The ZTE Axon 7 was one of the most underappreciated phones of its generation. However, following the ambitious but flawed Axon M and a short-lived ban on buying U.S. components after the company was found to have violated sanctions in Iran, ZTE’s U.S. presence largely disappeared. There was no Axon 8, and the Axon 9 was only available overseas. But now, with the Axon 10, ZTE is hoping to make a comeback, and based on what I’ve seen so far, the Axon 10 is trying to win people over with value.
While the Axon 10's design is somewhat bland, it starts at just $550 (which is even less than the 600 euros it costs in Europe) for a flagship-class Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a base 256GB of storage. Additionally, there’s also an even higher specification model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for just $50 more.
The praiseworthy specs don’t stop there. The Axon 10 features a 6.47-inch 2340 x 1080 AMOLED screen with minimal bezels, an in-screen fingerprint sensor, and for the first time on a ZTE phone, triple rear cameras with one offering a 3x optical zoom.
The Axon 10's 8-MP 3x optical zoom cam is a bit of a surprise, as most phones with telephoto lenses tend to stop at just 2x. On top of that, the Axon 10's range extends all the way to 20x through a combination of optical and digital zooms, though as you’d expect, image quality starts to fall away fast after about 10x.
Sadly, I noticed that sometimes, the Axon 10's autofocus felt somewhat confused, taking a bit longer to lock on to subjects that I’d like. There’s also a 20-MP 125-degree wide-angle camera and a 48-MP main cam that switches between its full resolution and pixel-binned 12-MP shots depending on the situation. You can force the latter to take full-res shots if you want.
All told, this a pretty enticing package that compares favorably against phones like the $670 OnePlus 7 Pro, except that instead of having a fancy pop-up camera, the Axon 10 has a small notch with a 20-MP selfie cam and a price tag that’s $120 less.
Inside, unlike a lot of Chinese-made phones, the Axon sports a near-stock build of Android 9 Pie, with ZTE promising to deliver an update to Android 10 before the end of the year, and at least one more major Android update after that. ZTE switched to an F2FS storage format, which the company says should deliver slightly faster app loading speeds than phones still using UFS 2.0.
And as a nod back to the fantastic stereo speakers the Axon 7, the Axon 10 comes with dual speakers, along with DTS:X Ultra 3D sound when you’re using wired audio. However, I should point out that like most other phones these days, the Axon 10 doesn’t have a headphone jack, though ZTE does try to make up for that by including both a pair of USB-C headphones and a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box.
It almost seems like that as ZTE tries to make a comeback, the company is willing to take even shallower margins on its devices to get the Axon 10 in more people’s hands, which is a good thing if you’re looking for a deal. That said, if you’re on a CDMA carrier like Verizon or Sprint, you’re sort of out of luck, as the Axon 10 is only really designed to support GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.
But still, $550 for a phone with a solid build and top-notch specs is a terrific deal no matter how you look at it, though I wish ZTE had added something unique to make it stand out a bit more. Between its specs and price, the only thing that comes close to the Axon 10's value is the Asus Zenfone 6, which still isn’t widely available despite being launched a couple of months back.
The Axon 10 will be available for pre-order starting to today direct from ZTE and on third-party retailers such as B&H, with shipments expected to arrive sometime in mid-September.