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Three years ago HTC released one of my favorite smartphone designs in the HTC One X and the first thing that came to my mind when I held the ZTE Axon Pro was that I had another One X in my hand. The ZTE Axon Pro appears to be even better in quality than the One X and has internal specs matching flagship phones at a price $200 to $300 less.
ZTE has been selling devices in the US for a few years and is actually the second largest in US market share in the no-contract space. They have 66 devices across all carrier channels, but the new Axon brand is focused on the no-contract high end market. From what I have seen so far, the ZTE Axon Pro is a compelling product, but there is stiff competition from Motorola.
Display: 5.5 inch Gorilla Glass 3 TFT LCD at 1440x2560 pixels resolution
Operating system: Android 5.1.1
Storage: 32GB internal (22 GB user-accessible)
Cameras: Rear 13 megapixel with dual lense and 8 megapixel front facing camera
Battery: 3000 mAh non-removable with Quick Charge 2.0 support
Dimensions: 154 x 75 x 9.3 mm and 175 grams
ZTE Axon Pro product and screenshot gallery
The only real disappointment in the specs is the 32GB of integrated storage with no expansion capability. This may be fine for most people, but with a focus on audio and the camera I think there should be a 64GB or higher option too.
ZTE is focused on promoting the audio Hi-Fi sound experience on the ZTE Acon Pro with two dedicated audio chipsets and JBL earbuds included in the retail packaging. The analog-to-digital (ADC) converter is present for improved recording while the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) optimizes playback.
The display on the ZTE Axon Pro is gorgeous and while OLED screens really make things pop, I'm personally a fan of the more accurate LCD. Everything is crisp and clear on the display.
I was sent the cool phthalo blue model to check out. The blue is very dark, almost black, with the sides of the buttons and back camera grill having gold highlights. Plastic, metal, and glass are used to give the device a premium in-hand feel. Overall, it looks and feels great.
I love the way the front glass has a rounded edge that curves into the front bezel. It's smooth and looks great on the device. The honeycomb grill at the top and bottom is an interesting design element, but don't be fooled into thinking they are there for stereo speakers.
There is a central capacitive home button designated by a white circle that is always present. The back and task switcher buttons are on either side of the home button with dots that light up when you touch on the areas.
You press and hold on the home button to launch Google Now or tap and swipe up to launch an information panel that has music controls, four most commonly accessed contacts, your Azumio Argus activity status, and a Yahoo Sports headline.
The volume button and SIM card slot are on the left side with the power and camera buttons on the right. Oddly, the camera button seems to have very limited functionality and cannot be used to launch the camera application like we have seen on other Android and Windows Phone devices. It is simply a shutter button and one that doesn't appear to have the press halfway to focus first function.
The headphone jack is on the top and the microUSB port is on the bottom.
On the back you will find a 2 megapixel camera stacked above the 13 megapixel camera. Like the HTC One M8, this is designed to provide depth of field info for Bokeh affects. I didn't have great success with it and find it to be a function I doubt I would use.
Android purists out there will be pleased to see the ZTE Axon Pro offers a nearly stock Android experience. There are some ZTE home screen widgets and you can choose from a few interesting themes.
There are only a few apps provided by ZTE; a custom Camera app, Mi-Moment note app, Sound Recorder, RockMyRun, Yahoo! Sports, and Argus Azumio. Everything else is stock and there is no carrier junk on the phone.
RockMyRun is a service that provides music at your desired running pace. Yahoo! Sports provides sport information for teams and leagues that you select. Arguz Azumio is an activity monitor that also works on iOS and across other Android phones.
The notification area, settings screen, contacts, calendar, and more are all what you expect to see in the latest version of Android.
Pricing and competition
The ZTE Axon Pro only comes in one configuration and price, $449.98. You can purchase it directly from ZTE USA or find it on Amazon, Newegg, and eBay. Currently you get the JBL E-13 earphones in the box, a $49.99 value. They sound great with the ZTE Axon Pro and have an in-line controller to manage your listening experience.
ZTE provides its Axon Passport service to the US market. This is a 2-year warranty program where you get a free 30-day return if you are not satisfied with the phone. If you break your phone during the 2-year period, you can get it replaced for just $79.99 for each claim. That's a pretty low cost for peace of mind.
Motorola's new Moto G is out now for just $180 (1GB/8GB) and $220 (2GB/16GB) with the new Moto X Style (Pure Edition in the US) launching in September for $399 and up. The comparable 32GB model will likely also be priced at $450, but it also comes with a microSD expansion card slot.
A select few people will be able to get a OnePlus 2 with an invitation at a low price, but that device runs a custom OS, doesn't have NFC, and does not have Quick Charge 2.0 technology.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
I was extremely impressed by the quality of the ZTE Axon Pro and enjoyed holding it in my hand. The device feels dense and with a width narrower than the iPhone 6 Plus I was able to keep a firm grasp on the phone.
The display looks awesome and I enjoyed viewing photos and watching TV shows on the phone. I was worried about heat or lag from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, but never had an issue with either on the ZTE Axon Pro.
As ZTE's data shows, I am one of those who enjoys a good audio experience on my phone and confirm that the Axon Pro is an excellent music-focused device. The JBL headphones sounded great too.
The camera button disappointed me because I expected that a press and hold would launch me right into the camera app. The camera takes decent photos, but is not as good as advertised and not as good as the more expensive flagships. You can see all of my full resolution shots with the ZTE Axon Pro, iPhone 6 Plus, HTC One M9, and LG G4 here in my Flickr photo set.
For $450 I expect to see the ZTE Axon Pro with 64GB of storage or a microSD card. 23GB of usable space just doesn't cut it for me at this price. The LG G4 is currently priced at only $480 on T-Mobile and for that low price you get the current best camera on a smartphone, removable battery, and a microSD expansion card slot.
The ZTE Axon Pro is priced a bit on the high side for an affordable flagship device, but if you compare it to an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy then it is a decent option to consider and a good first attempt at a ZTE flagship in the US. However, there are better options out there in the $450 to $500 price range.