What is the ZTE Blade Q Mini?The ZTE Blade Mini Q is a 4-inch Android smartphone that’s truly a cheap phone. To put it into perspective, you can buy almost three for the same price as a new Moto G. It's only available on pay as you go through Virgin and its nearest competitors are the Doro EasyPhone 508 and Nokia's Asha _phone_ range.
It runs on almost pure Android, comes with a solid camera and all day battery life, making the Q Mini a nice back up _phone_ and ideal for first time smartphone users. Inevitably you do have to make some compromises with some features and performance, but if you plan on mostly making calls, browsing the web and sending texts, it's worth checking out.
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ZTE Blade Q Mini: Design and FeaturesIf you are buying a £50 phone hoping it's going to be feel like the metal One M8 or the iPhone 6 then you are going to be disappointed.The Q Mini is all about the plastic. It’s every bit a budget Android phone from the glossy piano black screen bezel, capacitive buttons and what is on the whole a very plain, uninspiring handset to look at.
Build quality is good though and it feels like a robust enough handset equipped to withstand the usual daily bumps and knocks in your pocket or in your bag. The nicely curved corners and a soft matte plastic back actually gives it a nice, reassuring feel and weighing just 120g, it’s by no means a heavy handset to hold.
It’s just 9mm thick as well so it’s no chunky thing and you’ll have no problem using this in one hand. The on/off button and volume rocker are all within reach near the top of the phone’s body with the micro USB charging port over on the left edge completing the simple layout. Like the ZTE Blade V, there’s also a notification light up top that changes colour depending on the type of notification.
At the back you’ll find the camera sensor along with a dinky little speaker down the bottom. The removable battery and micro SD card slot lie behind the back plate that effortlessly detaches away from the phone body. With just 4GB of onboard storage, that additional storage is going to come in handy if you intend to horde a great deal of video, photos or games.
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ZTE Blade Q Mini: ScreenThe Blade Mini Q features a 4-inch 480x800 IPS display and keeping in mind the price that’s the same screen as last year’s Sony Xperia M and the one on the ZTE Blade V. It squeezes in the same 233 ppi pixel density so overall quality is decent but not fantastic or anywhere near top end smartphones.
You have to spend almost double the amount to get something better for watching video and reading though. It’s nice and bright at least and fine for general tasks but there’s some noticeable fuzziness to contend with on the homescreen and while browsing. Colours are good if lacking in vibrancy and contrast is a little underwhelming. Watching films on this is not a very pleasant experience.
One positive is that ZTE uses an IPS display so despite the screen quality not being top notch, the viewing angles are good although it still suffers from the same reflectivity issues as older ZTE phones making it troublesome to use in the bright outdoors.
ZTE Blade Q Mini: SoftwareThe Blade Q Mini runs on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, which is an older version of Google's mobile operating system with a very lightly skinned custom interface on top. There’s very few familiar Android traits that have been amended here. The lock screen requires an annoying long press action instead of a simple swipe up and the settings in the notification are slightly redesigned. Aside from that, this is plain old Android and for first time users that can only be a good thing.
There’s very little bloatware to ruin the experience with just a couple of Virgin Media-centric apps. One is to manage accounts and Smartcall can be used to make calls on the same home phone talk plan at home and abroad. Google’s baseline apps like its suite of Google Play apps and the likes of Google Maps and Hangouts are already in place so there’s plenty there to get a good feel of how an Android phone should work.
ZTE Blade Q Mini: PerformanceWhere the Q Mini does begin to feel low-cost is when you put it to the test for the more demanding tasks top end phones handle with ease. There's a dual-core Mediatek MT6572 CPU clocked at 1.3 GHz and 1GB of RAM, which struggles to deliver the zip you get on £100-£150 phones let alone £500 handsets. Swiping through homescreens is slightly laggy, launching apps can be slow, but it's worse trying to run multiple apps at the same time.
There’s a Mali 400 GPU to help gaming and while you can download more demanding games like Real Racing 3, playing them is not particularly enjoyable. There’s some serious lag and drop in framerates making it pretty tough to play. Stick to the simple games is the key here.
Running the benchmarks, it scores a 524 multi-core score, which is actually better than the 421 score the £180 LG L7 2 managed running the same test. If you don't overload it, you shouldn't find it frustrating to use.
ZTE Blade Q Mini: CameraThe Blade Q Mini features a 5-megapixel sensor with an LED flash, matching the first generation Moto G for megapixel count and can offer the kind of results you'd expect from £100-£150 phones. If you are shooting in evenly, well-lit environments then it's fine but when conditions change in the slightest, the inadequacies begin to surface.
There’s no front-facing camera so you will have to live without selfies or video calling and it can shoot a 720p HD video, which is respectable for a phone at this price. It does also include a very useful HDR mode and the ability to shoot panoramic photos.
The camera app is basic enough with video camera and camera shortcuts on one side of the screen along with additional settings. Here you’ll find a handful of manual functions like the ability to adjust exposure, white balance and ISO sensitivity although it’s only up to 400. Over on the other side, you’ll find shortcuts to HDR shooting, panorama mode and smile auto detection.
When you get to shooting, it's far from a quick or slick experience. The autofocus is slow into action and the shutter speed is equally sluggish especially when you jump into HDR mode.
It does take some time to capture share-friendly close-up shots, but it is possible. As the sample below shows, image quality is reasonably sharp and colours are accurate. They do lack the detail and punchy, vibrancy you'd associate with top end smartphone cameras. As soon as you lose those bright conditions, you get some of the light bleed as shown in the photo from Wembley Stadium and image noise is more apparent.
The Blade Q Mini's 5-megapixel camera is capable of decent quality images up close
Even in good light, night time shots still struggle for sharpness
One of the best features is HDR. It's a camera mode that has in the past been reserved for more expensive smartphones but now it's made its way into mid and low-range phones. The images below really illustrate how well it works. With HDR mode off you can barely see the three men in suits in the centre of the image. Switch on HDR mode and murky sky apart, everything has been brightened up and it's now an image you'd want to share on Facebook and Twitter.
HDR mode off
HDR mode on
For video, it’s annoyingly set to VGA quality as default so our initial recordings were a blurry, low quality mess. When you bump it up to 720p HD there’s a dramatic improvement. There’s still some slight juddering but for a £50 phone, this is a handy feature to have.
ZTE Blade Q Mini: Battery Life Where the Blade Q Mini doesn't let you down is battery life. In general use, you can comfortably get a day's play and manage two to three days if you are simply making calls and sending texts. There's a removable 1,500mAh battery, so it's a smaller capacity than that found inside the £100 ZTE Blade V and the same as the now very old Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini. There's nothing in the way of power management options but running a mostly bloatware-free version of Android certainly helps here.
In more intense testing, running a 720p HD video on loop with 50% brightness it manages on average 6-7 hours, although it's highly unlikely you'll want to be watching many feature length films on here. It's a quick charger at least, jumping up around the 30% mark from a flat battery with a 30 minute charge from the supplied mains adaptor.
ZTE Blade Q Mini: Call and Sound QualityWe were not expecting wonders from the Blade Q Mini for call quality and it doesn't break the mould for cheap phones. While calls don't come out in crystal clear clarity, there's not a substantial amount of muffling either and it doesn't sound as thin as we'd expected. ZTE also includes a secondary mic to offer active noise cancellation, which is always a nice feature to have when you have to make a call in busy environments.
One of the most surprising Q Mini features is how decent the speaker is. Situated at the back of the phone, it actually offers some warmth and decent clarity at mid volumes. Crank it up high and things inevitably are not as good, but it definitely outperforms more expensive phone speakers we've tried. One issue however, is that holding the dinky little phone in landscape mode often leads to muffling the audio.
Should I buy the ZTE Blade Q Mini?The ZTE Blade Q Mini is far from perfect but, for £50, it's giving you a lot for your money.
It nails the phone basics you'd expect at the very least from a cheap phone. It's easy to use, there's great battery life and it's wrapped up in a comfortable albeit pretty plain design. When you factor in the camera quality and even the speaker performance, you are getting some nice extras as well.
In the same price range, you are drawing comparisons with the likes of the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini (£50) and the slightly more expensive Doro PhoneEasy 621 (£59.99). Even then the Q Mini stands out despite struggling to handle some of the more demanding smartphone tasks. The only caveat is we'd consider the £80 Motorola Moto E before it as it's only slightly more, but a noticeably step up.
If you can look beyond the stuttery performance and keep in mind the price, the ZTE Blade Q Mini is one of the best really cheap phones you can buy outside the second-hand market.
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