ZTE Axon 7 review: A stylish phone that punches above its price
- Clean, smart design
- Those Dolby Atmos speakers are loud
- Fast fingerprint scanner
- Dual SIM card slots
- Full Australian network support
- The screen is pretty
- Fast charging works well
- Solid performance
Could be better
- The camera isn't as good as the specs suggest
- Battery life isn't amazing
- MiFavor User Interface
ZTE has squeezed flagship Smartphone specs into a mid-range-priced product. Even so, is it worth the money with so many new phones about to land?
The ZTE brand doesn't have the same kind of recognition in Australia as some of its Chinese rivals. While Huawei leveraged its partnership with Google for the Nexus 6P to increase its local phone presence, and Oppo has consistently found inspiration in the design of others, ZTE built its Australian business developing low-cost hardware for third parties such as Telstra and Optus.
While this isn't ZTE's first branded device for Australia, it's the first of its flagship models to stand a chance of competing with the top dogs from Samsung and HTC, and it does so at a mid-range price point. From a specs perspective the ZTE Axon 7 is packed to the gills. It has unique features such as Dolby Atmos speakers; standard inclusions like the chipset and screen are well designed; and as you'd expect from a flagship model, it charges quickly and includes a fingerprint scanner.
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While it may not blow us away when it comes to performance, the Axon 7 certainly does a good enough job to make it a worthwhile purchase for the asking price.
Why you'd want the ZTE Axon 7
- Clean, smart design. The Axon 7 doesn't offer anything new on the design front, but it's still a sleek-looking phone. ZTE joined forces with BMW subsidiary DreamWorks to develop its metallic unibody construction. The front speaker grills are reminiscent of an HTC device, while the back is more like Google's Nexus handsets, especially with the placement of the fingerprint sensor. The phone has a noticeable weight, but feels solidly constructed and comfortable to hold.
- Those Dolby Atmos speakers are loud. Having dual front-facing speakers on a Smartphone isn't exactly new; HTC has been doing it for some years with its BoomSound feature, which other manufacturers have blatantly copied. However, ZTE has taken things a step further by integrating Dolby Atmos certification, which is a first for a Smartphone. It has dedicated hardware audio chips to ensure the sound is crisp, clear and loud, regardless of the content. However, although the Dolby speakers are capable of replacing a small Bluetooth speaker, this is more of a niche feature and not something most people will take advantage of.
- Fast fingerprint scanner. Place your digit on the rear fingerprint scanner and the phone unlocks, generally before you can get it out of your pocket. This is on a par with the likes of the Pixel and Mate 9 Smartphones, but it's still a nice inclusion for a phone at this price.
- Dual SIM card slots. Frequent traveller? Need to combine your work device and personal device in one? Then the Axon 7's dual SIM card slot is worth considering. Admittedly, you can't run two SIMs and a microSD card; it's an either/or situation. But it's rare to see dual SIM featured in a premium-designed handset.
- Full Australian network support. This one's a little technical, but the gist is that the Axon 7 will work comfortably on any network, without sacrificing performance. The 4G chipset will connect to every network band used by Aussie telcos, except the 3500MHz frequency Optus is currently using to test 5G. The phone also supports Category 6 speeds, which theoretically means up to 300Mbps downloads (though real-world speeds don't touch that).
- The screen is pretty. The ZTE features a 2560x1440 AMOLED display, and it looks great. Side by side with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, it's a little darker, with whites appearing a little more washed out than the Samsung, and the viewing angles aren't as wide. But watching YouTube clips in HD is enjoyable, as is standard web browsing and social networking.
- Fast charging works well. The Axon 7's battery life didn't really blow us away (as you'll see below), but the disappointment was offset by the inclusion of fast charging. From completely dead, the battery gets to about half full in half an hour, and full in a little over an hour and a half.
- Solid performance. The ZTE Axon 7 is packing a SnapDragon 820 processor, which is the same as many of last year's flagships from the HTC 10 to the LG G5. As such, you'd expect performance to be on a par with those devices, and to our pleasant surprise the Axon 7 actually outperformed devices like the Pixel XL, which runs the more recent SnapDragon 821.
|Handset||Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)||Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)|
|Apple iPhone 7||3452||5599|
|Apple iPhone 7 Plus||3374||5649|
|Huawei Mate 9||1925||6068|
|ZTE Axon 7||1721||4089|
|Sony Xperia XZ||1636||3604|
|Google Pixel XL||1629||4051|
|Motorola Moto Z||1477||3853|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||1378||4718|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge||1359||5333|
|Sony Xperia X||1122||2626|
|Huawei Nova Plus||843||2985|
The competition was a little fiercer when it came to the 3D Mark IceStorm Unlimited test for gaming performance, but the Axon 7 still managed to give us pretty solid results.
|Handset||3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result|
|Apple iPhone 7 Plus||37956|
|Apple iPhone 7||37717|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||28903|
|Google Pixel XL||28458|
|Huawei Mate 9||28457|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge||28402|
|Sony Xperia XZ||26279|
|Sony Xperia X Performance||26125|
|Motorola Moto Z||25629|
|ZTE Axon 7||23955|
|Sony Xperia X||16648|
|Huawei Nova Plus||13969|
|Samsung Galaxy A7||13629|
|Sony Xperia XA||11173|
Why you might not want the Axon 7
- The camera isn't as good as the specs suggest. The phone has a 20-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilisation, an f/1.8 aperture, live photo mode and dedicated night shooting settings. Actually shooting with the Axon 7 delivers perfectly serviceable photos in good lighting conditions; they aren't bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, if it's even a little dark, the results are below par. And even the best shot for the Axon can't compete with the photos from last year's Galaxy S7 family, let alone the iPhone 7 Plus, or even the recently launched Huawei Mate 9. After reading the specs we expected more, and while the results match the price point, we did end up disappointed.
- Battery life isn't amazing. Again, the results here are far from terrible, but the battery life test results for the Axon 7 were middle of the road.
|Handset||Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration||Geekbench 3 Battery Score|
|LG X Power||14:50:30||5714|
|Huawei Nova Plus||13:21:20||8013|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge||11:55:00||7150|
|Apple iPhone 7 Plus||11:11:20||6713|
|Sony Xperia X||10:40:40||6406|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||10:01:20||6013|
|Motorola Moto X Force||9:46:50||3914|
|Motorola Moto G Play||9:36:00||3840|
|Google Pixel XL||9:14:20||5543|
|Huawei Mate 9||9:00:30||5330|
|Sony Xperia XZ||8:24:20||5042|
|ZTE Axon 7||7:56:20||4763|
|Apple iPhone 7||7:50:10||4701|
|HTC One X9||7:03:10||3971|
|Sony Xperia X Performance||6:46:51||4068|
- MiFavor User Interface. In an era of Android launchers on the Google Play store, this isn't too big of an issue, but the MiFavor user interface ZTE uses as a skin over Android doesn't inspire affection. It's still functional, but the design feels listless.
Who is the ZTE Axon 7 best suited for?
Anyone looking for a premium phone at a mid-range price should consider the ZTE Axon 7. You might want to download a fresh launcher before you set up anything else on the phone. If you are looking for a premium photography experience, look elsewhere. However, the Axon 7 is a remarkably solid purchase.
If the prospect of buying a phone from a little-known Chinese manufacturer scares you, you could consider the better known Huawei's Mate 9, although it does cost a little extra. Alternatively, you can shop around for the 12-month-old Samsung Galaxy S7, which gives a slightly better performance at around the same price.
Where can I get the ZTE Axon 7?
The Axon 7 is available exclusively through JB Hi-Fi stores, and has an RRP of $699.
ZTE Axon 7 specifications
|Software||Android Marshmallow 6.0.1|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 820|
|Size||151.7 x 75 x 7.9mm|
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