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Shootout: The best smartphones under S$350

By James Lu - 26 Jun 2015

ZTE Blade S6

ZTE Blade S6 - $349

The ZTE Blade S6 looks just like Apple’s iPhone 6. It shares a very similar shape, with the same rounded edge design, and similar looking buttons, and it even has a faux aluminum rear, which is actually plastic, but does look fairly convincing from a few feet away. There’s even a ‘designed by ZTE in California, assembled in China’ print on the rear, in the same place as Apple’s famous wording. The only thing missing are the antenna bands (plastic phones don’t need them).

No points for originality, but since the Blade S6 basically looks like an iPhone, naturally it’s quite attractive, especially for a phone in this price range. In hand, the plastic feels a bit cheap, and the phone is much lighter than an iPhone 6, but it’s comfortable to hold overall. Button placement on the S6 isn’t exactly the same as Apple’s, with both the power button and volume rocker located on the right-side (on the iPhone, the volume buttons are on the left). On the left, you’ll find a microSD card slot and a SIM card tray that holds dual 4G Nano SIMs. The audio jack can be found at the top of the phone, while the micro-USB port is found at the bottom.

The Blade S6 sports a 5-inch 1280 x 720 HD display (293 ppi). Clarity isn’t as good as the Full HD models in our shootout, but viewing angles are fairly decent and the display does boast fairly bright and vivid colors. At the bottom of the screen, the S6 has a small circle indicating the home button. It looks a bit like Apple’s Touch ID button, but it’s not; it’s just a regular capacitive home button. The menu and back buttons are invisible, but light up when any of the capacitive buttons are pressed.

On the back of the S6 you'll find a 13-megapixel 1/3.06-inch Sony Exmor RS IMX214 sensor, which is the same camera sensor used by Xiaomi and Phicomm. ZTE has also added a few software optimizations to get the most out of the camera, including an 'Expert' mode that lets you manually adjust metering, ISO levels and focal points. The front camera on the Blade S6 is a 5MP shooter with a wide-angle 80 degree lens, making it ideal for group selfies.

Image quality from the Blade S6 is fairly good, with well-controlled noise, although on the whole the images are slightly soft and colors are a little vivid.

The Blade S6 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor and runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop with a custom MiFavor 3.0 skin on top. Unsurprisingly, MiFavor 3.0 looks very similar to iOS 8 with a flat design and bright icon colors. As with many China phones, the UI removes the app tray in favor of multiple home screens full of icons (just like iOS).

The phone also comes pre-loaded with ZTE’s Smart Sense gesture-based commands. For example, to quickly turn on the torchlight, just shake the phone vigorously and it will turn on. Shake it again to turn it off - useful for when you're hunting for your keys in the dark. Hold down the volume up button, bring the phone up to your face, and release the button, and you activate a mirror application (really just the front-facing camera turning on). The gestures are a bit complicated to learn, but once you’ve used them a few times, they can be quite helpful as quick-launch features.