Billed an 'affordable flagship', the Axon 7 ticks all the right boxes when it comes to features - at least on the surface.
Lavish presentation? Check.
2.15GHz Quad core CPU with 4GB LPDDR4 RAM? Check.
20MP main camera with F/1.8 Aperture? Why stop there, add in support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound audio while you're at it.
If you're a glutton for the technical, there's a lot to like. The Axon 7's full-metal frame is bursting at the seams with technical potential but fails to really leverage that into an experience that's any better than most of its competitors.
On paper, it's as solid as things come. Unfortunately, given the string of great devices that have hit the shelves in the last few months (Motorola's Moto Z, LG's V20 and Google's Pixel) it's difficult to shake the sense that what ZTE are offering here is a little bit behind the times - even if the specs do hold up to scrutiny.
Simply put, it's lacking a clear identity or defining feature. It's got the full-metal body of a HTC without the designer flourish. It's got a whopper rear camera but none of the advanced lens or sensor technologies to make the most of it. It's packing the performance of a Samsung but none of the added functionality. Even the Dolby Atmos side of the equation gets close but it can't quite seal the deal.
What all is said and done, you're paying a little bit more (compared to Alcatel, Huawei or Oppo) for for a flagship Android experience that's kind-of forgettable.While it might be a little bit unfair to pull up the Axon 7 and pit it against the best the budget phones on the market, it's hard not to. If ZTE are going to go around holding The Axon 7 up as an affordable flagship - you can't help but ask what the catch is.
It's also a pretty heavy phone. In terms of the display, the 2K AMOLED screen performs fairly well. It's clear to look at and coated in 4th generation Gorilla Glass. It feels comfortable to hold, even if that weightiness might make it a tight fit for your pocket from time to time.
Packaged with the handset is a set of brass-lined white headphones which do have a nice style to them. Unfortunately, they're a little less enjoyable to wear. We found them quite uncomfortable.
In terms of the Axon 7's battery life, it performs moderately well. It's not exactly going to win awards but I could usually make it through a work day without needing to recharge until the evening. It's worth noting that the Axon 7 does use USB-C, however, and comes with the usual pros and cons.
Despite these shortcomings, it's hard to be too picky about the Axon 7's camera. It delivers some pretty decent results (seen below) and there's a lot of room for customization. You can shoot 4K-quality video footage, toggle filters, shoot panoramas and even go manual from within the dedicated camera application.
While the ZTE website says their latest handset supports Google's Daydream VR, the absence of a software update that brings Nougat to the Axon 7 does render that feature a bit of a moot point - at least for now.
When all is said and done, the ZTE Axon 7 is a fairly inoffensive phone that's simulatenously (and oddly) difficult to recommend. Technically, it hits a lot of the right marks but at the same time it's all a little flavorless. If you're looking to save money and are happy with stock-standard Android, ZTE may have what you're looking for. Otherwise, it feels safe to say you can do better.
The Axon 7 is on sale now for $699 and is available in two colours: 'Ion Gold' and 'Quartz Grey'.
The Axon 7 Mini is also on sale now for $498 in 'Ion Gold' and 'Platinum Grey'. Both can be purchased exclusively from JB Hi-Fi.