At first you think, "OMG, no. What's with the brick?" And then you unfold the thick, heavy ZTE Axon M like a book to reveal two 5.2-inch screens that flatten out to give you 6.8 inches of screen real estate (measured at the diagonal). And then you get excited by the possibilities. The phone has transformed into a tiny tablet -- albeit with a garish seam slashed through the middle that makes is look kind of like a Nintendo 3DS.
We knew foldable phones were coming (actually, coming back). But now that it's here, is the Axon M all it's cracked up to be? The Axon M is ZTE's most compelling answer to the iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8, Google Pixel 2 and LG V30, and it isn't because the Axon M can offer the same. It's because it's so completely different than anything else you'll be able to buy as we hurl headlong into the explosively make-it-or-break-it holiday season.
What can you do with double the screens? Open two different apps, for one, each on its own display. That means you can play a video on one screen and check your email, or lurk on Facebook, on the second. You can also expand an app to fill both screens, which seems pretty handy for gameplay, or watching a video or reading an article.
Finally, you can fold the phone like a sandwich board and mirror the content of one screen to the other. So if you're sitting across from someone at a table waiting for your food to arrive, you can both look at the same thing at the same time, and you can both control what's on the display.
Packing two screens into a single phone is a bold move, and one we've seen before in the stuttering dual-screen phones gone wrong.of 2011. In fact, we've got a whole list of
But ZTE thinks the time is right to double the display fun. It made its software more efficient, the company said, to reduce battery drain and processor slow-downs. Cellular networks are much more equipped now to handle the data load of streaming two different things on a screen. ZTE also says that even if you use both screens for several hours a day, the Axon M can last from morning until evening on a single charge (it'll last longer over Wi-Fi than over a cellular connection). We won't be able to test ZTE's claims, of course, until we get the final product in for review.
Read also: Bendable and foldable phones are coming. Are you ready?
Axon M: Price, sale date and what the heck the 'M' stands for
ZTE will launch the Axon M globally in the US, Japan, Europe and China on Nov. 17, followed by other markets. In the US it'll launch exclusively through AT&T for a hefty $725. That converts to roughly £551 and AU$756.
As for the name, the "M" in the Axon M apparently stands for multitasking or multi-mode. To me, the name is completely forgettable, and ZTE missed an opportunity to grab attention. ZTE Fold, perhaps?
Initial thoughts: Axon M pros and cons
- Good-looking screens
- Dual-screen modes actually seem useful
- It can stand up on its own
- Smooth folding mechanism
- Satisfying click when you close it
- One camera for all your photos (20-megapixel)
- Thick, heavy construction
- Fat hinge
- The ugly seam between the two screens sticks out
- Not all apps are optimized to stretch to fit both screens
- Uneven weight when you unfold it (the battery is all on one side)
- Sharp edges felt rough to hold
- The main screen puts power button and other controls on the left (good for lefties!)
- Limited uses of the secondary screen when the Axon M is closed (only selfies)
- No waterproofing
- It's unlikely you'd use the second screen all the time (ZTE thinks you'll break it out 30 to 40 percent of the time you use the Axon M)
ZTE Axon M: What else you should know
- ZTE is working to optimize the top 200 apps to expand elegantly onto both screens. For example, you might get a Gmail inbox on one side, and the open email in the other, like on a tablet
- If an app isn't optimized, it'll stretch. Or it might not work
- In the display settings, you can make all apps work in extended mode and in dual-screen mode
- Swipe across an app with three fingers to move an app from one screen to the next
ZTE Axon M specs comparison
||ZTE Axon M||iPhone 8 Plus||Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus|
|Display size, resolution||Two 5.2-inch screens; 1,920x1,080 pixels each||5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels||6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels|
|Pixel density||424 ppi||401 ppi||529 ppi|
|Dimensions (inches)||5.9x2.8x0.5 in.||6.24x3.07x0.30 in.||6.3x2.9x0.32 in.|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||8.1 oz.; 230g||7.13 oz.; 202g||6.1 oz.; 173g|
|Mobile software||Android 7.1.2 Nougat||iOS 11||Android 7.0 Nougat|
|Front-facing camera||Same lens as above||7-megapixel||8-megapixel|
|Processor||2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821||Apple A11 Bionic||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.35GHz+1.9GHz) or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 (2.35GHz+1.7GHz)|
|Expandable storage||Up to 256GB||None||Up to 2TB|
|Battery||3,180mAh||2,675mAh (Apple doesn't confirm this)||3,500mAh|
|Fingerprint sensor||Power button||Home button (Touch ID)||Back|
|Special features||Dual screens, opens to 6.8-inch diagonal||Water resistant (IP67), wireless Qi charge compatible||Water-resistant (IP68), wireless charging, Gigabit LTE-ready|
|Price off-contract (USD)||N/A||$799 (64GB), $949 (256GB)||AT&T: $850; Verizon: $840; T-Mobile: $850; Sprint: $850; US Cellular: $785|
|Price (GBP)||N/A||£799 (64GB), £949 (256GB)||£779|
|Price (AUD)||N/A||AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,479 (256GB)||AU$1,349|
Article updated Oct. 19 to correct the camera spec: it is 20-megapixels, not 12-megapixels.