Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/11/2016 9:50:12 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Pricing | Audio prowess | Fantastic screen | Good battery life
Design needs polishing | would have preferred a higher-spec processor
The mid-range is the new cool. While the flagship range of smartphones has suddenly been left bereft of a king, the real skirmish is in the mid-range segment.
ZTE are one of the biggest manufacturers in the World. And the bulk of their business interests lie in China, a deeply competitive market with scores of manufacturers and very fickle consumer attention span.
I was very impressed with the ZTE Axon mini (Premium Edition) when I reviewed it at the start of 2016 and so when I saw the launch of the Axon 7 mini in Berlin in September, I knew to expect a good 'un.
It is sometimes important to look at how much a phone costs and what premium we choose to put on looks before judging them. This is not to say that the Axon 7 mini is not easy on the eye... Less dramatic than its predecessor with its gleaming gold grilles and Moroccan themed backplate, the Axon 7 mini reminds me of an HTC 10.
Curved back with the camera lens and fingerprint sensor squarely at the middle with the antenna lines across the top and bottom, it is easy to think this is an expensive top of the range phone and not one that icosts £229.99.
With a resolutely metal clad body, and weighing 153g, the Axon 7 mini, although not mini by any stretch of imagination occupies the sweet spot of smartphones that are just the right size for working one-handed on the train.
The speaker grills are on the front of the phone and the power button and the volume toggles on the right with the SIM tray on the left.
I stream a lot of video on my phones, partly because I commute a lot and have a good amount of data allowance and partly because it is my job to, and I know for a fact that as far as displays go, you cannot touch that of the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. So consider my surprise when I whipped out the £229.99 Axon 7 mini and came face to face with an intensely sharp display, one of the best I have seen in a long time!
It is a 5.2-inch Full HD with a 2.5D curved-edge screen that sports a 1080x1920 resolution but the panel is Super AMOLED, same as that of the Samsung flagship range, and this gives the 7 mini a fantastic light and bright display. Although it has a penchant for running a touch warm, the 424ppi density makes viewing an absolute pleasure.
ZTE have really amped up the audio capabilites of the 7 mini by sticking the AKM 4962 chip on there which works well to make the two separate audio processors (a AKM 4961 DAC and AKM 4490 ADC) work as one. The result is very very good with deep rich tones. Colleagues who listened to the Axon 7 mini play a medley of numbers commented on how incredible it was to be able to get a phone to produce sound of that quality.
While this is no Oppo PM-3 or Sennheiser PXC 550 wireless, headphones that cost almost twice as much as this phone, there is no denying that this is one of the best audio phones available to buy right now. The dual front-facing stereo speakers replete with Dolby Atmos® sound, gives the ZTE Axon 7 mini the kind of audio heft very few phones with this price tag can boast of.
An octa-core 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon™ 616 processor is on-board backed up with 3GB RAM which should be good enough for all day-to-day tasks. In fact, the Lenovo Moto G4 family is powered by a very similar spec processor. During benchmark tests, the Axon mini 7 obviously didnt scores as highly as a flagship but the scores were comparable to others within the same price range like the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 and the Lenovo Moto G.
Chip comparison: Samsung’s new Exynos 7870 chip vs Snapdragon 617
Android M comes with a thin MiFavour layer atop with some very interesting and at times quirky apps and features. There are separate video and audio players as well as a Toolkit app and a few others that can easily be taken off. The Axon mini 7 also comes with a Themes app that you can use to change the whole look and feel of the OS, but otherwise Material Design by Google hasn't died a sudden death here under the MiFavour hood.
Battery-wise, the numbers you need to know are 2705mAH and while they may seem smaller than the 3000mAH which has become fairly standard across phones, the more petite size of the mini 7 helps stop drain. Streaming over 4G with 100 percent brightness and the phone lost around 4 percent of its charge in 15 minutes.
The 616 processor supports Fast Charge 3.0 and recharging never took more than an hour and a bit from zero.
As with all ZTE phones, the Axon 7 mini is not low on party tricks and users are able to unlock it with three different biometric authentication options – fingerprint, voice control, and eye-scan. And because the Axon 7 mini comes with a pressure sensitive display, for added ease of mind users can add security with a “3D” password using firmer touch for complexity.
Pressure sensitive screens are on Apple's iPhone 7 range, having started with the iPhone 6S Plus and also on the Huawei Mate S 128GB model, which sadly never reached British shores, so to find it on a £229.99 phone was a very pleasant surprise.
The Axon 7 mini comes with 32GB on-board memory which can be expanded to 128 using the microSD card slot here.
There are filters and trims galore on the 16-MP rear camera on the Axon 7 mini. However, there is no optical image stabilisation. But that didnt surprise me much because I wasnt expecting it at £229.99 either.
ZTE have kitted the phone out with Ultra-Fast focus which works really well and I would like to say works almost instantaneously by latching onto a subject with the tap of a finger. The front-facing 8-MP camera isnt shabby either and selfies came out sharp and well-balanced colour-wise.
The Axon mini is a great little phone. For £229.99 you get one of the best phones in the market, at that price range. The display can rival that of the best flagships, the audio smarts are proven to be outstanding and the camera comes with all the tricks you will need to wow your friends on social media.
Admittedly, you don't get the best processor around, but then you aren't paying top dollar either.
Vodafone's Smart Ultra 7 gives this phone a run for its money and very frankly, it is a very fine line between these two phones, although with the Ultra 7, you are tied to Vodafone's network.
The 3GB RAM on the Axon mini 7 makes sure everything keeps ticking over without lags and delays and with the right SIM-only package, you will be guaranteed a fantastic experience that isnt too dear on the pocket.
The value to mid-range is finally coming ito its own.
Operating System: Android™ 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
Dimensions: 147.5 x 71 x 7.8mm
Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels
Display: 5.2-inch FHD SUPER AMOLED, 16M Color
Processor: 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon™ 616; 4x 1.5GHz+ 4x 1.2GHz
Camera: 16-MP PDAF+8-MP selfie camera
Memory: 32GB(ROM) + 3GB(RAM);
Expandable storage upto 256GB via MicroSD slot
Battery: 2705mAh lithium-ion battery
Fingerprint sensor:Yes (home button)
Misc: Qualcomm® Quick Charge; USB Type-C; NFC; HiFi Dual Speakers; High-Resolution Audio