Recent Articles | Android Central

Order Galaxy Note 7 | Shop Chromebooks: Asus Flip | Acer 14 | Dell 13


3 weeks ago

ZTE Axon 7 review: Incredible hardware, dicey software


ZTE's second designed-in-America flagship hits all the right notes.

Android Central Choice Award

ZTE impressed a lot of people, including me, with its Axon and Axon Pro flagships in 2015. Accessible, stand-out designs met high quality build materials, great performance, a focus on audio quality, and impressive cameras. They even ran what amounted to an approximation of stock Android.

The Chinese company's follow-up takes a number of cues from its predecessors, while improving several aspects of the hardware to better compete with 2016 rivals like the OnePlus 3.

The bottom line

The ZTE Axon 7 is an impressive blend of high-end hardware and mostly unblemished Android 6.0.1-based software that skimps on little to get to its $399 price point.

The Good

  • Excellent build quality and unique design
  • Competitive price
  • Extremely compact for a 5.5-inch phone
  • Fantastic daylight camera

The Bad

  • Software gimmicks distract from the experience
  • Camera struggles in poor light
  • Some translation issues
  • 6GB version limited to Chinese market
Width Height Thickness 5.97 in
2.9 in
0.31 in
  • Display:
    • 5.5-inch Quad HD
    • AMOLED Display
    • 2560x1440 resolution (538ppi)
  • Camera:
    • 20MP, ƒ/1.8 lens, OIS,
    • 8MP front camera, ƒ/2.2 lens, OIS
  • Battery:
    • 3250 mAh capacity
    • Quick Charge 3.0
  • Chips:
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
    • Quad-core 2.2GHz
    • 4GB RAM
    • 64GB internal storage
    • microSD slot with adoptable storage

About this review

I (Daniel Bader) am reviewing the Axon 7 after spending a week with it in Toronto, on the Bell network, and in New York, on T-Mobile. During that time, the phone ran Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with build A2017UV1.0.0B18, security patch May 1, 2016. No updates were issued during my testing period.

ZTE Axon 7 back

ZTE Axon 7 Hardware

I am truly impressed by the Axon 7. As someone who prefers smaller phones, its compact body, which happens to accommodate an excellent 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display, is one of its signature features.

How ZTE managed that is by reducing the size of the bezels above and below the display, and by minimizing the area filled by the capacitive buttons. Like many recent Android phones, the navigation buttons are capacitive, but these touch targets are very, very small. And while their functions can be reversed in software — either dot can be assigned either "back" or "recents" — they are not backlit, which can make it very difficult to locate the right area in a darkened room. Come on, ZTE, you're better than this.

More: ZTE Axon 7 specs

Using the phone reminded me how accustomed I have become to using, say, the Galaxy S7's physical home button to orient my thumb, and how that isn't possible on something like the Axon 7. Unlike the OnePlus 3, there is no option to enable on-screen buttons, and the Axon 7 saves vital front-of-phone real estate by placing the fingerprint sensor on the phone's back, under the 20 megapixel rear camera sensor.

While I received the gold version of the phone, both colors — Ion Gold and Quartz Gray — are made from unibody aluminum that curves around the shallow sides. Though it impresses no more than the OnePlus 3 did for its price, it's clear that the investment ZTE has made in its manufacturing, and the collaboration with BMW's Designworks team, has paid off.

Around back, the 20MP rear camera sits at the top of a symmetrical strip of hardware, flanked by a fingerprint sensor below and a flash in the middle. That fingerprint sensor is no better than many of its competitors, but having transitioned from a number of devices with front-facing varieties, I still find myself preferring it on the back while the phone is in a pocket, but getting frustrated when it is sitting on a desk.

It's clear that the investment ZTE has made in its manufacturing, and the collaboration with BMW's Designworks team, has paid off.

Thankfully, the Axon 7's 3250 mAh battery is good enough to hold up for a decent day's usage. While the phone doesn't support wireless charging due to its metal back, it supports Quick Charge 3.0, and gains about 50% in 30 minutes — a number that we already take for granted, but is still astonishing. Moreover, the Axon 7, at 7.9mm thin, has larger battery than most phones in its class, and certainly better uptime than many devices we've recently reviewed.

While we typically shy away from performing synthetic battery benchmarks, I'll say this: after using the Axon 7 for two weeks as my primary device, I only once had to charge it for a few minutes midday, largely from an abundance of caution. Every other day it just lasted from the time I woke up until I went to bed. And I get up early and go to bed late.

Finally, there's the audio side of things. Few phones have great speakers, and even less have ample hardware to push high-resistance headphones. The Axon 7 has both. The legacy of what the company calls Hi-Fi audio began with the original Axon, which saw, in addition to a dedicated Digital-to-Analog converter (DAC) a secondary audio codec used to enhance audio recording, particularly with video. While the average person isn't going to notice a big difference in headphone output quality between the Axon 7 and, say, a Galaxy S7 or iPhone 6s, ZTE has included some very high-quality components from AKM, a company that sells its audio conversion equipment primarily to very manufacturers of very expensive audiophile equipment.

Few phones have great speakers, and even less have ample hardware to push high-resistance headphones. The Axon 7 has both.

Aspects of the phone's sound, from a very low signal-to-noise ratio to extremely accurate (for a phone) audio input when recording video, will likely go unappreciated by the vast majority of users — but to those who care, this phone is a dream.

What will be noticed immediately is the robust sound from the dual front-facing speakers, which are powered by a comparatively massive amplifier. Remember HTC BoomSound? Think of this as ZTE BoomierSound.

ZTE Axon 7 Software

ZTE's software, while still mired by translation issues that will hopefully be cleaned up in a future build, is impressively restrained for a Chinese manufacturer. Even the stock launcher — humorously called Stock Android — is free of that type of affect that Americans have widely rejected from companies like Xiaomi and Huawei.

But there are remnants of a more playful and experimental side within the settings, such as the ability to unlock the phone with your voice. That's right, ZTE is all-in on voice actions, allowing you to launch apps and even unlock the phone with a voice command. The problem isn't the ideas, though, but the implementation: like so many proprietary voice-based services, the feature rarely works, and when it does you have to enunciate the words with the precision of a radio announcer. After several attempts at getting the feature to work, I turned it off and promptly forgot about it.

Then there's a feature called Mi-Pop, which surfaces a set of virtual navigation keys in the vein of a chat head — by default, it's a back button, but holding down on it reveals a full set of back, home, and multitasking options that attempt to ameliorate the fact that the physical home buttons are static. I'm sure over the years you've seen iPhone users resorting to the on-screen home button accessed through the iOS accessibility menu, and this is similar, though slightly more full-featured. After a few moments of opaqueness, the Mi-Pop overlay turns translucent, waiting for yet another input.

The fact that Mi-Pop replaces the basic option of adding on-screen navigation buttons irks me to no end.

Here's the thing: I understand that ZTE is trying something new (well, a new take on something old), but the fact that Mi-Pop replaces the basic option of adding on-screen navigation buttons irks me to no end. Especially since, strangely, the model we handled in our preview did have on-screen buttons. I'm not asking ZTE to confirm to the industry, but if you're going to throw the kitchen sink at a problem, at least make sure the plumbing is installed correctly. As a feature, Mi-Pop is buggy and poorly animated, and requires a secondary swipe to open the menu that reveals the remaining Home and Recents menu buttons. Like so many of the Axon 7's "value-added" features, Mi-Pop is a good idea implemented poorly.

The good news is that neither voice unlock nor Mi-Pop nor Dolby Atmos — a nicely branded but terrible equalizer app that comes bundled with the phone — are necessary to enjoy the close-to-stock software experience. ZTE didn't mess with the Settings nor the notification shade, and aside from a few quirks with the lock screen, there is little to complain about. The phone runs like a dream — with a Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM one would hope so — and because it is so compact I found myself using it with one hand with no major problems. That is, only after I inserted the ultra-slippery metal body into the clear TPU case that comes in the box.

ZTE did see fit to include some useful gestures with the Axon 7. A three-finger pinch quickly takes a screenshot, while a strong shake of the phone while idling on the lock screen activates the flashlight.

DeviantArt junkies (or fans of moody wallpapers in general) will also appreciate the on-by-default cycling of lock screen backgrounds whenever the phone is turned on. Most of the photos are over-the-top HDR depictions of popular tourist locations such as the Eiffel Tower or Arizona's Coyote Buttes rock formation, but I began to look forward to seeing what was going to appear next on the occasional time I didn't use the fingerprint sensor to skip the lock screen altogether.

The phone runs like a dream and because it is so compact I found myself using it with one hand with no major problems.

The Axon 7, despite having no carrier bloatware to speak of, does come with a couple of non-essential apps that purport to offer value, but really don't. The most egregious is ZTE Rewards, which asks you to download a number of apps from Perk, a loyalty company that offers free stuff in exchange for a bunch of personal information. More useful is WeShare, an app that allows you to transfer contacts, texts, photos and other phone-specific content from one phone to another.

ZTE Axon Cameras

Eschewing its predecessor's second sensor used for depth augmentation, the Axon 7 comes with a bevy of camera features all its own. The 20MP Samsung ISOCELL sensor is comparable in quality to what you'd find on any mainstream flagship device today. The sensor measures 1/2.6-inch and sports pixels of 1.12-microns in diameter, similar to that of the LG G5. The f/1.8 lens appears to be sharp in the middle with a hint of distortion at the corners while allowing for impressive and true depth of field.

In practice, the Axon 7 is capable of some magnificent photos. The daylight photos appear color-true and free of significant noise, through chromatic aberrations are common in scenes with high-contrast subjects transposed on a bright sky. The lens is able to focus nearly as close to a subject as the Galaxy S7, our macro leader, and one of the best-performing phone cameras on the market.

As with all phones, the less light available to the sensor, the more grainy and less impressive the photo. That is especially true here, even with optical image stabilization playing an important role in keeping the shutter open as long as possible without introducing motion blur. The problem is the size of the pixels; most phones are moving towards sensors with fewer but larger pixels. The Axon 7 bucks that trend by focusing on resolution and detail. As a result, low-light photos — even those taken with ample indoor light — emerge yellow and splotchy, with a lack of fine detail. It's also worth noting that the sensor is actually 16:9 by default, a blunder Samsung corrected this year with the Galaxy S7.

The 8MP front-facing camera is good, and features plenty of ways to turn one's skin "beautiful," which by phone maker standards means soft and artificial. Still, despite a few-second delay in opening the app the camera app itself is nicely designed, with an auto mode that is easy to use and a manual mode that features all the granular settings a photographer like me would care about. And because the Snapdragon 820 is so much faster than the Axon's Snapdragon 801, 4K video capture is smooth at 30 fps and lacks the judder we've come to expect from unsteady hand movement. It's no Galaxy S7, but it's close.

Unfortunately, ZTE decided to crib from the wrong company inside its camera app; not only did it blatantly steal the iPhone's live filters, but it also coopted Apple's Live Photos feature down to the name. Activating LIVE Photo (sic) captures a short 1080p video clip stored in .mp4 format that can be played alongside the static photo, but, like Apple's own faltering format it (though fun) answers a question that nobody asked.

Odds and ends

This phone is interesting for a number of reasons, least of which is the fact that it supports a combination of two SIM cards, or a single SIM and a microSD card. I used the phone on a recent trip to New York and back home to Toronto, placing a T-Mobile SIM card in the secondary slot. While the phone is able to field incoming calls and texts from either number, a single data connection must be specified (for obvious reasons), and the handoff is seamless between the two. Having no use for a dual-SIM phone in Canada, my first experience taking advantage of one was largely positive. Some of the user experience (UX) around setting up the individual SIM cards could be improved, but those are minor criticisms.

The Axon 7 is one of the best phone surprises I've had so far in 2016.

The Axon 7 also sports a USB Type-C port, which is becoming increasingly common among Android phones in 2016. And while the company ships a Quick Charge 3.0 charger and Type-C cable in the box, it generously provides a micro-USB adapter for those who want to keep using those older, far more ubiquitous cables. It's one of many nice touches in a box that includes a very decent pair of headphones and the aforementioned clear TPU case.

Another nice addition is the Passport 2.0 protection plan, which is included alongside every Axon 7 purchased directly from the company in the U.S.. Because the phone is unlocked and carrier-free, it does not include any bloatware — a bonus on top of a two-year warranty, easy warranty exchanges, low-cost repairs and more. It's great that ZTE is maintaining this program, but it's only available to buyers in the U.S., and it only honors hardware; there is no equivalent promise on the software side. And that is something to be concerned about.

ZTE has an awful reputation for keeping its phones updated. Indeed, the Axon and Axon Pro, while eventually receiving an update to Android 6.0 earlier this year, have each received only one update, and are still on the May 1, 2016 security patch (which, ironically, is the same as the Axon 7).

Should you buy it? Yes

The Axon 7 is one of the best phone surprises I've had so far in 2016. Like the OnePlus 3, it provides tremendous value for its $400 asking price, and despite a few software quirks is without major compromise.

Not only is it wonderfully compact for a 5.5-inch phone, but it is well-made and nicely designed, replete with an excellent camera setup and superlative sound. If you can overcome the need to have the latest software (or expeditious software updates, for that matter), the ZTE Axon 7 is one of the best unlocked smartphones you can buy today.

See at Amazon

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Best wallet cases for Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Best wallet cases for Samsung Galaxy Note 5

What are the best wallet cases for the Samsung Galaxy Note 5?

Whether you need to take every card with you or just some cash and your ID, a wallet case for your Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a perfect way to merge all of your necessities into one convenient case that's functional and fashionable.

IZENGATE Classic Series wallet case

IZENGATE classic series wallet case

This PU leather wallet case from IZENGATE comes in four colors: black, purple, turquoise, and mint. Just snap your Samsung Galaxy Note 5 into place and load up to four cards, as well as some cash in its own pocket, and head out on the town.

The detachable wristlet lets you use the wallet as a clutch; no worries about dropping it when it's connected to your wrist. The case also folds easily into a kickstand for hands-free viewing or talking. The snap closure isn't magnetic but it holds the wallet securely closed.

Well-reviewed, well-made, good looking; tough to pass up the IZENGATE Classic Series wallet case.

See at Amazon

TabPow wallet flip case

TabPow wallet flip case

With room for up to seven cards and a special spot for a few bills, the wallet flip case from TabPow has a unique design. The two-fold system is surprisingly not bulky and it comes in black, white, or brown.

The magnetic closure holds everything in place and TabPow even sends along a screen protector for your Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for a little extra scratch protection. The actual phone case within the wallet is removable for the times when you don't want to use the full wallet.

For a full-sized bill fold and a little extra room, the TabPow wallet flip case is an excellent choice.

See at Amazon

iNNEXT wallet case

iNNEXT wallet case

If you have 10 or more cards that you absolutely can't leave the house without and you're the kind who tends to carry pockets full of coins, the wallet case from iNNEXT is exactly what you need. You also get to choose from eight lovely colors to go with your Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

The zippered pouch is perfect for cash and even a house key. The PU leather is manufactured to look like cowhide, and that gives the wallet a nice textured, grippy feel. The interior phone case is held in place with strong magnets and the whole wallet is secured on one side with a magnetic clasp and on the other with a snap closure.

The only issue here is that there's no back cutout for the camera, which means you have to take your phone out in order to snap a photo. Considering how much you get to take along with you and how secure everything is, that's not a bad trade-off at all.

See at Amazon

Verus Layered Dandy slim fit wallet

Verus Layered Dandy slim fit wallet

The Verus Layered Dandy slim fit wallet is about as slim as they come if you're looking to avoid any kind of extra size or bulk at all. Your Samsung Galaxy Note 5 will fit nicely inside along with three cards and a little cash.

The faux leather is dyed to look and feel aged, while the PC interior protects your phone against drops and bumps. The precise cutouts on the back allow you to use the camera without removing the case, and the magnetic clasp closure won't fly open on you after you've snapped it shut.

The wallet comes in black, coffee brown, and the wine red that's pictured here.

See at Amazon

Abacus24-7 wallet case

Abacus24-7 wallet case

Abacus24-7 is a popular brand in the world of wallet cases and for good reason. Like many of its wallet offerings, this one converts easily into a kickstand, while keeping a good hold on the three cards and cash that it stores in addition to your Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

The synthetic leather exterior comes in six different colors and the protective TPU interior protects against bumps and shocks that can't be avoided. Ports, buttons, and access to the S Pen remain open, and the strong magnetic closure keeps everything in its place.

For a popular brand that does the job and then some, Abacus24-7 is a good choice.

See at Amazon

Starry Day genuine leather wallet

Starry Day genuine leather wallet

If you're prepared to spend just a little more, you can get your hands on a genuine leather wallet from Starry Day in the beautiful olive green pictured here; alternate colors include light and dark brown, black, and pink.

Two oversized interior pockets store several cards and a little cash while the snap closure secures everything under the cover of a stylish brass button. The removable wristlet turns the wallet into the perfect clutch for an evening out.

Starry Day will even customize your wallet with a monogram, making it a fantastic gift for the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 owner in your life, or a treat for yourself to go with your new favorite phone from Samsung.

See at Etsy

Grab everything and go!

Which wallet case are you using right now for your Samsung Galaxy Note 5? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

You can get a free Moto 360 Sport with purchase of Moto X Pure Edition


Right now B&H Photo is offering a free Moto 360 Sport smartwatch with the purchase of a 64GB Moto X Pure Edition, which is a savings of around $200. You'll have your choice of a white or flame watch, and you can decide between black, white and bamboo for the phone itself. Touting a 5.7-inch display that is powered by a Snapdragon 808 and 3GB of RAM, the Moto X Pure Edition is an unlocked phone that works on both GSM and CDMA networks.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Soft Gold OnePlus 3 is now available in Canada, Hong Kong, and the EU


After rolling out the Soft Gold color option of the OnePlus 3 in the U.S. last week, OnePlus is making the variant available in the European Union, Hong Kong, and Canada. You can now head to the company's website in your respective region and get your hands on the gold version of the phone.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Honor Note 8 unveiled in China with massive 6.6-inch QHD display


Honor has unveiled its latest phone in the Chinese market, the Honor Note 8. The phone is designed to go up against Xiaomi's Mi Max, offering an enormous 6.6-inch QHD display.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Sony shifts focus in India, will only offer 'premium' Xperia phones


Sony will pivot to selling only "premium" Xperia phones in India. The Japanese giant said that it would "defocus" on certain markets earlier this year, opting to turn its attention toward the high-end segment rather than duke it out in the competitive budget category.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Sony's gigantic Xperia XA Ultra now on sale at Unlocked-Mobiles


The 6-inch Xperia XA Ultra is now up for sale at UK's Unlocked-Mobiles for £298. The retailer is offering the phone in white, black, and lime gold, with next-day delivery options available.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Will EU roaming become more expensive after Brexit?

EU flag

Are we in for a roaming price hike when the UK leaves the European Union?

With British voters having chosen to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum, one of the many areas affected by "Brexit" is the cost of Brits using their phones on the continent. As it stands, EU law restricts how much operators based in one member state can charge for calls, texts and data in another. And in the next year roaming fees between EU countries will be abolished altogether.

So following the referendum result, what does the future hold for European roaming?

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Google makes it easier than ever to follow the Olympics


Google is rolling out a set of features to Google Search that lets you follow the 2016 Summer Olympic Games — which kick off on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro — with ease. You can view TV schedules, athlete bios, and medal tallies directly from search results, and Google has partnered with broadcasters to roll out highlight videos on YouTube in over 60 countries.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Here's how you can watch the Galaxy Note 7 announcement live


Samsung is all set to unveil the Galaxy Note 7 tomorrow, August 2, in New York City, with satellite events in London and Rio de Janeiro. The event will be streamed live in 360 degrees, and Samsung is making it easy to view the proceedings from your phone, Gear VR, or desktop.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

It's official: LG V20 will launch with Android 7.0 Nougat in September


LG talked about launching a successor to the V10 during its earnings release last week, and the company has now officially announced the V20. The phone will be making its debut in the month of September, and will offer Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Mobile Nations Weekly: Anniversary Update


BlackBerry's newest phone is a new approach and Microsoft ramps up for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

Microsoft is updating in a big way — the week past brought a huge update for the Xbox One and the week ahead will be bringing the huge Windows 10 Anniversary Update to PCs. The Xbox update brings the console's feature set even closer to that of core Windows, including the addition of Windows 10 app support and Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana.

BlackBerry's seond Android phone is here, and it's a mouthful: the BlackBerry DTEK50. Billed as the "world's most secure smartphone", the DTEK50 is actually a re-badge of the Alcatel Idol 4 — made by BlackBerry contractor and Alcatel owner TCL.

Apple's earnings report landed, and as expected, they made several buckets worth of money. And in an interesting twist, an Apple veteran is back to take over their not-so-secret car project.

There's all of that and so much more — like a VR roller coaster inside a real-life amusement park — in this edition of Mobile Nations Weekly!

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Should you buy an 'Amazon' version of the Moto G4 or the BLU R1 HD?


You can save $50 on a budget-priced Android phone if you're willing to put up with ads on the lock screen and a bit of app drawer clutter. But is it worth it?

Amazon is no stranger to Android. With a fairly popular line of tablets in the Kindle Fire series, a pretty nice set-top box and their own Fire Phone that wasn't very well received, they know more than a little bit about getting a product running our favorite operating system out the door. And they are pretty MLGPro when it comes to writing software — they even have their own Android app store.

Amazon also knows how to grab the attention of millions of people and get them to buy stuff. Whether it's the stuff we were looking for or impulse purchases we'll never use, Amazon is pretty good at making us want it.

Enter the Amazon Prime version of the Moto G4 and the BLU R1 HD. Both phones started as budget models, and Amazon has made them ever more "budgety" by shaving $50 off the price of each in return for your eyes seeing their apps and ads on your lock screen. Is the $50 worth it, or should you buy the regular version if you're interested in either of these phones?

I've been fiddling with them both and am about to tell you what I think.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

Latest Huawei P9 update finally stops messing with your app icons

New Huawei P9 icons

No more terrible rounded rectangles and outdated Google app logos.

After years of being broken, ugly or both, Huawei's EMUI software is finally starting to get better. We saw some big improvements in EMUI 4.1 on the Huawei P9 this year, with major UI bugbears and longstanding glitches finally addressed. And now a fresh P9 update eliminates one huge pet hate of ours: Huawei's meddling in your app icons.

Read more and comment

3 weeks ago

5 important things to know about Google Play Family Libraries


I have a nice Google Play Movies library. And now, so does the rest of my family.

Google Play rolled out Family Libraries earlier this week in 8 countries. It allows families to share content from almost every section of the Google Play store with the whole group. Now, rather than buying all your content with one account and adding that account to every tablet/phone in the family, everyone can buy what they want and share it. It sounds great, and it's a leap forward for family content management on Android and Google's properties but there are a few things you should know.

Read more and comment

Show More Headlines