 70% owner of the brand and Lenovo already have offices in most major countries. They also have sales and distribution channels, and they even have factories around the world too.

ZUK are different, but will it be enough?

Meeting with ZUK was more surprising that I thought it might have been. They are more down to earth that other manufacturers, and honestly seem more concerned with customer experience than selling as many phones as possible. With Lenovo backing the company we should see plenty of phones produced to meet demand, and with Cyanogen working on the ROM we can look forward to plenty of updates and improvements.

zuk team

But will this all be enough? The phone market is already very crowded and its a risky business launching a new company at a time with so much competition. That said , I feel with the Cyanogen Trump Card, and Lenovo’s backing, ZUK could achieve where other phone makers are failing.

As for when international buyer can order a ZUK direct we don’t exactly know. ZUK are still filling orders made by Chinese customers, but hope to have the international model on sale in around a month. This works well as the first stable build of CM for the phone is due in about 3-4 weeks too.

Pricing hasn’t been confirmed, but an international RRP or $299 sounds like the figure ZUK are aiming for. More affordable than the OnePlus 2, and Meizu’s phones, and with better availability and support than Xiaomi!

This could be the start of something very exciting!

Previous Elephone Vowney hands on and first impressions
Next Hands on and first impressions of the $299 Cyanogen packed ZUK Z1


  1. PIM
    August 22, 2015

    Isn’t this what they all say?

    • August 22, 2015

      We’ll no because there are actual differences here. They are a 450 strong team of people with access to Lenovo’s shipping, distribution and aftersales networks. No other startup could claim to have that. OnePlus is the brand everyone will compare ZUK to, but its not accurate. OnePlus started with a small, inexperienced team and although backed by Oppo, Oppo themselves still don’t have the networks and support Lenovo have for international users.

      • Dante
        August 22, 2015

        Agreed – thanks for the information – You made me trust them

      • quodvadis
        August 23, 2015

        So distribution is the decisive factor? All those big players out there wish it was that simple lol.

      • AdM
        August 23, 2015

        Who’s the bearded guy, Andi?

        • August 23, 2015

          That is Mr. Vikram Natarajan, Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships and Distribution for Cyanogen. And a very nice chap he is.

    • balcobomber25
      August 23, 2015

      Nope Oneplus still tries to deny that they have any connection with OPPO and are a poor startup with limited resources.

      • AdM
        August 25, 2015

        OnePlus only says that to justify their incompetence. The truth is that from the success of OnePlus they should have take the right measures in order to have the production and shipment logistics ready to go full throttle right from the start with OP2.

  2. David
    August 22, 2015

    Andy you sold me z1 🙂

  3. MaxPower
    August 22, 2015

    the phone looks good and it’s well priced
    (for 299$ you get the OPO 64GB or the MI4 64GB which lack of some features compared to this ZUK)

    however, it’s still a last year phone with some new features. Is this going to be enough to make it sell well?

    i think that the 801 could sell for at least 4 more years, but the market could say otherwise.

    with the Helio X10 and the soon coming X20 and SD808, SD820 it’s going to be hard selling a SD801 phone.

    someone might argue about int’l support, true.
    But… didn’t we give up on support already by going chinese?

    • David
      August 22, 2015

      You made some good points here. SD801 is great soc today and it will be for some time. Now it’s time to offer good price, support and good software stack. After all, hardware is already very strong and poorly optimized. Imagine what intel 4×2.5 GHz could do and now look at SD801 phone 🙂 the point is we need good software, not better and larger hardware at any cost. Just look at SD810, it is a lame…

      • MaxPower
        August 23, 2015

        the benchmark war leads this market.

        people don’t even look at features like big batteries, fingerprint scanner, hifi audio… it’s all about Antutu points now.

        • willy
          August 23, 2015

          That’s likely true for the mass market, but since I’m not a gamer, the SoC is less concerning TO ME. This phone looks , eh, okay. It’s barely above what I would consider middle of the road specs. How about utilizing an OIS, larger aperture camera module with a larger sensor (OV10823, OV13860, OV16825). For a little bit more money, they’d have something significantly better than competitors at a similar price point.

          • MaxPower
            August 23, 2015

            i think they are taking a gamble with the choice of 801.

            it could go great, it could be a disaster (I’m referring to marketing here).

            a good camera module with an excellent sensor would have made the final price much higher lowering the chances of making a well selling product.

            I’m with you with the great camera in general though.
            Whoever goes for it doesn’t even have to worry about the price because they have nearly to zero competitors.

        • balcobomber25
          August 23, 2015

          It really is sad, I see comments from people passing up on great phones because it is 10,000 points under their ideal Antutu score. Even though that phone ticks every box for a phone they want.

          • MaxPower
            August 23, 2015

            now it’s only:

            Best Phone = Price/Antutu

            some pseudotechnical expert might say:

            Best Phone = Price/Geekbench Single Thread Score

            you know whom I’m talking about

            • balcobomber25
              August 23, 2015

              For me it’s price/quadrant!!

            • MaxPower
              August 24, 2015

              I’m for build quality so:

              Price/# of crushed nuts

            • balcobomber25
              August 24, 2015

              I rented a Motobike in Vietnam the other day you would love then, it was cheap and my nuts were definitely crushed after an hour on it.

    • August 23, 2015

      I believe if they embrace the developer community (who have a ton of knowledge about the 801 already) then they are on to a great start. It remains to be seen if they actually do this.

      As for Mediatek, I do love the new chips, but for support and open source they are the wrong horse to back.

      • MaxPower
        August 23, 2015

        that’s why i said that the SD801 is good enough to last at least 4 more years.

        I’m not sure it will sell well for long though.
        299$ is not a midrange price anymore, we are almost into the flagship price.

        at this price range average customers are demanding Antutu points (sadly).

        but i hope I’m wrong, and i welcome ZUK to enrich this market giving us more real choices and not copycats.

  4. Patrick
    August 22, 2015

    They just need to realize that a “international” Version of a LTE Phone actually needs LTE bands that do work in the major markets being EU and US, rather than those that just work for selected networks and often just in selected cities or crowded areas…

    I mean in Europe its simple: B20 is a MUST
    In the US : Band 13/17 for AT&T/Verizon is a MUST B4 would be good

    So unless you bring a Phone with 1/3/7/13/17/20 and maybe some other bands forget it…

    ZUK1 seems nice, but Iam not buying a Device where I do not have LTE anywhere but in bigger cities…

    • Owsley_66
      August 22, 2015

      Eggsackly. My next phone just has to get 4G in the U.S. which is why I’m hoping the Ubik Uno gets funded.

      • MaxPower
        August 23, 2015

        same here.
        at this point I’m willing to pay an extra and get LTE support.

        I’ll go for the new Moto X if nothing comes out soon.

        • Owsley_66
          August 23, 2015

          The Moto X Pure Edition for the U.S., with its 5.7 inch screen, is, if the info is correct, physically smaller than my Be Pro. If it had a metal body, it would be a no brainer at $399. So if the Ubik Uno doesn’t get funded and ZUK doesn’t indicate they’re headed to the U.S., then I’ll be looking at the Zenfone 2, Moto X, and the ZTE Axon Pro. And probably a couple of others that offer a fair price and 4G.

          • MaxPower
            August 23, 2015

            personally i wouldn’t mind about non metal body.

            i actually miss the light plastic body which doesn’t look old like my actual phone does.

            my phone is all dented and scratched.

          • August 23, 2015

            ZUK say they will make a U.S compatible phone, lets see if they actually do

            • Owsley_66
              August 23, 2015

              Thanks Andi,
              On Lenovo’s U.S. website, they say they have no intention of bringing the lenovo brand of phones to the U.S., but of course they already have Motorola so I guess this makes sense. If ZUK can bring a 4G phone to the U.S. in Sept-October then I will seriously consider it.

              @MaxPower, my thinking is that a metal bodied phone will have better antenna reception and I live in a semi-rural area where I have some big dead zones which might shrink with a better antenna in a metal body so that’s why the appeal of the metal chasis. But I do note that Motorola phones have a reputation for good antennas so maybe with Motorola the antenna issue wouldn’t be so important.

    • MaxPower
      August 23, 2015

      good point!

    • August 23, 2015

      True! An international Version without B20 is a joke!

  5. Flaat
    August 22, 2015

    I really want to like these guys, and i applaud the direction they are taking. The phone is just to ugly to be worth it, screen to phone ratio is horrible and those black borders are nasty.

    Launch the Zuk Z2 fast!
    do a phone with display to phone ratio of 76%+ in 5.5 inch with 4ah battery and phase detection auto focus ios camera + 64gb rom or sdcard + lte bands like a Huawai phone (eg almost everything)

    • August 23, 2015

      It’s not a pretty phone that’s for sure. I already asked them if they can get the home button nearer the display next time 😉

  6. Hakim Farouk
    August 22, 2015

    Looking forward it!!

  7. quodvadis
    August 23, 2015

    *for heavy users in mind
    *proceed to leave out the micro sd slot

    wonder how long this one will last lol

    • August 23, 2015

      64GB memory as standard not enough?

      • quodvadis
        August 24, 2015

        It’s not only about enough or not enough, here let me paste a good run-down as to why it’s important for some people like me :

        It’s so frustrating to read comments on this topic around the internet. So many people just don’t get it. They have misconceptions about why these features are important. So instead of replying to each confused post in this thread, let’s just consolidate all the points:

        Response #1: “32GB/64GB/128GB should be more than enough space”.

        First of all, maybe it’s enough space FOR YOU. That doesn’t mean it is for the other user. Secondly, maybe what the user needs now will be different from what they need in the future, and this can’t always be predicted. How nice it is to be able to install more storage cheaply without having to buy a new phone. And lastly, it’s much, MUCH cheaper to get a 64GB phone then a 64GB MicroSD card at market prices than to get a 128GB phone, paying whatever Samsung feels like charging for flash storage.

        But lastly, one of the biggest points and benefits of the MicroSD card is NOT that it provides MORE storage, but that it provides REMOVABLE storage that can survive a device failure. Smashed screen? Water damage? Phone just randomly kick the bucket and doesn’t turn on any more? All the data you kept backed-up on the SD card is still safe. I do a complete, automatic nightly backup every night to my SD card… and this backup has saved me across multiple smartphones, multiple times per phone, including the most-recent time in February which forced my upgrade to the S5. Each time, I just moved my SD card to the new phone, restored my complete backup, and I was right back where I left off.

        Response #2:”Just use the cloud if you need more space”

        This is an insulting, ill-informed non-answer. In this age of data caps and significantly LESS than 100% wireless coverage, depending on “the cloud” for your backups or data overflow storage is ridiculous and unreasonable. Not all of us stay confined in a tiny little bubble around an urban oasis. Most of the world is NOT cities, and we spend a significant amount of time with weak or even no wireless service. Should I be unable to access my files, media, data, etc as well as be unable to make my backups every time I have no signal? It’s simply not an option. Secondly, with the data caps on all plans you would eat through this quick in no time, especially in the case of full phone backups (how long is YOUR data-capped plan going to survive backing up that 64GB phone?). And finally, “cloud” storage is EXPENSIVE. A few places will give you maybe 5GB free, but if you want more than that then you pay through the nose PER YEAR. My 64GB MicroSD card was a one-time cost and is accessible regardless of wireless coverage.

        Response #3: “The battery lasts plenty long enough”

        For YOU perhaps. Good for you, nice to hear you’re one of those light phone users. Those of us who are heavy users don’t have the same experience (and if you say that you’re a “heavy” user and it lasts a whole day, then actually, no, you’re NOT a heavy user). In a typical heavy-use day for me, my phone is dead well before 5pm. If it’s a REALLY heavy and long day for ME, I might even need to swap in a THIRD battery before I ultimately go to bed in the evening. And if I’m away from charging sources for a long time, those spare batteries come in real handy.

        But also… it’s not just about not being able to last through the day. It’s also about the fact that batteries wear down over time. In about 2 years, your lithium-ion battery holds a fraction of the original “full” charge it did when new. Or perhaps it has been exhausted entirely. Why be forced into replacing an otherwise perfectly-good phone for the sake of a $10 battery that should be user-replaceable? This anti-consumer planned obsolescence is why I went with Android instead of iPhone in the first place. Now Samsung seems to think it’s cool to screw over users like Apple does.

        Response #4: “Just carry an external battery pack”

        That’s just ridiculous. I don’t want to be tethered to a huge lithium brick any more than I want to be tethered to a wall outlet. Compare that with just quickly swapping in a fresh, charged battery then getting on with my day without any wires. It’s not a reasonable alternative and does not allow one to continue to be functional.

        Response #5: “Samsung couldn’t make a thin/premium phone and still have a removable battery and/or MicroSD slot”

        This has been proven wrong over and over and over, not only by other phone manufacturers but Samsung themselves. The S5 was only 8.1mm thick and had both a removable battery AND a MicroSD card slot. Hell, the Samsung Captivate had a REMOVABLE metal back. Anyone who really cares that the S6 is a “whopping” 1.3mm thinner than the S5 is just an OCD thickness chaser. We’ve long ago crossed the threshold where “thinner” doesn’t make the phone “better”… it makes it more delicate and less able to hold reasonable internals and features. Besides, Samsung is a huge, talented company with massive resources… if anyone could figure it out, they could. Their line about not being “able” to while still providing thinness or premium is just a marketing excuse that unfortunately far too many Samsung-apologist fanboys just lap up without question.

        Response #2 “SD Cards are slow”

        Answer: don’t buy crap SD cards. There are plenty of fast MicroSD cards out there, including the ones I buy. Are they AS fast as internal storage? No. Does it matter? No, things still load up wicked fast. Is it worth it for the safe, removable, expandable storage (see the last part of #1 above)? Hell yes. Stop chasing meaningless speed specs like some OCD junkie and instead look at the benefits granted by this feature.

        And finally, and perhaps most-important of all: If for YOU a removable battery and MicroSD slot are of no use, then no one is making you use them when they’re present on your phone. You didn’t use them on your previous phones? Fantastic for you, you got on just fine. Meanwhile, the option WAS there for all those people for whom these features WERE CRITICAL. But with the features gone in the S6, now those users are stuck without the option. Here are my criteria:

        – OLED screen
        – Removable battery
        – MicroSD slot
        – Usable on AT&T
        – Unlocked bootloader (had to go with a T-Mobile S5 for this one)
        – Not an oversized “phablet” style phone like the Note or any of that ridiculousness.

        • alan4195
          August 25, 2015

          I know I’m replying late in the game, but it’s been awhile since I stopped by the Giz. First off, let me just say… I love you, man. Everything you said was SPOT on, and I couldn’t have said any of it better myself.

          It’s becoming more and more difficult to find a good, practically spec’d phone these days as more and more companies play the “me too” or “like iPhone” game when it comes to designing their devices. And, unfortunately for people like us, it’s the majority of smartphone buyers that are driving this trend.

          When I owned the Galaxy S3, and later the Note 3, my spare batteries/wall charger allowed me to literally go months without plugging my phone in. It was a small slice of heaven. And, as you astutely pointed out, defective non-removable battery = brick.

          As for removable storage, I would only add that it’s even more egregious to omit this feature with Android M right around the corner. A lot of people are unaware that Android M will allow you to convert removable microSD to permanent internal storage.

          This not only means more space to install apps, but a better performing phone in the long run since performance degrades as internal storage reaches capacity. It’s great for people with phones that have less than 32GB of internal storage, or Android gamers (some games require 2GB+), or anyone that just wants future-proofing against ever-increasing app sizes.

          At the end of the day there are a lot of strange, often contradicting attitudes out there where phone specs are concerned. For example, fingerprint sensors are now considered MANDATORY (because who has time to input a 4-digit number), yet most people demanding that feature are perfectly willing to tolerate the inconvenience of plugging their phone in to charge it.

          Or they want glass and metal construction (the all important “build-quality”), even though having it absolutely necessitates using a case to cover up the material splendor. Or they want both glass/metal and a compact size, only to throw compactness out the window when the case goes on. Or how about a slim phone with a QHD display, even though a QHD display gobbles up more battery, necessitating a bigger battery, necessitating a bigger phone… etc, etc.

          It all comes down to fad-marketing and the average consumer’s susceptibility to it. Most people just want an iPhone, Galaxy S6, or the most affordable alternative. They’d rather have a phone that takes DSLR-quality selfies than a phone that lasts for 2 days on a single charge.

          We should start a smartphone company.

  8. Gal
    August 23, 2015

    Looks great! Well done!
    Have any idea if it has some long exposure capabilities?
    Why is it so hard to get this information regarding cameras in phones?
    I’m always looking for the longest shutter speed but can’t find it in any specifications..

    • August 23, 2015

      With ZUI the camera features are limited. CM should have better options ( I hope)

      • Gal
        August 23, 2015

        Hi Andi, I think it’s not a matter of software but hardware. With the lg G4 I know the maximum exposure (slowest shutter speed) is 30 seconds. If I’m not mistaken, the oneplus One can get to few seconds too. The G2 is useless in that department. I think the Huawei P8 is also capable of long exposure for up to about 8 seconds. My main complaint is that this information is nowhere to be found.

        That’s basically the only reason I still take my DSLR with me to vacations. Long exposure shots of cities from some viewpoint at night. With most phones it looks like garbage really (G4 an exception).

      • AdM
        August 25, 2015

        The problem is that Cyanogen does a very good camera app but it has a lot of margin for improvement. They aren’t the best specialist when it comes the camera area.

  9. KS
    August 23, 2015

    $299 might be on the higher side but considering ZUK partnered Cyanogen for their ROM, it might just be worth that few extra dollars to me.

    Looking forward to a full hands on review =)

  10. Muhammad Yasir
    August 23, 2015

    promising … but could go to hell if they screw up even by an inch…

    oh and they SHOULD start making sub $200 phones too

  11. balcobomber25
    August 23, 2015

    This all sounds good but in this business you have to earn my trust and you do that three ways:

    1. Great products. This one is a no brainer.
    2. Great support, meaning software updates for at least the next year.
    3. Great customer service. If there is a problem I should be able to reach someone within 1 day to get an answer on how to resolve it. Whether that is through email, phone or a good forum (like Xiaomi has).

  12. Georgea
    August 23, 2015

    Andi, I’m very interested in this phone.
    My question is, If I buy the phone from aliexpress (the only one available in my country) which is the chinese version, will I still be able to install cm12 once available for the phone!?

    • August 23, 2015

      yes, that is what all the media who received the phone have to do too.

  13. MKh979
    August 24, 2015

    I’m waiting for this device, I think it’s perfect for my dailly usage! But, where the international version will be aviable to buy??? Now I can find it only some reseller stores at the aliexpress market…… will have it an official international store like the Chines???

  14. Horai
    August 24, 2015

    The big question is with Lenovo 70% in ZUK. What is the direction of Lenovo’s own brand phone? Will the Lenovo brand be eventually replaced by ZUK?