One of the best unlocked phones of 2016 is getting a deep discount for 2017.
The ZTE Axon 7 was a surprise hit last summer, offering a great smartphone experience at $399. Here's what I said in August 2016:
The Axon 7 is one of the best phone surprises I've had so far in 2016. Like the OnePlus 3, it provides tremendous value for its $400 asking price, and despite a few software quirks is without major compromise.
Not only is it wonderfully compact for a 5.5-inch phone, but it is well-made and nicely designed, replete with an excellent camera setup and superlative sound. If you can overcome the need to have the latest software (or expeditious software updates, for that matter), the ZTE Axon 7 is one of the best unlocked smartphones you can buy today.
The phone feels snappy and new on the updated software, and the OLED screen looks just as good as it did last summer.
Now, Amazon is offering a $40 discount on the Axon 7, bringing the 64GB-equipped smartphone down to $329.99 for the Ion Gold model. I decided to pick up the phone and use it as my daily driver for a couple of days to see how it holds up and, I must say, I'm impressed. The phone feels snappy and new on the updated software, and the OLED screen looks just as good as it did last summer. I still like the relative compactness of the 5.5-inch phone, and the aluminum build is solid without being too heavy.
The camera is really the only downside to this phone.
Indeed, the only major issue I continue to have with the phone is the camera. The 20MP rear camera is pretty terrible by today's standards; it wasn't great in daylight last summer and suffered tremendously in low light. Now, in mid-2017, with devices like the Pixel and Galaxy S8 owning that space, the Axon 7's low-light photos look even worse. Sure, you can eke out some great shots in manual mode, but the sensor and pixels are too small to do much with the available light in dim scenes.
And while I haven't seen many of the bugs surfaced in this Reddit thread, I am aware that ZTE doesn't have the best software track record. And, like u/wereunstumpable says, it seems "each update they fix something and break something else."
If you can live with those minor quibbles — or are willing to install custom software like LineageOS, which is the successor to CyanogenMOD, the ZTE Axon 7 is still a great buy at its currently-discounted price of $329.99.
But you have to keep into account that a successor to the Axon 7 is expected in the next couple of months and with it, an upgraded design, Snapdragon 835 processor, and hopefully, an improved camera. What I hope ZTE doesn't change is the focus on audio, which has helped it stand apart from the rest of the industry, especially in the unlocked space where the company is thriving.
Are you inclined to buy the ZTE Axon 7 at $329.99? Let us know!