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AT&T ZTE Axon M review: A unique dual screen phone optimized for multi-tasking

  • Editors' rating
    7.7 Very good


  • Dual screen can be useful for productivity
  • High quality fit and finish
  • Standard headphone jack


  • Phone is thick
  • Older processor for $725 price

I've been using handheld devices for more than 20 years and during the days of PDAs and early smartphones, we regularly saw unique form factors. For the last couple of years, it seems most phones were defined as "black slabs". ZTE decided to mix things up a bit with the ZTE Axon M from AT&T.

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It's been a few years since I have tried a ZTE phone, but it is clear it can make a quality product. I'm not sure if there is really a compelling reason to spend $725 on the Axon M, but I applaud ZTE for trying something different and my wife seems excited about a business use case for it.


  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core
  • Display: Two 5.2 inch 1080x1920 pixels resolution LCDs with Gorilla Glass 5
  • Operating system: Android 7.1.2 Nougat and October 2017 security patch
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Water and dust resistance: IP67
  • Cameras: Single 20 megapixel, f/1.8 aperture camera
  • Battery: 3180 mAh
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
  • Dimensions: 150.9 x 71.6 x 12.2 mm and 230 grams


The ZTE Axon M is thicker than most phones because in its default mode there is a display on the front and the back. This isn't really that different than most modern phones that have glass on both the front and back panels, but this back panel is actually a usable display. Gorilla Glass 5 is used so the back should be as strong as competing glass sandwich smartphones.

Both displays are identical 5.2 inch panels with 1080p resolution. They look great with crisp fonts and great color. There are large bezels below and above the displays, but the side bezels are minimals, especially where the two displays meet in the center.

With the hinge taking up the entire right side, buttons are positioned on the left side. Near the bottom is the TV mode button that you can assign to your preferred video app, including Direct TV. The indented power button is located about halfway up the left side and it serves as the fingerprint scanner, similar to the Sony Xperia devices in operation outside the US. A long volume button is above this with the SIM card slot near the top.

The 3.5mm headset jack is on top while the USB Type-C port is on the bottom. The edges are metal and overall the phone has a high quality look and feel.


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The ZTE Axon M runs Android 7.1.2 with the October 2017 Android security patch. It's a primarily stock Android experience that is only really cluttered up by loads of AT&T apps. These include AT&T Call Project, Mobile Security, myAT&T, DirectTV Now, ProTech, Smart WiFi, and a few games.

The hinge joining the front and back displays is positioned on the right side of the Axon M. It extends most of the length, but when you look at the back of the phone you can see there is piece about an inch long up top and another about 1/4 inch near the bottom that rotate with the back display and secure into the back of the front display when closed.

In addition to the default single main display on the front, there are three other modes for using the dual displays. The A-A mode shows you the exact same thing on both displays. This can be useful when propped up in tent mode when you want to share video content with someone sitting across from you at a table. Other than this, I have yet to figure out another use for A-A mode. It would be cool to see a Battleship game or some other game that could be used to play head-to-head mode.

The second mode is A mode where there is one view of apps appearing across both displays. This can be useful for browsing the web where the wider experience feels more like a tablet. There is clearly a gap between the displays, but the software does a good job of minimizing the effect. I tried watching Google Play movies, but didn't see much benefit since the top and bottom was heavily letter-boxed so there was very little additional size benefit compared to just watching a movie on one display in landscape orientation.

The final mode is A-B mode, which I found to be the most useful for the dual display setup and one that seems to make the most sense for the enterprise. My wife was excited to see her consultant website on one side and calculator on the other so she could easily tally orders remotely on the phone. This A-B mode works in both portrait and landscape orientation so different apps can take advantage of various orientations. This is the mode I use all the time on the Axon M. You can also move one app from one screen to the next by swiping left or right with three fingers.

As you start to move the right display to the back, the display turns off when in A or A-B mode. It only stays on for A-A mode. The four bottom navigation buttons (back, home, task switcher, and mode selector) appear on the bottom of each display in A-B mode when you touch the display and so far this has worked flawlessly.

One other unique aspect of the ZTE Axon M is the single 20 megapixel camera in the same location as the front-facing camera on most other phones. With a display on the front and back the front is the only location for the camera. When you launch the camera, it defaults to front-facing mode. Rotate the right display to the back and then you can tap the icon to switch to standard camera mode. The camera will now be on the outward facing side with that display off. The rear display is now the viewfinder and there are a number of modes and options in the camera application.

Price and competition

The ZTE Axon M is priced at $725 or $24.17 per month over a 30-month period. There are no other dual display smartphones like this for a direct price comparison.

Many mid-level smartphones are priced in the $400 to $500 range while the latest flagships are in the $800 to $1,000 range. $725 may be a bit high for a Snapdragon 821 powered phone, but if you can find a use for the dual displays it may be worth it for you.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The ZTE Axon M is clearly a unique smartphone with the two displays. ZTE has done a good job of building a solid smartphone that performed flawlessly for me. This wasn't easy considering there are different screen modes to manage.

I was worried about having two displays with one facing the back most of the time. However, they are both Gorilla Glass 5 so should be able to withstand the same as most dual glass panel phones. The ZTE Axon M slipped off a bench and hit my front patio after a drop of about 20 inches. There was a small knick out of one corner of the frame piece, but both displays are perfectly fine.

There are dual speakers with Dolby Atmos audio and music plays loud and clear. Phone calls sounded fine and Google Assistant worked very well.


SAR Value 1.2 W/kg (body), 1.05 W/kg (head)
Body Color Carbon black
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Additional Features TTY compatible, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air)
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS, GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Form Factor Details dual screen
Service Provider AT&T
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 7.1.2 (Nougat)
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, LTE Advanced
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11ac/b/g/n, NFC
Technology TFT
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Display Format Full HD
Pixel Density (ppi) 426
Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 13.2 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 5 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Features 2.5D Glass
Clock Speed 2.15 GHz
Processor Number MSM8996
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty quad-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display (2nd)
Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 13.2 cm
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Color Support color
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC - up to 256 GB
Run Time Details Talk: up to 1722 min
Standby: up to 290 hrs
Fast Charging Technology Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
Brand ZTE
Product Line ZTE
Model Axon M
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Additional Features TTY compatible, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air)
Digital Player (Recorder)
Audio Processor AKM 4962
Sound Enhancements Dolby Atmos sound technology
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Max Supported Size 256 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Service Included parts and labor
Full Contract Period 1 year
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 20 Megapixel
Focus Adjustment automatic
Features rear camera mode
Service & Support
Type 1 week warranty