A subsidiary of the better-known ZTE, Nubia isn’t a Chinese brand we’ve come across in the past. But its Z17 Mini – a budget phone with a mid-range spec – makes us want to see more.
This phone will appeal to you if you want an all-rounder that doesn’t weigh down your pockets, and has a design that doesn’t give away its budget price.
Nubia Z17 Mini Price & Availability
The Z17 Mini is not officially available in the UK, which means to get hold of it here you’ll need to import it from China via a site like GearBest, which supplied our handset for review.
GearBest offers free shipping to the UK (and elsewhere, including the US and Europe), but do note that import duty may be charged when it reaches the UK. This is calculated at 20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork, plus an admin fee of around £11.
So how much is it? From GearBest you’ll pay £153.51/US$210.22/€173.40. Even with import duty added that’s a smaller price than you’ll pay in the UK for a comparable phone, and that makes it great value.
Just bear in mind that your consumer rights work a little differently when buying outside Europe should something go wrong.
The Nubia Z17 Mini we’ve reviewed here is available in Black or Champagne from GearBest, but there is also an Aurora Blue limited edition handset that swaps the Snapdragon 652 for a 653, and increases the RAM and storage from 4GB and 64GB to 6GB and 128GB respectively.
Nubia Z17 Mini Design & Build
For a circa-£150 smartphone the Nubia Z17 Mini has a very pleasant design. Though it doesn’t follow the recent ‘bezel-less’ trend it has a slim chassis (just 7.45mm) and with its 5.2in screen is manageable in a single hand.
The metal body has a satin finish that repels fingerprints, barely noticeable antenna lines top and bottom, and attractive red and gold detailing around the fingerprint scanner and slightly raised dual-camera.
This is also visible at the front, with a red always-on circle signifying the capacitive home button, and a gold edge surrounding the screen. Two red dots (for back and more options) appear either side of the home button when you’re using an app, and though it’s not obvious at first their function should quickly become second-nature (and you can switch them around). The red and gold colouring is a nice contrast to the black on our review sample.
The Nubia is lightweight at 155g, and its almost flat slab-like design adds to the feeling of a premium design. The use of 2.5D curved glass at the front and chamfered edges give it a smooth, slick appeal.
The screen itself is a full-HD IPS panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which makes it feel a little old-hat in comparison to the 18:9 designs coming through our test centre. But it’s a nice screen with realistic colours, good clarity (424ppi), sufficient brightness for use in all conditions, and fantastic viewing angles. It also has Gorilla Glass to help protect against accidental damage.
On the bottom edge you’ll find a USB-C port and drilled holes either side for audio, but don’t be fooled: it’s just a mono speaker.
It’s difficult to find fault with the design at this price, though we’d like to see a proper notification LED – the ‘Breathe light’ on the home button lights up for some apps but not others. There are also some quirky edge gestures that would probably work better with smaller bezels (we’ll explain these in the software section).
Nubia Z17 Mini Hardware & Performance
For a budget phone the Nubia has some decent specifications. In its standard guise there’s a 1.8GHz Snapdragon 652 octa-core processor, which is a mid-range chip. This is paired with the Adreno 510 GPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The latter is already generous, but can be bolstered up to 200GB using a microSD card.
The Snapdragon 652 has four A72 cores and four A53, which means it is optimised for both performance and efficiency. Paired with NeoPower software, Nubia claims the 2950mAh battery will last for two days. This all depends on your usage: light- to moderate users may indeed get a couple of days life, but in our experience it can keep going as long as we can, and anything above this is a bonus.
In our benchmarks the Nubia Z17 Mini turned in decent performance for its price band. When compared to the Moto G5S, a leading UK budget phone with a £199 price tag, the Nubia blew it out the water. It’s also faster than the Honor 9 Lite, which sits at the top of our budget phones chart.
We saw a multi-core score of 4700 in Geekbench (vs 2099 and 3668) and 34fps in GFXBench T-Rex (vs 14fps and 18fps), for example. You can read the full test results in the chart below.
The main reason for this is the Moto G5S runs a 1.4GHz Snapdragon 430 with just 3GB of RAM, and the Honor 9 Lite a Kirin 6590 chip, also with 3GB of RAM. It’s an adequate spec for the money in the UK, but proof that buying less well known Chinese brands can get you so much more bang for your buck.
Connectivity-wise the Nubia Z17 is well featured, with support for all UK 4G LTE bands and dual-SIM (dual-standby) functionality. It supports 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and GLONASS, and NFC. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack in addition to the USB-C port, and a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner.
We’d like to see faster charging, but it’s not a deal breaker at this price. You get a 7.5W wall charger in the box, but you’ll either need an adaptor for UK use or to supply your own charger.
Nubia Z17 Mini Camera & Photography
On paper the Nubia Z17 Mini sounds ideal with a 13Mp f/2.0 dual-camera (mono + RGB) from Sony, and a 16Mp selfie camera. It’s not as impressive as the dual-cameras you see in flagships, especially with its single-LED flash, but it is capable of capturing the bokeh effect (blurred background shots) and sings a good tune with PDAF and Sapphire glass lens protection, the latter helping protect the slightly raised rear camera from damage.
There’s a ton of shooting modes, some of which are gimmicky, covering everything from Light Painting and Slow Shutter to 3D, Time-lapse and Star Track, as well as a ‘Pro’ or manual shooting mode. You can apply real-time filters, and pinch to utilise up to 8x digital zoom. The camera app is easy to use, but what about the photos it captures?
Below you can see some of our test shots for Auto settings, HDR and in low light respectively.
The Nubia does an acceptable job in daylight, even able to pick out the bricks on the building across the street and the street name sign from our viewpoint seven storeys up. However, the image is very dark and reasonably grainy, with some softening toward the outer edge.
HDR mode (which can be on, off or automatic) improves the lighting situation, but we see the same grainy effect when viewed at actual size, and a lot more softening – the Nubia took a few seconds to take the shot, so it’s possible this is an effect of being unable to keep a completely steady hand for the necessary time.
In low light the Z17 Mini did a very poor job of lighting the scene and struggled to distinguish between the different shades of black in our shot. It picked out the text, but there is some noticeable fuzziness.
Nubia Z17 Mini Software
We’ve been pretty impressed with the Nubia Z17 Mini so far, but the fact it runs an old version of Android is not music to our ears.
This isn’t the current Android Oreo, or even last year’s Android Nougat. It’s running old Android 6.0 Marshmallow – and given that no update is available yet we don’t suppose that will change any time soon.
It’s important to keep Android up to date not just to benefit from the latest features, but also to protect against security threats.
It’s a shame, because the software is otherwise quite appealing with the Nubia UI4 UI laid over the top. You’ll notice some obvious changes, such as the lack of an app tray, but also some new features such as the addition of split-screen mode, super screenshot and application cloning.
We also like the edge gestures, though these are not what you might expect if you’re familiar with the edge design of the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones.
All are off by default, but you can turn on the ability to swipe in from the edge to select one of your home screens, swipe up and down the edge to scroll through various open apps, swipe up and down repeatedly to close background apps and maximise performance (such as when playing games), swipe up and down on either side to control screen brightness, and double-tap the edge to go back.