“The ZTE Axon 7 delivers top-of-the-line hardware at an incredible price.”
- Incredible audio
- Great battery life
- Decent display
- Unobtrusive software
- Great low price
- Not available on carriers
- Not waterproof
Just what constitutes a “flagship killer”? There isn’t a dictionary definition, but the term typically refers to phones with high-end hardware at prices that challenge the status quo. The OnePlus 3 meets that loose definition, as does LeEco’s Le Pro 3 and Oppo’s F1 Plus. All retail for far less than the $650+ Apple iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7, LG V20, and Google Pixel Phones, but match — and in some cases surpass — their processing power and battery life.
A rare breed of phones fit the definition of a flagship killer to a T, and ZTE’s Axon 7 is at the head of the pack. It’s the follow-up to ZTE’s Axon Pro, and the company’s attempt to extend beyond the budget phone market that it’s come to dominate. Now, ZTE is looking to carve out success at the high end with the Axon 7.
We put the phone through its paces to determine whether this is the flagship killer to buy or another flash in the pan.
A distinctive design sets it apart
The Axon 7 doesn’t look like every other smartphone on the market, and that’s a good thing. In sticking resolutely with the design language of the predeceasing Axon Pro, ZTE ensured the Axon 7 didn’t lose its distinctive ZTE flavor. As such the phone stands out from a crowd of bland lookalikes and iPhone copies.
The Axon 7’s curving, glimmering aluminum body is a mesmerizing work of parabolic slopes. The screen, much like that of Huawei’s Honor 8, curves toward the phone’s edges. On the
The Axon 7’s minimalist aesthetic continues around the back. The
Its 5.5-inch, Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixel), AMOLED screen is absolutely radiant at full brightness. In terms of sheer contrast, it’s a massive improvement over the Axon Pro’s LCD screen. It looks gorgeous.
The Axon 7 also feels great in the hand, which came as a bit of a surprise. We expected the phone’s smooth aluminum to slip between our fingers, but we found the phone surprisingly easy to grip.
Admittedly, the Axon 7’s curved sides aren’t quite as forgiving on the palms the
The new Axon 7 is slimmer, sleeker, and more refined than last year’s Axon Pro, but it retains the key elements that help the Axon brand stand out from the competition.
The best audio on any smartphone
ZTE really focused on audio quality with the Axon 7 and it shows. While most
First impressions are everything, and the Axon 7 makes a great one with its display.
The handset packs two dedicated audio chips, the AKM AK4961 and AKM AK4490, that support Hi-Fi audio playback through headphones and loudspeakers, plus front-facing stereo speakers and sound-enhancing Dolby Atmos technology. We ran each through their paces.
The Axon 7’s stereo getup boasts a pair of 2.15V speakers that easily rank among the loudest we’ve heard on a
The headphone experience was just as good. The Axon 7 supports Hi-Fi audio up to 32-bit/192KHz, which is made better by the Axon 7’s Dolby Atmos tech. The software can pass audio from YouTube videos, music, and movies through professionally tuned equalizer profiles, and simulate a 7.1 surround sound system. It creates a convincing illusion. We were convinced that we were hearing noises behind us.
The Axon 7 is just as capable of capturing sound as it is reproducing it. It packs dual noise-canceling internal microphones that can record audio from up to 23 feet away and record from any direction. The Axon 7 “listens” for an audio source while minimizing the ambient noise around it, amplifying recording where necessary. In our test, it worked as advertised — microphone audio came through crystal clear.
Camera quality is solid, but behind flagships
Camera quality can make or break a
On the back, you have a 20-megapixel shooter with a f/1.8 aperture that leverages phase detection autofocus to lock focus quickly. The accompanying optical image stabilization (OIS) mitigates the effects of shaky hands and bumpy car rides. Finally, high dynamic range boosts brightness and color contrast.
In daytime conditions, the Axon 7’s snapper holds it own. Pictures of the afternoon New York City skyline came out brilliantly. Colors toward the cooler end of the color spectrum, especially the hues of in the sky and Hudson River, were rendered especially intensely. When high dynamic range is enabled, photos are captured with a vividness that verges on oversaturation. That boldness won’t appeal to everyone, but we liked the effect.
That strong daytime performance didn’t translate to low-light, unfortunately. The Axon 7’s sensor struggled to render the stacks of cardboard boxes in our office’s dimly lit storage closet, exhibiting a fair amount of graininess. Autofocus became oddly sluggish, too. Colors were disappointingly soft and muted in comparison with shots taken with flagships like the Galaxy S7 and
Luckily, the Axon 7’s rear shooter fared far better in the video department. Video footage was smooth and impressively stable. We appreciated the resolution and framerate options, too, including
The 8-megapixel front-facing camera takes excellent shots and videos. It regrettably lacks a flash, but pics snapped in well-lit rooms and daylight came out bright, clear, and free of noticeable grain or softness.
Strong performance from the high-end chip
The Axon 7 is powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor that keeps the Galaxy S7, HTC 10, and OnePlus One 3 ticking. It’s paired with a generous amount of
The Axon 7 is wicked fast. Hiccups were very rare and image-heavy apps like Instagram and Snapchat didn’t slow things down at all.
In terms of benchmark performance, the Axon 7 holds up to the competition. It scored a 142,672 in Antutu, just ahead of the OnePlus 3 but short of the
A 3,250mAh battery powers the Axon 7. Its battery is bigger than the one in the Galaxy S7 (3,000mAh) and the LG V20 (3,200mAh). It also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard, which cuts recharge times to about an hour and 40 minutes. In our tests, it took the Axon 7 about 30 minutes to juice to 50 percent.
When it comes to off-the-charger performance, the Axon 7 lasts impressively long. With brightness set to automatic and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular data enabled, we struggled to drain the Axon 7’s battery very far below 40 percent by the end of a moderately busy workday.
Brief sessions of fairly light usage — comprised mainly of checking email, installing apps, and sending Slack messages to coworkers — ate minimally away at the handset’s reserves. Demanding applications like benchmarks and games drained the battery a bit quicker, predictably, but never once did we worry about running out of juice before we hit a wall charger.
The Axon 7 easily lasts a day and those who use it less than power users like us will likely eek out a day and a half.
ZTE pops a light interface over Android
The Axon 7 may run Google’s Android operating system, but with a few tweaks and additions. ZTE’s user interface is called MiFavor.
Recent updates to the phone also gave it a few extra features — including “Night Mode,” which tweaks the color profile on the screen to reduce strain on the eyes at night, and support for 256GB Micro SD cards.
By default, MiFavor’s “
The lockscreen is a nice touch. It rotates through backgrounds every time you unlock the Axon 7.
MiFlavor leaves other elements of the interface largely untouched. The notification drawer includes the quick toggles introduced in Marshmallow: swipe down from the top of the Axon 7’s screen in rapid succession and you’ll see options to quickly switch off Wi-Fi, data, GPS, Bluetooth, and more. Each button can be reordered, edited, or removed.
One of the most useful ZTE’s additions is My Voice, an app that ties custom voice commands to software actions. You can unlock the phone, take photos, and more using only your voice. You can also wake up the Axon 7 with a hotword, add contacts with a prompt, have the phone read incoming messages aloud, assign apps to custom commands, or even switch on airplane mode, disable the GPS, and adjust the
Audio is crisp and clear, free of the distortion frequently exhibited by
If voice commands aren’t your forte, the Axon 7 offers a suite of gesture controls. A double tap switches on the display, and a three finger pinch takes a screenshot. Shaking the phone twice flicks on the flashlight, while flipping the Axon 7 over mutes an ongoing call.
ZTE’s software could use a bit of polish, though. Some translations are grammatically incorrect, and a ZTE Rewards app serves up annoying promotional offers, ads, and surveys.
That said, MiFlavor certainly is far from the most bloated of
When it comes to software updates, ZTE has a better reputation for timely updates than most. Although the Axon 7 is still running
Warranty, customer service, and availability
ZTE provides a standard one-year limited warranty on the Axon 7, which covers replacements and repairs on units that are found to be “defective in material or workmanship.” It also ships with ZTE’s Passport 2.0 program, a 24-month premium protection plan free of monthly insurance premiums. It covers accidental damage like drops, spills, and cracked screens. There’s also a free advanced exchange option — provide the company your credit card number, and ZTE will ship a replacement device to you in advance of your defective phone. It’ll even cover shipping.
In addition, ZTE will replace or refund any devices deemed defective within the first thirty days of ownership. If your Axon 7 is stolen or lost, the company will reimburse you up to $100. When it comes time to upgrade to a new Axon flagship, ZTE will extend a discount of $100 off your purchase.
For new Axon 7 owners, ZTE also offers a free-of-charge “set up” assistance program. Call ZTE’s hotline and a customer service representative will explain the features of the device and guide you through the setup process.
Sadly, the Axon 7 isn’t available to buy at your carrier’s store. You have to get it online from ZTE or another retailer. Luckily, ZTE has a payment plan set up, so you can pay off your phone in monthly installments over two years, just like you would at a carrier. It’s a relatively simple process and it works on every carrier’s’ network — even Verizon.
Short of pedigreed flagships like the
Is there a better alternative?
ZTE’s Axon 7 is the best bang for your buck at $400. The OnePlus 3 used to be a good deal, too at $400, but now the company has discontinued it in favor of the slightly upgraded and pricier OnePlus 3T. Le Eco’s Le Pro 3 is another $400 flagship killer alternative, but we disliked its software and question LeEco’s commitment to the U.S. market and vital security updates. Finally, the $400 Honor 8 is a decent alternative, but it’s not quite as powerful as the Axon 7.
How long will it last?
The Axon 7 may still be running Marshmallow, but ZTE has committed to rolling out an
Should you buy it?
Yes. At $400, the Axon 7 is a no brainer. It packs a speedy processor, the best audio we’ve heard on a
Updated on 05-01-2017 by Christian de Looper: Added news of software update for Night Mode and 256GB Micro SD cards.
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