ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: An Android Lollipop phablet with sweet specs

One useful new software feature is the ability to turn off the home button LED that glows blue when the phone is on charge or the battery is low. Also see: Best phablets 2015. 

There are other differences between little and large, too. None of the gestures we admired in the Blade S6 are supported by this Lollipop phablet, and performance is a tad slower, despite the same hardware inside, but still acceptable for a mid-range phone. The battery is larger at 3000mAh against 2600mAh, yet battery performance still isn't ZTE's strong suit. 

Rather than side-accessed trays for the dual-SIM- and microSD slots the rear cover is removable, although the battery hidden below is not. In common with the mini Blade the Plus is a dual-SIM dual-standby phone, although here you'll find one Micro and one Nano, rather than two Nano. 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: Price and UK availability 

The ZTE Blade S6 Plus was supplied to us by GearBest, which was charging £203.33 with free shipping at the time of writing. Using the coupon code ZTES6PLUS you'll get it for £180.66. This phone is despatched from its European warehouse, which means you won't be liable for import duty when shipping it to the UK. Nevertheless, before you buy you should read up on our buying advice on buying cheap tech from overseas. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones 2015. 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: An Android Lollipop phablet with some sweet specs

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: Design and build 

Hands up, I'm not particularly keen on phablets. And that would be small girl hands up - phones are just getting way too big these days. With its 5.5in screen and 156.6x77mm chassis the Blade S6 Plus isn't a phone I could comfortably use in one hand without fear of dropping it. The left- and right screen bezels are reasonably slim; it's the top and bottom bezels that make this phone feel huge - more so than the Kingzone Z1, which is actually only a few millimetres smaller. 

Admirably, though, in common with the smaller Blade it's just 7.5mm thick (thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, for example); it's also pretty light for a phablet at 150g. That certainly makes it easier to manage. 

Despite my reservations about large phones, they do have clear benefits. The rear-facing speaker is no longer in a position to fire sound into your palm, for example, and the larger screen is useful for playing games and watching video. Those who have eyesight problems will also enjoy the benefits of larger fonts, icons and buttons, especially when used with the aforementioned Family Mode. 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: An Android Lollipop phablet with some sweet specs

It's a nice screen, too. The resolution is only HD (we'd rather see full-HD on a phablet), but its a good-quality IPS panel with nice colours and good viewing angles. The pixel density is much lower than that of phones such as the iPhone 6 Plus (401ppi) and Note 4 (515ppi), but at 267ppi it's not fuzzy either. (There's also a massive difference in price, of course, and you could buy three of these for one of those.) 

For a mid-range Android the ZTE Blade S6 Plus is nicely designed. The screen has a slippery but silky smooth feel to it when swiping, and its rounded screen edges are so well done that you realise the rear cover comes off only when you can't find the SIM tray. 

The white front is very clean, and the buttons below it glow a cool blue. Usefully, you can now turn off these blue LEDs when the phone is charging or the battery is running low, which can be irritating at night. The silver plastic rear is more standard mid-range fare, but the way it wraps around to the front prevents it feeling flimsy or creaking in use.  

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: Hardware and performance 

At £200 performance is decent, if not mind-blowing. Given the identical hardware inside - a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 64-bit octa-core processor, Adreno 405 graphics and 2GB RAM - you might be surprised to find slightly lower performance than what you get with the £50 cheaper Blade S6. Also see: What's the fastest smartphone 2015. 

In our benchmarks we measured 663 points in the single-core and 2095 points in the multi-core component of Geekbench 3.0. By comparison the standard S6 recorded 658 and 2420 respectively.  

It was also faster in SunSpider, with 1088ms against this Plus' 1309ms (lower is better in this test). That's in Chrome, however, which we use to ensure a fair test across phones; using the preinstalled browser the Plus scored 1117ms.  

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: An Android Lollipop phablet with some sweet specs

GFXBench graphics results showed less difference. The standard S6 saw an extra frame per second in T-Rex with 25fps against the Plus' 24fps. In Manhattan both phones scored 11fps. 

We've recently begun using Geekbench 3.0 to also measure battery life, but for now we have few results to compare, and we have not run this test on the standard S6. However, even with its larger 3000mAh battery (the S6 has 2400mAh), the S6 Plus didn't score particularly well. We recorded 3 hours 58 minutes, with a battery score of 1587 points. There's no power-saving mode on this phone to extend that life; neither does it support quick charging.  

In terms of storage you get 16GB, plus a microSD slot that supports up to 32GB. After installing our benchmarking apps only 7.83GB was available, but you can uninstall some of the preinstalled apps. And this is Android, so you have all manner of cloud storage services available to you. See all smartphone reviews.  

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: Connectivity 

Connectivity wise there's 4G LTE on one of the two SIMs, plus dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, USB OTG support and an IR blaster. Like the S6 you also get AliveShare, which lets you share games, content and more with handsets that also support AliveShare. NFC is not supported. This phone is dual-SIM as standard, accepting one Nano and one Micro. For more details on what that means see our dual-SIM phones buying advice and best dual-SIM phones 2015. 

Check your mobile network is compatible before you buy the ZTE Blade S6 Plus, as we understand customers in North America will have issues. The Blade operates on GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, WCDMA 900/2100MHz and FDD-LTE 800/900/1800/2600MHz. 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: An Android Lollipop phablet with some sweet specs

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: Cameras 

When we tested the ZTE Blade S6 we noted that the 13Mp Sony camera with 28mm lens and f2.0 aperture produced realistic colours and sharp detail, but that the LED flash did little to help photography in low light. ZTE has rectified this with the Blade S6 Plus, adding a second LED flash to the camera. In other respects it's the same, which means 1080p video remains a bit jerky. 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review

The Camera has a Simple mode that makes taking decent pictures easy even if you don't know what you're doing. You can also select from a range of modes such as HDR, Panorama, Smile, Beauty, and add filters in real time. Having taken a photo swiping in from the right opens the Gallery, and you can choose to edit photos either in Google's standard app or the preinstalled PhotoEditor, which offers options to add effects, borders, decoration and annotations, and crop, straighten or otherwise adjust your image.

The 5Mp selfie camera has Beauty and Smile modes, but you can't adjust the effect. Whereas we used Camera360 to edit selfies on the standard S6, this app isn't installed on the Plus. If you want it, though, it's a free download from Google Play. Also see: Best selfie phones 2015. 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review: Software 

The Blade S6 Plus comes with Android Lollipop 5.0 out of the box, and ZTE installs the MiFavor 3.0 UI. The biggest difference between standard Android and MiFavor is that the latter removes the Apps menu, displaying every app on the home screen, in the same way that Apple does with iOS. We don't like this approach - it's just too messy, and half these apps we will never use and therefore don't need to see - but you can easily hide away unwanted items in folders by dragging one app on top of another. 

All the usual Google apps are preinstalled, as are many of ZTE's own, which means in some cases you have two apps for one function, such as editing pictures. We don't really mind that, although it is a waste of storage space if you have no intention of using them. Some of the third-party stuff can be deleted including WPS Ofiice and Clean Master, but not the core stuff. 

Some of ZTE's software is useful, though. Mi-Pop, which we also saw in the standard S6, is much more useful here, placing onscreen a back button that you can position anywhere you like, making one-handed operation with the large screen easier. Hold and drag it to also see buttons for home, the multitasking menu and more options, or long-press it and you also get options to turn on and off the sound, turn off or reboot the phone, lock the screen or take a screenshot of a specific part of the screen. 

 ZTE Blade S6 Plus review

The Family Mode we mentioned earlier will be useful for beginners or those with poor eyesight, enlarging fonts and turning the home screen into a tiled interface much like Windows Phone that shows only the items you need (you can add extras if you like). 

ZTE Blade S6 Plus review

But while the Plus has this useful Family Mode, it's lost the gestures supported by the Blade S6. And that's a shame. The ability to turn on the flashlight with a shake or launch the mirror app by lifting the phone and pressing the volume up button are among those we missed.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2015.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.

ZTE Blade S6 Plus: Specs

  • Android Lollipop 5.0 with MiFavor 3.0 UI
  • 5.5in (1280x720, 267ppi) IPS display
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 64-bit octa-core processor
  • Adreno 405 graphics
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage (plus microSD up to 32GB)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (one Nano, one Micro)
  • GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, WCDMA 900/2100MHz, FDD-LTE 800/900/1800/2600MHz
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • IR blaster
  • 13Mp Sony Exmoor IMX214 rear camera (f2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, LED flash), 1080p video
  • 5Mp front camera (f2.2 aperture, 80-degree wide-angle lens)
  • FM radio
  • 3000mAh battery
  • 156.6x77x7.5mm
  • 150g
  • 1-year warranty
  • Geekbench 3.0: 653 (single-core), 2095 (multi-core)
  • GFXBench: 24fps (T-Rex), 11fps (Manhattan)
  • SunSpider: 1309ms (Chrome), 1117ms (preinstalled browser)
  • battery life (Geekbench 3.0): 1587 (03:58)
  • Android Lollipop 5.0 with MiFavor 3.0 UI
  • 5.5in (1280x720, 267ppi) IPS display
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 64-bit octa-core processor
  • Adreno 405 graphics
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage (plus microSD up to 32GB)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (one Nano, one Micro)
  • GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, WCDMA 900/2100MHz, FDD-LTE 800/900/1800/2600MHz
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • IR blaster
  • 13Mp Sony Exmoor IMX214 rear camera (f2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, LED flash), 1080p video
  • 5Mp front camera (f2.2 aperture, 80-degree wide-angle lens)
  • FM radio
  • 3000mAh battery
  • 156.6x77x7.5mm
  • 150g
  • 1-year warranty
  • Geekbench 3.0: 653 (single-core), 2095 (multi-core)
  • GFXBench: 24fps (T-Rex), 11fps (Manhattan)
  • SunSpider: 1309ms (Chrome), 1117ms (preinstalled browser)
  • battery life (Geekbench 3.0): 1587 (03:58)

OUR VERDICT

The ZTE Blade S6 Plus is a nice phablet for £200, but it doesn't offer enough to make it worth an extra £50 on top of the standard model, which already has a large 5in screen. In comparison to that phone it's lost some of the features we liked, and despite having a larger battery runtime still isn't great. If you're looking for a 5.5in phablet at £200, our money would be on the Kingzone Z1.