Chinese phones with high end specs are flooding the market and they are becoming very popular these days. Just about 1 or 2 years ago, it was very expensive to buy a phone with a full HD display, a couple of gigabytes of RAM and plenty of storage. Such phones were mostly marketed by the renowned brands like Samsung and HTC. Once upon a time Samsung ruled the Android market but it has since been monopolized by high end Chinese handsets. At least, this is the scene in developing countries such as India, Brazil and Malaysia.
The ZTE Axon Pro is a fantastic phone, coming with 4GB of RAM, a great camera, plenty of storage space and a 2K screen resolution. However the ZTE Axon Elite changes things slightly and introduces many aesthetic changes which makes it the little brother in comparison to the Axon Pro model. This is because a lot of the hardware has been downgraded. Lets find out where the ZTE Axon Elite stands in the current market.
The ZTE Axon Elite looks sleek and metallic from afar. Taking a closer look at the device reveals that ZTE has paid a lot of attention to detail. Out of the box, it has a glass screen with glossy finish and features a full HD IPS Panel with upwards of 400ppi pixel density. An IPS panel ensures that the pixels can be seen at any angle, unlike an LCD screen which becomes dark at certain degrees. Might not be the best privacy-wise when texting on the train! They say that the screen has an anti-bacterial coating, which is a good thing because hands can become quite dirty, especially if you work in the city.
As the trend of thin bezels continue, it is something that will go unnoticed on the ZTE Axon Elite. There is another prominent feature that stands right in front of the user, 2 loud speakers on the front side; one at the top and one at the bottom. Now, you do not have to worry about flipping the phone while playing music so that the sound does not get muffled. The stereo speakers are quite loud and clear, as one would expect.
ZTE has tried to make this smartphone feel premium in appearance but has somewhat failed at that in some areas. The back cover has a metallic finish with a leather stitch finish at the top and bottom of the phone. The problem is that the leather stitching happens to have the same metallic colour as the rest of the body. That makes it look like someone just did a spray paint job on the phone. Perhaps, if ZTE had made the leather design of a darker shade, it would have stood out and given a much better aesthetic feel. Just to mention, the back is not user detachable, if you want to extract the battery and replace it… well you can’t.
On the back, you will also find two cameras, a dual colour flash and a finger print sensor. Looking at the two cameras gave me the thoughts of it being a 3D camera. To my dismay, it turned out to be a depth sensing camera. It would have been really cool if it could be used to record 3D videos. The primary camera has a 13MP sensor while the depth sensing camera has 2MP sensor. The dual colour flash has two different colour temperatures. Depending on the lighting conditions, either of the two turn on in order to maintain an appropriate white balance in the photographs. It also features a front facing 8MP camera.
The two camera feature reminds me of the Oppo N1, which also had a very unique camera mechanism. You could flip the camera mechanism to look at the front instead of the usual back facing position. Not that the Axon Elite and Oppo N1 have anything in similar, but both have a unique camera operation which isn’t seen on any of the phones coming from renowned brands.
The volume rocker and the unlock buttons are located on the sides, while the USB is located at the bottom. A 3.5 mm audio jack is situated at the top. You will also come across the sim card tray on the left side right below the volume rocker.
The internals is what makes the phone function throughout your busy day. The Axon Elite comes with the popular Snapdragon 810 processor from Qualcomm. It is known to get hot during heavy workloads, but the software throttling keeps the temperatures in check. If you know computers well, you will understand that having a fast hard drive helps in loading programs and games quickly. The same thing applies on smartphones. ZTE Axon Elite does not seem to have a super fast storage chip and that is why games like Asphalt 8 can take ages to load up. But once they are on the RAM, you will find no hiccups in the performance. The gameplay will be very smooth and pleasing.
Axon Elite comes with a customised version of Android 5.0.1. There are indeed some glitches here and there, but they are very minimal. The icons are designed to have a white and golden colour elements to suit the physical appearance. The overall appearance of the OS is similar to the Samsung’s Touchwiz UI, which has no app drawer. There are some apps that are in Chinese language. While the Axon Pro offered a clean Android 5.1 experience, the Elite does not do so. You can of course install a ROM that offers pure Android experience. If the launcher is the only thing that bugs you, then you can always download Google’s launcher.
The Axon Elite also comes with Quad band radio that will work almost everywhere in the EU and Asia except in USA where you may not be able to receive LTE signals because of different bands being allocated.
The camera on the other hand is very much capable of recording 4K videos. The 2MP depth sensing camera does a pretty great job at producing image having a nice bokeh in the background. With the 2MP camera off, the pictures produced may not necessarily come out with that great bokeh. It is because the algorithm is designed to appropriately open up the aperture to produce such an effect. There is no image stabilization on this phone, so you will need to hold your camera steady while shooting. The camera sensor does not have a very great dynamic range. Photos taken on a sunny day will produce high contrast shots with dark areas appearing very dark. Low light photography is great and stands out on an average score. The front facing camera also produces great photos. White balance on both the cameras is accurate and so is the colour reproduction. You will notice how great the images appear on the brilliant screen. It is not just the camera that has to do its job, but the screen also needs to be just as good. ZTE has done it right.
Only recently has 24 bit audio picked up demand from consumers, ZTE is already out making claims of putting a 32 bit audio DAC in this beast. It is not a bad thing at all, but what are you really going to do with such high end hardware if there are not many audio files with such high bit rate. Nevertheless, the hardware is there if you need it!
AKM4961 is what powers up the audio section of this device. The datasheet says a lot of stuff that proves this chip is more than the regular audio DAC. It comes with plenty of digital signal processing hardware for digitally filtering audio, implementing hardware based audio equalization and finally a low noise data converter that pushes out analog audio which will be fed into your headphones.
Reading the datasheet, we come to understand that the stereo loud speakers are driven by 24 bit DACs, while headphones are driven by a 32 bit DAC. The sampling frequency can go all the way up to 192kHz. The noise floor of the DAC output remains at -119dBV, which is in fact quite low. This noise floor level also depends on way the circuit board has been laid out. The actual output levels can only determined if someone happens to test what comes out of the device.
The audio chip also has the capability to handle dual microphones with a 24 bit per sample and a sampling frequency of up to 96kHz. The gain of the microphone amplifier can also be controlled and processed digitally inside the DSP core. It is quite interesting to see that there is no external amplifier chip required for analog signal conditioning and that ensures us that we are going to get very good sound with the least distortion possible. Given that, the audio chip also takes care of dual microphone noise cancellation. Although, users have claimed that the noise cancellation is not that effective on this device.
AKM4961 has a THD of 0.1% approximately, which could have been lower if they had not used a class G amplifier. Higher classes have higher distortion level, and also a higher dynamic range. So, there is a trade-off that needs to be made.
In my opinion, the audio quality coming out of this device is fantastic. Not even the iPhone delivers HD audio in spite of us being in the year 2015!
A better alternative
Apart from the amazing audio chip, ZTE Nubia Z7 that we reviewed recently, has much better specs and a longer battery life. The Nubia Z7 can be directly compared with Axon Pro, both having 2K resolution 5.5 inches display. While the Axon Pro has 4GB of RAM, the Nubia Z7 stands in line with the Axon Elite having 3GB RAM. The only places where Axon’s stand up are the audio department and the camera department. But given your requirements and expectation, you can choose between having better audio and images with having a longer battery life and a quad HD display. Oh, and you also get a better looking device if you buy the Nubia Z7.
For the hardware and the level of performance we are getting from ZTE Axon Elite, this device is worth buying for its price tag of $469 on Gearbest It would definitely have been great if Axon Elite had come with the 2K display and a stock Android experience. Nonetheless, this device stands high amongst everything else.
Battery capacity 3000mAh (Quick Charge 2.0)
Screen Size 5.5 inch
Camera 13MP + 2MP Rear, 8MP Front
Display 5.5”FHD (1920 by 1080) , 401ppi
Band GSM 850/900/1800/1900， EVDO BC0 WCDMA: Band 1/2/5/8； TD-LTE：Band 38/40/41； FDD-LTE：Band 1/3/7/8/12/17/20
OS Android 5.0
Processor Qualcomm®SnapdragonTM810 processor with 2.0GHz octa-core CPUs
Memory 3GB RAM + 32GB ROM, Up to 128GB microSD Expansion