There has been a growing focus on the US market by Chinese OEMs, who are hoping for dominance in the smartphone world in a market where they’ve failed to make much of an impression thus far. That is slowly changing though, with device manufacturers launching smartphones catereed specifically to effectively compete in an over-saturated market. The latest high-end entrant in the US is from ZTE, with their latest flagship Axon smartphone. The main idea behind the Axon phone is that it is a smartphone that has been designed for the consumer, with the aim to provide users with everything they would want.

Do they succeed? We find out, as we go hands on, and take our first look, at the ZTE Axon Phone!

Design

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As far as the design is concerned, the Axon phone features a full metal unibody construction, with some nice curves along the sides and the back, allowing for a very comfortable feel in the hand. With its noticeable heft and premium construction, the device also feels extremely solid. This phone isn’t striving to be the thinnest or lightest, with its thickness and weight of 9.3 mm and 175 grams respectively, but that makes for a very substantial device when holding it in the hand.

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Going around the device, the buttons and ports are all to be found at their typical locations, but what the Axon phone offers that isn’t found with a lot of Android devices is a dedicated camera shutter button to quickly and easily launch directly into the camera and take a shot. Capacitive keys can also be found up front below the display, denoted by a glowing circle that represents the home button, flanked by two individual dots for the menu and recent apps keys.

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At first glance, you might think that the Axon phone features dual front-facing speakers, with the matching set of uniquely styled grills, but unfortunately, only the bottom section houses the speaker. What this device does have two of though are the cameras on the rear, which coincidentally also come with the grill design, for some extra finesse.

Display

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On the front is a 5.5-inch display, but the Axon phone is considerably larger than some other devices with a similar screen size in terms of height, due to the large top and bottom bezels above the display, in addition to the two grills as well. One handed usability might be a bit of a challenge for some.

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As mentioned, the Axon phone comes with a 5.5-inch display, which is sharp, given its Quad HD resolution and resulting pixel density of 534 ppi. So far, the screen looks fantastic, with great colors, viewing angles, and brightness, and should be a pleasure to use in all situations, from normal day to day tasks, or when playing the occasional game, as well as for media consumption.

Hardware

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Under the hood, the Axon phone packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, clocked at 2 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 430 GPU and a whopping 4 GB of RAM. This is the revised version of the Snapdragon 810 processor, so overheating shouldn’t be as much of a concern, and thus far, things appear to be very snappy and responsive. With 4 GB of RAM available, performing very heavy multi-tasking or playing games should pose no problems for the Axon phone. Whether the overheating issues rears its ugly head again is something we can only find out after really putting the device through its paces when we give it the full review treatment.

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For storage, the Axon phone comes with 32 GB built-in, which is the only option available, and without the option of microSD card expansion, you’ll have to rely on the cloud for your extra storage needs. Aside from the standard suite of connectivity options, the Axon phone features 4G LTE compatibility with the T-Mobile and AT&T networks in the US. The device is also the first to be sold in the US to feature Hi-Fi audio playback, which is supposed to give you a fuller, louder, and purer sound quality than ever before, and the difference should be noticeable even with a pair of inexpensive earbuds.

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Keeping the phone powered throughout the day is a beefy 3,000 mAh battery, so at least on paper, battery life should be good for a full day, if not more. Given its metal build, wireless charging is not possible, but the device does with Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 fast charging capabilities, which should allow you to get back up to 50% of the charge in just 30 minutes.

Camera

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The dual camera setup on the back of the device is comprised of a 13 MP main shooter and a 2 MP secondary sensor. This setup is similar to what we’ve seen on the HTC One M8, to allow for a much faster auto focus, and the ability to refocus the shot after the fact. The camera is also capable of video recording in 4K, and comes with twin microphones, along with some of the best in noise suppression technology, to help eliminate background and wind noise when recording concert videos and voice calls. The device also packs a wide angle 8 MP front-facing camera, which is fantastic for all you selfie lovers out there.

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The camera interface is fairly simple, with most modes being accessible with just a swipe across the display, but an interesting feature with this camera is the ability to manually adjust the f-stop on the fly, from 8, all the way down to 1, but this is most likely done on a software level, and not really an aperture change. How well this device fares against the competition is something we’ll have to wait to see, but with devices like the LG G4 and the Samsung Galaxy S6, the bar is certainly set very high.

Software

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On the software side of things, the Axon phone is running on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with some customizations on top by ZTE, along with a handful of pre-installed applications. A lot of Google’s Material Design elements have been retained, as seen in the notification dropdown and the Overview screen, and this certainly helps maintain performance.

Specs

Display5.5-inch TFT LCD with 2560 x 1440 resolution, PPI 534
Processor2.0 GHz Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 (MSM8994)
RAM4GB
Storage32GB
CameraDual lens rear: 13MP, 2MP, dual LED flash, 4K HD, Front: 8MP, 88 degree wide-angle, 1080p video and 4K at 30FPS
Battery3000 mAh
ConnectivityT-Mobile, AT&T network compatible: LTE B2/B4/B5/B12/B17/B29/B30, LTE IR B7/B3/B1/B13, USM/HSPA 850/1700/1900/2100 MHz, GSM/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, CA Band 2/4 + Band 17, LTE (Cat 6)
SoftwareAndroid 5.1 Lollipop
Dimensions6.06" x 2.9" x 0.37" (154 x 75 x 9.3mm)

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Pricing and availability

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As far as the pricing is concerned, the Axon phone will be available directly from ZTE, and is currently up for pre-order for $450, with another version that includes high-quality JBL headphones for an additional $50. Unfortunately ZTE can’t give comment on global availability, but we’ll be sure to let you know once we find out.

So there you have it, our first look at the ZTE Axon phone! Featuring a premium metal build, impressive camera, minimalistic software and an affordable price point, this device is sure to turn some heads when it becomes available. What do you think? Do you think you’ll pick one up? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments!