ZTE Axon: Quick Review


Aug 8, 2001
EDIT: edited title as phone is no longer on sale


Specifications (taken from GSMArena):
Network Technology: GSM / HSPA / LTE
Display: 5.5 inches (~73.5% screen-to-body ratio), 1080 x 1920 pixels (~401 ppi pixel density), IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
OS: Android OS, v5.1.1 (Lollipop)
CPU/GPU: Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 801, Adreno 330
Memory Card slot: No
Storage/RAM: 32 GB, 2 GB RAM
Camera: 13 MP + 2MP (Dual camera), autofocus, dual-LED flash
Colors: Ion Gold, Chromium Silver, Phthalo Blue
WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth: v4.0, A2DP
GPS: Yes, with A-GPS
NFC: Yes
Radio: FM radio
Dimensions 153.9 x 73.7 x 9.4 mm (6.06 x 2.90 x 0.37 in)
Weight 169.8 g (6.00 oz)
SIM: Micro-SIM


Not to be confused with the Elite, Pro, Lux, or Mini variants of the Axon. I heard of the Axon Pro when it launched, but didn't know this phone existed until I was shopping around on Newegg for a ~$200 phone to replace a damaged Nexus 5X (screen randomly went bad). I almost went with the Huawei/Honor 5X and strongly considered similar value propositions like the Moto G, ZenFone 2, and Idol 3, but got this phone instead mainly because of the focus on audio and the fact that the Snapdragon 801 is pretty much a known quantity and solid performer for this price bracket. I've had exactly one ZTE phone before this, a low-end Firefox phone that was decidedly outdated even at launch, but it didn't deter me from checking out this phone after looking at reviews.

My non-exhaustive review:
TLDR: Fantastic phone for the price. Essentially the specs of a 1-2 year old flagship phone for under $200. I got mine for $200 when it was on sale on Newegg directly, and it's an even better deal now via ebay. Phone is normally priced around $300.

Details: If you look at the phone you could be forgiven for thinking it's completely metal, but the body isn't all-metal, though the main part of the back and the sides - basically the part of the body you are holding - are while the rest of the phone body is plastic. Which isn't a bad thing, as it's mostly matte and not-too-slippery, and overall the body looks and feels more premium than most phones in its price range, except for maybe the Honor 5X. I got the "Phthalo Blue" version, which is an inky blue closer to onyx or black than blue in normal lighting conditions. I like the design and it feels comfortable in the hand, though that can be subjective. The Axon isn't too heavy (or too light, for that matter) in the hand; weight is pretty evenly distributed.

The display is a 5.5" 1080p LCD panel, and about on par with the Nexus 5X (which is slightly smaller at 5.2"). It lacks the deep blacks and color-popping saturation of AMOLED as it's LCD, but hard to find a phone with a top-notch display at anything other than premium pricing so I won't nitpick.

Battery life is quite good: I am routinely getting 12-16 hours on full charge with heavy usage (roughly 5 to 7 hours Screen-on Time). It should equate to getting through a day or more, depending on how you use it. Not surprising given it's a Snapdragon 801 + 1080p screen + 3000mAh battery. YMMV, but battery life is definitely a strong point of the phone. On standby the phone sips battery slowly... i imagine with Marshmallow/Doze it could potentially last 2 days on full charge. The Axon charges relatively quickly (supports Quick Charge), getting about 1.5 amps for me max measured using Ampere.

The audio in particular is excellent. Reminds me very much of the One series in terms of sound quality via headphones, and it supports high resolution audio. Speaker loudness and quality are good (not a lot of distortion maxed out), but keep in mind it's not stereo like the 6P or One series: only the bottom speaker is used for music and audio output, while the top is used for phone calls. Audio is "enhanced" if you leave on the Dolby Audio settings - similar to what other manufacturers have done by partnering with companies like Beats and Harmon Kardon - but you can disable that in the app if you want a purer audio experience. The Axon also comes with decent JBL earbuds. They aren't audiophile quality IEMs, but are better than the vast majority of bundled earbuds, and a nice touch considering a few modern smartphones don't even ship with earbuds anymore.

No problems thus far with the performance of the phone. It "only" has 2GB of RAM, but memory usage has been under 70% at peak for me and the device has been fairly snappy. Benchmarking with Geekbench (single core: 891, multicore: 2412) puts the phone at a little under the Galaxy S5 and OnePlus One, which makes sense given the similar specs (note that the Axon is clocked lower at 2.27 GHz, whereas the other two are clocked at 2.46 GHz). Temperature has stayed under 45 C even when multitasking and light gaming (haven't tried heavier 3D games), and at idle it's usually in the 30 C to 40 C range. Android (Lollipop) on the phone isn't stock, but it's fairly close with minimal skinning. There are some ZTE apps on the phone that I've disabled - I have no need for their fitness app, for instance, as I use a Band 2 with Microsoft Health - or just ignore, but nothing that seems to be slowing down the phone or causing me any issues.

Haven't done a lot of testing of the camera or the network, but the camera seems to be good enough in daylight and fairly average in low light. It has a similar dual-lens setup to what HTC uses for depth-of-field effects, which I don't really care about. The overall camera quality is probably not as good as the Nexus 5X - which shares the same camera as it's more expensive sibling, the 6P - but not it's not bad. An OTA update added 4K recording (phone supported 4K playback on launch, but not recording until update) but I haven't tested that yet. As far as cellular performance, I haven't had any issues with using the phone on the T-Mobile portion of Fi for data; I'm switching to pure T-Mobile soon, and the phone apparently does support band 12, but I'll report back if any issues do crop up. As far as I know it supports AT&T and other GSM carriers/MVNOs as well, but I haven't looked into whether it has all the bands so don't quote me on that :p.

So far the biggest knock I have against the phone is that there isn't any root or stock ROMs that seem to work for me, and the community around the phone is tiny on XDA (hampered even further by the different Axon variants). There's no fingerprint sensor, but that's not a negative for me as it may be for some as I don't want a fingerprint sensor and wouldn't use it even if it did have it. I also have no idea how long ZTE will keep the phone up to date, but that's something I can overlook given the price. Aside from that, I'd gladly take the phone over similar $200 phones, especially as someone who listens to a lot of music and podcasts. If I miss root and custom ROMs I may end up buying a Nexus 6P, but for now I am quite happy with this purchase.

Minor issues: volume control is on the left side while power is on the right (took me a few days to adjust coming from a different layout, not a big deal), and the on-screen navigation buttons left and right of Home (back and recents) are hard to see 'dots' rather than rendered as symbols. Not really an issue for me as I normally don't look down at those buttons, anyway. No microSD slot, but the phone has 32GB internal which is plenty for me (I actually regretted getting 16GB on my 5X, which also doesn't have microSD).
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Apr 27, 2000
I will.l for sure check out ZTE phones going forward after owning the Zmax 1 and 2, they make good phones for the money. I do wish you could root them though but both Zmax's I had had pretty light skins


Platinum Member
Oct 21, 2012
Performance-wise, the Snapdragon 800/801 bros still steamroll everything in the app store. While definitely outclassed nowadays, the software seems to be pretty far behind.


Aug 8, 2001
If anyone is looking for a case for this, the Axon is the exact same size as the Axon Pro, so all Axon Pro cases should fit the Axon. I got this case. Great case - mine is the blue/black one:


The tempered glass screen protector that comes with it isn't good, though, it makes the nav buttons less responsive. Still worth the price for the case.
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