Hands On with the ZTE Axon 9 Pro
ZTE is back! After facing a hard-hitting ban on parts and software, the China-based phone maker is up and running full steam once more. ZTE decided the IFA trade show was a suitable place to launch its first true flagship since 2016, the new Axon 9 Pro. Here are our first impressions of ZTE's come-back device.
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If the Apple iPhone X and LG G7 ThinQ hooked up and had a baby, it would look like the ZTE Axon 9 Pro. The phone, a flagship from the Chinese company, borrows its design heavily from other phones. It's got the face of the G7 and the rear of the iPhone X.
A lot has happened in the world of phone since we saw the 2016-era Axon 7 Pro. Phones have jumped to 2:1 displays and dual rear camera configurations. Good thing ZTE has been paying attention.
The Axon 9 Pro is a metal-and-glass phone that's sleek and smooth. An aluminum frame sits between two glass panels. The glass is hella curved to fit into the frame snugly. The models on hand were colored blue. It could be mistaken for black, but when it hits the light just right the blue really impresses.
The sizing of the phone is good. Despite the large display, ZTE kept the dimensions in check. It has the tall, narrow look common to modern flagships. The width makes the Axon 9 Pro easier to hold and use. I like the overall profile. It's very thin and will slip into pockets in a blink.
The 6.2-inch AMOLED screen with HD+ resolution is very good. The display easily warded off the glaringly bright lights in the event space. Colors are rich, blacks are black, viewing angles are good, and text/icons were as sharp as could be. It's a really nice screen and should pleased anyone who buys this phone. Importantly, ZTE made sure the bezels were minimized. The cost is the notch.
ZTE is doing some interesting things under the hood with respect to the display (which, by the way, is what ZTE spent the majority of today's press conference highlighting). Its Axon Vision technology has its own processor to upgrade your video. It can take 24fps or 30fps video and up convert it to 60 fps to provide for a smoother video experience. It relies on a motion estimation, motion compensation engine to guess at what the in-between frames might look like and creates new ones on the fly. How did it look? Well, together with HDR10, pretty darned good.
There are scant controls placed around the outer rim. The screen lock / power button is on the right side. It has a nice ridged texture that makes it easy to find. Travel and feedback is excellent. The volume toggle, also on the right, has a smooth profile and delivers equivalent feedback. There are no design elements on the left edge. The SIM tray is on top while the USB-C ports is on the bottom.
You won't find a headphone jack on this phone.
The glass panel on the rear of the phone is shiny and reflective. It collects fingerprints as though its life depending on them. ZTE placed the fingerprint reader on the back surface and I found it was easy to reach when holding the phone. The camera module, which looks identical to that of the iPhone X and Huawei P20 Pro, is pushed into the upper right corner. The two lenses and LED flash are easily visible. The module is raised up just a bit, meaning the phone won't sit perfectly level on a table.
Fingerprint and Camera
ZTE is shipping a near-stock version of Android on this phone. The home screens had a clean look to them and the mechanics of the operating system are left untouched. I noticed that the camera app is a bit cleaner when compared to other ZTE phones, and that's a good thing. It felt snappy on the phone as I gave it a whirl.
The Axon 9 Pro is a flagship worthy of 2018. It fares well in terms of features and design when put against its competitors. Sadly, the phone likely won't be made available in the U.S., not even via the unlocked market. ZTE is launching the phone in Asia and Europe first, with other regions to follow. It costs a hefty 649 Euro. ZTE didn't provide a US dollar equivalent.
IFA is Europe's big consumer tech show. Every year we head over to Berlin to check out everything in person, and honor the standouts with our Best of IFA award.
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ZTE Axon 9 Pro
Hopefully gets a chance in the US market with compatible LTE bands for "ALL" carriers.
I still have my Axon 7 Premium and it is still going like a champ!