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Hands On with the ZTE Axon Phone

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Jul 14, 2015, 2:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE debuted the Axon phone today, a flagship smartphone specifically for the U.S. market. It features top-of-the-line specs and a reasonable price point, considering it is sold unlocked for LTE networks. Here are our first impressions of this new handset from ZTE.

ZTE is aiming high with the Axon phone. This handset, made of metal, boasts a high-end design and a very compelling spec sheet. It reminds me of the Huawei Ascend Mate 8. It's for flagship seekers on a budget.

The Axon is the first in what will be a line of flagship phones from ZTE. ZTE's branding is somewhat confusing. The company briefly called the device shown today the "Axon Pro." ZTE reps confirmed there will be other Axon-branded handsets for the U.S., and it is acceptable to call today's new phone the Axon Pro — even if there was only one reference to the "Pro" name today.

The phone is really attractive. It's a thin, metal handset with a gorgeous display and fine craftsmanship all around. The back and side surfaces are metal, with plastic elements to allow for the wireless radios and some controls. The front is all glass, save for the unique, metallic grilles covering the earpiece speaker and microphone. The various colors look nice, though I am partial to the blue. It's not the most incredible handset in the world, but it's no slacker. It can hold its own next to Samsung and LG's best, to be sure.

As most phones with a 5.5-inch display, the Axon phone is large. It is about the size of the iPhone 6 Plus or Motorola Nexus 6. That means it won't be ideal for many people. The thin profile helps a lot, but the Axon is tall and wide for sure. I like the overall weight, which is comfy, and the build quality is about the best I've seen from a ZTE handset.


There are no buttons along the front. The Axon uses the on-again, off-again buttons part of the Android OS. That's fine with me. I wish there were a bit less bezel, but it's offset by the attractive metal frame that contains the glass screen.

You'll notice the volume toggle on the left side. It is a large, bar-style button and is made of plastic. It has a nice profile and travel and feedback are quite good, but I couldn't help but feel it was a little cheap. The same is definitely true of the screen lock button, which is placed about mid-way up the right edge of the phone.

The Axon has a dedicated camera button on the right edge, but oddly the button doesn't actually launch the camera. It works as a shutter button, and that's it. It is small, but has a nice texture to set it apart. Travel and feedback are pretty good.

On the back you'll note two plastic bars, one on top and one on the bottom. These are to allow for wireless signals to pass through. As far as the phone's craftsmanship is concerned, these are the cheapest components. They looked lumpy and uneven to my eyes, which may be due to the fact that we were looking at pre-production builds. Otherwise, they blend in with the metallic back surface quite well.

The camera array stands out thanks to the dual-lens design and colorful metal frame surrounding it. I like the way it looks in comparison to the rest of the coloring.

The phone runs a near-stock version of Android 5.1 Lollipop. ZTE added its own camera app and several others, but the bulk of the experience is naked Android — something for which I am grateful. The camera app looks robust at first glance, and was extremely quick to focus and take pictures. The shutter button helps.

In all, the Axon phone is a impressive piece of hardware for the price. ZTE plans to sell it July 27 for $449. You can snag it online. I'd encourage you to take a look, especially if you want a flagship experience but not the flagship cost.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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Jul 15, 2015, 10:28 AM

Looks nice but why are companies insisting on making these huge phones?

Hopefully ZTE will also bring the Nubia Z9 (not Max or Mini) to the 'States. That one is sized whereby most folks could handle it one handed (albeit it's a bit on the heavy side).
Supply and demand?

Jul 14, 2015, 2:58 PM

typo: addd -> added

addd -> added
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