Phones

Axon 7: Flagship features for less

The ZTE Axon 7''s biggest surprise is its two-year warranty.
The ZTE Axon 7''s biggest surprise is its two-year warranty. PHOTO: ZTE

The phone has high-end specs of flagship Androids but costs hundreds of dollars less

There is a new flagship-killer smartphone in town and it comes from China's ZTE.

Available at mobile phone shops here since last month, the ZTE Axon 7 boasts high-end specs that you'd find in flagship Android phones, despite costing a few hundred dollars less.

Powering it is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, used by some variants of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5. The Axon 7 also has 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage (with microSD expansion of up to 128GB).

These components are crammed into an aluminium unibody chassis that ZTE designed together with BMW Designworks.

With its rounded corners and curved edges, the Axon 7 looks polished and feels premium in the hand.

The phone has a 5.5-inch Amoled screen and its quad-HD resolution (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) makes it impossible to pick out the screen's individual pixels.

But coming from a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, I found the Axon 7's screen to be slightly less vibrant, even after switching to the warm colour temperature option in the display settings.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $699

    PROCESSOR: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (1.6GHz dual-core, 2.15GHz dual-core)

    DISPLAY: 5.5-inch Amoled, 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (~538 ppi pixel density)

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)

    MEMORY: 64GB, 4GB RAM

    CAMERA: (Rear) 20MP, OIS, f1.8, (Front) 8MP, f2.2

    BATTERY: 3,250mAh non-removable


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

At the top and bottom of the screen are dual front-facing speakers that are loud and punchy, especially for a smartphone. These speakers are powered by Dolby Atmos surround-sound technology.

The phone has two dedicated audio chips for Hi-Fi audio playback. Not being an audiophile, I cannot say how it compares with a Hi-Fi music player, but the audio certainly sounded good to me.

At the back of the phone is a fingerprint sensor and a 20-megapixel camera with optical image stabilisation.

This camera takes good photos with plenty of detail in well-lit environments, though they do not look as lively as the ones taken by the S7 edge's camera.

However, the Axon 7's camera fares badly in low-light settings. I found photos taken in such conditions to be grainy.

For all its high-end features, ZTE seems to have skimped on the front capacitative buttons (Home, Back and Menu) by not making them backlit. I found myself jabbing at them blindly in a dark room until I got used to it. They are also spaced a bit too close to each other, which led to wrong button presses.

Like most China phones, the Axon 7 comes with ZTE's own MiFavour user interface that puts an iOS-style finish to Android icons, as well as hides the Android 6.0 app drawer and adds its own e-mail, calendar, browser and clock apps.

There is also support for gestures and motion controls, like double-tapping the screen to wake it.

As I prefer stock Android and use mostly Google apps, I disabled these MiFavour apps and features in the settings and installed the Nova Launcher app to get the MiFavour interface out of the way.

However, the most egregious mistake is to hide all Android notifications behind a notification bell on the lockscreen. Instead of glancing at my notifications on the lockscreen, I have to click on this bell, which is an extra and annoying step.

Fortunately, ZTE says it is working on an update to remove this unwanted feature. In the meantime, a quick workaround is to install a lockscreen app - I used the Next Lock Screen from Microsoft.

At $699, the Axon 7 is cheaper than flagship smartphones that cost around $1,000. Instead, it competes against other Chinese phones like the OnePlus 3 and the Xiaomi Mi 5 ($619).

The metal-clad Axon 7 feels more expensive than the plastic Mi 5. The Axon 7 also has twice the amount of internal storage and a higher-resolution screen.

The biggest surprise is its generous two-year warranty. ZTE will repair your phone for free, if you accidentally damage the screen or drop it in the pool (one time only, during the first year). That said, I have yet to put ZTE's local service centre to the test.

• This flagship-killer smartphone offers excellent value with its high-end features and impressive speakers. The camera and user interface, however, could be better.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'Axon 7: Flagship features for less'. Print Edition | Subscribe