Hands on: ZTE Axon Elite review

Ever wanted to unlock you phone with your eyes? Now you can.

What is a hands on review?
ZTE Axon Elite review

Early Verdict

Unlocking your phone with your eyes is pretty cool, but it may not be enough to make the Axon Elite a hit.


  • +

    Eye scanning tech

  • +

    Powerful camera

  • +

    Quick charge


  • -

    Ugly rear, chunky design

  • -

    Doesn't feel premium

  • -

    Childish UI

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The ZTE Axon Elite is the world's first smartphone to sport three forms of biometrics; voice, fingerprint and eye.

Aimed at the top of the mobile market it certainly comes with plenty of bells and whistles to help it standout from the crowd. The Axon (minus some of the fancy biometrics) has already launched in the US, but from September 24 it'll be rolling out to countries in Europe.

There's no word on price just yet, but considering the tech ZTE has stuffed inside, it's probably safe to assume it's not going to be cheap.

ZTE Axon Elite review


The first thing you notice when you clamp eyes on the Axon Elite is its overly elaborate dual front facing speaker grills. The almost tribal pattern is a signature design for the handset and it is striking, but I don't think it will be to everyone's taste.

While ZTE maintains the Axon Elite sports a premium design, in the hand it doesn't quite feel that way. The metallic finish doesn't ooze high-end, while the leatherette patches on the rear feel cheap and look ugly.

At 9.3mm thick it's also pretty chunky by modern smartphone standards, and paired with its 5.5-inch display and dual speaker grills the Axon Elite is a bit of a beast in the hand.

ZTE Axon Elite review

The height is increased further with the addition of navigation controls below the screen, rather than on it, which can make it a little tricky to wield effectively one handed.

ZTE has split the power/lock and volume keys here, with the former on the right and the latter on the left. What this means is both can be positioned towards the centre of the handset, making them easier to hit than if they were higher up.

ZTE Axon Elite review

Display and interface

The 5.5-inch display sports a full HD resolution, which appears to be the popular spec for Chinese handsets at the moment. It's bright and colourful, as well as responsive, making the Axon Elite easy to use.

It's running a slightly older version of Lollipop, Android 5.0.2 (we're currently on 5.1.1), but you won't be able to tell as it's been drenched in ZTE's MiFavor user interface.

As with Huawei's custom interface, I find MiFavor lacks professionalism and premium appeal. This creates a jarring experience as the hardware is trying to be high-end, but look at the on-screen display and it ends up looking a bit like a toy.

ZTE Axon Elite review

The icons and colour schemes have been totally re-done, and ZTE has removed the app tray that has served the Android faithful well for many years now. That said, Apple's iOS stores all your applications on home screens, so it's not like ZTE has done something crazy by ditching it.

The interface is fast and fluid, with an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM running the show. You also get 32GB of internal storage, plus a microSD slot which allows you to expand further.

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site. 

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.