The ZTE Axon M is a foldable smartphone – well, sort of. The screen itself doesn’t flex; but the two screens join together to give a much larger panoramic view of apps. It’s a novel idea that’s fun to use; and could herald the start of something much bigger in the smartphone world. But, the Axon M might be rather ahead of its time. Let’s explore the details of its specs and features in our in-depth ZTE Azon M Review.
What We Like?
- Durable aluminum hinge
- Headphone jack
- Ability to run two apps at once
What We Don’t?
- Disappointing camera
- Subpar battery life
- Second screen can cause performance issues
- Hinge ruins your ability to use both displays for one app
Highlights Of ZTE Azon M Review
Before you jump to the detailed ZTE Azon M Review; we want you to give a glance to its highlights to learn briefly about the specs this innovatively designed phone has to offer you. So, here’s the highlights of ZTE Azon M review.
Design And Display:
ZTE has refined the concept here, but it’s not entirely dissimilar. When folded closed; the Axon M is a thick half-inch slab with a band of metal running along the sides and matching screens on the front and back connected by a hinge. When folded shut, the phone measures 5.9 by 2.8 by 0.5 inches (HWD).
Two displays are better than one, is the reasoning behind the Axon M. What you get are a pair of 5.2-inch; 1080p dual IPS LCDs with 426 pixels per inch. We have shed light on the details of its design and display in our in-depth ZTE Azon M review.
There’s only a single 20-megapixel camera sensor on what’s essentially the front of the phone. That means to take a standard picture (not a selfie) you have to flip the phone around; at which point the viewfinder appears on the rear display.
The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 with 4GB of RAM. On the AnTuTu benchmark; it scores 145,457 in full-screen mode.
Battery life is surprisingly good given the fact the 3,180mAh cell has to power two screens. Learn more details in our in-depth ZTE Azon M Review.
ZTE tries to tackle the idea of a foldable phone by adding a second screen into the mix. While this might mean double the work; double the fun, and double the play; the story is not as simple as it initially seems. An undoubtedly interesting and cool look into what our smartphone futures could eventually end up getting bogged down by problems we still have today. This is our full ZTE Axon M review.
Android 7.1.2 Nougat
- Screen Size (Resolution)
Dual 5.2 inch (1920 x 1080)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
- microSD Slot?
Yes, expandable up to 256GB
- Front/Rear Camera
- Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)
- Water Resistance
5.94 x 2.82 x 0.48 inches
Design- Foldable And Dual-Screen
Your phone might have a glass back; so why can’t that back be a screen, too? That’s the idea behind the two 5.2-inch Axon M displays; which can expand into mini-tablet-like dimensions
It looks like a Nintendo DS; one that’s setup for smartphone multitasking. I was able to watch video while sending email; get directions while searching the web and type into a Google Doc – in landscape mode – and still, see more than three lines of text in our document when testing it for ZTE Azon M review.
I like this idea the most. Any keyboard in landscape mode on a normal phone usually takes up most of the screen and blocks 90% of what you’re typing. This fixes that problem; without committing you to a full-blown tablet.
An easy three-finger swipe switches the content from one screen to the other whenever you want; and multitouch works across both screen; when you blow apps up to fit across the seam. Diving into the Google Maps app on the dual displays and plotting out your route is much easier on the Axon M vs what amounts to more than a fraction of your current smartphone screen.
I had the most fun playing the game Battleship in a trifold mode; that lets two players attempt to sink each other’s ships without seeing the other’s screen. Many apps already work on both screens and app developers will have to continue to adapt to the dual displays to achieve results like this game.
For a phone with two screens; the Axon M left me with little to say about its pair of 5.2-inch 1080p LCD panels. They’re remarkably average; with underwhelming brightness and colors that don’t really pop; although the small screen size means that the full-HD resolution is sufficient for a sharp picture.
The Axon M re-created 100.2 percent of the sRGB gamut in our testing and notched a Delta-E color-accuracy score of 0.22. (Numbers closer to 0 are better in that latter test.) Those scores mean images are quite realistic; though if you prefer more-vibrant hues; the Axon M doesn’t offer alternate viewing modes. It’s a strange omission on a handset intended for watching television and movies.
The Axon M’s peak full-screen brightness faltered; registering just 394 nits on our light meter. That’s well below the 433-nit average for smartphones and more typical of an OLED screen than a conventional LCD panel.
The rest of the phone is pretty standard fare – a headphone jack is included here, and the onboard speaker is powered by Dolby Atmos. It is a single firing unit; though, and it performs just well enough to share content that you might be mirroring across both displays.
Sharing content with someone else via the aforementioned tent configuration is one of the cooler aspects of the Axon M, and if you and a partner are indeed looking to watch the same video; this is the only phone that can do it. But what about all of the other uses for a dual screen device? All those possibilities are designated by the ‘M’ in the softkey bar, which changes the display mode.
It’s possible to have the phone unfolded with only the left screen on; a stretched mode where both screens in a portrait are used as one big canvas; a mirrored mode where both screens show the same stuff, and finally a dual mode where either screen can be used independently for multitasking.
Multitasking is a focus for the Axon M, and not just for media – even though that might be the best use case. Having YouTube on one side while drafting emails on the other became a common app pair; and putting the entire phone in either portrait or landscape was possible. There are a couple of tradeoffs – in landscape mode; the media looks much better; in portrait mode; typing is immensely easier especially when swipe typing.
The Axon M is the only phone capable of dual-monitoring the smartphone experience.
One of my favorite dual tasks has been for gaming; where I had Final Fantasy IX (I promise one day I’ll finish it) on the main screen while the secondary display showed a walkthrough that I referenced whenever I got stuck. The dual-screen mode is the method that makes the most sense and anyone that is actually looking to dual-monitor their smartphones can look at the Axon M as the only phone capable of such a feat.
In another mode, both displays can be used together as a whole canvas, as the software stretches apps out. This is an interesting but ultimately flawed approach, where on the one hand you have double the screen real estate but on the other hand, there is a distracting line of bezel cutting right down the middle.
While I could suspend reality and just forget that the line was there in my ZTE Azon M review, it was in gaming that I found it annoying. Again, tradeoffs – having controls on either screen and a large overview of the game was fine, but cutting whatever was in the center (usually the character I was controlling) proved distracting and ultimately awkward.
Using this extended mode definitely brought about a ‘wow’ factor, but even those impressed people I showed this to soon noticed the same nagging issues.
Strangely, with its Snapdragon 821 processor, the Axon M is powered by the same silicon as 2016’s Pixel and the LG G6 released earlier this year. This puts ZTE’s device a year behind the current crop of frontline Android flagships, which are powered by the Snapdragon 835. Unfortunately, you can feel the gap in processing power as you put the Axon M through its paces.
The Axon M performs adequately when only one screen is used, but fold the device out, and things can always slow down. Apps can occasionally hang and cease responding to taps for brief moments or refuse to open for several seconds. The 4GB of RAM helps keep recent apps in memory, so they’re right where you left them when you switch to Dual Mode, for example. But overall, the Axon M never feels quite as swift as other phones in its price range.
In Geekbench 4, which tests overall performance, the Axon M managed a multi-core score of 4,354. That’s a bit higher than the first-generation Pixel’s 4,176, but handily behind the Pixel 2’s 6,282. The Axon M is actually about on par with the just-released Moto X4 Android One; a midrange handset running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 processor; which achieved 4,122.
Graphics performance was similarly serviceable, as 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark produced a score of 30,059. For reference, the Galaxy S8 achieved 36,508. An advice for gamers; not all titles will work across the Axon M’s display modes. For example, Injustice 2 played well on one screen, but attempting to run the title in the Expanded or Dual configurations stopped the game dead in its tracks, forcing the app to close. Meanwhile, Big Farm, a much less demanding title that comes preinstalled on the phone, ran perfectly in all cases.
The Axon M’s 20-megapixel, f/1.8 camera sits above the main display, facing the user, and is the only camera you’ll find anywhere on the device. When you want to take a picture of something in front of you; ZTE’s camera app instructs you to turn the phone around and use the secondary screen.
You’ll have to build muscle memory for flipping the phone every time you want to swap perspectives. I can’t tell you how many times I pressed the button that would be reserved for switching to the back camera on any other smartphone during ZTE Azon M review; only to find myself staring at a blank screen for 5 seconds before realizing I needed to spin the whole thing around.
You’d think, then, that with only one camera, ZTE could concentrate on making this shooter the absolute best. And yet, the Axon M’s camera lacks optical image stabilization, a key ingredient in any true flagship camera. Considering that the phone is the exact same price as a Galaxy S8, we were keen to compare the two, but the Samsung device demonstrated its superiority very quickly.
Both phones’ HDR modes were utilized for this scene of the Abraham Lincoln statue in Union Square in New York, and the first thing you notice is how washed out and overblown the Axon M’s rendition is. Ideally, HDR should curb this, by combining the shadows and highlights from different exposures to generate a more balanced image. But the tops of the buildings in the background are absolutely scorched by the sun here, and the steep gradient of the sky is unnatural. Combined with the cooler tint, those results make this picture look like it came from a phone that costs hundreds less.
The outlook somewhat improved for this photo of pumpkins from one of the park vendors. The Axon M’s higher megapixel count helps it achieve a sharper overall image, though we prefer the shallower depth of field offered by the Galaxy S8. Again, the ZTE demonstrates a blue cast that doesn’t do this late afternoon scene justice.
The Axon M’s selfie situation is interesting. Because this phone uses the same camera for all scenarios, you can take portraits of yourself that look considerably sharper than what you’re likely to get from any other phone. The Galaxy S8‘s front-facing shooter simply can’t match the clarity of the Axon M’s shot, and I also prefer the subtle blur in the background that ZTE provides. The dual-screened phone may not be particularly gifted in the camera category, but its selfie game puts other phones to shame.
As far as the battery life is concerned, using the phone in a closed configuration and using only one screen yielded about 4 hours of screen time, which is typical for a normal phone.
On a few occasions I tried to use the phone almost always with both screens activated, either in the extended or dual mode, and the battery life was pretty much cut in half, with my SoT dropping down to about 2.5 hours. It trickled me how much sense that made – with two screens on one battery, this is basically what we expected.
Our Point Of View:
I may have had my reservations about the Axon M, but it was a device I wanted to love. ZTE is taking a big gamble, designing a phone that other companies have been too hesitant to take on. Unfortunately, the device ends up being a gimmick which we tried to discuss in detail in our ZTE Azon M review; the phone struggles to prove its worth outside of a few rare scenarios here and there.
Using the Axon M is simply too frustrating an experience, too much of the time. The last-gen processor simply isn’t up to the task, and until flexible displays hit the market, that hinge is going to serve as one ugly deal-breaker. The software does a serviceable job of keeping most of the popular apps humming along, but some don’t handle the shuffling from screen to screen well, and they will slow everything down to a crawl.
It will take a whole new approach to design and a thoughtful, extensive reimagining of how Android fundamentally operates to make a dual-screen or foldable smartphone work. That goes for not only for ZTE, but also any phone maker that follows in its footsteps. Sadly, the Axon M isn’t that device; for all of its entertainment aspirations, it’s a pilot episode that’s not quite ready for prime time.