Nubia Z11 Mini Review – Hitting above its Price Point

Positives
  • Decent Camera
  • Aggressive Price
  • Good Build Quality
  • Smooth Performance
  • Feature Packed ROM
Negatives
  • Average Battery Life
  • No NFC or IR Blaster
  • No Quick Charge
  • Average Video
  • Buggy Fingerprint reader

Chinese Smartphone makers are taking over top Smartphone positions and for good reason, the hardware is a great deal. Not aiming for the high-end, Nubia is looking to be a well rounded affordable Android handset. There is quite a bit of competition at the $200 price point, but quality of the hardware build already makes the Z11 Mini a real contender.

The Nubia Z11 Mini has been my daily driver for nearly 2 weeks, find out if it will stay that way.

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Design

With a 2.5D curved glass display and an all metal bumper the Nubia Z11 Mini is a shiny looker. Certain design elements feel like they’ve been pulled from other handsets, the roundness of the curves have caused a few people to say it reminds them a bit on an iPhone. Although if you do think so it’s a mixture of a few generations if you ask me. The but CNC alloy chassis bubbles out to protect the body of the phone as the glass sits on top of it a narrow plastic bumper between the two.

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To be honest, I’m skeptical of 2.5D glass as I’ve chipped the edge of quite a few of them after extended use. I have no real proof, just a feeling that makes me wish the metal bumper was covering the edge of the glass. This design trend is one that I hope doesn’t last long, but that’s because I’m widely considered the destroyer of phones.

Taking a look around the Z11 Mini you’ll find a SIM/SD card tray, USB Type C, 3.5mm headphone jack and power and volume buttons. Unlike other similar spec phones the Z11 Mini doesn’t have an IR remote and NFC is notably missing. Chinese makers often overlook this since payment is initiated by and large by QR code, those wanting to take part in Android Pay will find themselves missing out.

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The rear sports a fingerprint scanner, single LED flash, 16 mega-pixel F2.0 rear camera and the Nubia logo.

The Z11 Mini stands on its own with the red halo sitting as the navigation focal point.

Hardware

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The Nubia Z11 Mini is a pocket friendly 5 inches with a full HD display 1920 x 1080 with a pixel density of 441 (ppi). Under the hood we have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor with 3GB of RAM and options for 32 or 64GB of internal storage. At 138 grams and 8mm thick the Z11 Mini is sleek looking with a build that feels durable. The Z11 mini has a few future proof features, USB type C which is reversible, dual SIM cards, expandable storage with an SD card.

Above the screen is an 8 mega-pixel F2.4 front camera, and on the chin is the halo home button (which also acts as a notification light) and hardware buttons which are classic for Android (minus the back and multitasking icons, Nubia has gone with simple glowing dots.

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The dual SIM card slot which can handle an SD card slot to expand the memory up to 200GB. If you do use an SD card you can only fit a single SIM, or with no SD you can use dual SIM cards.

The USB type C is reversible so no more fumbling to plug it in the right direction, the bummer is the fact that the connection doesn’t offer fast or quick charge. It takes about 2.5 hours to charge the 2800mAh battery.

When it comes to connectivity we’re looking at 4G LTE bands 38/39/40/41 & FDD-LTE B1/3/7 & 3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100; TD-SCDMA B34/39; CDMA 1x&EVDO 800.

Fingerprint Reader

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A round circle towards on the back of the Nubia is matte and feels quite nice when lightly pressed to unlock the Smartphone. The set up process was easy, and knowing it’s best to try to get all sides of your finger to ensure that even a half press on an angle should get the job done. During the first few days the experience was perfect, quick and seamless, but two weeks I’ve been using the Z11 it’s gotten less and less accurate. The finger print reader on the back however wasn’t as reliable as the edge navigation with a 70% success rate which is enough to make me stop using it.

Display

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Initially I thought it could be brighter but then when you head into setting you can see that the default auto brightness it in the middle, it might drain the battery a bit quicker but it makes the phone usable outdoors.

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The Full HD IPS display comes with quite a bit of customization, heading into the settings you can find some options for glow, standard and soft and even to make the display cooler or warmer. While you’re back here turn up the default auto-brigtness. Breath is also found in the display settings and controls what the red halo responds to, it’s worth customizing just so you know what exactly it’s doing besides telling you something happened on your phone.

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Viewing angles were acceptable though not the widest we’ve seen, this isn’t a big deal unless you’re planning on doing a ton of sharing between 3 people.

Performance

Overall performance is smooth and apps are quick enough to open. The only time we’ve really noticed that it’s not a high end processor is when we were editing photos, it took longer than we were used to to save when using Snapseed. But you can keep editing new photos so it’s not a huge deal. When looking at benchmarks the Z11 Mini is firmly in the mid range, if you’re a spec hound you’ll want to keep hunting, but if you’re only concerned with usability I have no qualms with overall performance, even the load time of Asphalt 8 didn’t offend and it didn’t heat up too much after a few rounds of game play.

Geekbench single – 469
Geekbench Multicore – 1479
AnTuTu – 45139
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited – 6375
GFXBench T-Rex Offscreen – 14.1fps
GFXBench Manhattan Offscreen – 5.6fps

Software

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The customizations on the Z11 Mini are quite extensive. If you take the time to really take a look through the menus you’ll be able to create your perfect Smartphone experience. I love double tap to wake up the display, turning over my phone to stop it from ringing and setting a do not disturb period (with exceptions of course). With an extensive offering of customization those who trend towards custom ROMs might find enough gems here to be content with the Nubia experience.

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Traditional Android hardware navigation buttons are baked in meaning that you won’t be using software buttons that take up precious screen space. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have some innovative interactions (which Nubia has completely nailed in their implementation).

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I was skeptical of Edge Gestures, but I did find my self using the 2 finger slide to control volume and the slide up to go to the previous app on to launch the music player or camera. You can customize which apps you launch, I never had a miss fire and it always worked. It’s nice to see a Chinese manufacturer innovate on existing software concepts and do it thoughtfully and well. In the past add ons like this were cute and rarely worked. (Awe! Nubia is growing up!)

It is worth mentioning that the Z11 Mini isn’t launching on the latest version of Android, Marshmallow, which is a shame. Though. the heavy customization Nubia has overlayed with their ROM will make the upgrade less significant than other handsets.

If you want to close apps one by one or lock them into a white list just hold down the right hardware button and the task manager will pop up. The unit that we’re testing is the international version which is tied into Google so no need to root the phone or side load Google apps, but like many Chinese phones Android Auto isn’t currently supported.

My biggest peeve about the Nubia ROM is that there is no strong search feature. If you’re not going to offer an app drawer where you can view all your apps then you need to have a way to look for them that isn’t using Google’s search bar.  This is actually a pretty common problem in Chinese

Battery

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During heavy use with GPS it doesn’t get through the day 10 minutes of photos taking, 1 hour streaming music, 1 hour email and social media I only used 50%, most days I was just able to get through the day. Adding in GPS seems to drain the battery quickly, but this could be something we see fixed in a system update.

Sound

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A software feature that you should be sure to turn on is DTS audio, I can’t show you, but believe me, it sounds so much fuller in my headphones. The speaker volume and clarity if you want to share media is good enough. I won’t be using it to listen to music in the morning, I looked to pair it with my Bluetooth speaker.

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Having said that it’s not bad, it’s just not good enough to listen to a 20 minute podcast off of when you have the option for really full sound. Many phones like HTC’s or even the Galaxy S7 were good enough for me not to think of connecting my speaker.

Camera

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The camera is decent for any price point, the 16 mega-pixel sensor good and Nubia have used some a 6 lens stack, F2.0 aperture and then topped it all off with a feature rich camera application. You get things like Timelapse, slow motion and show shutter speed that will allow you to set it all the way up to 21 minutes! This is great if you wanted to get some shots of the stars, sadly I didn’t have an opportunity to test this out as you don’t find a lot of star in Tokyo. The one criticism that we have is that we’d like the ISO to drop to 50 instead of the 100 offered. This really does make a difference when looking trying to take night time shots.

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The photo quality is quite good the video quality is ok, not in the same league as the photos. Slow motion has visible artifacts, timelaspe looked great when I was shooting the landing in Tokyo but in general video has some difficulty with exposure.

If we stick to photo taking I thought that the color accuracy on the photos was great and with a few tweaks with editing I had a great photo. Here are some shots I edited with Snapseed.

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If you’d like to check out some pictures that I haven’t touched up at all, here is a gallery of photos I took on a week long trip to Tokyo with Fujitsu for the Fujitsu Forum. Taking photos is fast, and with the high-end lenses you can get some really wonderful images.

When it comes to the front facing camera it takes a good selfie though it had trouble when a few drinks got added to the mix. Beautify is pretty natural though you’ll want to keep it towards the middle to low end. I also like it that it groups the front facing photos into it’s own section in the gallery. There are tons of little thoughtful things that you’ll come across.

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Rating
Design / 7.5
Camera / 7.5
Sound / 7
Performance / 7
Battery Life / 7
Software / 7.5
Price / 9
Editor's Choice / 9
Hardware / 8
Display / 8
Nubia Z11 Mini

The Nubia Z11 Mini is a great phone, it's good a nice design, excellent build quality, buttery performance, a feature packed ROM and a camera that is amazing for the price. The only problem that I really have is the average battery life, if you're a heavy user you'll want to top it up during the day and My only issue is the battery life, if you really are a heavy user then you are going to need to charge the Z11 Mini through the day. Everything else is pretty minor the buggy fingerprint reader or no NFC or IR blaster aren't deal breakers. The thing that is hard to forget when reviewing this device is that everything I take issue with are high end features that could be implemented a little better the fact that they are even on a $230 smartphone says a lot about just where the Z11 Mini sits in terms of comparison. If I needed a budget friendly smartphone that didn't have many compromises, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up the Z11 Mini.

7.8
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