ZTE Axon review

An unlocked Android phone that balances price and specs

ZTE Axon review

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ZTE Axon review

We liked

Axon introduces the US to a nearly all-metal phone that's $200 cheaper than an iPhone 6 and $300 less expensive than an iPhone 6 Plus. They're both aluminum, but this one is way more affordable at $450. There's a two-year warranty just in case you don't trust ZTE yet.

It has a bright, quad HD display that's 5.5 inches, a fun-to-use dual lens camera and runs Android 5.1.1 with more improvements than bloatware. Its specs are top-of-the-line as of this writing, too, with a newer Snapdragon processor and 4GB of RAM.

We disliked

The price is a double-edged sword. It's just $450, or more technically $449.98, but that doesn't help ZTE reach US consumers who are suckered into paying $199 for a new phone every two years, and then paying through the nose over the course of a binding two-year contract.

When it comes to actual features, the Snapdragon 810 processor runs hot against the metal back and, worse, slow at times. This is Qualcomm's newest, but not finest chip. The camera offers mixed results and the internal storage comes in one 32GB size with no microSD card slot.

Final Verdict

ZTE presents an interesting proposition in that the Axon is basically a composite of higher- and lower-end handsets, one that retails for an appropriate middle-of-the-road price.

ZTE Axon review

The phone's classy-looking, metal design is almost as polished as an iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S6, it has a screen that's as bright as the LG G4, and its dual camera outperforms the HTC One M8's. It's a likeable phone save for its unreliable processor, limited storage capacity and soft photos.

But while Axon's full retail price approach is a better value for consumers in the end, the sticker shock will likely send people walking. So will the fact that it's not available for the popular Verizon and not-as-popular Sprint CDMA networks. This is a GSM-only phone.

This is not something that going to rank on our best phones list, but I'd list it as ZTE's best phone to launch in the US. The Axon is a sign of better things to come of this unlocked, online-only trend in phones.

Matt Swider