ZTE Axon Elite in-depth review - Elite, not just by name

 ZTE Axon Elite Review - Elite, not just by name
4.5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/25/2015 10:04:25 PM

9

out of 10

Performance

8

out of 5

Look and feel

9

out of 5

Ease of use

9

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Biometric security features | Battery | Dual camera | Curved LCD display | Quick charging

Cons:

Looks too quirky for some | Android overlay unnecessary

By Sunetra Chakravarti

---

The ZTE Axon was launched during IFA in Berlin earlier this year. And when we saw the specs and pricing, we realised how slowly and stealthily Chinese manufacturers are stealing a march over competitors with their pocket friendly well-specced handsets that are just that little bit different to pique the consumers' interest.

Every once in a while, a handset comes along that, out of box intrigues us so much that it makes me want to find out more and the Axon was one such handset.

I was even more intrigued because the Axon was deemed fit for the Chinese President Xi Jinping to present as gifts to the British government during his recent visit to the UK.

Is ZTE a new phone manufacturer? Is the Axon a new entrant to the scene?

The Axon Elite is a shiny new phone from ZTE who have been in the telecom, network and mobile phone business since 1985 making an entry into the mobile phone area in the UK in 2010.

The Chinese company has sold over 500 million handsets worldwide and is one of the big players in the Chinese smartphone arena with the likes of Huawei and Xiomi. They are also known for prducing white label handsets i.e devices that bear the logo of networks who outsource the manufacturing to known manufacturers. Infact, ZTE manufactured the award-winning Vodafone Smart ultra 6

How premium does the ZTE Axon look?

Premium looks are very subjective to who you are. I watched a program on Channel 4 today about million pound properties. The £12 million house had crushed velvet walls and LED lights in the loos. That was premium. There was another house which was very very minimalist with plain, open plan areas. That was premium too. 

Now, the ZTE Axon is more of the first example. Less scandi and more moroccan, it will take you right back to your Moroccan holidays of roaming the souks and soaking in the hamams.

The design quirks are strong and plentiful. First off, the colour is a starting shade of gold, then there is the faux leather patches top and bottom on the back of the phone replete with faux stitching. And I havent even mentioned the metal lattice work, first between the two lenses of the camera on the back of the phone and then covering the top and bottom speaker grilles that flank the display.

It is easy to forget that the phone is actually metal with a sandblasted effect, a look that several manufacturers charge a premium for.

The phone reminded me of two much feted phones from last year. Firstly, of the HTC One M9, the five star dual-tone metal bodied handset because the Axon too had a curved back with a smooth feel to it and more of the Samsung Galaxy S5 for its faux-leather faux-stitched look.

The phone is made of Boeing 737 grade magnesium aluminium alloy which unsurprisingly, makes it light and sturdy. This is probably my only question for the guys who designed the phone: why did you want it to have a faux leather look to it? 

Despite the 5.5-inch screen, the phone felt solid and had a reassuring weight to it (170gms) and at no point was I worried about dropping and cracking its antimicrobial Gorilla Glass screen.

The ZTE Axon wouldn't have looked out of place as James Bond's phone

In my opinion, this is the true phone of Bond. There are four different ways of unlocking it: pattern code, fingerprint, voice recognition as well as RETINA SCANNING!!! Never could I ever imagine the elan with which stuff from movies would quietly slip into our daily lives so easily, and so I immediately set it up. 

 

However, it wasnt without its niggles. For instance, I could not use it on the commuter train because it simply didnt work, the Sun was streaming in through the windows and it failed... over and over again. Also, I had to hold the phone really close to my face for it to recognise my retinas and so like a lot of new style tech, I soon went back to the fingerprint scanner and the pattern code. The holding the phone an inch from my face was drawing too much attention. 

How do the dual cameras on the ZTE Axon Elite work?

The ZTE flagship uses a very well specced Sony IMX214 sensor for its camera and to answer the question, well, all phones have two camera. A primary and a front-facing one. But if you are referring to the dual rear camera, then yes. It does have two primary cameras, one at 13-MP and the other at 2-MP.  

Having two lenses is quite a clever trick for producing sharp and clear pictures of objects at a distance. Not only are you able to switch lenses to magnify more distant subjects but it also means you dont have to resort to dreaded digital zooming which is often subject to pixellation.

Also in low light conditions, you are assured of a better quality photo as well as the ability to focus on different parts of an image after you have taken the picture. A really clever way of getting ahead in the game that is increasingly resorting to whistles and bells to reinvent its own offering.

There is also 4K video recording and the 6P spherical optical module and two-way 14-bit ISP means that you can take pictures while recording 4K UHD videos.

How fast is the processor on the ZTE Axon Elite? What operating system does it run?

The ZTE Axon Elite runs the same processor as the Sony Xperia Z5 and the HTC One M9. It is Qualcomm's flagship chipset that is aboard the ZTE flagship. I know this particular chipset is notorious for overheating but during my video test and also during regular usage, the phone never got warm enough for me to notice. It was mildly warm to the touch and nothing more than that.

There is Android 5.0.2 onboard but I would have liked Android 6.0 and it comes cloaked in ZTE's own UI which for want of a better word, is uttery superfluous.

It cloaks the wallpaper and the apps in a black and gold cartoonish wrapper that ZTE could have done without. There are a few of their own apps there but they have left Android fairly alone from this point on.

 

Of the 32GB available onboard, you get a shade over 22GB for your use and the presence of the dual SIM tray is a great addition. You can either use two SIM cards or a SIM and a microSD card upto 128GB.

The RAM is a 3GB one and makes the phone a nippy one. Overall, there is nothing on the phone that will not give the major flagships a run for their money.

 

When ZTE called it the Axon Elite, they weren't taking the name lightly. During a video test for which I streamed videos off Youtube continuously for 1 hour over 4G at 100 percent brightness, the phone lost 20-odd percent of battery life.

There is a 3000mAH non-removable battery on board which is at par, if not, an improvement of the ones you see on the flagships of the likes of Samsung and LG as well as quick charging which will top it up by 25 percent after a 10 minute session of juicing up. Another critical feature box ticked there.

Should I buy the ZTE Axon?

ZTE have finally produced a phone that is at par with all the flagships and the keen pricing is going to make consumers take note. There might be slow uptake owing to the brand being relatively unknown in the UK but you get all the premium specifications for a fraction of a cost on a beautiful curved display.

The design borders on 'what were they thinking' and the Android overlay is unnecessary and childish. But for £299 it is a steal especially for the powerhouse performance, the biometric identification, the dual camera and the fabulous screen and speakers. 

If you know your specs and dont mind a slightly bling-y phone, then this is the one for you. 

ZTE Axon Elite specifications 

Price: £299 

Operating System: MiFavor 3.2 (Android  OS 5.0.2)

Weight: 170 g

Size: 154mm x 75mm x 9.3mm 

Display: 5.5-inches (Continuous Grain Silicon) ; TFT LCD 2.5D curved display  

Resolution: 1920x1080 FHD (401 ppi)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Adreno 430 GPU; 64-bit Octa Core processor

RAM: 3GB 

Camera: Dual lens 13MP, 2MP, dual LED Flash, 4K HD resolution; Front-Facing Camera: 8MP, 88 degree wide-angle, 1080p HD resolution

Storage: 32GB 

Memory via microSD: Upto 128GB

Battery: 3000mAH (non-removable); Quick Charge™

Misc: Antimicrobial Gorilla Glass, Fingerprint scanner (five finger records), Eyeprint ID