back to article ZTE Nubia Z9 Mini: The able Android smartie the company won't sell you

The Nubia brand is largely unknown in the UK, because ZTE chooses not to flog its so-named wares here in Blighty. Nevertheless, international-spec Nubia Z9s are reasonably easy to acquire and when Chinese wholesaler GearBest offered to lend us one to poke with the El Reg reviewing stick, we thought: why not? ZTE Nubia Z9 Mini …

  1. gregkelly1985
    Paris Hilton

    Dual sim

    I'm constantly drawn to phones with a dual sim capability but am yet to take the plunge.

    I can't seem to find a review of any dual sim phone that gives it more than a passing glance and I still haven't the foggiest on how they work when it comes to incoming/outgoing calls and texts, data, sound profiles and just general day to day operations!

    Can anyone help?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dual sim

      Mine changes the sim depending on where I am. It appears to pick up the network for each of the sims and switches as necessary. If there is a conflict it gives me a choice of which one to use.

      There is also a very good sim management application that even goes as far as locking to one sim if necessary.

      Unfortunately, I have vet to find many details about dual sim phones and their use. I think this may be down to the fact that most phones are supplied by an operator that has a vested interest you using their network only.

    2. Bloakey1

      Re: Dual sim

      I am using the Alcatel onetouch <sic> dual sim and it is the best phone I have used in years. The battery life is impressive and it turns itself off at night and on in the morning saving further power.

      Well done those French chappies.

      1. pigor

        Re: Dual sim

        Chinese chappies would be more correct.

        The brand was long ago taken by TCT-TCL, based in Shenzhen.

        Nothing French remains there

    3. Far out man

      Re: Dual sim

      I took a punt on the Umi Zero a while ago. It is not 4G, so if this is a necessity look elsewhere.

      It meets my needs perfectly, can manage and name each sim separately, eg., work and personal. Manage the contacts to dial accordingly or ask which sim to use. One sim can be removed and a memory card installed instead.

      Only downside is the deliver time it took to come from China

      Oh, and she that must be obeyed liked it so much she has purchased one also. So far ( six months in, I have had no issues)

      Hope that helps a little

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dual SIM - Moto G II

      Moto G II dual sim capabilities (only dual SIM I've ever had so nothing to compare with, still using factory 4.4.4 Android, no relevant add-ons)

      For calls+SMS: it's pretty much spot on. You can have either or both SIMS active at any time, for incoming and outgoing. For outgoing calls, you can select a default-SIM-for-everything, default-per-address-book-entry, or prompt for SIM every time. Auto-choose SIM depending on location and/or auto-choose SIM depending on coverage would have been nice. Maybe if I let it update the software (like it's been asking to do for ages) they will magically appear. More likely something useful will disappear, so I don't let it update.

      For data (incl MMS): not so clean, but I'm not sure why. If you've got both SIMs enabled, effectively only one can do data. Thus if you've got to send an MMS on the "wrong" SIM (so it appears to come from e.g. the business rather than private number), it's a bit awkward; if you have data and coverage for both SIMs, it will switch briefly to the other SIM, send the MMS, and switch back again, which may not be a huge problem.

      On the other hand it's tedious if you need to send an MMS on the "wrong" SIM for coverage reasons. E.g. I have EE and O2, my published number is O2, my incoming stuff (calls, texts, MMS) is O2, but for coverage reasons I am increasingly using EE. If I get an MMS on O2, and am in the "wrong" coverage area, replying to it is a bit of a nightmare. Why is it this hard? No idea whether it's architected like this in the standards, whether it's a restriction of the chipsets (?seems unlikely), or whether it's a fixable restriction of the software.

      This may or may not be a niche use case.

      Sound profiles etc are typically selectable using something built in or a freebie add-on, regardless of SIM implications. The Moto G has a built in app for this kind of thing but I haven't used it for ages.

      Day to day? It works for me. It could be improved. Because I'm using it for coverage reasons, it suits my voice and SMS usage. It's less convenient for data+MMS usage.

      Obviously the G II is now superceded by the G III. I've seen no mention yet of a dual-SIM option, and wouldn't personally be fussed anyway. The G II does what I need (mostly).

      Best of luck with your search.

    5. Binesh

      Re: Dual sim

      Indeed I would like to see El Reg do a proper test of dual SIM phones as there are a lot of Chinese ones (and well known brands as well) but no one has done a proper review as yet. I would dearly love to get one as this would end the carrying around of two smart phones everywhere (one personal and the other for work).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dual SIM - Moto G II

        Fwiw, my Moto G II (about which I posted an essay a couple of days ago) died on me yesterday.

        At first it was the unwanted but routine "Unfortunately [garbage] has stopped"

        After a reboot it suggested there wasn't enough memory and I should reformat the filesystem.

        I've done a factory restore once before which I blamed on application error, so it wasn't too daunting.

        But it won't even start up - normal mode hangs with a Moto menu, attempting recovery mode just causes the phone to shut down after requesting recovery mode.

        Oh to be able to remove the battery to do a *real* Reset without restore to factory defaults.

        By coincidence (or maybe not) I re-enabled auto-fetch of MMS messages a few days ago to pick up some piccies from a friend. Then I forgot to turn it off again. I seem to remember something about an Android vulnerability with MMS messages without even displaying them, just fetching them. Hence disabling auto-fetch. Coincidence?

        The phone was bought last November so it's off to SBE with it for repair.

        Anybody seen any decent Symbian phones lately?

    6. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: Dual sim

      Currently I'm running an Asus Padfone Mini. (Intel version) Basically a Zenfone4.

      Dual SIM works very well.

      You can make or receive calls on either SIM although you can set a preferred default SIM.

      You can set the phone to dial out on the same SIM as a previous incoming call.

      For data, you select one or the other and can relatively easily switch between the two although this does involve the phone disconnecting from the networks during the switch.

      I wouldn't ever have a Single SIM phone again.

      Pity this ZTE "Mini" is so massive. Otherwise it could have be an interesting next phone.

    7. Robert Grant

      Re: Dual sim

      My wife has a Lumia 735. Or 730. Whichever is the dual-SIM variant :)

      It was under 150 quid and she loves it. Job done.

    8. 100113.1537

      Re: Dual sim

      I've been using dual sim phones for a few years (Chinese Frankenphones) and they work absolutely fine. Receiving stuff is seamless - you may or may not know which line it is coming in from depending on software, but you don't have to so anything to set that up. You decide which sim to use when you make a call. send a text, connect to data or whatever. I am sure that you can also do this automatically as well, but that might be dependant on software. Bottom line, I have never had any connection issues (in about 9 or 10 countries around the world) and have many options for cheaper connectivity while travelling.

      I pick up local PAYG SIM cards wherever I happen to be (these are a great deal in developing countries, just buy them on the street rather than buying them in the airport) and I have had some cards active for years now. I do sometimes get funny looks when I sit on the 'plane and open up my travel walleet and choose through 6 or 7 SIM cards, but I think that is getting less noticeable now as well. My Tesco card I use about once a year when I am back in the UK, but I have had this for years now. Just spent three weeks in the US where my T-Mobile card was great for data ($10 per week for unlimited) although calls and texts were still a bit expensive on that plan.

      My current 'phone has one standard and one micro-SIM slot. I had a bad experience with using an adapter so I went with this as the best option on my last purchase. All my current 'travelling' SIM cars are the full-size ones, but I am sure you can get smaller ones now so I will probably not bother with this on my next 'phone.

      I have even seen three SIM phones advertised (on DX.com or AliExpress), but I think that may be going a bit too far. Sometimes even this seems like a gimmick, but on quite a few occasions in the 5 or 6 years, have a local and international number has been very useful to me persomally and i don't think I will go back.

    9. djberriman

      Re: Dual sim

      Been very happy with my HTC One Dual Sim, works as you expect, both sims active all the time, text messages arrive on both sims, I've not checked what happens if you receive a call one one sim whilst already on a call ont he other. Generally Dual Sim phones tend to be a lower spec version of their parent phone in the case the HTC One M8 and you can struggle to buy accessories for them, for instance their is no car kit from HTC for the Dual Sim and the M8 one does not fit as the power port is in the wrong place.

      Sometimes have to reboot the phone as a sim will lock out but that's about it. Great as a work/personal phone with seperate numbers/sims for each and for keeping in touch as I'm out and about a lot and get more chance of a signal with two different network providers.

  2. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Menu button

    Some apps still work better with a menu button as their alternative methods are clumsy.

  3. jason 7

    Nice little phone.

    Cant say I'm ever too worried by the looks of phones as (probably with most people) I stick it in a thick protective case the day I get it and it stays that way.

    I'm always careful with my phones and they all look as good as the day I bought them when they get tossed into the junk drawer but I always feel the day I take it out without a case is the day it gets dropped down a flight of concrete stairs.

    Checking out other reviews it seems to have a pretty good camera. Will wait a little while for more western customisations and see what else is there come Xmas when its "Treat yo self!" time.

  4. IsJustabloke Silver badge

    I might have a look at one of these...

    I dunno what happened with lollipop 5.02 but its borked my xperia z1 in all kinds of ways. I used to own a solid phone that never gave me any problems and had fabulous battery life... now I've got a phone that reboots if the battery gets 49%, can browse on wifi for about 15 minutes before rebooting, is constantly hanging and crashing what had previously been perfectly stable apps.

    I want a spare phone handy for when I roll it back. This looks like it could be just the ticket!

    1. jason 7

      Re: I might have a look at one of these...

      Lollipop screwed my Nexus 4 too. Has killed the mobile data.

      Went through all Jelly bean/KitKat updates without a hitch and Lollipop...whoops.

      Maybe its part of Google's planned obsolescence plan for older Nexus phones? That or piss poor testing.

      1. david bates

        Re: I might have a look at one of these...

        I've had very few problems with Lollipop on my Nexus 4. About the only annoying things are

        Occasionally it will use an unfeasible amount of battery for no reason. A reboot fixes this but shows that the battery level is actually a lot lower than the reported prior to reboot.

        Sometimes Now launcher does not launch and Im stuck with a blank screen - again, a reboot (or sometimes launching camera or phone from the lock screen) sorts this out

        1. IsJustabloke Silver badge

          Re: I might have a look at one of these...

          yep... I'm having both those problems.

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            Re: I might have a look at one of these...

            I had a quick look but could only find china shippers that had actual stock. Price seems to be around the £190 - £200 mark.

            1. Chris G Silver badge

              Re: I might have a look at one of these...

              Etotalk who I have dealt with and can recommend have these for £180.

              Dual sims are great I use Vod in Spain and PAYG Three in the UK, I don't come to the UK much but the Three card is always ready when I get there.

        2. Pat Att

          Re: I might have a look at one of these...

          My Nexus 4 is also fine on Lollipop. My Nexus 7 (2012) on the other hand - totally shafted, and almost unuseable. I keep meaning upgrade it back to KitKat.

      2. e^iπ+1=0

        Re: I might have a look at one of these...

        "Lollipop screwed my Nexus 4 too. Has killed the mobile data."

        I stuck the lollipop version of CyanogenMod on my daughter's Nexus 4 around 6 months ago and it appears to be stable.

    2. Greg 16

      Re: I might have a look at one of these...

      I had problems with my Z1 as well. The usual fantastic battery life went down to about 12 hrs off a full charge and the phone was often hot when not being used. It was also having regular problems connecting to the mail server and the internet.

      I found that it was something to do with the mail apps - (I say apps, because I had recently received a notification to integrate gmail with my mail app in some way). I ended up un-installing the gmail and stock mail apps and then reinstalling the mail app - my phone is now back to normal.

  5. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge
    Happy

    "worth a punt if you're cellco plays nice"

    Indeed mine doe's, and I'm going to look into this little thing.

    In the meantime your probably going to want to double check you're greengrocers apostrophe...

  6. Steve Graham

    I'm on my second budget ZTE and it serves my needs well enough, but there have never, ever been Android updates for it. Given the recent vulnerabilities, that's not a good thing.

    (The only relevant download on their website is the user manual.)

  7. Russell Hancock

    Mini - looks like the BMW definition is catching on...

    There is nothing "mini" about this phone - 5" screen - that's not mini...

    1. jason 7

      Re: Mini - looks like the BMW definition is catching on...

      Had you written that two years ago I would have agreed.

      Oh well.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mini - looks like the BMW definition is catching on...

        Have you seen the latest Fiat 500's? They seem to be bigger than a 'BMW' Mini. Once upon a time the Fiat 500 was a small car. Her indoors had one. 600cc Aircooled engine. Struggled a bit on hills though.

        1. ChaoticMike

          Re: Mini - looks like the BMW definition is catching on...

          >> struggled a bit on hills though

          Which one? 'Er indoors or the Fiat.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...but when can I get an iOS dual sim phone

    ...after all, they'll have a patent for dual sim soon.

    ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ...but when can I get an iOS dual sim phone

      From what I've seen, their aim is to go without SIM altogether soon - the question is then if they allow two separate registers for whatever data a SIM holds so you have dual SIM functionality.

  9. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Capacitive buttons? Oh hell no.

    No tactile differences to know where the button might be, no haptic feedback to know if we've pressed it or not, no physical "click" so we can confirm we've pressed it, and the phone goes off to do whatever the button told it to do without letting me know that it's doing it?

    Ask any Blind, Visually Impaired, or even "Old Folks with degrading vision" and they can tell you JUST what a fucked up idea those damned things are.

    A classic BlackBerry with a physical keyboard is awesome, a touch screen with "Soft Buttons" that the Screen Reader tells us where it is & what it's doing is ok, but a button we can't feel to find, can't tell if we've pressed it, and have no way of knowing if it worked or not?

    Fuck that. With a twitchy proctologist wearing a full body condom.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Capacitive buttons? Oh hell no.

      On all five ROMs I've had on my phone, all allow the capacitive buttons to have haptic and/or sound feedback. Not in the keyboard settings though as that's just for the soft keyboard, usually it's in the sound settings.

      How you find them in the first place, well, that could be annoying.

    2. sorry, what?
      Stop

      Re: Capacitive buttons? Oh hell no.

      Having the habit of keeping my phones until I *have* to change them, I have always had to change them because the physical buttons start to fail (I always buy a phone with a replaceable battery to avoid that being the cause). I suspect, barring smashed screen and knackered sensor, switching to capacitive buttons would actually let me keep going for several additional years...

  10. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    From the photos the screen seems go have an extreme blue offset to its white point. Could be an artefact of the camera used -hopefully.

  11. JaitcH
    Happy

    ZTE manufactures cell handsets that use ...

    Android, Windows Phone and Mozilla Firefox OS

  12. vogon00

    And the voice quality is....?

    Ta for a decent review...however (unless this evening's ration of vin rouge has crossed my eyes too much) I didn't see anything about the codecs supported and how it performed on on a voice call... there are *some* of us who still have to talk on these smart devices! Text/MMS/data capabilities are important, but so is voice.

  13. DerekCurrie
    Facepalm

    There's nothing 'smartie' about using Android anything these days

    Google has allowed Android to become a catastrophic mess of bad security. At the moment, Android users are literally guaranteed to be attacked via, now 7 (SEVEN), Stagefright attacks on their Android devices. EVERY version of Android since 2010 is affected. It is strongly suspected that there will be MORE Stagefright exploits discovered as the weeks go by. Meanwhile, Google isn't going to even pretend to offer solutions until September. That's outrageous.

    Get off the Android folks. It's bad for you. That's not a challenge or an invitation to argue. It's a fact.

  14. Jess

    I bought a dual sim 7'" phone on Amazon for £35

    The brand is Mediatek, it is only 2G (But there are similar 3G devices advertised).

    For £35 is a decent device. Not slow, screen is bright, sharp and not laggy (low resolution and poor off axis) It makes a decent job of 720p (not tried 1080).

    I bought it just to learn about Android, but it is good enough that it has replaced my second mobile. I managed to find a tmobile sim, which should allow me do the 6 months (limited) internet deal for £20, be interesting to see how usable 2G is. (Annoyingly BlackBerry 10 left off the ability to switch to 2G only (there are a few places where 3G data is useless, and switching to 2G manually would be good)

    1. Down not across

      Re: I bought a dual sim 7'" phone on Amazon for £35

      (Annoyingly BlackBerry 10 left off the ability to switch to 2G only (there are a few places where 3G data is useless, and switching to 2G manually would be good)

      The ability to force the network mode is crucial. As an example if there is network/cell issue where 4G handover to 3G fails you will not receive any calls. In that situation the only way to receive calls is to force the phone to 3G/2G mode. That is if the phone is used for well...receiving phone calls.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting trend

    It's interesting to see how so many handset vendors with low esteem (like ZTE, mostly known for cheap horrors gave away for free by operators) are trying to build themselves a new verginity:

    - New brand name for their better handsets

    - Online sales

    ZTE with Nubia

    Huawei with Honor

    Are just the most famous in the West.

    Micromax with Yu

    Lava with Xolo

    Are examples for India.

    All Chinese vendors are pretty much doing the same.

    A few buy a belived name, (Alcatel, Motorola, etc)

  16. uncle sjohie

    I can buy it online here in the Netherlands, an Etailer has it in stock. Saves me the hassle of importing it from China, and paying VAT etc. Downside, the price is 359 euro, exactly the same as a new simlock free xperia Z3 compact.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beware gearbest

    Maybe I'm just having a bad experience with gearbest...

    The nubia z9 mini was in stock in their EU warehouse, ordered it and heard nothing for a week. Raised a support ticket asking when I could expect delivery. Finally got a response saying it was out of stock and they couldn't provide a delivery time. The white version was showing as being in stock so I asked them to send one of those instead. Within a few hours I got a reply saying that had gone out of stock. I've been trying for a week now to get a refund and can't get an answer from them. I've raised a dispute via paypal and they're not responding on paypal either.

    To cap it off by default if they do provide a refund it's to your gearbest "wallet" and not your bank account. I'm trying to get the money back to paypal. Should have trusted my gut and not gone with them :-/

  18. Petescoff

    This smartphone looks really nice, I just saw it on sale on geekbuying.com.

    The link for those interested:

    http://www.geekbuying.com/item/ZTE-Nubia-Z9-Mini-5-0Inch-FHD-64bit-4G-LTE-Android-5-0-Smartphone-2GB-16GB-Snapdragon-615-Quad-Core-1-5GHz-16-0MP-Black-343831.html

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