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ZTE Nubia 5 Hands-on: Android Smartphone, 13-MP Camera, Compelling Unlocked Price

Nubia's not just an area on the Nile anymore. The Android-powered Nubia 5 smartphone is now available through Amazon or Walmart for $449 unlocked. From one of China's leading smartphone makers, this ZTE's handset packs a 13-megapixel camera, Dolby sound, an HD screen, quad-core processor and Android 4.1.2. We went hands-on with this puppy to find out if it's among the best no contract phones around. 

Despite its affordable price tag, the Nubia 5 has a premium look and feel. The sleek black 5-inch phone felt sturdy and offered a good grip with its simple rectangular design. While the Nubia 5 has no physical buttons on its face, we liked that the soft keys light up in red. On its back is the 13-MP camera with a red accent encircling the lens that hearkened back to the HTC Evo line. We especially loved the brilliant 5-inch full HD display on the Nubia 5. The bright blues of ZTE's website really popped on the 443-pixel-per-inch screen and text appeared suitably crisp.

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We also played with the special features on the phone's camera app, which offers three modes based on your skill level -- Fun, Auto and Pro. In Pro mode, you get the option to split the sharpness and brightness focus points while taking the picture so you can choose a different focal point while retaining a separate light setting. We moved the focus to an object in the background while keeping the light sensitivity tailored to the foreground. The Konica-Minolta lens on the Nubia 5 delivered great pictures of a crowded convention floor. The phone also comes with specially-designed earbuds with Dolby Digital Plus audio, making the Nubia 5.

Packing a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chip with 2GB RAM, the Nubia 5 performed decently as we switched between Lock and Home pages with ease. Unfortunately, while ZTE's hardware capabilities are impressive, the Nubia 5's software was not up to date. The phone ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean skinned with a custom Nubia UI, so you can't update to the latest version of  Android until ZTE makes the skin compatible. The Nubia 5 skin lets you define up to five favorite apps to launch from the lock screen by pinching out from the unlock icon, which is a nice touch given its primitive OS. With a 2,300 mAH battery onboard, the Nubia 5 should offer enough juice to last a full day. 

While the Nubia 5 offers some premium hardware for a relatively affordable price unlocked, we think the $349 Google Nexus 5 might be a better deal. For $100 less, you get speedy Snapdragon 800 performance and Android KitKat in Google's own smartphone. But if you're looking for a brilliant display and great camera, the Nubia 5 should be a worthy candidate. Stay tuned for our full review of the ZTE Nubia 5 for benchmarks and a detailed breakdown of its performance.