Is this the best sub $700 phone you can buy?
Gone are the days where the phone market is controlled by a handful of brands. Chinese brand like ZTE are now shaking up the market with their high spec phones with a much more appealing price than those from the like of Samsung and Apple.
ZTE’s new flagship the Axon 7 is exactly that. It comes with everything that would expect from a premium phone but at a fraction of the cost. The Australian variant of the phone comes with a Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM. In the storage department you are also taken care of with 64GB on board with the option to extend with up to a 128GB MicroSD card. The 5.5” display is a wonderfully punch QHD (2,560 x 1,440) AMOLED number clocking in at 534ppi (demolishing the iPhone 7 Plus with a FHD LCD and only 401ppi). You also get a full metal body design with rear fingerprint scanner, Corning Gorilla Glass 4, USB Type-C and the pièce de résistance dual front facing Dolby ATMOS speakers (we get into these more later).
Before we go any further I do have one bugbear with the Axon 7 and that is the capacitive touch buttons. I love that they are modifiable but ZTE please make them backlit when it gets dark and I am trying to use the phone I cannot see what I am pressing and on more than one occasion I have pressed the home button rather than the back one. It might not be such an issue if they were spaced a bit more but they are pretty tight together.
Ok so camera, the rear camera is a solid 20MP shooter with f/1.8 glass and OIS. You can also shoot video in 4K and up to 240FPS at 720p. The front facing camera is a more than capable 8PM f/2.2. The quality of the images is great, the only thing that could be worked on would be the speed of the camera load or having a dedicated shortcut key. The camera software can be as simple or a complex as you want with the ability to put it into manual mode and control everything from ISO to shutter speed and white balance. All in all the camera is solid and in the $700 price bracket is one of the best you will get.
The Axon 7 is running Android 6.0.1 skinned with ZTE’s MiFavour UI (version 4.0 at testing) and to be honest is it one of the better non-pure android experiences I have had. I have noticed in the past when manufacturers try to skin android and add their own flare more of it goes horribly wrong with mountains of bloatware and slow performance. This UI however is quite nice and adds some nice tweaks and touches that you can’t get with stock android.
Another major drawcard for the Axon 7 is the news that it will be getting an upgrade to Android Nougat and that once that update comes through the phone will be Google Daydream compatible. Meaning it will be one of only a handful of phones on the market right now capable of running the advanced phone based VR. There isn’t a fixed date on the upgrade but we are hoping is it sooner rather than later.
Now back to those front facing speakers I mentioned earlier, they are hands down the best speakers I have heard on a phone. Harkening back to the HTC Boom speakers of the past these Dolby ATMOS speakers just sound amazing. The advantage of the front facing speakers over bottom firing ones is you can hold the phone in a landscape orientation and not block them, but also you can get true stereo sound which doesn’t sound like too much for a phone but trust me when you are listening to music or watching that YouTube video on the fly it makes a huge difference. Also with the additon of dual Hi-Fi chips and a 32-bit DAC this really is the industry leader when it comes to onboard audio.
Now down to the nitty gritty, should you buy one? Well if you want a premium phone with premium build and premium specs but you don’t want to drop over $1,000 to get one then this is for you. It is a great phone and an even better sign that Australia is starting to see some more competition in the premium phone arena which can only drive innovation moving forward.