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ZTE Axon 20 5G first take: World's first under display camera may offer a glimpse of the future

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Written by Matthew Miller on
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ZTE Axon 20 5G

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ZTE is known for innovation in the smartphone market and with today's official launch of the ZTE Axon 20 5G we see the availability of a phone with the world's first under display front-facing camera. There is no notch, hole punch, rotating, or mechanical rising camera here and you simply get a full display experience.

In addition to the camera, a light, fingerprint sensor, and handset speaker sound system are all found under the display. The ZTE Axon 20 5G is available to order in the EU, UK, and Asia for a price of $449/ €449 /£419.

While there are currently no plans to launch the ZTE Axon 20 5G in the US, I had the chance to spend about a week with a unit in order to check out the new camera technology and lovely design.

Also: Best Android phone for you (December 2020)

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • Display: 6.92-inch 2460 x 1080 pixels resolution OLED
  • Operating system: Android 10
  • RAM: 6/8 GB options
  • Storage: 128/256 GB internal options with microSD card support
  • Cameras: Rear quad-camera system with 64MP, 8MP wide-angle with 120-degree view, 2MP depth lens, and 2MP macro lens. 32MP front-facing camera positioned under the display.
  • Wireless technology: 5G, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, GPS/GLONASS
  • Battery: 4220 mAh with Qualcomm Quick Charge 4 Plus support
  • Dimensions: 172.1 x 77.9 x 7.98 mm and 198 grams
  • Colors: Black, Blue, Purple, Orange

Hardware

While the ZTE Axon 20 5G is a very solid and capable mid-range phone with an affordable $449 price, the focus is on the under display front-facing camera as a technology demonstration. I spent most of my time with the device checking out this camera system and the cool technology that allows the camera to function through several layers of glass. I expected the first such camera to result in poor or compromised photos, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

ZTE achieved this feat by developing a system using display materials, dual-control chip and integrated circuit, pixel matrix optimization, and a shooting algorithm with the promise of improvement in future phones based on lessons learned and advancing technology. The company worked with its display partner with adaptive micron-size material and new films to create the display that a camera can work through.

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When you look at the display in bright light, especially if there are lighter colors at the top, you can angle the phone and see a very small square slightly yellow grid that identifies where the front-facing camera can be found. However, in typical daily use you are unlikely to ever see where the camera is positioned. ZTE did an amazing job of hiding the camera under the display and the technology is impressive.

Watching full screen Netflix shows on the ZTE Axon 20 5G is a great experience with flawless playback and nothing interrupting the display at all. The display has 10-bit color depth and also supports a 90Hz refresh rate.

The handset speaker is not visible because the sound system uses the under display sound generator and display to act as the top speaker. A dedicated speaker also fires out the bottom with the phone supporting DTS-X Ultra audio.

The power and volume buttons are on the right side with nothing positioned on the top or left side. The USB-C port, SIM/microSD tray, and speaker are on the bottom.

Swinging around the back we see a gorgeous back glass design composed of ten layers of glass. 36 processes were carried out to creat the unique texture on the back with waves spreading across the back in different lighting conditions. The black and orange colors are the standard available with other variants available in other areas of the world.

Also: Google Pixel 4a 5G review: Affordable 5G phone with stunning camera performance

In the top left corner of the back we find a quad-camera system with a 64MP primary shooter powering most shots. AI is also present in the camera software with the software optimizing for different subjects. Some situations, such as super night shot, utilized multiple sensors to capture photos.

While I couldn't test out this feature, ZTE innovated in the 5G antenna design to make sure that high speed train passengers were able to stay connected to their networks.

Overall, it is an impressive hardware package, especially for less than $500. The front-facing photos were not as crystal clear and vibrant as other phones I have tested, but for people like me who rarely use this shooter it is nice to have it hidden from view and not compromise the viewability of the display.

ZTE Axon 20 5G hands-on: in pictures

Software

The ZTE Axon 20 5G launched with Android 10 and the November 1, 2020, Android security patch. MiFavor 10.5 is the UI that is used by ZTE, but it offers a fairly stock Android experience with no bloatware or extra apps. Most of the UI customization is in some settings and extra utilities.

Always-on display mode is available, you can toggle 90Hz or 60Hz for the refresh rate, a Z-POP utility lets you quickly launch your favorite apps (similar to Samsung Edge), face recognition can be used for less secure access, and other typical Android customization options are present.

The primary custom software element is the custom camera software. In video mode you can choose to shoot a vlog and then choose from six different templates that add music and transition effects as you capture video content. You can also shoot in full screen movie mode and more so make sure to tap the arrow next to the word video in the camera software to try the various options.

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