ZTE's Axon 7 Mini has kept the front-facing speakers, making it a great smartphone for audiophiles.
In 2015, ZTE announced a new brand in the US, named "Axon". They debuted the Axon Pro and it sold fairly well for the company. It was available for $399 unlocked and had the highest specs available, not to mention the fact it was one of a select few smartphones to sport front-facing speakers and high definition audio. In 2016, ZTE sought to put out its predecessor, which was known as the ZTE Axon 7. It did fairly well too, but users were wanting something smaller. So the company decided to toss out the Axon 7 Mini. It's a "smaller" smartphone, with a 5.2-inch display, and a slightly lower-end processor. But is it still worth of being a mini flagship? That's what we'll be finding out in this review.
The ZTE Axon 7 Mini, as we mentioned already, sports a 5.2-inch display. This is an AMOLED 1080p panel, which gives it about 423 pixels per inch. It also features about 71.5% screen-to-body ratio. Protecting the display is Corning's Gorilla Glass 4. Inside the Axon 7 Mini, we have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, which is an octa-core processor - a quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 and a quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A53 cluster fused together. There's the Adreno 405 GPU for graphics and 3GB of RAM. ZTE has included 32GB of storage, but there is a micro SD card slot which gives you up to 256GB of extra storage space.
ZTE was pretty generous with the camera optics here on the Axon 7 Mini. We're looking at a 16-megapixel rear-facing shooter which has an aperture of f/1.9 along with phase detection autofocus and dual-LED flash. It is able to record in 1080p at 30fps and 720p at 120fps. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel shooter with an f/2.2 aperture and it is able to record in 1080p as well.
The Axon 7 Mini does sport a fingerprint sensor on the back-side of the device, there is also a 3.5mm headphone jack, NFC and USB Type-C. Additionally, when it comes to audio it supports 24-bit/192kHz audio, which gives you high-resolution audio, even from the front-facing speakers. Finally, there is a pretty sizeable 2,705mAh battery inside, that is non-removable, and Android 6.0 Marshmallow running the show here.
In the Box
There's a few goodies inside the Axon 7 Mini's box. As soon as you open the box, you are greeted with the device, below it is a folder full of paperwork as well as the SIM ejection tool. And at the bottom of the box, you'll find your wall charger, a USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable and a pair of headphones. The charging cable actually appears to be a rather high-end cable. It's a flat cable and is plenty long. The wall adapter is capable of charging at Quick Charge 3.0 speeds, seeing as Quick Charge 3.0 is supported by the ZTE Axon 7 Mini here.
Hardware & Build Quality
With the launch of the Axon brand in 2015, ZTE showed what they can do with aluminum and build quality. It was an amazingly well-built smartphone, and the company continued that trend with the Axon 7 and Axon 7 Mini. We're looking at an aluminum unibody here with the Axon 7 Mini, which even wraps around to the front. The sides are a bit more curved this time, so it feels amazing in the hand, but it does make it a bit slippery. So you'll want to pick up a case if you haven't done so already.
ZTE has placed the power button on the right side of the device, with the volume rocker above it. On the left side, there is the SIM card and SD card slot. This setup has become pretty standard on smartphones that don't feature a removable back. Up at the top there is a 3.5mm headphone jack, along with the USB Type-C port at the bottom of the device. One the back, you'll see the 16-megapixel camera, with the fingerprint sensor below that and the flash in the middle of the two. There are also a couple of antenna lines on the backside which look pretty minimal to be honest.
One of the great things about the ZTE Axon 7 Mini and a big reason why many people love these smaller smartphones, is the fact that it does fit in your hand. It has a 5.2-inch display and front-facing speakers, so it's not really a "mini" smartphone per se. But with the curved backside, it makes the phone feel a bit smaller than it actually is. This is a good thing for those that want a phone that can be used one-handed. The build quality is pretty impressive here. If you've used ZTE's lower-end smartphones that are sold on MetroPCS, Boost Mobile and even T-Mobile Prepaid, this is a stark difference for the company. This actually feels rather high-end, which is impressive given the $300 price point for the Axon 7 Mini.
ZTE went with a 1080p AMOLED panel here, and it's actually really nice to use. Of course, we would always rather a company go with a higher resolution display, especially with virtual reality becoming such a big deal as of late, but at 5.2-inches, the display looks plenty sharp. Viewing angles are top notch as well, which isn't that surprising seeing as viewing angles haven't been a problem with displays for a few years now. The digitizer inside the ZTE Axon 7 Mini is quite good. We didn't have any issues with the display not recognizing our touches at all.
With this being an AMOLED display, colors look sharp and vibrant and it makes it great for consuming media on. We watched plenty of Netflix and YouTube while we were reviewing the Axon 7 Mini and it looked incredible on this display, despite it being just 1080p. So if you thought that a 1080p display would be the downfall of the ZTE Axon 7 Mini, you thought wrong.
There's the Snapdragon 617 inside the Axon 7 Mini, a processor that we are pretty familiar with at this point in time. The Snapdragon 617 has been in a number of devices, including the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus from Lenovo. The Snapdragon 617 is an octa-core processor, as we explained in the specs section, it's a quad-core Cortex-A53 cluster clocked at 1.5GHz and then a Cortex-A53 quad-core cluster clocked at 1.2GHz. This gives you somewhat decent performance as well as an efficient cluster of cores for when the device is idle. This is paired with the Adreno 405 GPU and 3GB of RAM. Together, the performance of the ZTE Axon 7 Mini is pretty respectable, but it's not going to win any awards.
What we mean by that is the fact that you can use the Axon 7 Mini perfectly fine. You won't run into many issues with the device slowing down or anything like that. Which is definitely nice to see. There is also 32GB of storage available, so there's plenty of storage for most people, and even if there isn't, there is also a micro SD card slot which can accommodate up to an additional 256GB of storage.
The performance on the Axon 7 Mini isn't going to outdo what you see on the standard Axon 7, but it is more than capable of doing most things. Many processors that aren't flagship SoC's struggle with Snapchat. But with the Snapdragon 617, it performed like a champ. No hints of stuttering or anything at all. Which is nice to see on a smartphone that is priced this low.
ZTE has put a fingerprint sensor on the backside of the Axon 7 Mini and it actually works pretty well. Put your finger on the sensor and it unlocks the device almost instantly. Much faster than some other smartphones in its price range. Which is also nice to see. With the fingerprint sensor, you can use the sensor to take a photo, as well as answer a phone call. Just tap on the sensor and you'll be able to snap a picture, which is pretty cool when you think about it. Other than that, there's not much that can be done, as far as functions with the fingerprint sensor. Of course, it can be used as authentication since it is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and has support for the Fingerprint API. Additionally, it can support up to 5 fingerprints at a time. So you can have it remember multiple fingers, allowing you to use virtually any finger to unlock the device.
The ZTE Axon 7 Mini has front-facing speakers, and that alone is a big enough reason to consider buying this phone. There aren't too many smartphones with front-facing speakers these days, and it's a feature that most people love. These are stereo speakers and they simply sound amazing. The highs, mids, and lows all sound incredible. This is easily one of the best smartphones I've used this year, when talking about the audio quality. There aren't many that will beat it, and even less in this price range. When it comes to headphones, you get about the same sound quality, this also depends on what headphones you plug in too. So if you're an audiophile, this is definitely a smartphone to pick up.
Network & Phone Calls
ZTE is selling the Axon 7 Mini unlocked in the US, and it does work with both AT&T and T-Mobile - including full 4G LTE support. During our review, we used it on the T-Mobile network here in the US and it performed as expected. We got similar speeds to other smartphones we've used in the same areas. It does also support band 12 (you'll see the full list below) for T-Mobile, so you'll get incredible indoor signal as well with the Axon 7 Mini.
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100
LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 41
Now the ZTE Axon 7 Mini does have support for VoLTE, we did use it while we were reviewing the device and it worked flawlessly on T-Mobile. That is definitely a good thing, especially with the future moving towards VoLTE right now. You'll just need to enable it in the settings - which is should be enabled by default. However, there is no built in WiFi Calling here, unfortunately.
When it comes to benchmarks, we pretty much know what to expect from the Axon 7 Mini. And that's largely due to the fact that we've benchmarked many devices with the same internals already. With the Snapdragon 617 inside and 3GB of RAM, you don't expect it to match what the Galaxy Note 7 or the LG V20 has done on these benchmarks, but it did score fairly decently. We tested it with 3D Mark, AnTuTu and Geekbench 4. On 3D Mark it scored a respectable 394. Over on AnTuTu, it scored a 47,048 which puts it right between the Xiaomi Mi 4S and the Meizu M3 Note. Not too bad, to be honest. Finally on Geekbench 4, it scored 704 on the single-core test and 1850 for multi-core. You can check out the full results in the gallery below.
There is a 2705mAh battery inside the ZTE Axon 7 Mini, which is actually fairly decent, but still a bit small compared to other smartphones at its size. The battery doesn't last as long as we would like for it too. When we are using the device, the battery depletes pretty quickly. In fact, when we were using it as our daily driver, we were able to kill the battery in less than a day. Which is not ideal in today's day and age. However, if we were using it very lightly, only checking our favorite social media apps every once in a while, it was able to last a few days. So it shows that standby time is definitely great, but it needs some optimization for when you are actually doing stuff with the phone.
On the bright side, the ZTE Axon 7 Mini has the Snapdragon 617 inside which does support Quick Charge 3.0. This means that we were able to fully charge the device in about an hour and a half. Which is pretty quick. Now when it is being charged, it can get a bit warm, unfortunately, but it's still pretty good at charging up quickly without getting so hot that it's to hot to handle.
Unfortunately, with the software that ZTE has on the Axon 7 Mini, we were not able to see how much screen on time we accomplished with each battery cycle. But you can still see our battery stats from a few cycles in the gallery below.
When it comes to software, the ZTE Axon 7 Mini is sporting Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with MiFavor v4.0 (that's ZTE's own overlay) and the November 1st, 2016 security patch. All things told, there's not a lot to complain about, when it comes to how up-to-date the Axon 7 Mini is. It is running a slightly older security patch, but it's still newer than most other devices currently being sold. However, it would be nice to see it updated to Android Nougat in the near future. ZTE is planning to upgrade the Axon 7 Mini to Nougat, but no ETA has been given just yet, so it could be in a few days, or a few months. It's hard to say.
The software is much different on the Axon 7 Mini, than it was on the Axon Pro that we reviewed last year. The Axon Pro was mostly stock Android with a few tweaks to make it unique. The Axon 7 Mini has a few hints of stock Android, but it's very clear that it has been themed by ZTE. It's not a bad thing actually, although there are a few things that we aren't to impressed with. The Axon 7 Mini does keep the color scheme mostly the same. So with this AMOLED panel, battery life is pretty good thanks to the majority of the OS being a bit darker. The settings app is a big change though. There are two panels here. One shows your frequently used settings, like WiFi, Bluetooth, Storage, Display, Sounds & Vibration, Notifications, Themes & Wallpaper, Apps, Default Apps and such. Unfortunately, these are not customizable. You can swipe between frequent settings and the regular settings menu as well. Making it easy to get to other settings.
ZTE has tried putting some themes on the Axon 7 Mini, but it hasn't worked out too well so far. There are two themes currently available, one is named "Android" and the other is "Classic 4.0". The "Android" theme makes the settings and such look a bit more like stock Android, but it doesn't change a whole lot. Now the reason why I say that ZTE tried adding themes here is the fact that there is no theme store, nor is there a way to customize parts of either of these themes. So you're stuck with two themes, and the only thing that you can change is the wallpaper on the home screen or the lock screen. It's a good start, but we need to see ZTE do a bit more with themes here on MiFavor.
There are a few other pretty cool features available for the ZTE Axon 7 Mini. One is Mi-POP. It's basically a floating dock that allows you to get rid of the navigation buttons (and use the entire screen real estate), and by tapping on it, it'll reveal a slew of buttons. You can even customize the buttons that are available. So you have functions like Home, Back, Recent Apps, Lock Screen, Screenshot, Mute, Status Bar, Restart, Shutdown and Menu. You can have up to five functions available in Mi-POP, making it a rather useful feature of the ZTE Axon 7 Mini. Another useful feature that ZTE has here is Voice unlock. Which may not be the most secure way to lock your smartphone, but it is pretty cool. You can say your password to your phone. Normally this would be a terrible idea, as others around you would know your password, but the Axon 7 Mini will only unlock the phone for you with your voice, not someone else's. So it has to be trained to your voice. Like I said, it's likely not the most secure way to lock your smartphone, but it is a cool and innovative feature.
One of the gripes that we do have with the software here comes from the lock screen. The ZTE Axon 7 Mini does not show notifications on the lock screen automatically. Instead there is a bell towards the top of the lock screen which you need to tap to show your notifications. It's not the end of the world, but it would be nice to simply press the power button and see what notifications you have. Of course, in my personal usage of the device, I never really saw the lock screen, as I typically just pressed the fingerprint sensor and went straight to the home screen. So it's not a big issue to me, but it will be for some users.
ZTE's software definitely takes some getting used to here with the Axon 7 Mini. It's not stock Android, and that might be a let down for some Android purists, but the majority of features and functions that ZTE added to the Axon 7 Mini are pretty helpful, and if you don't like them, everything can be turned off individually, which is also a big help.
The camera is a pretty pleasant experience on the ZTE Axon 7 Mini. It is a 16-megapixel shooter, so it's not a bad camera at all, but we'll get to the camera quality in a little bit. The camera app is pretty minimal, but it is still loaded with features. On the left side of the display there is a toggle to switch cameras, a timer, HDR, flash and a shortcut to settings. Now all of the pictures we took during the review were with Auto-HDR enabled. In settings you can turn on or off features like Voice Capture, Watermark, shutter tone, geo-tagging and others. You can also use the volume key to take a photo. You can also change this to work for zooming or just simply for changing the volume on the device, as it was meant to be.
Besides the typical Photo, Video and Manual modes, ZTE has also included six other modes. These are Super Night, Magic Exposure, Slow Motion, Panorama, Multi Exposure, and Time lapse. In Manual mode, the user has the ability to adjust the shutter, ISO, exposure, and white balance, allowing the shooter to get the perfect picture with the ZTE Axon 7 Mini. Manual is a mode that is becoming more and more popular on smartphones these days, and professional photographers are loving it. Unfortunately, another feature that professional photographers love is not here, and that's the ability to shoot in RAW. Photographers love RAW because they can shoot a picture and get an unedited and an unprocessed photo that they can then do whatever they want with in their favorite photo editor. Those pictures are usually much larger.
Now as far as the picture quality goes, it's actually fairly good. In low-light situations you will see a bit of noise, but it's not too bad. It also does macro shots very nicely, which is something that not everyone loves, but it is nice to have available. The colors were not overly saturated like some Samsung cameras tend to be, additionally, the background was not blown out. That is also something that we see all too often on smartphones that are cheap and in this price range. It shows that ZTE really took their time and made the Axon 7 Mini's camera a great one, and one that can really compete with other smartphones that are on store shelves next to the Axon 7 Mini.
Lockscreen notifications not appearing on the screen automatically.
The ZTE Axon 7 Mini is a pretty good smartphone from ZTE. It's not what most people would call a "mini" smartphone though. Which is a bit unfortunate, but it is still small enough to be used with one hand, which is definitely nice to see, seeing as most smartphones need two hands to be used these days. The Axon 7 Mini does cut a few corners, by throwing in a slightly lower-end processor - compared to the Axon 7 - but it is still more than capable. There's a lot to love about the Axon 7 Mini, and not a whole lot to dislike about it.
Should I buy the ZTE Axon 7 Mini?
If you're in the market for a new smartphone, and are looking for one that is slightly smaller than the majority of phones out there, then yes. The ZTE Axon 7 Mini checks just about every box. The only real issue is battery life, especially if you're a heavy user, but with Quick Charge 3.0, that's not as big of an issue as you might think.