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Flagship Android phones powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor typically start in the $1,000 range, but ZTE launched a very competitive phone with specifications that match other flagships at a starting price of $749 in the US. The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a 5G phone available in the US, Canada, and many other countries around the world.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra has three 64MP rear cameras that work with the advanced camera software so the potential is here for an optimal camera experience. The software is full of options to help you get creative and the results have been good, but there is still some work for ZTE to have results that rival the flagships priced at more than $1,000.
Also: Best Android phone in 2021
Over the past month I have been using email and messaging, placing and receiving phone calls, reading documents, interacting on social media, watching movies, playing games, and working from the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra. I took a brief look at the Axon 20 5G in December with the under display front camera, but am much more impressed by the total package provided here in the Axon 30 Ultra 5G.
I tested the 8GB RAM/128GB internal storage model in frosted black. Note that the RAM and internal storage speeds are the fastest available on smartphones today.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G is a lovely phone with specifications that match, or exceed, flagships from Samsung and OnePlus with a lower starting price. I had the phone for about a week before I received the press release with the launch price of $749, I had estimated it would start closer to $949. ZTE offers a lot of phone for the $749 price.
The lovely AMOLED display has no side bezels as the glass curves down the right and left sides into the aluminum sides of the phone. The top and bottom bezels are minimal with the front-facing 16MP camera appearing as a tiny 2.6mm hole punch in the center of the top. There are dual speakers, they sound great, with one in a slice just above the display and the other facing downward on the bottom edge.
The AMOLED display supports refresh rates from 60Hz to 144Hz with options to manually set this rate at 60, 90, 120, or 144 so you can control the screen experience and accept the impact on battery life. You can also choose Auto mode so that the devices selects the best refresh rate for the application you are using. A 300Hz touch sampling rate is also provided with this display.
The top and bottom are fairly flat with a mic opening on the top while the SIM card tray, USB-C port, and speaker are along the bottom. There is nothing on the left side with the power and volume buttons on the right. The fingerprint sensor is positioned under the display.
On the back of the phone. there are three 64MP cameras, an 8MP camera, a mic, LED flash, and a laser focus sensor. Starting at the top left spot, we have the 64MP portrait lens with f/1.9 aperture. Working down to the middle camera on the left side we find the 64MP main wide-angle camera, a Sony IMX686, with f/1.6 and OIS. The bottom camera on the left is easily distinguishable with a square design as the 8MP periscope design telephoto camera with 5x optical, 10x hybrid, and 50x digital zoom capability. The camera on the right, adjacent to the middle camera, is the 64MP ultra-wide camera with 120 degree field-of-view.
The camera array stands out from the back, but is not too thick. There are some cool design elements like the Neovision Photography tab on the right upper area and the 3x64 font adjacent to the telephoto camera lens.
The back is composed of anti-glare Gorilla Glass 5 material. It has a lovely matte finish with an Ag etching process to help prevent scratches and fingerprints. All glass phones should have matte finish on the back, IMHO.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra also includes a triple cooling system design to help keep your device cool while gaming or performing intensive operations with the phone.
The retail box includes the fast charging wall adapter, USB-C cable, USB-C to 3.5mm audio jack dongle, SIM card ejection tool, and a simple shell case to protect the corners and back of the phone.
The ZTE Axon Ultra 5G launches with Android 11 and MyOS 11. The May 1, 2021, Android security update is present on the review unit. The software was updated on this review unit after I received it and just as retail sales started in June.
ZTE's MyOS is a fairly stock Android experience with no ads, bloatware, or duplicate applications like we see on other Android smartphones. Most of the MyOS features are found in the notification shade format, settings area, and camera software.
The camera software demonstrates that this phone is one for creators, particularly those who capture video content. Available modes include multi-camera, video, photo, night, portrait, mono, magic shutter, long exposure, macro, moon, and more.
Multi-camera mode lets you choose to capture two or three images from six different views. In video mode there are subsets for vlog, HDR, movie mode, slow motion, standard, and timelapse. The vlog and movie modes are really slick and let you choose from unique film perspectives such as pull focus, dolly zoom, and more. With Super Moon you can setup a tripod and capture amazing shots of the moon. 3D Lut filters are supported for custom filters, as well as the cool color swapping capability in mono mode. You can spent many hours with the camera and I intend to over the next couple of weeks.
Special MyOS features in the settings include the Z-POP menu that can be brought in from the side, various gesture and motion options, screen-edge mistouch sensitivity, 5G connection management, and AI system engine status.
Also: ZTE Axon 20 5G first take: World's first under display camera may offer a glimpse of the future
While the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is available in the US and does have 5G support, that capability is limited to band n41. This is the mid-band spectrum picked up by T-Mobile through the purchase of Sprint. T-Mobile's expansive low-band coverage is on band n71 (600 MHz), but support for n71 is not provided on this phone. I measured very good LTE coverage on T-Mobile with a download speed of 81.6 Mbps. I also measured 97.7 Mbps download on the mid-band 5G network too. Not as fast and as broad of 5G coverage on phones with more band support, but this may be acceptable to you. The phone works with GSM carriers so is not supported on Verizon.
The phone is very responsive, the display looks great, movies play well and sound good with the dual stereo speakers, and the camera is loads of fun. You can certainly shoot photos and video in auto mode, but I recommend you spend time exploring all of the creative options available in the advanced camera software.
Results from the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra are great in outdoor settings, but there is still some work needed for indoor and low-light environments. A skilled photographer can capture great shots with just about any phone today, but I've gotten better results with other phones under the same conditions and shooting methods. The telephoto experience beats just about every other phone, other than the Samsung Galaxy phones with advanced telephoto lenses.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra feels great in the hand with a narrow and thin form factor for a large display device so it is manageable in the front pocket too. The matte finish glass and design are lovely. The battery easily gets me through a full day of use, but if you are gaming heavily with the high refresh rate selected you may need to plug in the quick charging cable to keep going.
It's nice to see a compelling ZTE phone available in the US for the general public. If you are not concerned with 5G support then this may be an affordable flagship to consider, but I find the broader coverage of T-Mobile's low-band 5G to be too compelling for the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra to be my personal daily driver. Performance is great and the cameras inspire creativity, but there are other phones in this price range to consider as well.