ZTE is one of the biggest China-based smartphone OEMs. This company has been around for quite a long time, and they've also been releasing smartphones for quite some time now as well. ZTE has released quite a few devices this year, and the most notable ones belong in their 'Nubia Z9' and 'Axon' line of products. We've already reviewing a number of ZTE's products this year, and are here to take a look at yet another one, the Axon Elite handset.
The Axon Elite was announced last month, and it's fairly similar to the Axon Pro which we've reviewed at the beginning of September. The two phones actually look quite similar, but Axon Pro's specs are slightly higher-end. Unlike the Axon Pro, Axon Elite sports 'only' 3GB of RAM, and a 1080p (1920 x 1080) display. This is still a premium device though, the vast majority of its other specs are on par with its older brother, including its processor, camera sensor and build, for example. Anyhow, let's kick this off, shall we.
As already mentioned, the ZTE Axon Elite is a high-end device no matter which way you look at it. This smartphone sports a 5.5-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080, 534 PPI) IPS LCD display with Corning's Gorilla Glass 3 on top of it along with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage (expandable up to 128GB via microSD card). The device is powered by the Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor along with an Adreno 430 GPU for graphics. The 3,000mAh battery is also a part of this package, and you'll notice there's a fingerprint scanner below the rear-facing camera sensors.
Speaking of which, there are two cameras available on the back of this device, the 13-megapixel Sony IMX124 snapper, and a 2-megapixel shooter by OmniVision. The dual-LED, dual tone flash is available next to the camera sensors, as you can see in various images throughout the review. The 8-megapixel shooter is located on the front side of this smartphone, and the phone is made out of aluminum, which gives the device that premium feel. There are two SIM card slots available on the inside of Axon Elite, and 4G LTE connectivity is also available here. Speaking of connectivity, here are the details -> 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz ; 3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz ; 4G: FDD-LTE 700/800/850/900/1800/2100/2600MHz.
As far as software is concerned, Android 5.0 Lollipop comes pre-installed on this device with ZTE's custom UI available on top of it. The ZTE Axon Elite measures 154 x 75 x 9.3mm, while it weighs 179 grams, which make it kind of hefty.
The ZTE Axon Elite sports a 5.5-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD panel, and I have to say, its display is really, really good. The display produces accurate colors while offering plenty of saturation and brightness. I was able to use this display outside with no issues, and its viewing angles are also great. While looking at the panel you might even think it's an AMOLED display, but it's not. All in all, ZTE did a really good job here, as it was the case Axon Pro as well, and it seems like Axon Lux sports the very same panel as Axon Pro. The Axon Elite's display is not exactly QHD (2560 x 1440) as it's the case with the two aforementioned devices, but sure is a great panel.
What about touch input? Well, there are absolutely no issues in this area whatsoever. The display is quite sensitive, which we're used to seeing from ZTE's devices at this point. There are a number of low-profile China-based companies which tend to include cheaper digitizers in their devices, which is certainly not the case with ZTE, that's for sure. So, to sum this part up, the display is plenty bright, quite sharp, offers nice colors contract and is plenty sensitive. All in all, exactly what you'd expect from a high-end device.
Hardware and Build
One of the most interesting parts of ZTE Axon Elite is its design. As you can see in the images down below, this handset is kind of unique as far as the design goes, mainly thanks to the interesting pattern on the top and bottom parts of the device. That very same pattern can be found on the back of the phone between the two rear-facing camera sensors. ZTE's signature circular button is located below the display once again, and the physical power button can be seen on the right-hand side of this smartphone. The volume rocker buttons are placed on the left side of the phone, as you can see in the images.
Now, you may think that both the top and bottom grills are speakers here, but that's not the case. ZTE Axon Elite, much like the Axon Pro, sports only one front-facing speaker, the one on the bottom. The upper grill contains only the earpiece, unfortunately. The fingerprint scanner is also available here, and it's located on the back of the Axon Elite. This whole smartphone, much like its sibling, is made out of aluminum, and sports a unibody design. What does this mean? Well, you essentially don't get to remove this phone's battery or the back cover, everything sits in place. In case you're wondering where is the SIM card tray, it's located above the volume rocker buttons on the left-hand side of this smartphone.
Performance and Memory
The ZTE Axon Elite performs as you'd expect from such a well-specced device. Despite having 1GB of RAM less than the Axon Pro, this thing flies as far as performance goes. 3GB of RAM would probably be plenty enough even if this featured a QHD display, but the 1080p panel truly allows the phone to perform really well. The Snapdragon 810 also behaved, I didn't experience any out of the ordinary heating along the way, not even after playing some games and what not.
As already mentioned, this smartphone ships with 3GB of RAM on the inside, which was plenty enough for quite pleasant multitasking experience as well. I'm what you'd call a heavy user, I don't exactly play lots of games on my phone, but I do punish my phone as far as performance goes. There are tons of apps installed on my devices at all times, and many of them are constantly performing tasks in the background. The Axon Elite was a very pleasant device to use, it performed really well in more or less every aspect, from loading apps and multitasking to playing graphically intensive games.
As you can see in the screenshots down below, ZTE Axon Elite scored 46,511 points on AnTuTu with its Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core SoC. This isn't an overly impressive score, but the phone works just fine and you shouldn't worry about it whatsoever. As far as Geekbench 3 goes, the device scored 1,086 on a single-core, and 3,397 on a multi-core test. These are kind of results you'll find in most other Snapdragon 810-powered devices, and its 3D Mark results actually fit in quite nicely with other devices as well. No matter what benchmarks say, it's worth mentioning once again that ZTE Axon Elite performs quite well in more or less every situation we put it in.
Phone Calls and Network
Using ZTE Axon Elite for phone calls was a real pleasure. The earpiece seems to be really, really good. I was able to hear people I talked to clearly, and they said that they can hear me fine as well. As far as network connectivity goes, I tested the phone both on 3G and 4G networks, and even though the 4G LTE network in my neighborhood isn't all that great (so sharing any actual speed info is kind of pointless), Axon Elite was able to get the most of it. I didn't have any dropped calls or any issues using the data connection either.
Battery life on the Axon Elite was quite average, but considering it is powered by the Snapdragon 810 SoC and sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display, the 3,000mAh battery on the inside was more than enough to last me until the end of the day. In the days I've tested the device, I never had to plug it in before I went to bed, and after all, that's the only thing that counts. One thing I'd like to mention though, is the fact that while I was gaming, I noticed that the battery life was dropping rather quickly, so that's one thing to keep in mind. I'm not exactly a gamer when it comes to a smartphone, but for those of you who are, this is something you should take note of. Snapdragon 810 can be quite power hungry when you play processor-intensive games.
ZTE manufactures quite a few phones a year, and they tend to be quite different from market to market. Let's take the Nubia Z9 line for example, ZTE always includes Nubia UI on those phones, which is the company's custom skin for Android. Well, that's not the case with the Axon Elite, something that might surprise many of you is the fact that this device ships with almost stock Android pre-installed. ZTE did include some of its apps in there and the UI doesn't exactly look stock, but the base operating system is Google's, aside from the pre-installed apps, there's basically nothing that would mess with your overall experience on this device
If you take a look at the screenshots down below, you'll see what I mean. This is probably another reason why this device was able to run so smoothly, because it doesn't have a heavy skin to bog it down. Now, keep in mind that ZTE did tweak this skin as far as the design goes. For example, the app drawer actually has a transparent back, not a white background like you'll find in stock Android Lollipop. There are also smaller tweaks in the placement of certain quick launch icons, and stuff like that, but this is nothing major. ZTE Axon Elite actually reminded me a lot of Motorola's software offering, it ran nice and smooth, though it looks a bit different.
Audio is one of the most interesting aspects of the Axon Elite. Much like the Axon Pro, this thing is a beast as far as audio is concerned. ZTE's cooperation with JBL and Dolby resulted in a Hi-Fi audio reproduction on the Axon Elite, same as his sibling. Now, keep in mind that you'll be able to get HiFi audio only through the headphone jack, so you'll need a solid pair of earphones / headphones in order to take advantage of it, you can forget about the loudspeaker if you want such a quality audio output. The ZTE Axon Elite is using the AKM 4961 HiFi processor, while the Class D amplifier is also a part of this equation.
Now the JBL earphones are actually included in this package (this might depend on where you purchase the device though), and it would be best to use those earphones to listen to audio on the Axon Elite. You'll quite probably going to be able to tell the difference between this HiFi sound and the regular sound you're used to momentarily, the output is truly great. ZTE's pre-installed music application actually supports 24-bit music files, which is great. As already mentioned, the loudspeaker located on the front side of the device won't be able to reproduce HiFi sound, but the speaker is quite good actually. The sheer fact that it's front-facing is a plus, and the speaker itself offers quite clear and loud output as it is.
So, is the DuoCamera setup on the back of the Axon Elite any good? Well, it's alright, nothing spectacular. This camera takes great images in daylight, as far as the area is properly lit you won't have any issues and will get quite good images out of this camera. In lower light, however, the camera might struggle a bit. Why? Well, it sometimes won't even take a picture if the HDR is off, if the option is turned on, the shutter speed will be somewhat slower. If you manage to hold the phone still while it's taking the picture, you might actually get a rather alright result out of it, but the shutter speed should be quicker here, even with HDR on.
Interesting enough, you can lower your aperture here, all the way down to 1.0, but keep in mind that this is done via the software. The Axon Elite's default aperture is f/2.0, and the auto-focus isn't all that quick in certain scenarios, even though it works great in most cases. The camera app itself offers a number of modes in it, you have options such as Manual, Multi-Exposure, Interval, Slow Motion, Panorama and Sport. Reading this you might think the camera app is kind of cluttered, but it's actually quite minimal and intuitive. The gallery app actually belongs in this very same category, it's quite minimal and nice to look at, while the GIF Maker feature is also available on the ZTE Axon Elite.
ZTE Axon Elite is a quite capable smartphone. This device has a lower resolution display compared to the Axon Pro, and it also has a gig of RAM less, but you won't notice the difference in terms of performance. The device ran really smooth during our testing and it was quite a joy to use actually. Some of the pre-installed apps and the general look of the UI could be slightly better in our opinion, but aside from that, we had no significant issues with the device whatsoever.