As a follow-up to its first Axon-branded phone, ZTE has unveiled its latest flagship, the Axon 7. The company says that it skipped straight to Axon 7 to honor the fact that, after a few Grand and Star variants, this in fact the seventh flagship to ship.
It is also the best. With an outrageous spec sheet including a Snapdragon 820 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage — there's a premium model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, too — the Axon 7 wants to take on the biggest devices from Samsung, HTC, LG and others.
At its core, the Axon 7 is about representing the best the Chinese OEM has to offer. An all-metal build showcases a design the company worked on with BMW subsidiary Designworks, but this is clearly an evolution of what debuted last year with the original Axon, and its larger counterpart, the Axon Pro.
As with last year's model, the Axon 7 focuses on multimedia: a 5.5-inch QHD panel is flanked by two stereo speakers, which are powered by a sizable amplifier. There's also a separate chip for the headphone jack, along with Dolby Atmos support for surround sound emulation.
ZTE is taking the display and speakers seriously this year.
While it's important not to take those claims too seriously as they relate to the reality of seeing and hearing the phone for yourself, this device is bright, colorful and loud enough to watch a movie or listen to a music video without feeling short-changed.
Along with a rear-facing fingerprint sensor, the phone's curved back is home to the 20MP rear camera and f/1.8 lens combo which promises to be competitive with the Galaxy S7 and LG G5. Gone is the second 2MP sensor from last year, largely a gimmick for creating depth-of-field effects. Around front, an 8MP selfie camera should suffice for most people, too.
A 3140 mAh battery keeps everything going all day, along with Quick Charge 3.0 support that recharges the device in 100 minutes. And as with last year, ZTE's Android 6.0 Marshmallow-based build is simple — or as simple as it's going to get from the company — with a feeling that's close to stock.
Finally, the ZTE Axon 7 is one of the first devices to be announced with Daydream support, allowing the device to be used with Google's upcoming VR platform.
Available in China this week, the ZTE Axon will be coming to the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe beginning in the next couple of weeks. In the U.S., it will be available unlocked from ZTEUSA.com, Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, eBay, and Newegg. U.S. buyers will also get ZTE Passport Program 2.0, a warranty program that promises to fix broken devices at no charge for two years, as well as accept returns of the device to ZTE should the user be unhappy with it. The ZTE Axon 7 will come in two colors, Ion Gold and Quartz Gray. Pricing has not yet been announced.
It's unclear whether the Axon will make a splash in the already-saturated premium smartphone market, but the company is certainly confident of its efficacy at home in China. Breaking into the North American and European markets, with Samsung dominating the charts, will considerably more difficult, though, but it's nice to see another capable smartphone maker offering choice in the increasingly-important unlocked segment.