We review the ZTE Blade Q Mini, a new compact budget mobile phone that rocks full Android Jelly Bean…
If you’re after your first smartphone or simply a cheapy replacement handset, it’s worth checking out ZTE’s Blade series. Available exclusively on Virgin Media in the UK, the new ZTE Blade Q Mini will set you back just £60, and although performance is limited and some other budget issues raise their ugly heads, it’s a commendable effort for a low-cost Android blower.
ZTE Blade Q Mini design: Tough enough
Although the ZTE Blade Q Mini is well under a hundred quid, it doesn’t feel cheap and cheerful. Construction is solid, with the back plate snapping securely into place and holding tight, and a screen that doesn’t flex under pressure.
Above the 4-inch screen there’s a handy notifications light, which blips on and off whenever you’ve got a waiting message. Below you get three touch-sensitive physical buttons, for back, home and menu. Flip the phone over and you’ll find a soft-touch rear that aids with grip and feels good against your palm, with a slightly jutting camera lens.
On the right edge you get a volume rocker, while the power button is up top. Pop the Blade Q Mini’s back off and you’ll find a removeable battery, full-size SIM card slot and microSD memory card slot, to expand the meagre 4GB of storage.
ZTE Blade Q Mini screen and OS: Size matters
Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is the OS of choice, and ZTE wisely hasn’t tweaked the interface too much. Icons and widgets have a distinctive ZTE look, but aside from that you’re pretty much getting vanilla Android.
Although the Blade Q Mini’s 4-inch WVGA IPS display is distinctly budget, with a 480 x 800 pixel resolution that makes text and photos look blocky when zoomed out, it’s more than serviceable for everyday tasks. Colours are well represented and don’t go crazy when you tilt the screen. Contrast levels aren’t quite as commendable, and black comes off more like dark grey, but it’s nothing serious if you’re just after an email/web device.
We got on less well with the overly complicated TouchPal keyboard, however, which is far too crowded on the compact screen. Anyone new to smartphones will likely balk at the sheer number of options packed onto that board – do yourself a favour and switch to the stock Android keyboard in the settings immediately.
ZTE Blade Q Mini performance and battery life: Stutter-rific
As soon as we booted up the Blade Q Mini and started flicking through the desktops, we noticed a bit of jittery swiping going on. There’s an occasional stutter no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s bouncing around in Android’s menus, browsing your inbox or shopping in the Google Play store, which we hoped wouldn’t happen with a 1.3GHz dual-core processor on board, backed up by 1GB of RAM. We also saw the entire phone freeze up a couple of times when simply flicking around a website.
Still, the odd stumble isn’t too disastrous considering you’re getting the full Android Jelly Bean experience for just a fistful of tenners. Our apps generally ran without too much trouble, and only some of the latest titles such as Dungeon Keeper and Despicable Me showed signs of dipping frame rates.
As for longevity, the ZTE Blade Q Mini’s 1500mAh battery will keep you going all day if you’re keeping things basic – we’re talking web browsing, emails and the occasional bit of camera use. If you want to stream media, expect around 5.5 hours before the phone dies. That’s about average for a modern phone, although some budget phones manage two solid days of use, including ZTE’s Blade V.
ZTE Blade Q MIni camera: Slow but sure
A novelty at this price point is the Blade Q Mini’s 5-megapixel camera, rocking an HDR mode and flash. On standard auto mode, we found our photos often came out far too dark or fuzzy, but the HDR mode helped to produce brighter, sharper images. The lens really struggles in dim light as expected, and while the flash does help, it also often over-exposes a shot.
The same shot without HDR (left) and with (right)
Timing is also a problem. There’s roughly a second-long delay between tapping the shutter button and photo capture on standard auto mode, but switch to HDR and you’ll be stood around for almost five seconds while the image is processed. Not ideal if you’re trying to snap your mum on a cold, windy London street with people passing by.
Features-wise, you get a decent set of tools on top of the HDR mode. You can shoot panoramas if you come across a gorgeous vista, for instance, and there’s a ‘burst mode’ for taking several photos in quick succession – don’t be fooled by the quick-fire shutter noise, however, as it takes a while to get going.
You also get the usual selection of filters and scene selections, plus simple manual controls for tweaking contrast and so on. We also like the bonus inclusions such as smile capture (which accurately detects if your subject’s smiling, providing they’re reasonably close and well lit) and the timer mode.
Sadly there’s no front-facing lens for chatting online or taking selfies – you’ll just have to rely on that smile capture mode for your next profile shot.
ZTE Blade Q Mini verdict
The Blade Q Mini is undoubtedly basic, but a budget handset like this lives or dies by how well it does the simple things, and the Q Mini holds up reasonably well under scrutiny. We were disappointed by the performance stutters during everyday use, but it’s a solidly built smartphone and a great-value means to browse the web and stay in touch (once you swap out the complex keyboard).