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Nubia Z11 Mini S review: The Nubia mid-range that's a clear could-have-been

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 22 May 2017, 18:49 IST

ZTE's relatively unknown sub-brand Nubia have launched their answer to Xiaomi's Redmi Note 4 - a phone that has been selling like hotcakes in the Indian market.

The ZTE smartphone, exclusively available on Amazon India, has just one variant - 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for Rs 16,999 - and available in moon gold and khaki grey - making it a solid 4k more expensive than its main competition.For Nubia, the pricing itself - and the fact that they launched a few months after the Redmi Note 4 - means that they are starting on the back foot from the get-go.

For Nubia, the pricing itself - and the fact that they launched a few months after the Redmi Note 4 - means that they are starting on the back foot from the get-go.At Rs 16,999, the smartphone is easily comparable with Motorola's Moto G5 Plus, as it's closer in pricing and specifications. In fact, a few months post the launch, it still sells at that price.

At Rs 16,999, the smartphone is easily comparable with Motorola's Moto G5 Plus, as it's closer in pricing and specifications. In fact, a few months post the launch, it still sells at that price.Standing up against an established warrior such as the Moto G series is tough for a new brand. Does it have the internals to take on the G5 Plus and Redmi Note 4?

Standing up against an established warrior such as the Moto G series is tough for a new brand. Does it have the internals to take on the G5 Plus and Redmi Note 4?The ZTE Nubia 11 Mini S is the successor to the Z11 Mini and comes with a refined 23MP rear-shooter, 13MP front camera, a Snapdragon 625 chipset and a 3,000mAh battery.

The ZTE Nubia 11 Mini S is the successor to the Z11 Mini and comes with a refined 23MP rear-shooter, 13MP front camera, a Snapdragon 625 chipset and a 3,000mAh battery.

Design and build quality

ZTE Nubia Z11 Mini S looks good from afar. However, it sports a tired and uninspiring design. The plus point though is that it is very easy to operate one-handed.

The phone comes with a completely metal body and is slim - slimmer than the G5 Plus. Like HTC phones, the antennas at the back have been covered by a metal strip. The fingerprint sensor on the back is very well placed and it can easily be accessed by any of your fingers.

As I've said before, I much prefer the fingerprint sensor to be on the front (where it is usually built into the home button). The fingerprint sensor itself is a little bit inconsistent and one has to press harder to get the phone to unlock. There are volume and power buttons on the side, which is pretty standard.

The phone is easy to grip thanks to the metal unibody but it is slippery, which means it's prone to falling without one noticing. Another downside is that the phone is prone to scratches.

At the bottom of the phone, there are backlit capacitive buttons for navigation. The home button has what Nubia calls a "breath light" and lights up in solid red when the phone is charging and even pulses when there is an unread SMS.

There is a 5.2-inch full-HD display with Gorilla Glass protection that has decent brightness and very good viewing angles, especially when watching videos. Under direct sunlight, this phone was a pleasure to use, and dare I say, the display was the best part of the phone.

The phone comes with a hybrid dual-SIM slot. It can accept microSD cards up to a whopping 256GB. In a curious decision, the headphone jack was kept at the top (most manufacturers prefer to keep it at the bottom). The 23MP rear shooter comes with a camera bump which isn't really a problem.

The biggest relief is that the phone comes with a Type-C cable for charging. It's a pleasure to see low-end phones in 2017 finally coming with this feature that is soon to be a mainstay in all smartphones.

Software and features

The major disappointment comes in the form of the software. The phone runs Nubia UI 4.0, a heavily customised version of Android Marshmallow 6.0. It's sad that a phone launched many months after Android's latest update, doesn't come with it out of the box.

Nubia has promised an update to Android Nougat shortly, but it hasn't seen the light at the end of the tunnel as yet. Running on Android Marshmallow, the UI is indeed a mess.

I found it clunky and bloated with features I didn't need. They didn't slow down the phone though. Vivo, though it has seemingly copied iOS, has an easier to use UI.

Another drawback is the massive number of gestures (half of which aren't needed) that ZTE decided to include. I managed to whittle them down to just two or three gestures - by turning the rest off - but even then, they were more annoying than fun. Definitely didn't make the phone easier to use.

The problem is that the skin is not optimised for use. The text, to the buttons, to swiping, the UI is basically a mess. The fonts also could have been better.

Performance and battery life

Using the same chip as Xiaomi did with the Redmi Note 4, the Nubia Z11 Mini S is seamless while opening and closing apps and even games barely lag (a few noticeable bumps though while playing FIFA).

The phone rarely got hotter than acceptable levels. Its storage capacity of 64 GB is plenty for most users of mid-range smartphones.

With a 3,000 mAh battery and well optimised software, the smartphone delivered enough battery to last well into the morning of the next day.

It's quite impressive for such a slim smartphone with a well-lit display to last this long. Lenovo's K6 Power and ASUS's Zenfone 3S Max performed better and both of those are battery powerhouses.

Call quality was solid with no drops. Video quality on WhatsApp was a breeze with sharp looking images.

The problem here is in the speakers. The audio output was less and at high volumes, it was half of what Xiaomi offered. Even the bass at high volumes was off-balanced and distortion could be noticed. At a price higher than its rivals, this is not at all acceptable.

Camera

The phone camera is being touted as one of the best features of the phone, and that it is. The photos that came from the auto mode and HDR mode had quite a lot of detail, and the colours were sharp even during the bright outdoor sunlight.

The one issue came when trying to focus in on objects further than normal. The sharpness was lacking, especially compared to the Moto G5 Plus.

The interface of the software application that comes with the phone is feature-rich and has a tonne of modes available to the user. The camera does lack Optical Image Stabilisation (which is a bummer) though the sensor in the camera lives up to expectations.

On HDR mode, the phone deals with the over exposure issue but takes up more storage space per photo though. The low-light performance wasn't up to scratch with fewer details, lots of noise.

Lastly, the videos didn't turn out well at all. Once at a concert, the sound that was played back came muffled and some of the words couldn't be heard, despite being not more than 15 feet away from the performer.

Should you buy the phone?

The Z11 Mini S is built to be a good smartphone but falls flat in most areas. ZTE has the potential to do a lot with the Nubia sub-brand but a major misstep is the pricing of the smartphone, and the fact that it doesn't run Android Nougat out of the box.Each of its rivals does at least one aspect far better - Lenovo K6 Power outperforms in

Each of its rivals does at least one aspect far better - Lenovo K6 Power outperforms in battery, Moto G5 Plus has a way better camera, and Redmi Note 4 has a better design with a firmer grip.

This phone would have been a better sell priced more comparably to Xiaomi's Redmi Note 4. A relatively unknown brand, Nubia is bound to struggle in the first few months.

It's next phone, with a few tweaks here and there and moving closer to a vanilla version of Android, has the capability of being one of the best mid-range smartphones available in the Indian market.

For now though, the best bed is to buy Moto G5 Plus, or save some money and get Xiaomi's Redmi Note 4.

First published: 22 May 2017, 18:49 IST
 
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.

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