Over the past few years, we’ve been seeing a growing number of high quality but affordable smartphones being released. While many have hoped, or outright claimed, to be flagship killers, they have tended to fall short of the flagship competition in some respects. The great news is that this is slowly changing as well, and there are a few smartphones out there that are largely indistinguishable from the expensive flagships, but offer far more bang for you buck.
One such phone is ZTE’s $400 flagship, but the great price point aside, this device can still be considered one of the best smartphones you can buy. We list the reasons why, in this closer look at the ZTE Axon 7!
Design is certainly a point of focus with the Axon 7, and that is made abundantly clear as soon as you first hold the phone in your hand. With ZTE being a Chinese OEM, the “Designed in the USA,” tag on the back of the phone may come as a bit of a surprise, but it is symbolic of a special collaboration between ZTE and DesignWorks, a BMW Group subsidiary.
That’s right, the same company that is responsible for designing some of the finest looking luxury cars in the world played a role in the design of this smartphone. Thanks to their experience and understanding of premium design, the Axon 7 is an unmistakable beauty.
In the hand, the phone feels like a single piece of hardware, one that is remarkably continuous. That’s not just because of its curved shape, that makes it sit very naturally in the hand, but also because of the smooth edges. Those side edges are further complemented by the chamfer that is running along the front of the device, which blends in beautifully with the curved glass.
All of these factors make the Axon 7 very comfortable to use. Even the aluminium feels superior. It is both cool to the touch, and soft in the hand. It’s definitely strong too, with the build quality and shape helping make the phone virtually unbendable.
There are also some small touches here and there that add positively to the overall experience. One great example is the placement of the buttons, and you won’t find yourself having to perform complex hand gymnastics to do something as simple as turn up the volume. The recessed fingerprint reader is also nice, and makes finding the scanner very easy. Again, just a small touch, but something that really enhances the handling of the phone.
It could be argued that the claim to fame for the Axon line is its reputation for offering a class-leading audio experience. Now, with the Axon 7, ZTE has turned it up a notch, with the device featuring dual Hi-Fi audio chips, the AKM AK4961 and AKM AK4490.
Just to give you a reference point as to how premium these audio chips are, it would cost over $3000 to buy both a recorder and audio player that uses these chips. With the Axon 7, you pay far less, and get a better, more portable experience.
For recording, the dual mic setup is exceptional, and can record omnidirectionally, for up to 8 meters away. Audio through the headphone output is expectedly clean, loud, and full, and gives many of the $700 flagships a run for their money.
The Hi-Fi audio output is not the only thing to rave about either, as the dual front-facing speakers of the Axon 7 are incredible as well. You really have to give them a listen in person to get the full effect, but I can assure you that, with Dolby ATMOS surround sound technology and a N bass enhancer, these are largely unmatched in quality.
What that means for you, the end user, is that sound is louder and fuller than other smartphones, allowing for a much more immersive experience. Anything from browsing through music on Spotify, to watching a movie on Netflix, is superior on the Axon 7, thanks to the speakers. Since they also get plenty loud, it is easy to share content with friends without having to hold the phone close to your ears, or having to share headphones, just to hear what’s being played.
The camera on the ZTE Axon 7 is a pleasure to use, and that mostly starts with the shooting experience. The automatic mode of the camera app is easy to use, and automatically turns on things like HDR and Night mode. This is definitely a great idea, and very useful, given that the majority of users just want to point and shoot to get a great shot, without having to fiddle with the settings.
However, for those who are looking for more control, the Axon 7 also comes with a great deal of manual settings. Shutter speed, ISO, and focus, are all controllable with simple sliders, and it’s nice to see ZTE provide professionals with so many options here, while also featuring a a great auto experience.
There are a number of different filters available for use as well, and they can be cool to play around with. The built-in features of the camera app are also particularly noteworthy, with options including panorama, slow motion up to 240 fps, timelapse, and live photo. Live photos aren’t necessarily unheard of in the smartphone game, but its not too often that we see this available on Android. It can be really cool in certain situations, as the app will essentially capture a few seconds of motion, and then create a GIF.
The software is very useful overall, but the camera hardware deserves a mention as well. It’s a 20 MP camera, so there’s room for cropping if you need to, and the f/1.8 aperture also allows for some nice looking bokeh. There is Optical Image Stabilization on board, which actually moves the camera around to compensate for hand shake, or other sorts of motion. We’ve seen this before on more expensive smartphones, but it’s impressive that ZTE was able to bring this feature to the Axon 7. For video recording, the Axon 7 can do up to 4K in either H.264 or the newer H.265 codec, and video looks great too.
The most impressive aspect of the ZTE Axon 7 is not just one particular thing, but rather a sum of its parts, all of which is available at a very affordable price. For $200 to $300 less than comparable offerings, you get so much more, and this is undeniably flagship-level hardware, put in a very well-rounded package.
The fact that it also comes with dual-SIM capabilities and is unlocked for all major carriers in the US is another major selling point for those who don’t want to commit to a single cell phone carrier, or need the freedom to switch between them.
ZTE’s premium two-year warranty, called Passport 2.0, is an unexpected addition as well, and provides some pretty great coverage, in case you do end up needing help. If you decide that the Axon 7 isn’t for you, you can simply send it back to ZTE and avail a full refund, as long as its within the first 30 days.
There’s also free advance shipping for repairs, which are covered for 2 years after the purchase date. If you end up cracking the screen or dropping the phone in water, ZTE will repair the phone then too, for a small deductible. All things considered, this is an awesome deal through and through, and could easily replace a monthly insurance program, which can be quite expensive.
So, there you have it for this closer look at the ZTE Axon 7! This smartphone provides everything you can ask for to enjoy a well rounded smartphone experience, from a beautiful design and build quality, fantastic audio, good camera, and most importantly, great value for money, and even when compared to more expensive high-end flagships, the Axon 7 makes for a very compelling option.