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ZTE reveals first phone after Trump sanctions at IFA 2018

ZTE took the wraps off its latest Axon 9 Pro, which features an onscreen notch and no headphone jack.

Like a handful of phones today, the Axon 9 Pro has an on-screen notch.

Angela Lang/CNET

After striking a billion-dollar deal with the US government earlier this summer, which would end ZTE's import ban over violating trade sanctions, the Chinese phone maker is unveiling its latest flagship phone, the Axon 9 Pro.

Announced at the IFA 2018 conference in Berlin, it's the first phone ZTE launched after this controversy and, not surprisingly, it won't be available in the US. Instead, the phone is coming to select countries in Europe and Asia. The phone cost 649 euros, which converts to about $760, £590 or AU$1,040.

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The sleek Axon 9 Pro is waterproof, and has a 6.21-inch, 1080p AMOLED display. The display has its own dedicated chip to process video, a feature ZTE brands as "Axon Vision." The technology not only boosts a video's color contrast, but it bumps up its frame rate to render smoother images.

The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 845 processor and a 4,000-mAh battery that has wireless charging capabilities.

For your photo needs, it has two cameras on the back: a 12-megapixel sensor with OIS and a 20-megapixel sensor for depth information, so you can take bokeh-style portrait photos. But it's not a telephoto lens, so there's no optical zoom like in the iPhone X ($999 at Walmart) or Galaxy S9 ($659 at Amazon). On the front is a 20-megapixel selfie camera.

The Axon 9 Pro also jumps on two trends that many phones are following. First, there's an on-screen notch at the top. The phone doesn't come with any new special facial recognition technology, so there's no real reason for the notch other than having a thinner top bezel. Second, it doesn't have a headphone jack, so you'll need to use a dongle or wireless headphones to listen to your music and calls.

With the launch of this phone, ZTE is showing that it's still manufacturing phones in other parts of the world while complying with the settlement between the US government. (In addition to the billion-dollar fine it will pay, the company also let go of its senior executives.) In a shareholders meeting on Aug. 28, ZTE said that its "main operating business has resumed completely" and that orders "are in line with that of July and August last year," according to Reuters.

As the fourth-largest smartphone maker in the US, ZTE hopes to regain its standings in the country as soon as possible. Though the Axon 9 Pro won't be part of this campaign, it may help signal to the US that the company is taking the hit, launching phones and pushing forward.

ZTE Axon 9 Pro specs

Specs ZTE Axon 9 Pro
Display size, resolution 6.21-inch AMOLED; 2,248x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 402 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.16 x 2.93 x 0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.5 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.31 oz; 179g
Mobile software Android 8.0 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel, 20-megapixel
Front-facing camera 20-megapixel
Video capture 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB
RAM 6GB
Expandable storage Yes
Battery 4,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back of phone
Connector USB-C
Headphone jack No
Special features Water resistant (IP68); Dedicated display chip and "Axon Vision;" Dolby Atmos audio technology
Price off-contract (USD) Converts to $760
Price (GBP) Converts to £590
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$1,040

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