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ZTE's Axon M flip phone is actually pretty cool. No, really!

This foldable, dual-screen phone transforms into a tiny tablet.

Josh Miller/CNET

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 XGalaxy Note 8Google 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.  

Now playing: Watch this: ZTE Axon M has 2 screens and opens into a 6.8-inch tablet

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 Kyocera Echo of 2011. In fact, we've got a whole list of dual-screen phones gone wrong.

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?


Swipe with three fingers to switch an app from one screen to the other.

Josh Miller/CNET

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.
Dimensions (millimeters) 150.8x71.6x12.1mm 158.4x78.1x7.5mm 159.5x73.4x8.1mm
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
Camera 20-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera Same lens as above 7-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K
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)
Storage 64GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB
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
Connector USB-C Lightning USB-C
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.