With flagships from Samsung, Google, and others creeping to and beyond the $1000 marker, it's no surprise that there's a demand for "lite flagship" phones that offer a premium experience at a fraction of the cost.
This is a market OnePlus has dominated for years, with 2019 seeing the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T further cementing the company at the top. However, that's not to say other brands aren't offering compelling options of their own.
Back in August, ZTE launched the Axon 10 Pro in the U.S. ZTE isn't really synonymous with affordable flagships in the country, especially after all of the controversies it's faced with the U.S. government over the past year. This might have caused the Axon 10 Pro to slip under your radar, but I'm here to tell you that it's absolutely worthy of your attention.
Bottom line: Chances are the ZTE Axon 10 Pro has slipped under your radar, but if you're in the market for a top-tier Android phone for around $500, it's one of the best you can get. The Axon 10 Pro offers a speedy Snapdragon 855 processor, an AMOLED display with slim bezels, triple rear cameras, and great battery life. You even get wireless charging and expandable storage.
- Excellent performance
- Solid AMOLED display
- Telephoto and ultra-wide cameras
- 256GB of expandable storage
- Huge 4,000 mAh battery w/ wireless charging
- Boring design
- Rear glass is a fingerprint magnet
- Weak speakers
- Only compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile
ZTE Axon 10 Pro Where it shines
There are a lot of strong suits offered by the Axon 10 Pro, the first of which I want to talk about is its display. It's only 1080p instead of Quad HD and doesn't have a fancy 90Hz refresh rate, but overall, it's very pleasing to look at and doesn't have any real downsides.
Colors are vibrant and punchy, text is crisp, and viewing angles are excellent. ZTE gives you a ton of settings to change how the display looks, including a reading mode, night light, and customizable color temperature.
|Category||ZTE Axon 10 Pro|
|Operating System||Android 9 Pie|
1080 x 2340
19.5:9 aspect ratio
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855|
Expandable up to 1TB
|Rear Camera 1||48MP primary camera
|Rear Camera 2||8MP telephoto camera
|Rear Camera 3||20MP ultra-wide camera
|Front Camera||20MP selfie camera
|Security||Optical under-display fingerprint sensor
|Charging||18W wired charging
Qi wireless charging
|Dimensions||159.2 x 73.4 x 7.9mm|
A faster refresh rate would have been nice to have, but even being limited to 60Hz, I found myself thoroughly enjoying how everything looks on the Axon 10 Pro.
Even more impressive than the display is the Axon 10 Pro's performance. Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 processor powers the phone, and you then have your choice of either 8 or 12GB of RAM. I'm using the 8GB variant, and not once did I find myself wishing for more horsepower.
This is an insanely fast phone, and no matter what I threw at it, it never choked up or slowed down. Apps open quickly, multitasking is as smooth as can be, and graphically-intensive games run without a hitch. Call of Duty Mobile is set to Very High graphics and High frame rate by default, along with real-time shadows enabled. Not only does it look gorgeous on the Axon 10 Pro, but it also performs incredibly well with smooth gameplay and responsive controls.
There's not a doubt in my mind that this is flagship-level performance, so the fact that ZTE is able to offer it at this price is quite remarkable.
Two other specs I've been really impressed with are storage and battery life. The Axon 10 Pro ships with 256GB of storage no matter if you get the 8GB or 12GB model, and it's a huge slap in the face to phones like the Pixel 4 that default to 64GB. However, ZTE doesn't stop there. Should you find that 256GB not being enough room, you can expand it up to 1TB using a microSD card.
In regards to battery life, the Axon 10 Pro is equipped with a beastly 4,000 mAh battery. As you might expect, such a huge battery paired with a 1080p display results in fantastic endurance. Even with heavy use all day long, the Axon 10 Pro easily makes it to the end of the night with some juice left in the tank.
When it does come time to charge up, you can take advantage of 18W fast wired charging and Qi wireless charging. The lack of wireless charging is one of my biggest frustrations when using a OnePlus phone, so the inclusion of this alone makes me more likely to reach for the Axon 10 Pro over my OnePlus 7 Pro. I get that wireless charging isn't a big deal for some people, but as someone that's gone all-in on it, I'm ecstatic that ZTE included it on the Axon 10 Pro.
ZTE's also generous with the cameras it gives you, including a 48MP primary camera, 8MP telephoto camera, and 20MP ultra-wide camera. The functionality you get with these three lenses is fantastic, making it easy to capture more in your shot without stepping back and get up close and personal with something far away.
As for image quality, it's fairly average. The Axon 10 Pro is capable of taking decent-looking shots, but it's not without its weaknesses. Zooming in on a picture often reveals a watercolor-like effect with some of the finer details, and low-light images having a lot of noise present in them.
The camera setup is perfectly suitable for sharing photos on social media, but there is a noticeable difference in quality compared to more expensive devices from Google and Samsung.
Last but certainly not least, I was pleasantly surprised by how clean and unobtrusive the software experience is on the Axon 10 Pro. ZTE has made some visual tweaks things like the quick settings and power menu, but for the most part, this is a very stock-like build of Android. There aren't any unnecessary duplicate apps, the default launcher has a Pixel Launcher appearance with the Google Feed on the left-most home screen, and any of the extra features ZTE has added are neatly hidden in the settings.
It is slightly annoying that the Axon 10 Pro is still running Android 9 Pie, but ZTE has said that it'll get Android 10 on the phone before 2019 is over. I typically don't have a lot of trust with ZTE in this department, but seeing as how the Axon 10 Pro got the December 2019 security patch before my Pixel 4 XL, it's looking like the company is doing what it can to improve its image here.
A few other honorable mentions before we continue:
- ZTE's optical under-display fingerprint sensor is surprisingly good. It's not quite as snappy as what you get on the OnePlus 7T, but it's been fast and reliable enough that it hasn't been an issue.
- An NFC chip is onboard for Google Pay support.
- The waterdrop notch at the top of the screen is very minimal and isn't distracting in the slightest.
ZTE Axon 10 Pro What I don't like
While you won't find any deal-breakers with the Axon 10 Pro that completely tarnish the user experience, I do have a few qualms with the phone that knock it down a couple of notches.
My first, and biggest, gripe has to do with the Axon 10 Pro's design. From an aesthetic point of view, it's very bland and not all that exciting. There's nothing offensive or bad about the way the phone looks, but I feel like we've seen a million other handsets in 2019 with this exact same design.
More irritating than the bland appearance is the glossy glass back of the Axon 10 Pro. The blue, super-reflective glass looks great when you take the phone out of its box for the first time, but after just a few minutes of use, it picks up fingerprints and smudges like no other. This is a phone that never looks 100% clean, and it makes me desperately wish ZTE had gone with a matte glass similar to what Google did with the Pixel 4.
Nothing about the Axon 10 Pro's design is unique or eye-catching — making it more likely for people to overlook it.
Another design decision I'm not fond of is the Axon 10 Pro's curved display. This is something I complained about in my OnePlus 7 Pro review, and it's something I'll complain about here, too. I often found pages scrolling and videos closing on the Axon 10 Pro because part of my palm was touching the curved edge of the screen. Yes, the curves look fancy and stylish, but on the Axon 10 Pro and just about every other phone that uses them, they're a usability nightmare.
My last few complaints aren't as significant, but they're still worth mentioning.
While I was excited about the promise of stereo audio to go along with the excellent AMOLED display, the actual output of the external speakers is pretty weak. Audio is extremely tinny and shallow, with the front-facing speaker having the same quality of a walkie-talkie.
There's also the fact that the Axon 10 Pro only works on GSM networks like T-Mobile and AT&T. This isn't uncommon for unlocked Android phones, but when the OnePlus 7T works on those networks and Verizon, it does limit the Axon 10 Pro's potential user-base.
You also have to put up with some other smaller issues, like a weak vibration motor and buttons that rattle when you shake the phone, but compared to everything the Axon 10 Pro does well, these are mostly forgivable.
ZTE Axon 10 Pro Should you buy it?
ZTE hasn't been on my radar at all lately, so I've been seriously impressed with just how much I've enjoyed using the Axon 10 Pro.
The OnePlus 7T is clearly this phone's biggest competitor, and it shares enough blows that it stands out as a worthy alternative. Camera performance isn't quite as good and the design isn't impressive, but you get wireless charging, expandable storage, and performance that's every bit as good.
If you're on AT&T or T-Mobile and are in the market for a new Android phone around $500, you owe it to yourself to check out the Axon 10 Pro. It may not have been on your radar up until now, but for some people, it could very well be the better purchase over something like a 7T.
No, it's not a perfect phone, but the insane value offered by the ZTE Axon 10 Pro is good enough that it's now one of my go-to recommendations for friends and family that are shopping on a budget.
A OnePlus alternative that's worthy of your attention
Chances are the ZTE Axon 10 Pro has slipped under your radar, but if you're in the market for a top-tier Android phone for around $500, it's one of the best you can get. The Axon 10 Pro offers a speedy Snapdragon 855 processor, an AMOLED display with slim bezels, triple rear cameras, and great battery life. You even get wireless charging and expandable storage.
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