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ZTE Axon Elite review

Katharine Byrne
4 Dec 2015
ZTE Axon Elite
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
280
inc VAT

It's not the most attractive smartphone ever created, but the ZTE Axon Elite is very quick for its price

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Specifications

Processor: Octa-core 2.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, Screen Size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage: 32GB (24.4GB), Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 154x77x9.8mm, Weight: N/A, Operating system: Android 5.0.2

The ZTE Axon Elite is a little different from the average £300 smartphone. It might not look like it at first glance, as the rather hideous gold grilles, fake stitching and faux plastic leather pattern on the back of the phone make it look like a cheap LG G4 knock-off. However, underneath its ungainly shell lies almost everything you'd expect from a flagship handset.

There's an octa-core, 2.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM, and its large 5.5in display has a Full HD resolution. There's also 32GB of storage (around 24.4GB of which is available to the user) which can be expanded by microSD, and its large 3,000mAh battery provides plenty of stamina over the course of a day.

ZTE Axon Elite rear

^ The fingerprint reader lets you unlock your phone from sleep mode, taking about a second to work. It's well-placed and easy to find

Performance

That's not bad for £280, and its raw performance power gives it a serious advantage over similarly priced rivals. Of course, this will make little difference if you can't stomach the sight of the phone, but its Geekbench 3 scores of 1347 in the single core test and 3,822 in the multicore test put it way in front of the £280 Motorola Moto X Play and even the £340 Nexus 5X. It genuinely felt very fast and snappy during everyday use.

Web browsing was very smooth, too, and its Peacekeeper score of 1,414 puts it even higher than Samsung's Galaxy S6. Likewise, its 1,517 frames in GFX Bench GL's offscreen Manhattan test (around 24fps) is easily one of the best scores I've seen from a midrange phone, giving it more than enough power to play complex games such as Hearthstone and simple 2D games like Threes alike.

Operating System

However, part of the Nexus 5X and Moto X Play's appeal is that they both use stock Android, rather than a particular skin set down by their manufacturer. The Axon Elite uses ZTE's MiFavor UI, which ditches the app tray in favour of a more iOS-like homescreen arrangement, and has a different layout for its main settings menu. It's very similar to Huawei's Emotion UI, which is possibly one of my least favourite Android skins, and ZTE's MiFavor UI doesn't fare much better.

ZTE Axon Elite UI screenshot

^ ZTE's MiFavor UI doesn't have an app tray, so all your applications will have to live on the home screen

Admittedly, the lack of an app tray isn't a big problem, but I'm still not a fan of how MiFavor imposes rounded corners on each app. It looks fine on ZTE's pre-installed software, as these icons have been specifically designed with this in mind, but third party apps which don't fit the template either have white or black silhouettes round them, or are cut off completely, making them look rather messy by comparison.

The notification bar is also rather cluttered, as I found its deluge of shortcut buttons actually made it harder to navigate. Admittedly, the interface is probably something you could get used to, but it's nowhere near as visually appealing as standard Android.

ZTE Axon Elite Android screenshot

^ The notification area is more crowded than most Android phones, but does have a simplified settings menu for quick access to important options

Display

For all the Axon Elite's speed, its 5.5in, 1,920x1,080 IPS display is decidedly lacklustre, even for a £290 smartphone. With a screen that covers just 82.9% of the sRGB colour gamut, images just aren't quite as punchy as those on the Moto X Play. Likewise, the high black level of 0.52cd/m2 means that darker areas of the screen can appear quite grey at times, so images lack depth as vibrancy.

It reached an impressive peak brightness of 519.81cd/m2, but whites weren't always particularly clean, as light images had a rather reddish colour temperature when compared side-by-side with the Moto X Play. Contrast was also a little low at 987:1, but I could still see a decent level of detail in most of my test photos.

ZTE Axon Elite display

Battery Life

The one thing the Axon Elite does have on its side is battery life. The 3,000mAh battery lasted 11h 45m in our continuous video playback test, with the screen set to 170cd/m2. While I might have expected a little more, considering the size of the battery, it does beat the Nexus 5X by around 90 minutes. It still can't quite catch up with the Moto X Play's 13h 08m, but the Axon Elite will certainly get you through the day.

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