ZTE Axon Review After 1.5 Years – Amazing Value for $170!

by Linus 6

ZTE Axon lineup has been really popular since these phones bring a lot of value to the table. I reviewed the original Axon phone 1.5 years ago and I was really impressed with it given its price tag of about $400. Right now you can get this phone for as low as $170 and I believe this is one of the best smartphones you can buy at the moment. Learn more in our full review.


ZTE Axon Review: SPECS

Display 5.5″ 1080p, Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with the antimicrobial coating
Processor Snapdragon 810, 2.5GHz, octa-core, 64-bit
Camera 8MP Front/13MP and 2MP (duo camera setup) back
Connectivity Bluetooth, 3G, 4G, GPS, WIFI, NFC, GSM,EDGE, GPRS, UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+
Battery 3.000 mAh (non-removable)
Dimensions 154.5 x 75.3 x 9.7 mm/ 168g
OS Android 5.0.2
Storage 32GB (expandable via microSD card slot up to 200GB)


Inside the box, you can find a pair of earphonesUSB cable, a power plug, instruction manuals and the SIM ejector pin, which has a nice little carrying case.


Once you pick the phone up, the first impression is that the phone is premium. It is made mostly of metal, the buttons are nice and tactile and the device feels great in the hand due to rounded edges on the back.
The ZTE Axon comes with a 5.5″ 1080p display.
The panel is very sharp, vivid, has great viewing angles and good sunlight visibility. Overall, it is a very high-quality display and it is one of the best out there even if you compare it with some of the today’s flagship devices. Also, the display has a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with the antimicrobial coating. I could not check if the antimicrobial feature really works but what I can say that it is much easier to clean the display in comparison to some other phones.
On the top side, there is what may look like a speaker grill but it turns out that it is just a design element. Inside of it, you can find just an earpiece, which is located on the right side. Underneath the earpiece, there is an 8MP front facing snapper. 
The selfie camera can be also used as an iris scanner, which works pretty well in good lighting. However, I found it to be more of a gimmick since you first need to click the power button, then swipe down the display and only then let the phone scan your eyes.
On the bottom, there are 3 customizable capacitive keys, which also have a nice backlight (although they are pretty much invisible outdoors). Also, the home button serves as a pulsing notification LED light.
Underneath the capacitive buttons, you can find another grill but only the right side is where the actual speaker can be found. The sound quality is just great. It is loud and has a lot of depth and bass for a tiny speaker. In fact, this is one of the best loudspeakers you can find on any budget phone.
The back plate is made of gold aluminum material but the top and bottom parts are made of plastic. These parts sport a somewhat leather-like finish (well, it is plastic) with some fake stitching. They don’t look or feel cheap but I would prefer just all-metal design.
If we get a closer look at the top side, we can find a lot of things going on here. It all starts with the dual camera setup that includes .a 13MP Sony sensor with OIS, f/1.8 aperture and a single tone dual LED flash.
There is a dedicated 2MP camera sensor, which collects depth information and it is mainly used for the bokeh shots and focus adjustments after taking the picture.
The fingerprint scanner is fast and accurate even if we compare it to today’s flagship smartphones. Also, you can unlock the phone straight from the standby mode.
The buttons are made of metal and they are tactile.

The ZTE Axon was being advertised as the “First Hi-Fi smartphone in North America” 1.5 years ago. The sound via headphones is indeed very good, which has a very loud volume output, rich tones and a lot of depth. Even today, it is undoubtedly one of the best phones for music lovers out there

Finally, on the bottom you can find a micro USB port and the main mic.


Even though the ZTE Axon was released quite a while, it still has great specs that include a Snapdragon 810 chip, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage.


Graphically intensive tasks like gaming fly on the ZTE Axon and the graphics look stunning. Even today, I can say that this is a flagship-grade performance as didn’t have stutter or lag in any games I played.

The device gets warm a bit but it does not heat up to uncomfortable levels even after extended periods of gaming. It may feel a bit warmer than usual due to a natural heat dispersion on metal surfaces, though.


The ZTE Axon runs MiFavor UI 3.2, which is company’s own take on the Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. Honestly, it is really frustrating that ZTE didn’t update this phone at least to Android 6.0.

The user interface has preserved the aesthetics of the stock Android but ZTE added quite a lot of its own by offering some extra features, kind of cartoonish looking icons and tons of customization options. As usual to the Chinese phones, there is no app drawer and all the apps sit on the home screens.

ZTE added some functionality with the gesture controls. Also, you can customize the phone by changing transition effects, accent colors and so on.

The system ROM takes a hefty amount of 7.5GB. Fortunately enough, the device comes with the microSD card slot.IMG_20150809_100343

Overall, I am very pleased with how the UI works even though it is based on the outdated Android 5.0. Most importantly, the phone is fast and responsive on the daily basis.


ZTE Axon Review: CAMERA


The camera app is fast and responsive, and it has tons of controls, shooting modes and features. You may take pictures using the auto-mode or choose the “SLR mode” to take a full manual control of the camera. A neat feature is that you can play with the aperture number as well.

In addition, the “SLR mode” allows you to use the secondary 2MP camera sensor and change the focus point and level of it after you take the picture. I was actually really pleased with the results you can achieve with the extra camera sensor. Well, sometimes pictures may look a bit artificial but other times you can get some really nice-looking images.


If you consider that the ZTE Axon costs just $170, the image quality is one of the best in class.The daylight images look great as they have plenty of detail, colours look nice and pictures look sharp overall. Sometimes the dynamic range can be off, though.

The images taken indoors usually look good too but with a bit less lighting, a visible noise kicks in and the amount of detail goes down significantly, like on most of the phones.

As for the low-light shots, they look prety good for such a cheap phone.

I tried to play with the bokeh effect using the “SLR mode” to see what the secondary 2MP camera sensor is capable of. What I can say is that you can get some really nice-looking images but it will not happen all the time. Sometimes some objects may look a bit artificial. Still, this is one of the best dual camera setups on any budget smartphone.


The 1080P footage looks quite good but the video may look shaky even though the phone has OIS..

The 4K video looks a lot better and the quality may be the best in this price range.
There are some extra shooting modes like slow-motion video at 720p, which looks pretty good.
The selfies look pretty good and there will be enough quality for social media purposes. The 1080p selfie video looks good too. Also, the audio recording quality is excellent. Again, thanks to the two-way Hi-Fi audio chip that improves audio recording quality too.



When it comes to connectivity, the Axon phone has a hybrid dual-SIM card tray that can take either 2 SIMs or 1 SIM and the microSD card.
All the connectivity options like GPS, Bluetooth, Wifi and NFC work great. Also, the call quality is stellar as the earpiece is loud and the sound is very clear. Finally, the reception quality is very good on each of the nano-SIM card slot.


The battery life on the ZTE Axon is good but not great. It will most likely get you through the day as you can get just below 4 hours of screen on-time if you consume a lot of multimedia, use a lot camera and play some games.
The screen-on times may increase up to 4.5 or even 5 hours if you are not doing a lot of demanding tasks.
If it happens so that you need to recharge your battery in the middle of the day, the Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 comes handy adn you will be able to fully charge the phone in about 1,5h with the supplied charger.



So, there you have it, ZTE Axon after 1.5 years. Even today, the phone looks and feels premium and it has a wonderful display. Also, the chipset may be outdated but the phone still has enough processing power to handle almost anything you throw at it.



The user interface has tons of features and it runs fine but you will be probably stuck with the Android 5.0, which is a shame to ZTE. Even though the phone looks and feels premium, I’m not a huge fan of the fake leather top and bottom parts on the back.



These are minor shortcomings considering a low price of the phone. In fact, if you consider that the phone can take really good pictures, audio quality is top notch both from the loudspeaker and via the headset jack and you even have some extra features like the iris scanner, the ZTE Axon is easy buying recommendation for the price of about $170.