REVIEW: The ZTE Axon 40 Ultra Is Great, But Don’t Buy It

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Rating
7

In China, where the phone was built and designed for, where it meets local standards and there is considerable support in terms of cases and accessories for ZTE phone, the Axon 40 Ultra is probably a fantastic buy. It has industry leading specs and a gorgeous design that feels super premium, at a less than premium price.

That being said, with the security issues so rampant, the fact that it doesn’t meet Aussie mandatory requirements for RF Band support and Emergency calling and is flagged as “not suitable for use in Australia” by ZTE themselves, I would advise against buying this phone.

I really want to love the Axon 40 Ultra because it has so much to offer for the money and it was an utter delight to use, but over long-term use, it would probably end up being more of a problem phone than anything.

If you’re after a phone with similar specs at an even cheaper price, I would instead opt for the utterly fantastic Motorola Edge 30 Pro, which is $999 at JB Hi-Fi.

- Gorgeous Screen
- Industry Leading Processor
- Premium Finish and Build
- Stunning Camera with Powerful Zoom
- Charges Fast
- Cheap Price Tag

- Security Issues
- Doesn't Meet Local Requirements
- Can't be purchased locally
- 1x Camera Setting Annoying Zoomed
- No Local Charger
- Horrid Selfie Camera

ZTE is a brand of phone you may not have heard of. Or if you have, it’s one that’s popped up in the news after it joined the banned device list in the US, UK and Australia, restricting them from being used in government. ZTE in fact, alongside Huawei, is widely considered a security risk.

I was sent a ZTE Axon 40 Ultra to review and to be honest, I still don’t trust it. That being said, ignoring the security issues that this partially Chinese state-owned phone presents, this is an incredibly good device.

First Glance

ZTE sure know how to make a device feel premium. The Axon 40 Ultra came in a massive black box with copper writing which made it feel incredibly premium. This continued once I opened it up, with everything nearly packaged in black and copper cardboard. However, what came in the box was rather underwhelming.

The Axon 40 Ultra came with a plastic case, a USB-C cable, a wired headphone USB-C adapter and a charger. Seems pretty standard right? It’s pretty much what you get with an equivalent Motorola, and a Samsung phone won’t even have the charger. The issue is that the charger in the ZTE box was had a Chinese plug, meaning it couldn’t even be used.

Despite being sent one, and it being featured on ZTE’s Australian website, it turns out that the Axon 40 Ultra is not even available for direct purchase in Australia. The only way to buy one is to have a Chinese model shipped over.

In fact, as ZTE publish on their Aussie website, the Axon 40 Ultra doesn’t even meet Aussie standards.

“Note: The AXON 40 Ultra and other models currently released in this family are not suitable for use in Australia / New Zealand due to required RF bands not being supported and Emergency calling functionality not meeting the mandatory requirements.”

So you can have a ZTE Axon 40 Ultra in Australia, but should you?

Build and Feel

Like it’s packaging, the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra is device that looks and feels premium.  Its smooth, shiny matte black chassis is smooth and light, and doesn’t collect fingerprints, while the thin bezel and curved edges makes it feel like a high-end Samsung. In fact, there is quite a lot that makes it feel like a high-end Samsung.

20220720 144245 scaled REVIEW: The ZTE Axon 40 Ultra Is Great, But Dont Buy It

Sitting the Axon 40 Ultra next to a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, it looks like a game of ‘spot the difference’. The latest flagship Samsung is an obvious ‘inspiration’ for the ZTE. This isn’t a bad thing at all though. It’s a design that looks and feels great.

Display

ZTE has fitted the Axon 40 Ultra with a 6.8-inch AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, 1116 x 2480 resolution (~400ppi), 1500 nits’ peak brightness and HDR10+, all of which made everyday use, watching videos, and gaming a delight.

I was constantly impressed by the bright colours and deep blacks, as well as the overall smoothness of the screen, which seemed to go on forever with it’s under display camera that left no notch, and whipping ~92.9% screen-to-body ratio.

20220720 144253 scaled REVIEW: The ZTE Axon 40 Ultra Is Great, But Dont Buy It

One feature I absolutely loved with this phone is the ability to have multiple lock screens. Every time you unlock the Axon 40 Ultra, it will display a different image from a range of preselected photos, which can also be scrolled through. You can assign your own photos too which is a nice touch.

Processor

The Axon 40 Ultra boasts the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which at this stage, is the best chip on the market. As a result, I had high expectations.

Gaming on the Axon 40 Ultra was a delight, with Apex Legends achieving stable and high framerates consistently. Gameplay was free of stuttering and load times were miniscule, which made gaming on a device like this feel perfectly natural.

I was met with the same high-performance standards when just scrolling through apps like Instagram, with the screen moving smoothly and clearly like a liquid, something you won’t realize the significance of until you try it.

I also never found the handset getting warm, or at least not noticeably.

Battery

Most premium smartphones suffer from a smaller battery, with larger ones generally reserved for cheaper models. The ZTE Axon 40 Ultra however still makes the most of a whopping 5,000mAh battery, just as it’s twin, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra does.

Battery life was actually a little disappointing considering the size of the battery. This is a brand-new model, and by the end of the day after heavy use, id get the 20% battery remaining warning. Compared to the cheaper Motorola Edge 30 Pro for example, which has a 4,800mAh battery and the same processor, but would get me home with around 35%, this is a bit of a downgrade.

This is a bit nitpicky, but worth worrying about seeing as you don’t get a charger that you can use included. However, if you have the charger to do it, it’s support for 65W fast charging will get you back up and running in no time.

Camera

I had a bit of a love hate relationship with this camera. Generally, it was an absolute delight and took fantastic pictures, but a couple small issues made it a tad annoying.

First off, the triple 64MP module on the back is absolutely fantastic. The main sensor achieved crystal clear detail and picked up amazing colour, whilst the 40x zoom is insanely good, but as expected, a little blurry once you get there.

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However, I found that the standard camera setting was a little bit too zoomed in, with the 1x being considerably further zoomed than most other phones. As a result, I was finding that the wide setting was my go-to, which is annoying as you end up with a slight fish-eye effect on photos that just don’t need it.

The below example compares a Samsung Galaxy S20 with the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra just to show you how big the difference is. This is not a comparison of camera quality.

Screenshot 20220720 150722 Camera REVIEW: The ZTE Axon 40 Ultra Is Great, But Dont Buy It
Samsung Galaxy S20

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ZTE Axon 40 Ultra

The other issue, although much smaller, did really make the phone seem rather cheap. Out of the box, the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra has a watermark in the corner of taken photos, simply with the phones name. This is pretty easy to turn off, but a feature generally reserved for cheaper Chinese phones.

If none of these things bother you, you’re going to end up with an absolutely brilliant phone camera.

The selfie camera however is an utterly different story. The 16MP camera on the front is utterly useless. ZTE has opted for an under-display camera, which in my experience, never really works.

Photos are blurry and full of glare, and colour is sucked out of every photo. Do not buy this if you like taking selfies.

Options and Pricing

As previously mentioned, the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra can’t be purchased directly from a local retailer such as JB Hi-Fi, but can only be purchased online from ZTE Global. While GSMArena mentions models up to a 16GB/1TB RAM and storage configuration, ZTE Global list only an 8GB/128GB model for $799 USD (roughly $1,154.78 AUD) and a 12GB+256GB model for $899 USD ($1,299.31 AUD). I had the former and that was plenty of power, however it may be worth spending the extra if storage is an issue.

Considering that this is a phone looking to take on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, a phone that starts at $1,849 AUD for the 8GB/128GB model, the prices are more than reasonable.

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Rating
7

In China, where the phone was built and designed for, where it meets local standards and there is considerable support in terms of cases and accessories for ZTE phone, the Axon 40 Ultra is probably a fantastic buy. It has industry leading specs and a gorgeous design that feels super premium, at a less than premium price.

That being said, with the security issues so rampant, the fact that it doesn’t meet Aussie mandatory requirements for RF Band support and Emergency calling and is flagged as “not suitable for use in Australia” by ZTE themselves, I would advise against buying this phone.

I really want to love the Axon 40 Ultra because it has so much to offer for the money and it was an utter delight to use, but over long-term use, it would probably end up being more of a problem phone than anything.

If you’re after a phone with similar specs at an even cheaper price, I would instead opt for the utterly fantastic Motorola Edge 30 Pro, which is $999 at JB Hi-Fi.

- Gorgeous Screen
- Industry Leading Processor
- Premium Finish and Build
- Stunning Camera with Powerful Zoom
- Charges Fast
- Cheap Price Tag

- Security Issues
- Doesn't Meet Local Requirements
- Can't be purchased locally
- 1x Camera Setting Annoying Zoomed
- No Local Charger
- Horrid Selfie Camera