The ZTE Nubia Z9 mini surely arrives in style. It comes in a spacious and lavish two piece cardboard box, in the signature black and red colors. The box is not as premium as the Z9's with its hard cover, but clearly not your average phone package either.
The contents are set on two levels. The phone itself is on top and underneath are the accessories. Unlike the Z9, which comes with a premium headset, the mini version only has a 1.5A charger and a thin red USB cable that matches the general color scheme. There is a Nubia sticker thrown in and a single extra item, a screen protector.
We are not sure whether it will be in every package, but is definitely a necessity, considering the lack of protective screen coating on the phone. However, the fact that it is clearly an after-market solution with an image of an iPhone on the package does take away some from the otherwise tastefully executed packaging.
If you can get past the overall size of the unit, the Z9 mini is quite attractive. The all black exterior with a light alloy frame and red accents looks extra sharp.
Similarities between the ZTE Nubia Z9 mini and the bezel-less Z9 are by no means accidental. Of course, creating the Z9 mini involved a lot of compromise but the general look and feel is intact.
The Nubia Z9 and Z9 mini have a distinct styling of their own with slick dual-tone exterior and subtle but efficient red accents. The Z9 mini has lost the alloy frame of its senior sibling and glass on the back has been swapped for plastic. The reduced weight is welcome, plus it's a removable and customizable cover. ZTE has managed a nice finish too.
At 141.3 x 69.8 x 8.2mm, it's only a mini in name. It would've been unreasonable to expect much less from a 5-inch handset. 147g is acceptable weight, a definite improvement over the 192g of the original Nubia Z9.
The Nubia Z9 mini is a stylish device, one that will stand out among midrange rivals, of which there are plenty. Although not particularly slim, the design is flush all around with nothing protruding bits such as a camera bump.
Some extra protection would have been appreciated on the front and the plastic back cover does look a little fragile as well, especially when detached.
The controls on the ZTE Nubia Z9 mini are almost identical to the Z9's. Buttons are laid out conveniently and everything is within comfortable reach.
The single most notable difference between the Nubia Z9 pair isn't in the mini's favor. The bezel-free look aside though, the mini is doing most things right. For starters, it has a microSD slot - a dedicated compartment too, as opposed to sharing a slot with one of the SIM cards, which is the popular solution. The stand-alone memory card slot is perhaps the main reason for the Z9 mini to have a removable back cover and ZTE didn't miss the customization opportunity either. Exchangeable covers are available for around $30.
Users also get access to the battery which is officially non-removable but seems to be held in place by a small cover and a few screws. There is a seal that needs to be broken on one of the screws, but replacing the battery is not entirely ruled out.
The Z9 mini has capacitive Menu and Back buttons, but no indication which is which - tiny dots are only visible when the screen is lit up. It's actually up to you - the two navigation keys can be swapped around in the settings. The home key has a red frame, which matches the camera accent on the back and ties together the whole design concept.
There is not much else to note at the front other than the earpiece and the 8MP selfie camera. The proximity and ambient light sensors are very well concealed. There is also a tiny status LED in the top corner.
The left side features the SIM cradle only. It requires a pin to eject and sits flush when closed.
The right side has a total of two buttons - a volume rocker above power/lock button. Both are within comfortable reach. The frame looks quite like the one on the Nubia Z9, but isn't made of metal, the same goes for the buttons. Still, the plastic has an impressive finish that can be easily confused for the real thing, especially from a distance.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed at the top of the device. Next to it is the secondary noise-canceling microphone.
The bottom of the Z9 mini is laid out quite differently from the Z9. The microSD port is placed in the far right with a tiny microphone hole next to it.
On the far left side there is a single speaker. Like we already said, this arrangement is far from typical, but at least the Z9 doesn't leave you guessing if it has stereo speakers or not, like the Z9 with its symmetrical grilles on the bottom.
The back side is perfectly flat, without a protruding camera lens. Like the rest of the exterior, the back of the Z9 mini is quite similar to the Z9. However, the glass finish is gone, replaced with plastic instead finished to achieve the same visual effect. It doesn't look bad but the cover is a little too thin and rigid, and looks prone to scratches.
Also, the glass effect hasn't helped the Z9 mini solve the fingerprint issues of the original. After just a few hours of use, the back of the handset is a greasy mess.
Other than that, the camera still sits in the top left corner with the single LED flash beside it. There is a prominent logo in the center of the back.