In our 91mobiles’ Editor’s Picks for our favourite tech from last year, one of my colleagues pointed out that dual-camera smartphones would become mainstream this year – and well, the prediction turned out to be true. Phones with dual cameras have not just become more affordable, we’re seeing more and more brands jumping into the fray. The latest to board the bandwagon is nubia, with the launch of the Z17 mini (first impressions), priced at Rs 19,999. The mid-ranger holds a lot of promise on paper, but can it justify its price tag and more importantly, take on the competition? That’s what we’ve been trying to find out by using the handset for about two weeks, and here’s what we think.

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Specs at a glance

Display
Size 5.2 Inch
Resolution Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Performance
CPU Quad core, 1.8 GHz + Quad core, 1.4 GHz, Snapdragon 652
RAM 4 GB
Storage
Internal memory 64 GB
External memory Up to 200 GB
Battery
Capacity 2950 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable
Camera
Primary camera 13 MP
Secondary camera 16 MP
Connectivity
Network support Dual SIM 4G
Other options Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS
Others
Battery Capacity 2950
Operating system Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Cameras: one plus one equals 11

Primary camera:  13 MP
Flash: LED Flash
Secondary camera:  16 MP

Since the highlight of the nubia Z17 Mini is its rear cameras, let’s begin our review by focussing on them (no pun intended). The device sports twin 13-megapixel snappers at its back. For shooting in low light, the cameras get help from an LED flash. In terms of the implementation, the pair captures RGB information as well as monochrome images – promising better colour reproduction. This also means that the Z17 mini uses both its cameras by default.

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The company refers to its camera app as Neovision 6, and its interface is quite minimalistic up front. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that it’s full of modes and options. However, the app isn’t user friendly and requires some getting used to. In the portrait orientation, the app presents options to preview the previous clicks, the shutter button and various filters at the bottom along with the ability to switch between different shooting options. Up top, you get the ability to switch to the front shooter, enable the self-timer, toggle the flash, activate the HDR mode, and access settings. You also get a Pro mode that lets you adjust ISO levels, shutter speeds, etc. The camera family is full of various modes, which would be appreciated by power users and photography buffs.

nubia Z17 mini screenshot (32) nubia Z17 mini screenshot (33) nubia Z17 mini screenshot (50)

Quality-wise, the images are really impressive. They’re full of detail, and reproduce accurate colours too. Daylight shots are quite pleasing, and so are the images shot using the HDR mode, adding more life to the scene. Low-light images also turn out to be fine, and the flash certainly helps the situation without making the subject seem artificial. Of course, you can also enjoy the dual-camera capabilities of the nubia Z17 mini, giving you the ability to click black and white images with the Mono option, or getting the depth-of-field effect with the Portrait mode. Although, the latter isn’t really that impressive, as the subject’s edges sometimes are blurred, which defeats the purpose of using the effect. If you’re willing to spend some time and are a shutterbug, then you would love options like Star Trail, Slow Shutter, Time Shuttle as well as fun modes such as Clone. The Z17 mini is also one of the very few mid-rangers that offer the ability to capture RAW images. The front camera would also be able to live up to the expectations of selfie addicts.

Here’s a look at the camera samples taken from the nubia Z17 mini.

To sum it up, the nubia Z17 mini is surely among the best smartphone cameras priced under Rs 20,000 – if not the best. It comes with a slew of options, which will be loved by normal users or photography enthusiasts alike.

Design and display: understated elegance

Dimensions: 146.6 x 72.5 x 7.4 mm
Weight:  155 grams

The nubia Z17 mini borrows some design elements from the nubia Z11 (review), which has won accolades for its bezel-less design. What that means is that the latest offering from the brand also features slim bezels, although there’s significant space above and below the screen. But thanks to its compact 5.2-inch display, the device has an ideal size for one-hand usage. It’s also quite slim at 7.5mm and doesn’t feel bulky at 155g, because the weight is well distributed. 

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While the display panel dominates the fascia, you also get an earpiece, a couple of sensors, and a secondary camera above, while the capacitive keys for navigation are at the bottom. However, only the home button is easy to identify, while the overview and return keys only light up when touched. Additionally, it feels odd to access recently-opened apps by long-pressing the back button, which usually is a function of the overview key.

Moving on to the edges of the nubia Z17 mini, you’ll find that the placement of the buttons and ports is quite standard. We do appreciate the textured pattern of the power toggle, making it easier to recognise by feel. 

Flip to the back, and the first thing that’ll catch your attention are the dual camera sensors placed on the top left, accompanied by an LED flash. There’s also a fingerprint scanner towards the middle, which is placed quite thoughtfully. Your index finger naturally reaches it, and the reader is quite accurate and unlocks the phone in a jiffy.

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Our review unit sports a black hue, and features a unibody metallic construction which gives a confidence about its build quality. While the nubia Z17 mini might not be a game changer in terms of design, it has quite a few distinct elements that can turn heads. There’s a red breathing light around the home button and a red accent around the camera module at the back, along with a gold stripe running all along the edges, in addition to a gold accent around the fingerprint module. nubia’s branding and some other text at the rear is also written in gold. Along with differentiating the handset from the crowd, these little things also add a bit of charm. That said, the red light surrounding the home key is always on when the phone is being used, which is quite distracting while watching movies or playing games.

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The 5-inch display of the Z17 mini is a full HD affair. With a pixel density of 424ppi, the IPS panel offers crisp text and vibrant visuals. The colours are quite punchy, which makes watching videos an enjoyable experience. The brightness and viewing angles are also up to the mark, and we didn’t find any issues in reading the display outdoors. Protecting the screen is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass. 

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Hardware and software: an eight-pack wonder but with stale Marshmallow

CPU:  Quad core, 1.8 GHz + Quad cor…
GPU: Adreno 510
RAM: 4 GB
Memory: 64 GB + Up to 200 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Battery: 2950 mAH

The nubia Z17 mini draws power from Qualcomm’s powerful mid-range SoC, Snapdragon 652. The octa-core chipset offers two quad-core clusters running at 1.95GHz and 1.4GHz, respectively. Paired with 4 gigs of RAM, the hardware is capable enough to handle anything thrown at it – and the real-life usage lives up to the expectations. Be it basic things like navigating between screens or opening apps, or switching between multiple apps, the smartphone is able to offer a smooth performance. Thanks to the Adreno 510 graphics processor, gaming is also impressive. Playing with the tag team of Batman, Harley Quinn and Wonder Women in DC’s Injustice 2 for more than an hour was quite delightful, and there were no lags or frame drops. The device does get warm at the upper side of the back after a long gaming session, though that doesn’t affect the performance.

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The Z17 mini comes with 64GB memory on board, which should be able to handle your storage needs quite well. But if not, then users can slide in a microSD card of up to 128GB to top it up, although that means that the secondary SIM slot (it’s a hybrid slot) will need to be used. Talking about connectivity options, the 4G VoLTE-capable smartphone offers support for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.

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When it comes to software, things are the same as with the nubia Z11 and Z11 MiniS (review). While the interface generates mixed feelings, we simply can’t accept a smartphone shipping with Android Marshmallow now, a platform that was launched back in October 2015. Like most custom skins, you get a unified homescreen and app drawer, and the device comes with some preinstalled apps in the form of Kik Keyboard and News Republic. It also supports a variety of edge gestures, and depending upon your personal preferences, you can enable them to do some things efficiently. We liked the ability to tweak the brightness by scrolling on both sides, or the option to open the recent app with a swipe on the edge. As much as want to like the nubia UI 4.0, it’s not the most refined custom skin out there. We noticed a few lags and app crashes during our usage.

nubia Z17 mini screenshot (26) nubia Z17 mini screenshot (27) nubia Z17 mini screenshot (51)

Perhaps the only thing that had us worried about the nubia Z17 mini in the hardware department was its battery. With a 2,950mAh unit, the device seems to have an average cell capacity. But thanks to various optimisations, the device was able to last an entire day even with strenuous usage of cellular data being on all the time, intermittent use of Wi-Fi hotspot and GPS, watching American Gods on Amazon Prime Video, along with a few minutes of gaming. We constantly got upwards of four hours of screen-on time, which is pretty good. With support for the quick charging, the Z17 mini can be juiced up fully in almost an hour and a half.

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Verdict

It looks like the nubia Z17 mini brings with it a winning formula – solid design, gorgeous display, impressive cameras, and loaded hardware – all at an attractive price tag of Rs 19,999. Our only major gripe with the smartphone is its old Android iteration, and some optimisation issues which we ran into every now and then. At this price, the handset is able to compete with the dual camera-toting Honor 8 (review) quite well, along with beating the likes of the ASUS ZenFone 3 (review) and OPPO F3 (review), in some aspects.

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If you are looking for a solid and compact smartphone with powerful camera capabilities under Rs 20,000, then the nubia Z17 mini should be near the top of your shortlist. However, our only reservation is about the brand’s strategy for India, considering it has launched smartphones earlier as well, but then faded away. That said, starting December 2016, the brand has launched a slew of smartphones, which suggests that nubia has aggressive plans for India. That should translate into better service support as well as regular Android updates. 

 

Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5

 

Pros

  • Compact and elegant design
  • Gorgeous display
  • Impressive dual cameras with a ton of features
  • Smooth performance

 

Cons

  • Older version of Android
  • Average battery life

 

Photos by Raj Rout

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Rs. 15,999.00
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