When I reviewed the ZTE Grand X, I had this to say:
Clearly, ZTE is serious about playing in the budget end of the market and you should take a look of them if you’re in the market for a smartphone at that end of the market. Also, Motorola might want to keep an eye on them as well as ZTE is clearly going after their turf.
Then when I reviewed the ZTE Grand X Plus, I had this to say:
The ZTE Grand X Plus checks off a lot of boxes and as a result it has to be on your list if you’re looking for phone at a low price. It’s also a phone that will force the competition to up their game before ZTE takes their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Finally, when I reviewed the ZTE Grand X 2, I had this to say:
Given everything that I see here, you have to think that other phone companies may start looking over their shoulders as ZTE is quickly catching up to them and maybe even passing them as the ZTE Grand X 2 is one phone that is going to get a lot of attention from buyers.
You see a trend here. I really think that ZTE makes good phones at a low price. But those phones have been at the entry level of the spectrum. That changes now with the introduction of the ZTE Axon which is exclusively available on the Fido network. Let’s start with the specs:
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
- 2.3GHz quad-core processor
- 5.5-inch display with 1080 x 1920 resolution with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage – Non Expandable
- 13MP + 2MP rear camera with 4K HD video capability with dual-LED flash
- 8MP Fixed-Focus front-facing camera with 720p HD video recording
- Hi-Fi audio
- LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery
These are not low end specs, and that’s the point. The ZTE Axon is aimed directly at the iPhone 6S and the Samsung Galaxy S6. A lofty goal. But does it succeed on that front? Well, the short answer is yes. Here’s the long answer starting with the design.
The phone I got was a black one and it looks very high end and classy. The build quality is excellent as it feels very solid. That’s helped by the fact that the back is not removable and the casing is made of metal. It is a bit thick and it isn’t exactly small or light. But I can live with the size as it is easy to hold. In terms of controls, the top has the headphone jack, the bottom has a micro USB port. On the right is a power button as well as a button that invokes the camera. On the left is the volume controls. The display is is big, bright, and beautiful, with accurate color reproduction, and great viewing angles and contrast. I found it usable in most lighting conditions.
Next up is the software. ZTE brings a variation of Google’s stock Material Design aesthetic on top of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. You’re likely saying at this point, “what, no Android 6.0?” Relax, it’s coming according to ZTE. Though they could not say exactly when. I like the feel of the Android UI as it is free of bloat. Because this is a Fido phone, it comes with a ton of Rogers software like Fido Navigator and City Video.
One of the key features of the ZTE Axon is the sound quality. It has two Digital-to-Analog converters (DACs) that upscale all audio to a crisp 24-bits. Sounds complicated, but it works. I listened to the same song (Adele’s “Hello” for the record) with the same set of headsets on an iPhone 6S, a Samsung Galaxy 6, as well as the Axon. The ZTE crushes the other two in terms of sound quality as audio is a lot fuller, with depth especially along the mids and lows. I’m not talking about a minor difference between the three phones. It’s more along the lines of it wasn’t even close. If you’re an audiophile, you will love this phone.
Speed is another area where this phone shines. Opening, closing, and switching between applications are all smooth. Multi-tasking is a non issue. Playing graphically intensive games caused no trouble at all. This department is an easy win for ZTE as it easily competes with the competition from Apple and Samsung. It’s also fast on Fido’s LTE network where I averaged 99.73 Mbps downstream and 26.62 Mbps upstream when I tested it in Downtown Toronto. Slow this phone is not.
The next area where this phone stands out is the camera. The main camera on the rear is a 13 MP shooter with optical image stabilization, but there is also an additional 2 MP camera for capturing depth information. If this scheme sounds familiar, it should. HTC tried this with HTC One M8. It worked well for them and it works well for ZTE. To do something different, I spent a Sunday walking around Toronto taking some pictures. Here’s a variety of shots from the College St. and Spading area. Click to see the images in full size:
To test the low light capabilities, which ZTE made a big deal about when the phone was introduced, I took a trip down to Line 2 of the Toronto Subway system. Note to the kids at home, don’t try this at home. I got the permission of a Toronto Transit Commission Special Constable to get this shot:
Bottom line, you can check this box off as it this camera works well in low light. In fact, it worked well period for still pictures.
And now the video which was shot in 1080P. Set it to full screen and 1080P:
There is wind noise, and it took a second to focus properly. But once the Axon did focus, the quality is very good.
The camera UI is simple, and navigating through the various elements involves swipes across the viewfinder to switch between modes. Selfie lovers will be happy with the 8 MP front-facing shooter with a wide angle lens, that should provide for some great self portraits, and also allow users to easily fit additional subjects into the frame. Oh, it will snap a selfie if you smile. Cool.
The final item is battery life. It is good enough to provide a full day of use and have enough charge to go into the next day with ease. But if you do need a charge, you can leverage the fast-charging capabilities via Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 to keep you going.
So, what is ZTE’s flagship phone going to cost you? It’s $0 on a 2 year term or $400 outright. Here’s the bottom line. The ZTE Axon gives you flagship phone features and capabilities at bargain basement prices. This phone must be on your list if you are in the market for a smartphone. As in you are nuts if you don’t consider it because it is simply that good. ZTE is clearly on it’s way from being a top shelf phone manufacturer that will scare the dickens out of Apple and Samsung.