Owning a phone doesn’t mean having to endure a costly investment. The times have changed, obviously, since phone makers are making it more affordable than ever to own a smartphone. Take for instance ZTE, who for the longest time placed its attention on making entry-level devices that were easy on the pockets, but is making a significant charge yet again by upping the ante with its latest affordable option.
Related ZTE articles:
- Getting to know the ZTE Axon 7
- ZTE Axon 7 review
- ZTE ZMAX Pro hands on | What is a $100 smartphone like?
Most people agree that sub-$200 is pretty aggressive for brand new phones, however, ZTE thinks that more can be done. Cutting that cost in half, the ZTE ZMAX Pro is undeniably tempting with its hard-to-resist price of $99.00 – and that’s all you’re going to have to pay for it. This threshold might not be anything new for the pre-paid market, but what makes it impressive is the fact that it’s slapped with a handy fingerprint sensor, something you wouldn’t expect in something price like this.
Buy the ZTE ZMax Pro now
The first order of business with the design is its size, something that’s arguably going be the biggest deal breaker for people. It’s a mighty big phone that pushes it well into the phablet category, so it’s quite honestly a handful to operate. Being so wide and all, two-handed operation is going to be the preferred method with the ZMAX Pro, since one hand operation is nearly impossible unless you have larger-than-average hands.
Size aside, ZTE has actually fashioned it with a pleasant design that doesn’t make it feel like a phone in its price range. The soft touch matte finish of the rear combined with the faux-metal bezel are nice touches, pushing it well beyond the context of being “cheaply” made. We really didn’t think that a phone could be this decent looking and constructed, just because phones under the $100 threshold tend to be sub-par in terms of this.
Despite its gargantuan size, they’re mindful about the placement of the power and volume keys – they’re positioned on the right edge, making them accessible to the thumb. Meanwhile, a USB Type-C port is found on the bottom, ensuring that it’s going to be compatible with whatever USB-Type C accessories that are beginning to come out now.
Dominating its façade is a 6-inch 1080p TFT LCD display with Gorilla Glass 3, which is again something you wouldn’t think of getting with a sub-$100 smartphone. Better yet, the fact that they’ve opted to go with 1080p resolution shows that they want to make a statement – implicitly saying that phones of this caliber deserve more. And to that, it’s nice to know that it’s sufficiently detailed enough to make out.
In looking at the other aspects of the display, however, it indicates that it has an extremely colder color temperature than most at roughly 8000K. It’s far from that ideal reference value of 6500K, which makes whites appear bluish in tone. Moving onto color accuracy with this TFT LCD display, it’s a miss on nearly all fronts – including the color teal, which is probably the easiest color to reproduce accurately. All of the values in the sRGB color gamut chart miss their intended target reference marks, where magenta and teal in particular are heavily influenced by blue.
Even though it reaches a peak brightness output of 460 nits, the overall tone of the display seems washed out. Sure, we dig the specs for a phone of this caliber, but our testing reveals that its characteristic aren’t quite up to the levels you’d find in some pricier things. Then again, should we be surprised by this revelation?
Performance & Hardware
Given its price point, the Snapdragon 617 chip makes perfect sense in powering this affordable smartphone. Paired with 2GB of RAM, it suffices for the basic stuff, but it’s not suited to do more intensive operations – gaming in particular, where it exhibits too much choppiness for it to be a candidate. Okay, it’s not the gaming type, nor is it for power users who demand a lot more, but on a base level, its hardware combination is enough to get by.
For $99.00, we’re actually pretty stoked to know it’s packing 32GB of internal storage. Best of all, too, you can supplement its capacity because there’s a microSD slot on hand. It’s a feature that people probably wouldn’t expect to find in a phone with its price, but it’s a delightful that they opted to offer it.
Something that adds a lot more value to the phone is the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, it’s an unexpected treat quite honestly. Given that it’s a feature that’s relatively uncommon in entry-level phones, you can say that we feel a teeny bit spoiled to find it. As for the sensor itself, it’s slightly recessed, but works well in adding that extra layer of security. In addition to simply just unlocking the phone, it can also be used to quick open an app, take a photo, or answer a phone call.
Increasingly becoming a standard for ZTE’s phones, the ZMAX Pro features capacitive buttons beneath the display. Unfortunately, the two dots flanking the home button can’t be programmed for anything else besides acting as the back and recent apps functions. In the rear and towards the left corner, we can make out the speaker grill, which emits a decent volume output, but doesn’t pack a whole lot of substance with its quality.
Conducting phones calls is a breeze with this one, thanks in part to the loud volume out of its earpiece and speakerphone – it’s potent enough to use in noisy conditions. Accompanying the strong volumes, we have clear and distinctive voices as well that solidifies its performance in this area. On the other end of the line, too, our callers didn’t have any problems discerning our voice.
The single most underrated portion about the ZMAX Pro in our opinion is its battery, a modest 3500 mAh cell to be exact. Considering the phone’s gigantic size, you might think it could’ve been larger, but don’t be fooled because when it’s paired with the screen’s 1080p resolution and Snapdragon 617 processor, it delivers longevity like no other. In fact, we’re able to get through a solid 2 days of battery life – and even into the start of a third day.
Using the included USB Type-C charger, it takes approximately 125 minutes to fully recharge its battery. That mark might not be close to some of the fastest recharging phones out there, but it’s not the slowest either at doing it.
In all fairness, the area where we see the biggest disparity in terms of quality against higher-priced alternatives is the performance in its cameras. For the ZTE ZMAX Pro, it relies on a combination consisting of a 13MP rear camera and a 5MP front-facing one. There’s nothing fanciful about them, nor the accompanying hardware – they’re just as ordinary as any other low priced phone. Running the camera app, there’s a decent mixture of modes and options at our disposal, like its manual mode, which people will probably appreciate having in a phone like this.
Regrettably, the phone’s biggest weakness is exposed here with the cameras – there’s just nothing spectacular about their performances. It’s okay enough to use for outdoor shots when lighting is ample, but there’s a noticeable level of over-sharpening, which seems to try and compensate for the rear camera’s softer details capture. Under low light, however, things take a dip even more as details become more speckled in tone. And finally, the HDR mode seems to just boost the contrast with shadows, making images appear a bit overblown.
ZTE ZMax Pro Camera Samples:
Moving onto video capture, which tops out at 1080p resolution, the results don’t improve much at all, as the general performance is similar to its still shot capture. Over-sharpening again is evident here, but this time, videos tend to have an under-exposed tone to them. And don’t bother using it under low light, just because noise and its muddy results don’t make it flattering to watch.
Purists will love that the ZTE ZMAX Pro is mostly running a stock experience. In particular, it’s running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which has the general look and feel of stock Android. Anyone getting into Android will have an easy time getting acquainted, since it’s pretty streamlined and straightforward. Yes, there’s some bloatware from MetroPCS, but given that it’s at the mercy of the company, it’s something you’d expect.
Power users, though, will probably feel that the experience isn’t up to snuff with their demands. Multi-tasking is generally reserved to just apps switching with the recent apps menu, but you won’t find any other enhanced features that would aid in its productivity. The biggest question with the phone, much like most budget stuff, is whether or not it’ll get upgraded to the next version of Android in a timely manner.
Owning a cheap phone no longer means you’re getting a cheap phone, that’s just not the case anymore after checking out the ZTE ZMAX Pro. The $99.00 price tag it’s stickered with is without a doubt an aggressive move on its part, especially more given its phablet-esque stature and the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor. These are two things in particular that you wouldn’t expect to find in a phone in its price range, but that’s the beauty about it – you do get them!
Pricing is quite favorable here, but there are some other factors that’ll dictate your decision to buy it. First of all, this is strictly a MetroPCS exclusive, so you’ll have to settle with that reality if you intend to reap the benefits of its incredible pricing. This is arguably a factor that’ll limit its overall reach, as being confined to one carrier means it won’t get as much face time face time from consumers. And secondly, there are still some sub-par qualities with it – such as the inaccuracies with the display and over-sharpening effect with its cameras.
Related ZTE articles:
- Getting to know the ZTE Axon 7
- ZTE Axon 7 review
- ZTE ZMAX Pro hands on | What is a $100 smartphone like?
Then again, these compromises can be overlooked due to its price point, which again is the focal point here with the ZTE ZMAX Pro. At the end of the day, it’s a worthy recommendation if you’re on a tight budget.
Buy the ZTE ZMax Pro now
It’s getting easier to find high-quality phones at affordable prices these days and this week’s giveaway offers one of the latest in that category. ZTE’s Axon 7 smartphone just launched this month and offers a series of premium features just $400. Inside the aluminum unibody shell, there’s a 2.15GHz quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor running Android 6.01 Marshmallow, plus 4G of RAM and 64GB of storage. On the front you get a 5.5-inch, 2K resolution screen protected by a sheet of Gorilla Glass 4.0, and for selfies you get eight megapixels worth of duckface smiles to share with friends. There’s a rear-facing 20-megapixel camera, as well, for serious captures. Oh, and it has Dolby Atmos software on board and front-facing speakers for some serious sound. Sound good? Luckily, ZTE has provided one of these handsets in gold for a lucky reader this week. All you need to do is head to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning a ZTE Axon 7!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
- Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
- Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
- Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) ZTE Axon 7 smartphone ($400 value).
- If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
- This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Engadget and AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
- The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
- Entries can be submitted until July 27th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!
Looks like ZTE is getting around to keeping its promises. After teasing us at CES with plans to develop a crowdsourced mobile device, the Chinese electronics maker today opened up its Z-Community forum for feedback and ideas. Called Project CSX for now, the resulting product is slated for a 2017 release. In addition to getting bragging rights for your brilliant suggestions, you’ll also be rewarded with small cash prizes if you send a winning idea or popular submission.
To submit an idea, you’ll first have to register for an account on Z-Community. Your suggestion has to be for a mobile product, use technology that’s realistically possible by 2017 and “the final product must be affordable for the general population,” according to the company. Sadly, this probably means my super-feasible idea for a snack-and-cash-dispensing phone that’s also a teleporter won’t qualify.
Submissions must also be unique, and ZTE said there will be methods to check if your idea has already been turned in.
There are plenty of incentives to take part in this process. Other than contributing to a device that lives up to your (very realistic) dreams, registered participants can get early access to the eventual product. ZTE is also offering up a chance to win a trip to CES in Las Vegas.
Jeff Yee, senior vice president of technology planning and partnerships, said that the company “will see this project through.” Although the initial investment amount for Project CSX was confidential, he said the development of new mobile devices can range between half a million to $5 million or more.
ZTE will own the intellectual property of the final device, which is yet unnamed. The company will also solicit input on a name later on in the process.
While ZTE may be the first phone maker to call for ideas around a product, it’s not the first company to turn to the public for suggestions. Mozilla opened up its logo design process in June to get input on its next look. And although it never actually happened, TCL also announced plans at CES 2015 to crowdsource ideas for a new Palm device.
However, ZTE does appear to be letting its fans get more involved with the entire production process than Mozilla is, and is clearly more committed to developing an actual product than TCL was. In the meantime, those of you with genius ideas for the next big mobile device should probably get cracking on your submissions before someone beats you to it.
Over the years, smartphones have either been high end and expensive, or dirt cheap and shoddy. But, two years ago, the industry shifted and midrange phones that had great specs for lower prices started to fill the gap. ZTE has long been a proponent of what it calls the “affordable premium” device, and has thrown out middling handset after middling handset that met only the “affordable” part of that promise.
Last year, the Chinese company debuted its Axon line, which was stuffed full of features to fulfill the premium promise. But the Axon Pro fell short, with an oddly hollow metal body, glitchy software and short battery life. It was also more expensive than last year’s OnePlus. This year’s Axon 7, however, is shaping up to be a far better contender, with the same $399 price as the OnePlus 3 and offering a higher-res screen, sharper camera and more premium design.
The Axon 7’s design is the result of a team up between ZTE and BMW DesignWorks, and it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor. My gold review unit has a smooth matte finish on its metal body that helps it reject fingerprints and is accented by eye-catching glossy chrome edges that are also around the camera and recessed fingerprint sensor. It looks and feels gorgeous in an elegant way that upstages the OnePlus 3.
Just like its predecessor, the Axon 7 has a row of dot cutouts on the top and bottom of its front face, but unlike the Pro, these grilles actually hide speakers. (The old Axon’s grilles misled a lot of people into thinking it had dual speakers, but it only had one.) Below the display are capacitive keys for Back, Home and All Apps. There’s also a dual SIM card slot on the left edge — a welcome feature for frequent travelers.
ZTE says the Axon 7 will eventually be ready for Google’s “Daydream” mobile VR platform, and its display certainly seems prepared for the task. The 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen was a great canvas for my Netflix binging and Instagram sprees, but it was unfortunately dim in sunlight. Although it doesn’t fix the lack of brightness, the Axon offers built-in software that lets you customize the display’s color output. The tool lets you pick from three saturation profiles — “Natural,” “Colorful” and “Gorgeous” — as well as “Warm,” “Normal” and “Cool” color temperatures. I set the screen to “Gorgeous” and “Normal,” which delivered higher contrast levels and deeper hues.
Complementing the screen is a HiFi audio setup. Not many smartphone makers pay attention to quality sound, but ZTE is so proud of its system that it devoted six pages out of a 33-page reviewer’s guide to it. The only other component that got as much love was the camera. For the most part, the coverage was justified.
The Axon’s dual front-facing stereo speakers pumped out distinct, clear sound that drowned out my laptop’s speakers while both devices were set to their maximum volumes. The phone’s speakers were so clear, in fact, that I could easily hear the crinkling of wrapping paper in the background of a scene over dialogue and overlapping music. The Axon was also loud enough to hear from another room. Dolby Atmos enhancements created a surround sound that is more immersive than I’ve experienced on other devices. One of the few other phones to place such a heavy emphasis on audio is the HTC 10, which lets you tailor music output to your hearing.
Continuing its quest to outdo the competition, ZTE also stuffed a 20-megapixel rear camera into the Axon 7. That sensor is sharper than what you’ll find on the iPhone 6s, Nexus 6P and Galaxy S7. The Axon 7’s camera has phase detection autofocus (PDAF), with optical and digital image stabilization that, when combined with the high megapixel count, should theoretically result in crisp pictures. However, real-world image quality was hit or miss. My shot of mosaic art at the 8th Street NYU subway station was clear enough to show individual tiles on the wall, but landscapes with buildings in them sometimes looked blurry.
The camera struggled in low light, too. Upper East Side buildings looked like grainy, dark brown, blobs in a nightscape, and the whole scene was covered with artifacts. Other phones, such as the similarly priced Alcatel Idol 4S, fared better in the same situation.
Up front, the Axon 7’s 8-megapixel front camera takes decent portraits that have accurate colors and are sharp enough to see details such as my individual eyelashes. Thankfully, the “Beautify” mode erases imperfections on your face without going overboard and making you look like a painted-over caricature. Unlike most of this year’s smartphones, though, the Axon doesn’t offer a front flash feature for low-light selfies.
Armed with the same Snapdragon 820 chip as this year’s Android flagships, the Axon 7 was impressively responsive. I relished taking down an enemy Pokémon Go gym as well as catching an oddly evasive Pidgey without any annoying lag — in both cases with a host of apps running in the background.
Even when I used AZ Screen Recorder to capture my exploits while switching between the game and a Netflix video, the Axon kept pace without missing a beat. The only app in which I encountered delay was Pokémon Go, but that appeared to be a server issue rather than the device’s performance.
You’ll be able to enjoy day-long Pokémon Go expeditions without fear of running out of juice, too. The Axon 7’s 3,250mAh battery typically lasted about a day and a half of light use, and I was surprised by the hours of “White Collar” I was able to stream (an impressive 6.5) before the low-battery alert popped up. When powered up with the included charger, the Axon 7 can get back up to 50 percent life in just 30 minutes, the company said.
Although it runs a pretty clean version of Android 6.0.1, the Axon 7 comes with some ZTE-made software changes that I was surprised to find helpful. Most interesting of these is the Power Manager that not only lets you monitor your battery consumption but also gives you the option of setting “power-saving policies” for individual apps such as disallowing autostart, scheduled background wake-up and allowing deep sleep.
A cool Mi-Pop tool adds a floating shortcut to the screen that you can place within reach of your thumb so you can access essential navigation buttons such as Back, Home and All Apps without stretching across the phone. This is a handy tool because trying to reach across the Axon’s face can cause you to drop the phone.
There’s also an intriguing “Voiceprint” function that’s supposed to let you unlock your phone with your voice, but after I excitedly went through the setup process and said my keyphrase three times for the Axon to store it, the method never worked. No matter how many times I said, “Hello there” to the phone, whether its screen was on or off and regardless of the angle at which I held it (ZTE recommends 45 degrees away from your face), I couldn’t get into my phone.
A small thing that infuriated me: Taking a screenshot doesn’t automatically save it to your phone. You’ll have to tap a checkmark below a preview of your snapshot to keep the file. What a waste of time.
Though software glitches like this exist, they’re thankfully rare, and overall the Axon 7 feels like a dependable, well-made handset. If you want a cleaner OS and can live with a less-sharp screen, the OnePlus 3 is a better bet at the same price. But those who prefer a great multimedia experience and a distinct aesthetic will find a more suitable companion in the Axon 7.
It was merely a year ago when we found out that ZTE was behind the mysterious “Axon Phone,” a promising offering which aimed to keep the consumer in mind. With its Axon sub-brand, ZTE hoped to capture more of the U.S. market by striking a balance between affordability and premiumness.
Interested in ZTE?
- ZTE Axon 7 hands on
- ZTE VR announced
- ZTE ZMAX Pro hands on
- ZTE Grand X Max 2 review
After testing the original ZTE Axon extensively, we granted it our 2015 Editors’ Choice award for its incredible value. Although the original Axon wasn’t perfect by any stretch, it did incorporate unique features like a two-year premium warranty while still making only a few compromises.
On the surface, the succeeding Axon 7 appears to be a major step forward once again, considering the many improvements ZTE has made. It is evident that the ZTE Axon 7 is more than just a minor refinement to the ZTE Axon, but in an increasingly-competitive “flagship killer” market, has ZTE really done enough to make the Axon 7 worthy of your consideration? Let’s explore that question and more with our comprehensive ZTE Axon 7 review!
Buy the Axon 7 now!
The Axon 7’s design could be viewed as a normalization of that of the first Axon, as ZTE has both literally and metaphorically smoothed the edges. Although the updated design is less likely to raise eyebrows, it certainly has character. Unlike many metal smartphones, the Axon 7 does not incorporate plastic caps in its design and instead embraces an aluminum unibody free of any edges.
Although the updated design is less likely to raise eyebrows, it certainly has character
The curved back, although similarly done before, is elegant and feels excellent in the hand. The build quality is great, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get the Axon 7 to bend, even if you try. The power and volume buttons, which are now both on the right side of the device, as well as the recessed fingerprint reader are very ergonomic. The latter may seem senseless, but it is actually very nice when trying to differentiate it from the camera module.
Some of our keen-eyed readers have likely already noticed and may have even already objected to the Axon 7’s camera hump. Thankfully, it’s not thick enough to cause the phone to wobble when typing on a table, except when typing with excessive force.
ZTE has implemented antenna lines in a such a way to compliment the design rather than blemishing it. The chamfer found where the aluminum meets with the front of the device is also quite nice and feels natural, next to the very slightly curved display.
The “Designed in the USA” tag located on the rear of the Axon 7 may prompt some questions, considering that ZTE is, after all, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer. However, ZTE tells us that they collaborated with Designworks, a US-based BMW Group subsidiary, when designing the Axon 7. This can definitely be seen in the Axon 7’s design, most noticeably with the phone’s curved shape.
I wish the phone wasn’t so slippery in the hand
Although I really like the Axon 7’s design overall, I do wish that the phone wasn’t so slippery in the hand. The Axon 7’s size, smooth metal, and curved side edges combined certainly do not help make the device easier to grip. Although I eventually became accustomed to the Axon 7’s slippery profile, its height is still somewhat problematic. Reaching for the top to access the notification panel can be very interesting at times, given that any adjustment in the hand must be done very carefully due to the phone’s lack of grip.
The three non-illuminated capacitive keys on the U.S. Axon 7 do the job, but could be spaced out a bit more. I am nearly sure that the current implementation was designed to cater to aesthetics, but it can be difficult, especially at first or in a dark environment, to locate the side keys, as they are curiously closer to the center than to the edges of the display.
For what it’s worth, however, I really enjoyed the ability to change the key layout. The indeterminate iconography may be a bit jarring for first-time users, but oftentimes becomes irrelevant after a day or so of use.
ZTE has definitely exceeded my expectations with the Axon 7’s display. Whereas many similarly priced options compromise on either resolution or panel quality, the Axon 7 offers one of the very best displays I have seen on a smartphone. It’s a Quad HD 5.5″ AMOLED display with a pixel density of 538 PPI, which translates to excellent sharpness, punchy and saturated colors, deep blacks, great color reproduction, and excellent contrast and viewing angles. It’s most definitely worthy of competing with the highest-end of displays, like those found on phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7.
The edges of the display glass taper down to meet with the chamfered aluminum
Sunlight readability is also good, and the display also seems to get dim enough in darker environments. The larger screen size is great for any type of content, without being too big to hold comfortably in many cases. The Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection is also great to see, so users should not have to worry about scratching the display. The edges of the display glass taper down to meet with the chamfered aluminum, which gives the Axon 7 a consistent premium feel when swiping near the edges.
Under the hood, the Axon 7 is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, with two of the cores running at 2.15GHz and the other two running at 1.6GHz. The Snapdragon 820 has been used in every major flagship smartphone this year, and for good reason, as it is an absolute beast of a processor, offering up some of the best performance to date. It’s a notable step forward from last year’s Snapdragon 810, which was plagued by overheating rumors.
The overall experience is remarkably smooth
In addition to a Snapdragon 820, however, the Axon 7 includes 4 GB of RAM, which is enough for even the heaviest of multitasking. Day-to-day performance was absolutely wonderful and the overall experience is remarkably smooth. The Adreno 530 GPU is also more than enough for mobile gaming.
Although benchmark scores aren’t everything, it is clear that ZTE’s software optimization and selective component choices have paid off. The ludicrous 140,393 score in Antutu is undoubtedly incredible as it reflects actual performance quite well.
Last year, we were slightly disappointed that the Axon was only available with 32 GB of non-expandable storage. With the Axon 7, however, ZTE has included not only double the amount of storage (now 64 GB), but has also included a microSD card expansion slot, which accepts up to 256 GB.
Please do keep in mind, however, that you will need to give up one of the SIM card slots if you’d like to take advantage of microSD card expansion. Regardless, this is an invaluable inclusion for those needing lots of space, and may just give the Axon 7 a slight edge over much of the competition.
The ZTE Axon 7 is an unlocked dual-SIM device which works with all major carriers in the United States, so regardless of whether you’re on T-Mobile’s Band 12 or Verizon, you’ll be receiving full coverage. Since the Axon 7 isn’t officially supported by Verizon or Sprint, however, you will need to contact ZTE if any issues arise.
Even when plugging in a pair of $8 earbuds, the difference in audio quality is noticeable
Although ZTE did implement high-quality audio with the first-generation Axon, the Axon 7 takes it to the next level. With dual independent Hi-Fi audio chips, the AKM AK4961 and AKM AK4490, both recording and listening to audio on the Axon 7 is an excellent experience. Even when plugging in a pair of $8 earbuds, the difference in audio quality is noticeable, especially when streaming at higher bitrates. The audio sounds fuller and the volume isn’t as limited as it is on other devices.
If you’re interested in how the Hi-Fi audio recording sounds, you should have a listen of our video review found above, as the voice over was recorded using the Axon 7 and a Rode smartLav+ microphone. For informal recordings, ZTE states that the dual noise cancelling internal microphones are able to clearly capture voices up to eight meters away from the phone, which is quite impressive.
The listening experience with the Axon 7 is extraordinary
Unlike its predecessor, the ZTE Axon 7 features dual-front facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos surround sound technology. The listening experience with the Axon 7 is extraordinary; the sound is impressively clear, loud, and full. There’s very little distortion, even at full volume, and the audio is surprisingly immersive. The quality is nearly unmatched, and gives the speaker found on the HTC 10 a run for its money. Whether you choose to listen to music, play a mobile game, or watch a movie, the Axon 7’s speakers will impress you.
The fingerprint reader on the back of the Axon 7 is both fast and accurate, easily beating out comparable devices like the Huawei Nexus 6P. The reversible USB Type-C port is also great to see, and Quick Charge 3.0 (QC3.0) delivers on its promise of providing a 50% charge in just a half hour. Unlike some manufacturers, ZTE has included a QC3.0 complaint charger in the box, so you won’t have to worry about buying one yourself.
Need an extra charger? Best USB Type-C Cables14
The Axon 7’s 3250mAh non-removable battery may seem somewhat small after factoring in the powerful processor and high resolution display, but it actually holds up quite well. Battery life with the Axon 7 is excellent; I was consistently able to achieve upwards of five hours of screen on time with a full day of heavy use. With moderate usage, six hours of screen on time was achievable.
I was consistently able to achieve upwards of five hours of screen on time with a full day of heavy use
Overall, battery life is very comparable to that of the Galaxy S7, which is excellent considering the phone’s price. It does lack wireless charging, unfortunately, but that’s because of the Axon’s metal body. Thankfully for ZTE, many users prefer the much faster QC 3.0 wired charging anyway.
ZTE has included a 20 MP f/1.8 rear camera with optical image stabilization and phase detection autofocus. In good lighting conditions, the camera does quite well. Images come out sharp and detailed with good contrast and accurate color reproduction. It doesn’t always set exposure correctly, however, and some images can look a bit washed out. Otherwise, the camera is a great performer in good lighting. The 8 MP front-facing camera also performed very well.
ZTE Axon 7 camera samples:
With its fast f/1.8 aperture and OIS, it seems that the Axon 7 would offer great low-light performance. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case; images taken in darker conditions were soft with muted colors. This seems to be more of a software issue as there is an excessive amount of noise reduction taking place in most images. The good news is that this may be able to be at least partially corrected with a software update as the hardware doesn’t seem to be the issue.
The camera performance is where the Axon 7 feels most compromised
It’s difficult to deny that the camera performance is where the Axon 7 feels most compromised. The camera is great, but it’s simply not as excellent as those found on the Galaxy S7 or even Xiaomi Mi 5.
With that said, ZTE’s camera app is very nice and easy to use. The automatic mode will automatically turn on HDR and night mode for you and the manual mode is very comprehensive. There’s also a bunch of filters and additional modes like Panorama and Timelapse. The simple “capture” and “cheese” voice commands to take a picture worked surprisingly well, and using the fingerprint reader on the back as a shutter button is ingenious.
Although the Axon 7 runs ZTE’s MiFavor UI 4.0 over Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, a “stock Android” theme is available and selected by default. When using the stock Android theme, the launcher is like the Google Now Launcher with a transparent app drawer and a few bonus features like the ability to change the home screen transitions. The multitasking menu is pretty much the same as well, but with a very handy “clear all” button.
ZTE’s software feels like stock Android with a very slight tasteful twist
Overall, ZTE’s software feels like stock Android with a very slight tasteful twist. I found myself really enjoying the full screen notification panel and editable quick toggles, and the “frequently used” settings page seems like a nice touch.
Many of the other changes made are either too subtle to mention or purely functional. The latter changes include, for example, a lock screen wallpaper which changes each time you unlock the device. We haven’t seen that feature here in the U.S. yet, but it works quite well and is a nice differentiation. There are also gestures like double tap to wake and shake for the flashlight which are always nice to have, and the power saving modes are comfortably advanced.
You can simply hold the phone up to your ear and the phone will ask who do you want to call?
My favorite addition, however, is the “My Voice” app, which allows you to use genuinely useful voice commands throughout the interface. For example, as long as the screen is on, you can simply hold the phone up to your ear and the phone will ask “who do you want to call?” You can say the phone number or a contact name and the dialer app will place the call. It’s a really cool and unique feature that I wish Google themselves would take note of.
While this is the best software we’ve seen from ZTE to date, there are still areas that could use some additional polish. For example, some translations are grammatically incorrect, the dialer app doesn’t work with third party services like Google Voice, and functional changes like My Voice could be better integrated within Android. With that said, the minor changes needed are just that: minor.
The ZTE Axon 7 is available in the United States for $399.99 from Amazon, Best Buy, B&H Photo, Newegg, and directly from ZTE. That’s a surprisingly low price for what the Axon 7 is, considering that it is unlocked and compatible with every major 4G LTE network within the United States.
There are two color options available: ion gold and quartz gray. The Ion Gold model ships on July 27th and the Quartz Gray model ships on August 17th. Both models are now available for pre-order.
Unlike virtually every other smartphone out there, the Axon 7 includes a two-year warranty. ZTE’s Axon Passport 2.0 program provides everything from upgrade, replacement, and setup assistance to unlimited out-of-warranty repairs for a deductible. Each repair, whether in or out of warranty, will include a free advanced exchange and free two-way shipping. There’s also a 30-day risk free trial period, during which you can return the phone to ZTE for a full refund if you’re unhappy with it.
ZTE’s Axon 7 blows past the competition by providing amazing hardware, great audio fidelity, an exceptional display at a price point that should worry the competition.
It is clear that ZTE has put a massive amount of time and effort into the Axon 7, making it one of the best smartphones we’ve encountered. It’s surprisingly similar to popular offerings like the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10, while costing much less. It’s one of the very few smartphones that feels largely uncompromised, even next to the very best. If you’re looking for a flagship smartphone and don’t need the absolute best of cameras, we cannot recommend the ZTE Axon 7 enough. Simply put… ZTE’s Axon 7 blows past the competition by providing amazing hardware, great audio fidelity, an exceptional display at a price point that should worry the competition.
Interested in ZTE?
- ZTE Axon 7 hands on
- ZTE VR announced
- ZTE ZMAX Pro hands on
- ZTE Grand X Max 2 review
So, what do you think of the ZTE Axon 7? It will certainly be interesting to see how ZTE’s strategy plays out. Are you considering purchasing the Axon 7? Do you already have one on pre-order or does another device take your fancy, and if so, which one? Please do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Buy the Axon 7 now!
Even though it has a higher-end series with the Axon line, ZTE continues to focus on the budget phone market with its ZMax brand. Available for pre-orders today on MetroPCS for just $99 (after an instant rebate), the ZMax Pro is a 6-inch phablet with a fingerprint sensor that ZTE says is unique for this price range. We snagged some quick hands-on time with the ZMax Pro, which promises some compelling features for the price.
For that jaw-dropping price, you’ll get a sturdy body with a nice soft-touch rear, octa-core Snapdragon 617 CPU with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The camera and fingerprint sensor on the rear have pretty copper accents on the otherwise blue back cover, which is a uniquely pleasant aesthetic.
I really like the color combination and finish on the phone’s back, as well as its vibrant display. The quick pic I snapped with the 13-megapixel rear camera wasn’t the most brightly colored or sharpest, but my subject and environment were also not the most exciting. The 5-MP front camera also looked par for the course.
The Zmax Pro also offers dual-SIM card slots, one of which doubles as a microSD holder for those with just one SIM card. It also packs a generous 3400 mAh battery that supports Quick Charge, a USB Type-C charing port and will run Android Marshmallow.
That price trumps Huawei’s Honor 5X, which also bundles a solid metal body, good camera and fingerprint sensor for just $199. Moto’s G4 also starts at $200 But the Honor and Moto’s screens are a smaller 5.5 inches, and have less-capacious batteries.
“Affordability is part of our DNA,” said ZTE’s CEO Lixin Cheng. He said the high-end phone market is shrinking, and that making more affordable devices is the company’s mission.
The company says it has more than 30 million active users of ZTE devices, and sold 15 million handsets in 2015. As one of the few affordable phablets in the market, the Zmax Pro stands a good chance of owning this niche segment of the smartphone market.
ZTE is ready to let the public get their hands on the Axon 7. The all-metal smartphone is available for pre-order at $400 starting today via ZTEUSA.com, Amazon, Best Buy, B&H and Newegg.
At that price, ZTE is hoping the Axon 7 can take on the likes of costlier rivals such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7, HTC’s 10 and LG’s G5. It is armed with the same Snapdragon 820 CPU with 4GB of RAM and 2K screen resolution as those competitors.
However, the Axon’s $400 price tag is the same as the OnePlus 3, which also sports a Snapdragon 820 chip, but comes with a whopping 6GB of RAM. The OnePlus 3’s display is a less-sharp 1080p, though.
Its high-res AMOLED panel helps the Axon 7 achieve compatibility with Google’s Daydream mobile VR platform, and the company says the device will be Daydream-ready by the fall.
The Axon 7 is a step up from its predecessor in many ways, but the most obvious improvement is its design. ZTE partnered with BMW Designworks in crafting the Axon 7, and the result is a handsome handset that I couldn’t keep my hands off of when I saw it in May.
Other highlights include a 20-megapixel camera that features dual or “hybrid” image stabilization (IS), which is a blend of optical and digital IS, loud speakers powered by two sound chips and a dual SIM slot. As with previous Axon devices, ZTE is offering its Passport 2.0 warranty service that provides replacements or loaners if you break your phone within two years of purchase. That’s a solid bundle of features for the price. If you’re already sold and will be pre-ordering, you won’t have to wait long to get the phone; The Axon 7 starts shipping July 27th.
Smartphone enthusiasts may know ZTE for its flagship Axon line, but ZTE has long delivered phones to the prepaid market in the United States. By offering a multitude of affordable yet functional smartphones on prepaid carriers such as Cricket Wireless, ZTE has become the most successful Chinese smartphone manufacturer in the US by a wide margin.
More ZTE content:
- ZTE Axon 7 hands on
- ZTE announces Z-Community Forums
- Nubia Z11 Mini announced
- Interview with ZTE at CES 2016
ZTE’s Grand X Max 2 is the latest of these smartphones, but is it worth it? Let’s find out in our ZTE Grand X Max 2 Review!
Buy the ZTE Grand X Max 2 now!
In terms of design, the ZTE Grand X Max 2 is slightly reminiscent of the recently announced Axon 7, as it shares the same port and button locations as well as a subtle curve to help with handling. Instead of an aluminum unibody however, the Max 2 is composed of a glossy plastic rear cover fixed to a plastic band with a number of clips. ZTE’s material choices could be described as not unlike those from the three-year-old Samsung Galaxy S4.
Overall, the phone looks very nice with its blue color scheme and subtle pattern on the rear. Despite its larger form factor, the Grand X Max 2 feels quite nice in the hand. It seems that the phone doubles as a fingerprint magnet at times, but this is nearly inevitable with either a plastic or glass rear. Although plastic is generally more durable than glass, we noticed many scratches on our Max 2 review unit after only a week of use.
Our unit also suffered from an approximately one meter drop onto concrete, and, although the plastic rear fared well, the side band was easily chipped in several locations. Build quality seems about average for the price, so you may want to consider also purchasing a case, as accidents do happen.
The three illuminated capacitive keys at the bottom of the phone match Google’s standard layout out of the box (back-home-multitask), but can be reconfigured in the settings for users wishing to have the back button to the right.
The confusion associated with the indeterminately labeled buttons wears off surprisingly quickly
This is a great setting to have, and the confusion associated with the indeterminately labeled buttons wears off surprisingly quickly. Now if only every smartphone manufacturer gave users this option…
The Max 2 proves itself worthy of the “Max” tag with its beautiful 6-inch 1080P display. That’s considerably larger than most smartphones currently on the market, and surpasses virtually every prepaid option. While the Max 2 seemed small to me at first after coming from the 6.44-inch Xiaomi Mi Max, the Grand X Max 2 can definitely be unwieldy, especially if you have smaller hands. The phone is narrow enough to make one-handed use somewhat comfortable, however, and if you’re considering the Max 2, you’ve likely already been sold on the more immersive media consumption experience.
All things considered, I was quite impressed with the Max 2’s display, as it is one of the best I have seen for less than $200. It has great color reproduction, very good contrast, just the right amount of saturation, and is reasonably readable outdoors.
Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 – the successor to last year’s Snapdragon 615 – the ZTE Grand X Max 2 offers fairly good performance. It’s not going to crush any benchmarks by any means, but, paired with 2 GB of RAM, should be enough for the majority of users. Day-to-day performance is still quite good too, and the phone rarely had any UI hiccups during my testing.
Outside of the several preloaded resource-light games, the Max 2 can struggle a bit with its ageing Adreno 405 GPU. Although demanding titles like Asphalt 8 are still very playable, they can take some extra time to load and may exhibit some minor frame drops during gameplay.
The ZTE Grand X Max 2 includes everything you’d expect from a modern smartphone: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and GPS are each on board. Call quality seemed to be excellent during my time with the Max 2 on the Cricket network. There’s also 16 GB of internal storage, which can be expanded with the phone’s microSD card slot, up to 64 GB.
It sadly lacks a fingerprint reader
Although the Max 2 adopts a Quick Charge 2.0-enabled USB Type-C port for charging and syncing, it sadly lacks a fingerprint reader, a feature which we are beginning to expect, even from budget phones. Its absence may not be a deal breaker for those upgrading from an older smartphone without a reader, but I would personally find it difficult to switch over entirely.
Check this out: Best USB Type-C cables13
The Max 2’s single side-firing speaker sounds very good, with minor distortion at high volumes. It’s a bit above what I would expect at this price point, and will do the job when wanting to watch videos or casually listen to music. There is a Hi-Fi audio chipset on board as well, which will appeal to those wishing to use headphones.
After reviewing the results of four battery life tests, it seems that the Grand X Max 2’s battery life can vary significantly, but the notable outlier I had (the one with less than three hours of screen on time) was a direct result of my heavy usage.
With an hour and a half of Google Maps navigation and a forty minute Google Hangouts video call, it’s easy to see why I didn’t get the same results I did on prior days. With that said, I never worried about having to charge the Max 2 before my day was over, and some users may be able to achieve two full days of light use.
ZTE has made a very interesting move by including a dual-camera setup on the rear of the Grand X Max 2. It seems that the second camera functions only when using the software bokeh mode, which attempts to emulate a professional photo’s depth of field. Unfortunately, this feature did not work well at all in my testing, and I see no other use for the secondary camera beyond as a marketing tool.
Image captured in bokeh mode
What’s worse is the actual quality of the images that the Max 2 produced. Its 13 MP camera appeared to be promising when first glancing at the spec sheet, but after taking a look at the photos, I am very disappointed. Even when factoring in the price, the Max 2’s camera is slightly below average.
Some of these images are simply out of focus, but that can be blamed on the phone’s slow and inaccurate autofocus
Firstly, many of the images that I took are noisy and distorted, something that is generally not expected in the well-lit environments that I was in. The images are also very soft, especially near the corners. Granted, some of these images are simply out of focus, but that can be blamed on the phone’s slow and inaccurate autofocus. The processing is incredibly inconsistent, with some images appearing over sharpened, with others appearing under sharpened. In addition, color reproduction can be rather bad, especially when capturing warmer colors like red and orange.
ZTE Grand X Max 2 camera samples:
Low-light performance was also not so great. The phone couldn’t focus correctly for virtually every shot, and, when it did, images came out extra noisy. It seems that the camera here is just not where it should be relative to the competition.
On a positive note, ZTE’s camera app is quite good, and offers an easy-to-use automatic experience. The bundled time lapse and panorama modes are welcome additions, and the manual mode is surprisingly comprehensive.
ZTE is shipping the Grand X Max 2 with a lightly skinned version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. It’s similar to stock Android in many ways, with only a few notable changes. One of which is the unlocking mechanism for the lock screen. Instead of swiping up, you just press and hold the screen for a second. That’s nice since you don’t have to move your finger back down to access your apps, but I did notice the phone unlocking, launching apps, and placing calls while in my pocket. You’ll want to be careful unless you use a passcode, which will add an extra step, of course.
The notification panel is similar to the one found in iOS in that it blurs the background as you pull it down, which, although different from stock Android, looks pretty good. The app drawer is also slightly transparent, and with the exception of a clear all button in the multitasking menu, there are really no other major UI changes. The app icons have been replaced with ZTE’s icons, however, but those still look nice.
My Cricket Wireless variant did ship with a some bloatware, but the three of ten apps that weren’t uninstallable were genuinely useful for Cricket subscribers. This sort of bloatware is definitely less than other carrier branded devices, with the number of uninstallable apps often numbering double digitis.
The ZTE Grand X Max 2 is now available exclusively from Cricket Wireless, for $199.99 with activation. There is currently only a single model, which comes in blue and includes 16 GB of internal, but expandable storage.
The ZTE Grand X Max 2 is an excellent choice for those on Cricket looking for a large affordable smartphone. Although I would have liked to see a much better camera and stronger build quality, it’s hard to fault the Grand X Max 2 given its price.
The Max 2 exceeds where it needs to with a beautiful display, great battery life, and an excellent software experience
The Max 2 exceeds where it needs to with a beautiful display, great battery life, and an excellent software experience. If you don’t take many images, you can avoid the achilles’ heel altogether and will likely be very happy with this phone.
Buy the ZTE Grand X Max 2 now!
So what do you think of the ZTE Grand X Max 2? Is it worth the money, even if the camera isn’t the best in its class? Leave a comment below to let us know!
ZTE is well known for their mid-range smartphones that are available at incredibly affordable price points. However, the company did make quite an impression in the high-end market last year with the Axon phone, a worthy flagship smartphone that found the perfect balance between specifications and price, resulting in it being significantly cheaper than the competition.
The Axon phone was followed by Elite, Pro, Mini iteration as well, that once again provided fantastic bang for your buck. ZTE is back again with their latest premium flagship, but does it continue to offer what made its predecessor so great? We find out, as we go hands on with the ZTE Axon 7!
The ZTE Axon 7 retains the design language of previous Axon smartphones for the most part, and once again featuring a full metal unibody construction. The front of the phone remains the same, with dual front-facing speakers to be seen, housed under a distinctive grill pattern, which gives the device a unique design element.
The display dominates the front, and the ultra-thin bezels along the sides of the screen, and the relatively thin speaker grills above and below it, make for a relatively compact smartphone. This results in a smartphone that offers a handling experience that is better than what can be expected from a 5.5-inch device, and helping it is the rounded corners and tapered sides on the back, that help the device nestle comfortably in the palm of your hand. However, the smooth metal backing can be a touch slippery, and can take some getting used.
At the back is where the differences in design can be seen. For starters, the dual camera system is gone, but the look is still maintained, with a fingerprint sensor now taking the place where the second rear camera used to be. Also gone is the unique grill pattern that used to be found between the two cameras, with the dual LED flash now occupying this space.
The camera is slightly raised as well, which is kind of disappointing to see, given that the Axon 7 isn’t a particularly thin device. The buttons and ports are found at their usual places, with the volume rocker and and power button found on the right side, and a USB Type C port and headphone jack placed at the bottom and top of the phone respectively. Something that has not been retained is a dedicated camera shutter button.
The ZTE Axon 7 is a beautifully designed smartphone and features a premium build quality that can give any current generation flagship a run for its money. If ZTE manages to maintain their aggressive pricing policy, the Axon 7 will definitely have a leg up over the competition, and that starts with the design.
The ZTE Axon 7 comes with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with a Quad HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 538 ppi. This is a Samsung-made AMOLED display, and the company’s display prowess shines through once again here. You get everything you’d expect from an AMOLED screen, including deep, inky blacks, and vibrant, saturated colors, along with high contrast, and good brightness and viewing angles. The Axon 7 will certainly allow for a great viewing experience, and is another big plus for this device.
Performance and hardware
The Axon 7 is a flagship smartphone, and as such, it’s not surprise that the device comes with the latest and greatest processing package currently available. Under the hood is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, clocked at 2.15 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB of RAM.
Interestingly, this is just the “standard” version, with their being another iteration that comes with a whopping 6 GB of RAM, making the Axon 7 one of the first smartphones to offer this. The Snapdragon 820 has proven to be a fantastic processing package, as seen with the other flagship devices out there, and we can expect more of the same with the Axon 7.
64 GB and 128 GB are the built-in storage options that are available, with the latter coming with 6 GB of RAM. Expandable storage via microSD card, up to an additional 128 GB is also to be found, but this uses the secondary SIM slot, so users will have to make the choice between dual SIM capabilities and expandable storage.
Audio is once again a big focus for ZTE with the Axon line, with the Axon 7 featuring dual front-facing speakers with Hi-Fi audio chipsets, along with Dolby Atmos surround sound features. Its predecessor offered one of the best audio experiences around, from both the speakers and when using good quality headphones, and we can expect that to continue with the Axon 7.
The device comes with a fingerprint scanner on the back, placed to be within comfortable reach of your index finger, and should be as fast and accurate as expected. The Axon 7 also comes with a pressure sensitive touch panel, similar to Apple’s 3D Touch, called Force Touch, which will come only with the 6 GB RAM/128 GB storage version of the device.
On the battery front, the Axon 7 comes with a large 3,140 mAh battery, that should comfortably allow for at least a full day of use, but of course, more testing will be required before we can arrive at a conclusion. The device does come with a USB Type C port (USB 3.0) and support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, which should get you back up and running in no time. ZTE claims that a charge for half an hour will give you 50% of the battery life back, with a full charge requiring around a 100 minutes.
The Axon 7 comes with a 20 MP rear shooter with a f/1.8 aperture, OIS and EIS, and phase detection auto focus, and should allow for good low-light photography, and is coupled with an 8 MP front-facing camera. The camera app comes with a slew of features and modes, including a manual mode, various selfie modes, slow motion capture, multi exposure and long exposure modes, and a Super Auto mode. Previous Axon smartphones featured impressive cameras, and we can’t wait to put this camera through its paces.
On the software side of things, the Axon 7 is running the MiFavor UI 4.0 based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. ZTE has had issues with bloated software experiences in the past, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Axon 7. What you get here is a mostly stock-like user interface, with ZTE keeping Google’s Material Design elements intact as well. There are a few useful features that have been added, and you also get a Themes engine if you are looking to completely change the look and feel of the UI.
|Display||5.5-inch AMOLED display
2560 x 1440 resolution, 538ppi
Gorilla Glass 4
|Processor||2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820|
|MicroSD||Yes, up to 128GB|
|Cameras||Rear: 20MP Samsung ISOCELL sensor with sapphire lens, OIS, EIS, PDAF, f/1.8 aperture, dual LED flash
|SIM type||Nano SIM
SIM 2 also supports microSD card expansion
|USB Type||USB Type-C
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac 2.4 GHz/ 5 GHz
2CA: B2+B4，B2/4+B12，B2/4+B29, B2/4+B5, B41+B41, B25+B25
|Software||Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with MiFavor UI 4.0|
|Battery||Non-removable 3,140mAh battery
Quick Charge 3.0
|Dimensions and weight||151.8 x 75 x 7.9 mm
|Colors||Ion Gold, Quartz Grey|
Conclusion at a glance
So there you have it for this quick look at the ZTE Axon 7! The Axon 7 does seem to check all the right boxes, and can prove to be a worthy competitor in the flagship space. A beautiful design, fantastic display, great audio experience, and what is expected to be a good camera as well add up to an amazing device.
If ZTE continues to be aggressive with their pricing like their previous devices, the Axon 7 could be an instant hit. Pricing information isn’t currently available, but the device will be launched in China on May 26, with other markets, including the US, to follow shortly thereafter.
What do you think of the Axon 7? Let us know your views in the comments below!
Last year, ZTE surprised us with the Axon, an all-metal Android phone with surprisingly high-end specs for just $450. But while it was a noble attempt at an affordable flagship, we had issues with its slightly chunky design and lack of storage. Enter the Axon 7, ZTE’s followup which once again aims to take on much more expensive Android phones. It has a luxe-feeling unibody metal case, loads of storage options and a sharp 2K display. And best of all? It’s still just $450.
As soon as I picked up the Axon 7, it felt familiar. Between the slightly curved edges of its 5.5-inch display and its unibody case, I could have sworn I was holding my iPhone 6S instead. It feels natural in your hand, even more so than HTC’s 10. Speaking of HTC, the Axon 7 also shares a few design elements from the One series, from its rear antenna bands to its stereo front-facing speakers. At this point, every phone manufacturer takes a bit of inspiration from the competition (even Apple), so I’m not knocking ZTE.
Part of the credit for the Axon 7’s design goes to BMW’s Designworks, a renowned design firm that’s developed things like insane computing accessories for Thermaltake, a bobsled for the US Olympic team and even BMW’s own X series vehicles. The Axon 7 is the group’s first phone design, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it.
Under the hood, the Axon 7 is running a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor at 2.2GHz, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. You can also add a microSD card for up to 128GB of additional storage. Altogether, it’s a huge improvement over the mere 32GB of non-upgradeable storage from the previous Axon. There’s also a fingerprint sensor on the phone’s back, which at this point is pretty much expected.
Eventually, ZTE plans to release a $639 version of the phone with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a pressure-sensitive screen (similar to Apple’s 3D Touch technology). It’ll have a walnut “composite material” case option, but otherwise the company didn’t have much else to say about that device yet.
While the Axon 7’s screen is still 5.5-inches, it beats out its predecessor’s 1080p display with a quad-HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixel) resolution, and it also uses AMOLED instead of LCD. In typical usage you probably wouldn’t notice a huge difference, but ZTE says it also built the phone with Google’s Daydream VR platform in mind. Since VR pretty much requires low screen persistence (basically, incredibly fast refresh rates and low response times), they had to go with an OLED scree this time around. It’ll also launch a ZTE VR headset alongside the Axon 7.
The Axon 7 packs in a 20 megapixel shooter on its back (with optical image stabilization and a F/1.8 lens for solid low-light performance) and an 8 megapixel camera on the front. It can shoot 4K video at 30FPS, and and 240FPS slow motion at 720p.
As for those dual stereo speakers, they sounded even louder than the Boomsound offerings I’ve heard from HTC. There was a loud corporate event happening right near my briefing with some ZTE reps, and the Axon 7 had no trouble playing music loud enough to drown out that noise. Once again, there’s also a high quality DAC inside the phone supporting 24-bit/96kHz audio. ZTE also packed in Dolby Atmos headphone support, which gives you a few ways to hear audio in virtual surround sound.
ZTE isn’t saying when the Axon 7 will be available yet, but we expect to hear more soon. For now, it’s an intriguing curiosity. It could end up being a solid competitor to the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10 this year. And while it’s more expensive than the beloved OnePlus 2, it still packs in plenty of value compared to most other flagship phones.