- Novelty factor of an under-display cam
- Unobstructed display
- Battery life
- Fast charging
- Washed-out images of under-display camera
- Single downward-facing speaker
- Fingerprint reader unlocks inconsistently
- No IP rating for water- and dust-resistance
ZTE released the Axon 20 5G on Monday, capping off 5G phone launches in this rollercoaster of a year. Unlike its predecessor, the Axon 20 5G will not be made available in the US or Canada. Skip to the end of this section if you just want to see where you'll be able to buy it.
Starting at $449 (£419, or about AU$590), the A20 5G falls squarely in the midrange category, but it's loaded with premium features typically seen in fancier flagships. Those high-end touches include a zippy and crisp display (90Hz, FHD Plus), fast charging (30 watts), a large battery (4,220 mAh), and a versatile camera module. But what undeniably separates this phone from its peers (even the ultrapremium ones) is its under-display camera. In fact, according to ZTE, the A20 5G is the world's first commercially manufactured phone with such a cutting-edge camera feature. Despite that, the phone still comes in at an affordable price. ZTE saved on costs by going with a midrange Snapdragon 765G chipset and built the phone with a plastic frame. Still, the processor is good enough to let you sail through everyday tasks without any feeling of sluggishness.
One of the clear compromises of ZTE's under-display camera, however, is image quality. Photos taken in low light with the front-facing camera weren't the best I've ever seen. Photos were often either washed out or grainy. Another trade-off is it forces all audio to be outputted through a single downward facing speaker, which makes it difficult to hear. And there's no IP rating for water- and dust-resistance.
That said, the under-display camera is a unique selling point of the ZTE A20 5G and likely offers a window into the future of smartphone design, even if it doesn't take the most color-accurate or detail-filled photos. If you're looking to impress your friends with a phone with an unusual camera, you might consider this phone since the photos are good enough. However, if you're looking to take crisp and detailed photos, the A20 5G just isn't the right phone. Oppo's Reno 4 Pro uses a midrange chipset too, the Snapdragon 720G, but I prefer its photos even without the novelty of an under-display camera.
For those of you interested, invite-only preorders start Monday for the black color option. In order to get the invite, you'll need to sign up for the brand's "New Vision" club on its website. Shipping starts on Jan 4., by when a new yellow color option will also be available. There's just one variant of this phone: a 8GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage version, which supports up to 2TB of expandable storage if needed.
Read more: Which phones take the best selfies? We compare iPhone, Samsung, Pixel, OnePlus
Although the A20 5G won't be available in North America, it should be reasonably easy to import stateside considering the company's massive international rollout plans. ZTE is working on a staggered rollout across parts of the EU, the UK, Asia (Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines), the Middle East (UAE and Saudi Arabia), and South Africa.
The Axon 20 5G's under-display camera
The camera, which uses a 32-megapixel lens, captured decent photographs in brightly lit environments, but it had room for improvement in low-light scenarios. Daytime selfies showed enough facial detail, including tiny freckles, but the camera whitened and air-brushed my face resulting in photographs that weren't exactly true to life. In darker conditions however, the under-display camera showed signs of a struggle. Those photos hardly contained any detail. In fact, they turned out blurry, especially near the edges, and lacked the crispness of a quality image. But because of the phone's sub-$500 price and the novelty of the under-display camera, I think these imperfections are forgivable even if the technology isn't quite there yet. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first mass-produced phone to come equipped with an under-display camera. Chinese rival Xiaomi has launched its third-gen under-display camera tech, and Vivo even launched a concept phone, but neither of them have yet gone to market.
ZTE says it used a mix of five technologies to get the camera to work. To balance performance of the display and the front camera, ZTE added a special material using "organic and inorganic film," which improves light input for the lens. The A20 5G also uses a dual-control chip and driver circuit that synchronize color and the phone's display to prevent the camera and the display from interfering with each other. It also has what it calls a "special matrix" for more natural pixel transitions. Finally, ZTE says it spent over a year developing an in-house "selfie-algorithm" that optimizes the camera's performance under dark, bright and glare scenes, and it can intelligently adjust the dynamic range.
Apart from the fancy under-display camera, other welcome premium touches on this midranger include facial recognition and a fingerprint reader. Although I was happy with the overall performance of the facial scanning, the fingerprint scanner was all but dysfunctional. I wasn't able to unlock the phone a single time during the three days I tested out the device.
4 rear cameras
The A20 5G is equipped with four rear cameras: a 64-megapixel standard shooter and three 8-megapixel cameras in the form of ultrawide, macro and depth lenses. I loved the fact that this camera system lets you take a versatile range of photographs. With the macro lens, I could photograph tiny details in subjects that I couldn't see with my own eyes. On the flip side, using 5x digital zoom let me capture detail in faraway objects. In general, the Axon 20 5G took detailed, crisp photos in both bright and dim places, but most of the time photos weren't color-accurate, and appeared as if the color was enhanced by a filter.
The Axon 20 5G's entirely unobstructed display
At first glance, the Axon 5G may look like a run-of-the-mill Android phone. But if you look closer, you'll notice that its long screen is completely unobstructed. Because of the phone's under-display camera, there's no need for the notches or hole-punches that would normally house a front-facing camera. Instead, the under-display camera is part of its colossal 6.92-inch screen. In fact, you can (kind of) see the camera sitting in-screen on the center top of the panel, above which, a small squared portion of the screen looks highly pixelated.
Speaking of the display, the A20 5G relies on a high-res OLED panel complete with a speedy refresh rate that serves up a smooth user experience whether I was scrolling through news feeds, playing games, or watching YouTube videos. You can choose between a 60Hz or 90Hz screen depending on your needs.
This is a chunky phone at 198 grams (6.98 ounces), and its size left me navigating the device with both hands. At 6.7 inches tall, it surpasses the iPhone 12 Pro Max in height. Surrounding the display is a plastic frame, sandwiched by glass on both sides. The review unit I was given is the black model, which has a glossy finish that ultimately was covered up by the phone case.
As I'd mentioned earlier, a tradeoff is that all audio is outputted through one speaker located on the bottom of the device. As a music lover, I found that tough to accept.
MiFavor 10.5 has dark mode
The A20 5G runs MiFavor 10.5 on top of Android 10, which brings six new themes, a gaming assistant, and other new features including smart screencasting. It also has dark mode and split-screen mode. Like most skins built over an Android system, it's intuitive and user-friendly -- but overall the experience still felt a cut below skins like OnePlus's OxygenOS or even Oppo's ColorOS, which has steadily improved in recent years. Most of my gripes were cosmetic rather than functional. Many of the screen savers look amateurish when compared to other user interfaces, for example. There are easy fixes to a lot of these issues.
The 4,220-mAh battery
In our battery test, which involves looping an HD video on half brightness until the battery runs out, A20 5G lasted around 17 hours, an impressive result. I'm still putting the phone through tests to confirm that, but anecdotally, the battery lasted me throughout the day with mild usage. That means I checked my email, WhatsApp and social media apps, watched YouTube videos for a few minutes, took photos and made a few phone calls and WhatsApp or Zoom video calls, while I had my display set to 50% brightness and 90Hz. ZTE's 30-watt fast charging didn't disappoint either, allowing the large 4,220-mAh battery to complete a full charge in less than an hour.
Under the hood, the Axon 20 5G carries the Snapdragon 765G chipset, which is backed by 8GB RAM and 128GB of expandable storage. Although Qualcomm's midrange processor doesn't offer the fastest speeds out there, performance was good enough to easily get me through everyday tasks. Compared to other phones that use the same chipset, the A205G stacked up well.
ZTE's Axon 20 5G
||ZTE Axon 20 5G|
|Display size, resolution||6.92-inch OLED; FHD Plus (2,460x1,080p pixels)|
|Dimensions (Inches)||6.77x3.06x0.31 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||172x78x7.98 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||6.98 oz; 198 grams|
|Mobile software||Android 10|
|Camera||64-megapixel (standard); 8-megapixel (wide angle); 8-megapixel (depth); 8-megapixel (macro)|
|Front-facing camera||32-megapixel under-display camera|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G|
|Expandable storage||Up to 2TB|
|Special features||Under-display camera, 5G enabled, fast charging (30W), 90Hz display|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$449|
|Price (AUD)||AU$590 (converted from USD)|
First published Dec. 21