ZTE isn’t exactly what one would call a household name in the U.S., although it has made a number of inroads into the pre-paid phone market. The company is now attempting to make itself more visible by offering a higher-end device with its new flagship phone Axon, which it introduced at a press event today in NYC.
Axon is being marketed as the “first high-fidelity smartphone in the U.S.” Certainly, ZTE is pushing the visual and audio aspects of its new phone. The 5.5-in. Axon comes with dual back-facing cameras (13 megapixel and 2 megapixel) along with an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. It also offers two dedicated audio chipsets and what was described as premium digital playback/recording, which is not a common marketing feature for smartphones (although perhaps it should be, since I’ve seen more than one person use their phones to record, say, a meeting or presentation).
The 2560 x 1440 TFT HD display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and looked, to my eyes, impressively bright and clear (although I only spent a little while with the phone, so was not able to make a real comparison). I tried the sound using a pair of personal earbuds; I have to admit that it was pretty impressive. I also played with the camera a bit; the couple of photos and video clips I took looked pretty nice, especially considering the low-light conditions in the room.
The Axon’s metal case (which will come in dark blue, gold and silver finishes) was comfortable to hold, although it was a bit smoother than many of the phones I’ve tried recently and I wondered if it might be a bit slippery to hold on to. The phone is pretty well stocked: It comes with 32GB of storage, 4GB of RAM and a 3,000mAh battery (although it lacks an SD card slot). The units on display at the press briefing were, happily, loaded with Android 5.1.1 (and, from what I could tell, a near-stock version, which is a nice change from the additions that other vendors insist on adding).
There are a couple of somewhat puzzling hardware additions. For example, there are two rather nicely styled grilles on the top and bottom of the phone which appear to be stereo speakers (they’re not; there’s only a single speaker). In addition, there is a dedicated camera button on the right side -- which doesn’t work unless the camera app is live, which seems fairly redundant.
Aware of its status as a less-known company, Axon is also adding a number of customer services via a program it’s calling Axon Passport, including a two-year warranty, one-year free shipping and a 30-day “buyer’s remorse” refund if you change your mind. It also promises an easy pathway to future Android upgrades (whether it can fulfill that promise is, of course, impossible to say at this point).
However, all in all, the Axon looks like it may be, at the very least, a real competitor in the current race for reasonably-priced but high-end phones for those users who don’t want to deal with contracts (a steadily increasing number).