Although not quite as well known in India, ZTE and its subsidiary brand Nubia are a lot more popular in China. With a focus on looks and design, Nubia smartphones come with a promise of good specifications and quality looks, with pricing that challenges the competition. And it was certainly no small feat when the company managed to get football sensation Cristiano Ronaldo to endorse its smartphones.
Back in October, Nubia launched the Z11 Mini smartphone, followed by the Z11 and N1 in December. While the Z11 Mini was a capable smartphone at the time with good specifications and great looks, it’s now time for an update. The latest assault on the competitive mid-range segment comes in the form of the Nubia Z11 Mini S.
With upgraded specifications, the Nubia Z11 Mini S is a current-generation phone with specifications that take on the top competitors in the cut-throat mid-range segment. Priced at Rs 16,999, does the Nubia Z11 Mini S have what it takes to challenge the might of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4? We find out in our review.
Distinct, yet familiar styling
A lot of smartphones are guilty of mimicking Apple’s styling cues and Nubia is no different. From the curved, edge-hugging antenna lines to the general shape and styling, there are many not-so-subtle iPhone cues here. The all-metal build and camera at the top-left corner only add to that feel.
As such, the phone is decent looking, with some distinct Nubia touches. The biggest of these is the circular red capacitive home key, which can be set to ‘breathe’ or have a pulsing light pattern that fades in and out. The other two capacitive keys are represented by red dots, which are backlit when in use.
There are also some major differences in the styling between the Nubia Z11 Mini and the Mini S. While the Z11 Mini has a flatter and separate rear panel, the Mini S has a continuous flowing metal unibody design, molded from a single piece of metal. The edges leading to the screen are chamfered, and this gives the phone a very classy look that is far nicer than what we’re used to seeing in the mid-range segment.
The Nubia Z11 Mini S has its fingerprint sensor at the back, and this can be used to unlock the phone directly from standby, without first needing to wake the device. It isn’t the quickest of the sensors on phones we’ve used, but it’s fairly accurate and doesn’t often give too much trouble. The Nubia logo is right below the fingerprint sensor, and the rest of the back is sophisticatedly Spartan.
The Nubia Z11 Mini S has its power and volume buttons on the right, with the hybrid SIM tray on the left, which allows either two SIM cards or one SIM and one microSD card for storage expansion. The phone does have a generous 64GB of internal storage, so you could likely do without expandable storage and stick to using two SIM cards. Additionally, there is also VoLTE support, so you can use the Z11 Mini S with Reliance Jio and any other operators that offer the service. The USB type-C slot for charging and data transfers is at the bottom, while the 3.5mm jack is at the top.
One thing that the phone is sorely missing is fast charging. Although the presence of the type-C format is refreshing, Nubia has including a 7.5W charger with the device. Although charging isn’t too slow, it does take well over two hours to fully charge the 3000mAh battery. While options from Lenovo and Motorola offer faster charging through more capable chargers, Nubia’s lack of action in this department is a bit disappointing.
Like the recently-launched Moto G5 Plus, the Nubia Z11 Mini S has a 5.2-inch full-HD IPS LCD screen. This helps the phone maintain a compact profile, and certainly isn’t as big as the 5.5-inch screens on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and Lenovo P2. It’s a good display with excellent colors and black levels, along with good peak brightness and sharpness. The phone is great to watch videos and play games as a result, and can safely be said to have among the best screens in this price category.
Clean software, but slightly confusing UI
Running on Android Marshmallow, the Nubia Z11 Mini S is a fairly reliable performer when it comes to software. Although the lack of Android Nougat might be bothersome for some considering that the Redmi Note 4 and Moto G5 Plus both run the latest software, Nubia’s software can’t really be faulted in any significant way. The only thing I didn’t quite like was that too much of an attempt has been made to be different. Things aren’t quite where I’m used to seeing them, and you often have to figure out and get used to the new, often unnecessary position of a particular phone function.
The user interface is a now typical single-layered affair with neatly designed icons and a dark theme that’s easy on the eyes. The notification shade and quick settings bar can be customized for the options you want, and most settings can be found where they’re supposed to be. Minor customizations are possible, but it’s a fairly standard interface as such.
There are a couple of noteworthy features, the first of which is the split screen option. Swiping up from the bottom activates the ‘mini launcher’, which opens up two separate instances of the phone’s interface. You can have a particular app running on one instance, with a different app running on the other, allowing you to take advantage of this Android Nougat feature even on Android Marshmallow.
The other is ‘edge’ gestures, a set of swipes and gestures from the edge of the screen that quickly trigger certain functions. A lot of the functions are useful, such as switching between apps, closing all apps quickly and adjusting brightness, while others are easier to do using the standard methods, such as going back or to your home screen. Additionally, the edge isn’t the most intuitive or easy spot to swipe around, and I found myself ignoring these gestures all too often.
Good performance and specifications
The Nubia Z11 Mini S is a significant step-up over the Z11 Mini when it comes to specifications, getting refreshes and changes in all the departments that truly matter. The phone is powered by the excellent Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC, which offers a fantastic balance between power and energy efficiency, thanks to the 14nm fabrication process of the chipset. There’s also 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a 3000mAh battery, all of which are improvements over the previous device.
All of this comes together to give you capable mid-range performance and the clean, efficient software also helps in this regard. Graphics-intensive games such as Hitman: Sniper and Sonic Dash both worked without any hiccups, and most apps work equally well. AnTuTu returned a score of 62,584, which is in line with scores from other Snapdragon 625-powered smartphones. Multi-tasking did occasionally cause slowdowns and intensive use and charging both generated a bit of heat at the back of the phone because of the all-metal build, none of this is too bothersome on the whole.
A key advantage of the excellent Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC is excellent battery life, and like the Moto G5 Plus which also has a 3,000mAh battery, the Nubia Z11 Mini S can run for up to two days on a full charge, depending on your usage. Although it isn’t quite as long-lasting as the Lenovo P2 or Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, it’s still fantastic considering that you get other advantages in the form of great looks and an excellent screen.
Above average camera
The Nubia Z11 Mini S has a 23-megapixel rear camera that is capable of shooting video at up to 4K resolution, along with a 1080p@60fps mode. The front camera is a 13-megapixel shooter that can record video at full-HD. The rear camera has a single-tone LED flash, and there isn’t much else to say about the phone’s camera set in terms of features or specifications, apart from the presence of phase detection autofocus in both the front and rear cameras.
The camera app is straightforward and easy to use, with a large shutter button, shortcuts for the gallery and filters, as well as quick-access modes for photo, video, a beautification mode strangely dubbed as ‘pretty’, a pro mode that lets you tweak settings, and camera family, that gives you access to various other shooting modes. These include multi-exposure, slow shutter, panorama, time lapse, slow motion and more. You can also quickly switch between the front and rear cameras, toggle the flash, HDR and self-timer modes, or access settings from the main screen.
Although nothing stands out about the cameras of the Nubia Z11 Mini S at first glance, picture quality is above average. Considering the price, the Nubia Z11 Mini S produces pictures that are excellent for a mid-range smartphone. Shots are clean, vibrant, detailed and extremely good to look at from the perspective of color reproduction. Although a hint of grain is visible upon zooming in, pictures are excellent on the whole.
Camera samples shot by the Nubia Z11 Mini S. Click/tap for full resolution
In good light, there’s very little to fault in the images produced by the Nubia Z11 Mini S. I’m impressed with how good the shots look, particularly the richness in natural colors. The blue of the sky and the green of trees and plants are incredibly natural looking, while minute details are retained well on most shots. Contrast is also excellent, allowing for bright and dark zones to show brilliantly in the same shot. Even against the light, details remain visible. The tendency of the camera to keep colors looking as natural as possible is laudable.
Video recording isn’t quite as capable as high-end smartphones, despite the presence of 4K and 1080p@60fps shooting modes. This comes down to the phone’s ability to process camera data, and it’s here that the Snapdragon 625 shows that it’s only a mid-range SoC. The front camera is decent for the occasional selfie as well. On the whole, if you’re keen to have a good camera phone in this price range, the Nubia Z11 Mini S might be the ideal phone for you.
The affordable smartphone market is currently dominated by a few big brands, and it’s this handful of brands that generate the most attention. Xiaomi currently rules the mid-range space with the Redmi Note 4, and it’s positioning as a value product ensures it gets the attention it deserves. However, if you dare to look beyond those few brands, you can find true value and quality even from products that you may not have heard too much about.
The Nubia Z11 Mini S is one such smartphone. At its price of Rs 16,999, this device has a lot on offer. You get a great combination of good looks, pocketability, a good screen, excellent mid-range performance and a camera that performs exceptionally considering the price tag. The only shortcoming for this phone is that ZTE and Nubia aren’t popular here, and a lot of buyers may choose to look past it for an experience that can be considered ‘safe’, from options such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, Moto G5 Plus and Lenovo P2.
If you are willing to dive into the deep end, the Nubia Z11 Mini S is a great all-rounder, and one that more than justifies the pricing. It isn’t perfect, mind you; the lack of fast charging and Android Marshmallow firmware are bothersome to say the least. But if you can look past those flaws, the Z11 Mini S might just stand out as a great alternative to the options you’d typically think of when shopping for a mid-range smartphone.