While most high-end phones cost well over $600, the ZTE Axon 7 manages to pack amazing specs into a $400 phone — and the result is impressive.
It’s essentially a competitor to the OnePlus 3, which is already a great smartphone. If you want a premium device without the premium price, the Axon 7 just might be the phone for you.
- Price: About $400 at Amazon
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
- RAM: 4 GB
- Storage: 64 GB
- Cameras: 20 MP rear-facing, 8 MP front-facing
- Size: 151.7mm x 75mm x 7.9mm (5.97in x 2.95in x 0.31in)
- Weight: 175g (6.17oz)
- Screen: 5.5″ Quad HD AMOLED (2560 x 1440 px)
- Expansion: microSD card slot up to 256GB
- Battery: 3,250 mAh
- Operating System: MiFavor UI 4.0, based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- Extra Features: Dual SIM support, microSD card support, Fingerprint scanner, LED notification light
Rocking a metal unibody design, the ZTE Axon 7 doesn’t do too bad in the hardware department. It feels sturdy and well-built, and the curves help it fit gently in your hand.
On the front is the 5.5″ Quad HD AMOLED display that is absolutely gorgeous. AMOLEDs generally do a great job of producing the darkest blacks and the most saturated colors, and this screen is no exception.
Below the screen are three capacitive keys — Back, Home, and Recents — though you can change the order of these in the settings.
The headphone jack is on top, the volume rocker and power button are on the right, the microSD card/SIM card slot is on the left, and the USB Type-C port is at the bottom. While the Axon 7 does support dual SIMs, it only does so if you don’t use expandable storage, since the second slot can only hold either a SIM card or microSD card.
On the back of the device is the fingerprint scanner, just like on the Google Pixel. Unfortunately, this fingerprint scanner is relatively limited in that it’s only capable of unlocking the device, taking a photo, or answering a call. On the Pixel, the scanner can be used to swipe down the notification shade; on the Honor 8, it can be used as a programmable extra button.
Just above the fingerprint scanner is the 20 meagpixel camera that really takes some fantastic photos. The camera app has a built-in manual mode, can add custom watermarks to all your photos, and has the ability to take slow motion video and timelapses.
It even has optical image stabilization and a fast f/1.8 aperture.
The front-facing 8 MP camera is just as impressive. In the default selfie mode, it has a smaller replica of the screen in the upper left just underneath the camera, so that if you look at that instead of the center of the screen, it looks like you’re actually looking at the camera. It also has a beauty mode and the ability to take photos once you smile, and it does surprisingly well in low light.
Also on the front, you’ll find dual speakers. This is something that all phones should have, but that nearly no current flagships do. Even HTC, once the leader of front-facing speakers, has abandoned them in their newest HTC 10. But the front-facing speakers on the Axon 7 are loud, clear, and good quality.
Overall, the ZTE Axon 7 is very nearly the peak of smartphone design, in my opinion. I’m personally a fan of using software navigation keys instead of capacitive keys, and I prefer having a fingerprint scanner on the front rather than the back — but those are subjective gripes. For the average consumer, this is an extremely solid piece of hardware.
Android device manufacturers often create their own custom software skins that tweak how the device looks and behaves. On the Axon 7, ZTE calls this MiFavor UI 4.0, and it’s a modified version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Software like this can sometimes look nothing like Android, or it can add a bunch of cool features. With MiFavor UI, the changes are minimal but actually pretty nice.
In the default launcher, you still have an app drawer at the bottom and a Google search bar at the top. It feels a lot like stock Android, but a few of the icons have been changed and a few apps have been added. The Browser, Gallery, and Email apps are all ZTE’s, since stock Android now just uses Chrome, Google Photos, and Gmail for those.
You can still use Google’s options if you want, but ZTE’s apps are there and can’t be uninstalled, only disabled.
The notification shade looks very clean and simple, with the top row of Quick Settings always being visible along the top. This style looks a lot like Android 7.0 Nougat, even though it’s only Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
It’s easy to edit the Quick Settings options (which you can only do by activating System UI Tuner in stock Android), and you can tap the eye icon in the lower left to hide certain notifications.
The Settings menu has a slightly different aesthetic to it than on stock Android, as you can see above. One of the major problems with the Axon 7 that was noted in early reviews was that notifications were never visible on the lockscreen. Thankfully, running the newest version of the operating system, the Axon 7 now has a toggle for that.
There are a whole lot of other settings to tweak as well. Mi-POP gives you a small onscreen button to activate certain controls, you can use your voice to unlock the phone, and there are a few gesture and motion controls like double tap to wake and three-finger pinch for a screenshot. The Frequently used tab is also a big design change, but if you don’t like it, you can always just swipe over to All settings.
Most of the changes here seem to be either useful or ignorable, meaning that you get what feels like a very lightly skinned version of stock Android — which results in a slick user experience.
ZTE hasn’t made an official statement saying when the Axon 7 will be upgraded to Android 7.0 Nougat, but it should be coming soon since they ran a beta for it back in December.
Performance and Battery Life
The Snapdragon 820 in this phone is the current industry standard for a fast processor, and it doesn’t disappoint. Gaming is a breeze, multitasking is quick, and with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, this phone won’t be struggling anytime soon.
Battery life in my testing was also above average. The 3,250mAh battery almost always lasted me through a full day (some intense Pokemon GO sessions could kill it, but that’d be the case with any phone).
With the USB Type-C connector and Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 technology, it can be fully recharged in just over an hour.
Thankfully, all the global bands are here too, so it should work on any GSM carrier (in the US, that includes AT&T and T-Mobile).
Should You Buy It?
To be completely honest, this is an amazing phone. I struggled to find anything wrong with it. Everything about it is the top of its class, and it’s cheaper than most other phones. I kept looking for the catch, but there doesn’t seem to be one.
The ZTE Axon 7 is just a really great phone at a really great price.
If you want the best Android phone on the market right now without spending over $500, the ZTE Axon 7 is the device for you.