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ZTE Axon 30 5G Review: Best Under Display Selfie Camera in 2021

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR Feature
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ZTE Axon 30 5G is one of the best sub $500 smartphones you can buy.

ZTE Axon 30 5G
$499
Rating
star star star star star
Pros
  • Selife camera is drastically improved from 1st Generation
  • AMOLED Display is probably one of the best out there
  • Weight is only 180 grams for an extremely large device
  • Rear cameras produce really good photos
  • Software is greatly improved and very close to stock Android
  • Battery life is quite good for a large screen device
  • 5G Dual-SIM capability out of the box
Cons
  • No wireless charging yet
  • No dual stereo speakers
  • No official IP rating

ZTE provided AndroidHeadlines with a review unit of the ZTE Axon 30 5G. This review was written after using the device for more than 7 days. The phone is running MyOS 11.0 on top of Android 11 with the July 2021 security patch. ZTE had no input in the review and will be seeing it for the first time just like our readers.

ZTE Axon 30 5G has the second iteration of the under-display selfie camera. At first glance, it seems that most of the gripes I had with the ZTE Axon 20 5G have been fixed. And that is a good thing.

Another great thing that happened is that, unlike the first-generation device, we at AndroidHeadlines got dibs on the newest Axon 30 5G right at launch time. So let’s get the unboxing out of the way to see all the improvements ZTE has made with the new model.

Unboxing the ZTE Axon 30 5G

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ZTE gives us pretty much the same box from the previous version except on this one we have 30 in big bold gold color. Rest of the unboxing experience is pretty similar to the phone from last year. Underneath the phone, we have the insert with the factory case, SIM tool, and paperwork. Below the insert, there are two small boxes. One contains the 65W fast charging brick and the USB-C to headphone jack dongle. The second box contains a hefty USB-C cable. There are other reviewers that claim to have received a pair of headphones with their device but I couldn’t find them in my review unit packaging.

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Hardware Upgrades in all the right places

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR HW2

The ZTE Axon 30 5G has a glass front, plastic back, and a plastic frame, similar to the previous generation device. But I noticed a few things different right away when compared with the previous version.

First, the glass back has a slight texture strip running down from the camera module. Although the glass surface itself is still slippery everywhere. Next is the slightly different model and manufacturer branding and I like the newer version better. And the last thing is a revised unique looking quad-camera module layout. Again I do like the design language overall of the newer version on the back. Another minor upgrade is the thinner but sturdier polycarbonate factory case versus the older TPU one.

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The phone is extremely well built and there are zero squeaks or creaks. Another thing to note is that this is a fairly large device with a 6.92″ screen and yet somehow ZTE was able to make it slightly smaller and reduce the weight this time around. Job well done, ZTE. Other smartphone manufacturers, please take note.

As usual, the power and volume buttons are on the right-hand side rail. Thankfully ZTE did not tinker with the power button. The net result is that we get the texture on it to help distinguish it from the volume rocker. The top rail is clean minus a tiny cutout for the second microphone. The left-hand rail contains no slots or buttons.

On the bottom rail, we have the speaker grille, microphone, USB-C port, and the hybrid dual-SIM tray slot.

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Improvements are everywhere on the Axon 30 5G

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR HW1

But we all know that after all the main reason to get the phone is the large 6.92″ uninterrupted display on the front without any notch or punch hole for the selfie camera. And this is the area where there are two big improvements ZTE made. And you notice both of them right away. The newer panel has the same size and resolution as before but for some reason feels a lot brighter and vivid compared to the prior version. The second improvement is the reduction in the size of the bottom chin. I like that ZTE didn’t shrink the bottom chin too much, unlike Xiaomi which results in keyboard typing issues.

Couple of things to bear in mind as far as hardware impressions go. We still do not know what sort of glass is protecting the display. And just like last time, my review unit came without a factory screen protector but that may or may not be the case with retail units. Overall this is a large device that feels fairly lightweight in contrast to the size and has a stellar uninterrupted front display.

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ZTE is offering the Axon 30 5G in two colors –  Black and Mint. Based on the marketing materials, I do like how the Mint color version looks. Of course, in typical reviewer fashion, I got the black color version sent to me.

It is very refreshing when a manufacturer pays attention to the little details which ultimately help in improving the overall user experience. So kudos to ZTE  because Axon 30 5G is definitely an upgrade over the previous year’s model.

The 6.92″ OLED Display now has a 120Hz refresh rate with a host of other improvements

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR Display

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Full points to ZTE for improving the no-hole punch display. There is no change to the size (6.92″) or the display resolution (2460×1080) or the 10-Bit Screen with 100%DCI-P3 color gamut support. But somehow the display on the newer version feels brighter, sharper, crisper, and more pleasing to look at.

The 120Hz FHD+ panel still has a 388 ppi pixel density in a 20:9 aspect ratio but now has an even higher 360Hz touch sampling rate. Scrolling animations are fluid, touch responses are snappy. You are in for a treat when using this phone for regular email, texts, social media, or catching up on your watchlists on YouTube or Netflix.

Under Display Camera Screen Enhancements work quite well

With the Axon 20, the screen above the selfie camera was easy to see off-axis and caused some minor display aberration while viewing videos. Well ZTE has made a whole host of improvements to the display above the selfie camera. The pixel density is now double to 400 PPI from 200 PPI from last year’s model.

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Next up is smart pixel enhancement via a UDC-Pro display chip which provides for a more accurate, synchronized, and consistent display according to ZTE. There is a multi-drive ACE circuit arrangement which results in better transitions for the two display areas. And physically there are 7-layers in the screen including a special OLED to create more light transmission for better selfies. From my review experience, I can vouch for these screen enhancements in terms of display quality and actual selfie camera performance.

If you are looking for an uninterrupted screen for gaming or entertainment then you will absolutely love the gorgeous display on the ZTE Axon 30 5G.

Performance gets a serious boost thanks to Snapdragon 870

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR Performance

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Just like last year, ZTE sent me the 8GB RAM / 128GB storage version of the Axon 30 5G. Besides upgrading the processor to Snapdragon 870, we also get fast UFS3.1 storage this time around. Speaking of storage you can expand storage via a micro SD card using the Hybrid dual-SIM tray.

Geekbench scores see a dramatic improvement. Single-core score is now 986 compared to 602 and multi-core score jumps to 3163 from 1904. These are some impressive performance jumps in terms of CPU/GPU processing power.

There is one minor quirky change, and that is for some reason Game Assist is now no longer available in the newer MyOS software. You can however get by via manual DND mode. But with the serious upgrade in hardware, you can play graphics-intensive games like Genshin Impact at full 60 fps without any hiccups or the phone heating up. Thankfully the dedicated cooling system with a vapor chamber, graphene layer and the right amount of thermal gel help heat dissipation allowing you to game for long periods of time.

I think from a performance standpoint you are getting some serious hardware for an attractive price.

Software gets improvements as well on the ZTE Axon 30 5G

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Gone is MiFavor 10.5 running Android 10 and instead we get MyOS 11.0 based on Android 11. The review unit has July 2021 security update along with May 2021 Google Play system update. In short, the software is fairly current.

I like the MyOS version because it feels extremely close to the stock Google Android experience. There are some subtle tweaks in the pull-down quick settings and the overall settings menu. Otherwise, the software is identical to my daily driver Pixel 4a 5G and that is a good thing. There is one extra app that comes preloaded on this device and that is Facebook. Unfortunately, it cannot be uninstalled but you can disable it. Otherwise, there is no bloatware and no duplication of apps. Phone, Messages, Browser, Google Discover, Google Pay are all installed out of the box. And there are no other extra app stores or themes taking up storage space on your device.

One-handed mode and Z-Pop (Edge function on a Samsung Galaxy series device) carry over from MiFavor and I think these are good options to have. Of course, ZTE did not mess with the good things and so there are no irritating ads that you get with Samsung and Xiaomi devices these days when using the device or installing apps. The under-screen fingerprint scanner is extremely fast and accurate which is what is used during my review period.

Software is fast, fluid, and definitely gimmick-free. I can slowly see a theme emerging with the ZTE Axon 30 5G and that is that there are incremental improvements in all the areas compared to the previous version. And this results in a great daily experience with this device.

Selfie Camera performance is now vastly improved, rear camera performance is quite good as well

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR Camera

My guess is you are all waiting to find out if the selfie camera performance has improved or not? The short answer is yes. Now is the selfie camera comparable to say a Pixel or a Galaxy S series device? That answer would be no.

Okay so let’s dive into the details. Last year there was a 32MP f/2.0 camera under the screen. This time around there is a 16 MP selfie camera under the display. I think with all the display improvements the Axon 30 5G gets better results with half the megapixels this time around. The selfie camera has a sensor with 1.12 µm pixels, which can grow to 2.24 µm after 4-in-1 binning. ZTE  has a new in-house algorithm for processing selfies shot through the display.

So with a bit of learning, you can get really good selfies with this smartphone. Just like before, avoid getting too much direct light onto the display. And with a bit of practice, you can coax out reasonable results indoors and outdoors. However, portrait mode results from the selfie camera are absolutely terrible. Pro-tip, don’t even try to take a selfie portrait with this device. Video performance is passable under favorable conditions especially outdoors.

While selfie camera performance has improved quite a bit, if you are into selfies, selfie portraits and front camera videos then you need to continue using a traditional smartphone with a hole punch.

Main camera performance is quite good in daylight

There are two changes as far as the rear cameras are concerned. First, is the retro aesthetic camera layout. Secondly, there is a minor bump up in the resolution of the macro camera from 2MP to 5MP. The rear quad camera module consists of a 64 MP (1/1.73”) main sensor, 8 MP ultra-wide, 5 MP macro, and 2 MP depth sensor.

The pictures from the main camera are quite good especially in daylight and can keep up with other phones in this price range. There aren’t any surprises because the cameras are basically a carryover. The learning curve to get good pictures via the main 64MP sensor or the ultra-wide camera isn’t that steep. You should note that the final output from the main camera is 16MP due to the 4-in-1 pixel binning.

ZTE Axon 30 5G Camera Samples - Flickr Gallery

One thing to note is that the AI mode works quite well in terms of scene/shot detection. And pictures using night mode turn out reasonably well if there is some amount of ambient light. But if you are expecting results akin to Night Sight on the Pixel series then prepare to be disappointed.

As far as video is concerned, you can record in 4K at 30 FPS or 60 FPS from the rear camera. The camera app has a variety of other modes/options for VLOG, lighting conditions, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that video output from the Ultra-wide camera isn’t that great.

Expect a full day use in terms of battery Life on the ZTE Axon 30 5G

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There is a 4200 mAh battery cell powering the ZTE Axon 30 5G which is smaller than what the competition has to offer. However, thanks to the OLED screen and Snapdragon 870, the ZTE Axon 30 5G offers a full day of use for an average smartphone user. I managed to get 5+ hours of screen-on-time between charges during my review period and that too on the 5G network. But if you are looking for multi-day battery life, then this might not be the smartphone of choice for you.

Recharging is fast thanks to the 65W Fast Charge brick included in the retail box and support for Quick Charge 4+ and PD fast charge. Thankfully unlike other manufacturers ZTE actually bumped up the wattage of its charging brick from 30W to 65W this time around. I believe you might be able to charge your laptop or Chromebook with this charging brick. The only missing feature is wireless charging but then again not a lot of devices offer that in this price segment.

No stereo speakers even with DTS:X

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR Audio

The audio output is loud and reasonably clear with built-in DTS:X support which can be accessed in the Sound settings. However, the sound is a bit teeny and there is no stereo sound which is a bit of a bummer since this is a device made for entertainment consumption.

Another thing is no headphone jack is available but the audio output from the USB-C port is excellent using the ZTE provided dongle. The sound quality is excellent again via Bluetooth 5.0 supported earphones. I recommend using the dongle and wired headphones or BT headphones if you have good quality ones lying around.

Calls were loud and clear in handset or speakerphone mode. Overall, I would give a B+ to the ZTE Axon 30 5G for its audio output.

ZTE Axon 30 5G works just fine on T-Mobile in Southern California

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My hybrid dual-SIM ZTE Axon 30 5G connected to T-Mobile without zero issues. As soon as I put in my SIM card I was able to see  VoLTE 5G on the phone. Day-to-day usage and download speeds were equivalent to my Pixel 4a 5G which is a good sign.

I encountered no problems with making class using the Axon 30 5G. Texting, downloading apps, watching YouTube/Netflix, streaming music via Amazon or Spotify was seamless. There is WiFi 6 support along with Bluetooth 5.1 so I did not have any issues pairing headphones or using the device with good WiFi connectivity indoors.

There is NFC support for contactless payments which comes in handy quite a bit these days. Finally within the ‘More connection settings’ there is support for Screen Cast, and Nearby Share, and these can be accessed from the pulldown quick settings menu as well.

Is the ZTE Axon 30 5G a worthy upgrade?

ZTE Axon 30 5G AH HR Verdict

I am impressed with all the improvements ZTE has made with the Axon 30 5G. There are some significant improvements with the second-generation under-display selfie camera. But along with that, they have improved pretty much every single gripe or annoyance from the Axon 20 5G.

I like the new hardware design language and despite being a large device how lightweight it feels in the hand. The display is better, brighter, with an improved touch sampling rate and a smaller chin. There is a better processor and storage is now UFS3.1. Battery life is still good and now there is 65W fast charge support. Software is better and there is 5G connectivity out of the box.

In summary, all the little tweaks and changes result in a markedly improved user experience. If you are not a big selfie camera person and want an uninterrupted display for under $500 then the Axon 30 5G should be near the top of your shopping list.