Full disclosure: I was invited to a ZTE media briefing. They gave me an Axon 7 mini. This happens more often than I expect, and honestly, after a few hours of playing on my wifi network to check it out, most of these phones end up unreviewed in a drawer and subsequently with friends who have lost or broken their phone.
However, I liked the 7 mini, and after a day put my own micro-SIM in it, so it’s my current phone. I liked the size (5.2 inch screen) and the fit in my hand. Axon supplies a transparent plastic case with a nice grippy feel, as a result it doesn’t slide around on my desk or in my hand. The fingerprint sensor is perfectly located (for my hand anyway) in the middle of the back – so it wakes and unlocks quickly, a feature that on paper seems like “Sure, OK”, but is greatly appreciated in practice.
As a phone, it works well – it rejoins the network quickly when I emerge from Toronto’s subway, (where signal is not available) a function I no longer take for granted after trying multiple phones. Bluetooth connections to my car, camera and other devices worked without incident. It’s easy to position it on my ear, with good sound even in loud environments, callers report the sound is clear.
The screen is bright, clear with pure and saturated colours. It comes with default Android 6 (marshmallow), so no odd apps to delete or navigate through, and a clean “direct from the Google showroom” feel.
ZTE demonstrated the audio features, which they feel distinguishes this model, with some impressive clips – the Axon 7 mini includes Dolby Atmos. There are two front facing speakers (top and bottom vertically, left and right horizontally) which provide a powerful sound that’s free of distortion until it’s turned up full. It won’t fill a room, but it’s perfect for personal listening.
I listen to TSF Jazz on TuneIn, one of my favourite streaming services, and although there’s little bass, the sound from the 7 mini is detailed with a nice stereo image. What got me was the audio quality as a speaker phone – this is the best I’ve heard, with a clarity and a presence that I found impressive.
The Atmos app provides specific support with tuned settings for content types like music and movies, and custom settings to level volume, enhance dialog and virtual surround as well as a graphic equalizer. While interesting, I didn’t find they added much to the already excellent sound quality – but there are always specific situations where they will be useful.
At the briefing, I had a quick one-on-one Jeff Yee, ZTE’s VP, Technology Planning and Partnerships. In addition to the 7 mini, ZTE is working on a crowd-sourced phone project that will use eye-tracking. This is a brand to watch as they roll out new phones and new features.
The specs for the Axon 7 mini include the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617, an AMOLED Gorilla Glass screen at 1920×1080 with 423 PPI. It includes 3GB RAM and 32GB ROM, a micro SD slot supports another 128GB. The back camera is 16MP, front 8MP. Wifi support is limited to 2.4GHz; 802.11 b/g/n.
ZTE rates the audio recording as “professional level”. It’s easy for this ex-audio engineer to poo-poo that claim, but mic quality aside, it is 48Khz, 16 bit (CD quality) and again, I was surprised. Not only with a narration recording, but at a musical performance, and not just played back on the internal speakers. Maybe not pro, but better than my expectations. Analog headphone output on the top side, also with above average quality.
It’s a phone, not a camera and asking a camera reviewer to assess the camera in a phone … it takes a lot to impress me. Nevertheless, I did manage to take a few reasonable photos. Some interesting but gimmicky effects. There’s an auto smile shutter mode for selfies.
A manual photo mode provides control of ISO, shutter speed and focus but not aperture – making it of limited value. Colour and contrast are good in bright scenes, not so much in dark ones. Touching the screen provides an icon with a lock – which I hoped would lock focus and/or exposure. No amount of careful touching enabled that. Photo features include panorama, multiple exposure and time lapse.
Video up to 1080, and works with filter effects like black and white. The recording rate varies – the clips I recorded reported frame rates from about 19 to about 30 per second at data rates from 8 to 20 Mbits. I have no idea what caused these to change from shot to shot – they seemed to be beyond my control, as is focus and exposure in video mode. The video mode needs stabilization and is subject to rolling shutter jiggle effects.
At lower resolutions, there are specific high frame rate settings for slow motion recordings.
I have one very specific need for a camera phone – to record the image inside a camera’s viewfinder. I’ve only been able to do this successfully with an iPhone – and I had high hopes for the 7 mini, which seemed to be capable to at least capture the image. With the camera in the centre of the phone’s back, it balanced nicely, but I found that both exposure and focus continued to adjust – even when the scene did not. So close, but.
In addition to the case, the kit includes white headphones with mic and remote control, a USB-C charging cable and wall plug. Like the rest of the audio components on this phone – above average comfort and sound from the headphones.
Battery life is rated longer than average – that was evident on most days, but there were still a few days where I struggled to get through without making it back for a charge. It does recharge very quickly. Less than 30 minutes is sufficient when power is low.
Note that although the Axon 7 supports Google Daydream 360 viewer, the 7 mini does not. I used it in cardboard mode, and the high resolution screen works nicely with high quality 360 content.
There’s another bonus feature included – a 2 year warranty. ZTE pays shipping both ways. Optional features include damage protection and replacement shipment, so you’re never without a phone.
I’ll leave it to you to determine pricing and availability in your local market and its carriers.
For your guidance –
I am not sponsored or compensated by any manufacturer, I have not accepted payment to review any product. Although most products are returned after review, this one was a gift.
I am not compensated for my reviews except through Google Adwords and the affiliate links on my site.