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The $329 ZTE Axon mimics ZTE's best, for less (hands-on)

A budget take on ZTE's flagship smartphone.

Nate Ralph Associate Editor
Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.
Nate Ralph
3 min read

The ZTE Axon is an entry-level take on ZTE's Axon Pro , but you'd be hard pressed to spot the difference. They share the same chassis and just about all of the same hardware -- the budget variant skimps on processor speed and resolution, but dials the price down to $329. There's no word on release dates outside of the US, but that converts to about £213 and AU$461.

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But the Axon Pro was outclassed by competitors that offered comparable or stronger specs, and were a little more cost effective -- including the OnePlus 2 . And the $329 Axon is in the same boat, with midrange rivals that threaten to offer more for your money.

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The ZTE Axon is in the center, but one of these is an Axon Pro.

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Seeing double

The ZTE Axon has a 2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor pair with 2GB of RAM, and a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 on its 5.5-inch display. Every other feature of the phone is identical to the Pro. It's got the same polished metal shell, and feels solid in the hand.

The display is still coated with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, though the lower 1080p resolution dials the pixel desntiy down to 400 pixels per inch -- the Pro model's 2,560-by-1,440-pixel resolution nets 534 pixels per inch. That's still plenty crisp, however: text and images still looked great, if not exactly on par with leading flagships.

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Tweak your aperture with Bokeh mode.

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There's also a pair of cameras on the rear: the primary 13-megapixel shooter, and a complementary 2-megapixel camera that ZTE uses to capture a range of apertures on your photos while you shoot. Shoot in the phones "Bokeh" mode and it'll capture that range of apertures, so you can shift the focus of your shot later on. We've seen similar effects from (Nokia) Lumia , HTC , Samsung and LG handsets in the past, and it remains a nice touch.

The Axon also offers the same enhanced hi-fi audio served up by a pair of audio chips built into the phone. The souped-up audio only works through the headphone jack (and not the speakers), but during my admittedly brief listening period, things sounded rather nice.

The Axon offers 32GB of storage: the Axon Pro debut with a similar capacity, but there's a new 64GB model available for $449. None of these phones offer a microSD card expansion slot, so you're out of luck if you fill the allotted storage. That was quite a sore point for the original ZTE Axon Pro, but ZTE is banking on the lower price being a sweet spot for folks who want the Axon's neat aesthetics, but don't necessarily need top-tier hardware.


The playing field remains crowded. The recently announced OnePlus X offers dual-SIM card slots, support for up to 128GB microSD cards to supplement the meager 16GB of storage, and 3GB of RAM. That makes it rather competitive on the specifications front, but it comes in at $249 (£161, or AU$349) -- well under ZTE's effort. There will certainly be some performance and aesthetic differences to mull over between the two devices, but the Axon's similarity to its higher-end siblings means that, barring a few performance results, it's not going to deliver a wildly different experience than what we've seen before. We'll need to wait for a full review of the latest entry in the OnePlus lineup before making a call either way.