ZTE shoots for camera-buffs with Nubia 5S, 5S Mini (hands-on)

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/ Updated: 8 January 2014 8:02 pm GMT

LAS VEGAS -- Say cheese to the two newest members of ZTE's Nubia series of handsets: the Nubia 5S and its smaller variant, the 5S Mini. Though both are equipped with quad-core Snapdragon processors and have 5-megapixel front-facing cameras, the former will feature a bigger and sharper, 5-inch 1080p display.

Design When I first encountered the original Nubia 5, I was a fan of its simple but chic look. These devices are no different, especially when given their ultra-thin profiles, clean lines, and solid build quality. In many ways, their looks don't deviate far from their predecessor.

When I held them in my hands, they felt dense and sturdy. I especially like the small glowing red hotkey on the front of the handsets, which serve as the home button.

The 5S is available in both black and white, and it sports a 5-inch, full-HD 1080p screen. Though the 5S Mini is, as its name suggests, supposed to be smaller with its 4.7-inch screen, it's not immediately clear which is which.

Particularly when held side-by-side, the size difference is hard to discern. In fact, the fastest way I was able to tell them apart was due to the location of the rear-camera lens and the direction of the "Nubia" branding on the back. (FYI: The logo on the 5S runs horizontal while the Mini has it positioned vertically.)

In addition, though it's still HD, the 5S display has a lower 720p resolution. The handset also comes in different colors (white, green, pink, yellow, and blue), with some battery doors being made out of glossy plastic, and others sporting a more muted and matte coating that I personally prefer.

ZTE Nubia 5S and 5S Mini
The Nubia handsets are thin and sleek. Here, the blue Nubia 5S Mini sits atop the 5S. Lynn La/CNET

Key components and features Along with the Grand S II, the Nubia 5 is one of ZTE's first handsets souped up with a Snapdragon 800 processor inside. Though I only got to spend a few minutes with it, the device felt fast, and I didn't sense any lag when it came to opening up apps, swiping through the home pages, and launching the camera.

And while it lacks expandable memory, the Nubia 5S will have 32GB of internal memory to store all your photos and videos. It will be powered by a 2,300mAh battery.

Meanwhile, ZTE scaled back some of the specs for the Mini, but not drastically so. It has a 1.7GHz quad-core processor from Qualcomm, a 2,000mAh battery, and 16GB of built-in storage that can be expanded up to 32GB via a microSD card.

As for what they have in common, both these handsets are LTE-enabled, a feature that was sorely missing from the original Nubia. They also run Android 4.2 and have 2GB of RAM.

ZTE Nubia 5S Mini
Both Nubias have a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Lynn La/CNET

In addition, both smartphones sport a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. ZTE reported that it put such an unusually high amount of megapixels into the secondary shooter because the Nubia series was created with photography enthusiasts in mind.

For that same reason, the company packed the 5S camera with a new RS sensor from Sony for low-light settings, several photo editing features (one of which include customizing your image's white-balance, which was lacking in the original Nubia), and the ability to shoot 4K video.

Outlook Though official US availability is up in the air with the Nubia 5S and 5S, Mini ZTE remains cautiously optimistic that the devices may eventually make their way to the American market, with or without a carrier. Especially since the Nubia 5 was released here, unlocked, for $450. If ZTE does release them for the US, I'd expect the 5S to reach that same price point, with the Mini coming in just below that.

Check out more of CNET's CES 2014 coverage.

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ZTE Nubia 5S

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