ZTE Axon 10 Pro review: worthy flagship, lackluster camera

Value with a catch

ZTE Axon 10 Pro review
Bottom Line
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro is an affordable flagship with impressive specs that performs like a champ in every way -- except the cameras.
Nice design and build
Beautiful Screen
Outstanding performance
Phenomenal battery life
Wireless charging
Fast in-display fingerprint sensor
Stock Android
Good value
Lackluster camera
No headphone jack

Remember ZTE? Remember the excellent and underrated Axon 7? What about the folding dual-screen Axon M? Well, after a rocky couple of years duking things out with the U.S. government over some questionable business practices, the Chinese company’s back on our shores with an affordable flagship that looks mighty impressive — at least on paper. The ZTE Axon 10 Pro was launched at Mobile World Congress in February (complete with a 5G version), and it’s now available unlocked for just $549 from ZTE’s website, B&H, and NewEgg.

It features a triple-rear camera system (including a 48MP main shooter), Qualcomm’s speedy Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, an in-display fingerprint sensor, and a 4,000mAh battery with wireless charging — all wrapped in a sleek glass and aluminum package. And it runs an almost stock build of Android 9. Not bad for $549, right? So what’s the catch? Did ZTE cut any corners to meet such a low price? I recently got my hands on the Axon 10 Pro (4G version) and this is my review.

Hardware and design

At a quick glance, it’s easy to mistake the Axon 10 Pro for Huawei’s imaging powerhouse, the P30 Pro. Indeed, this is a premium phone. Curved screen edges? Check. Teardrop notch? Check. Oblong rear camera cluster with landscape branding? Check. The differences are in the details. ZTE’s handset lacks the P30 Pro’s fancy rainbow/gradient color options and flattened top and bottom edges, giving it a softer feel. That’s not a bad thing, but it makes the Axon 10 Pro’s design seem more generic, like it’s some kind of no-name ODM product.

Like most modern phones, the Axon 10 Pro is a shiny “3D” glass and aluminum sandwich with very thin sides. As such, it’s sensitive to drops and fingerprints alike. Thankfully, ZTE supplies a nice transparent TPU case in the box, if you’d rather minimize both. Stateside, we only get the blue color shown in this review, which isn’t particularly striking. But at least it isn’t as boring as the usual black or silver flagship hues. The Axon 10 Pro is also rated IP53, making it merely splash resistant — so no underwater pics, OK?

In front, the Axon 10 Pro is dominated by a beautiful 6.47-inch AMOLED display with curved edges, a teardrop notch, minimal side bezels, and just a tiny forehead and chin. Around the back is a vast expanse of blue glass interrupted near one corner by two black oblong pods in a landscape layout. The raised pod is home to the 48MP main shooter and a telephoto lens, while the flush-mounted pod covers an ultra-wide sensor and dual-LED flash. All branding is typeset inline with the pods, for that camera-like vibe.

Other than a hole for the secondary microphone, there’s nothing along the top edge. The left side is blank (besides the usual antenna bands), and the bottom edge is home to the hybrid dual nano-SIM + microSD card tray, USB Type-C port, and primary speaker opening. You’ll find the volume rocker and power/lock key (with a red accent) on the right side. A 20MP shooter lives inside the teardrop notch, and alongside the earpiece. The screen is also home to an embedded optical fingerprint scanner, but there’s no notification LED.

ZTE Axon 10 Pro unboxing: flagship specs for $549

At 7.9mm and 175g — and despite packing a large 4000mAh battery — the Axon 10 Pro is one of the thinner, lighter flagships available today. Its footprint is similar to other large handsets, like the aforementioned Huawei P30 Pro. Overall, ZTE didn’t skimp on design, materials, or build quality. While not groundbreaking, this is a modern phone that looks and feels pretty nice.


ZTE Axon 10 Pro review: worthy flagship, lackluster camera 3

The Axon 10 Pro’s display is quite lovely. It’s a 6.47-inch curved edge FHD+ AMOLED panel with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio (2340 x 1080 pixels, 398ppi), a teardrop notch, small bezels, and HDR10 support. Colors are vibrant without being too punchy, blacks are rich, and viewing angles are excellent, with only minor off-axis fade. It’s also a pleasantly bright screen, making it easy to read in direct sunlight. The only shortcoming is the automatic brightness, which often makes the panel too dim in low light. Hopefully, ZTE will fix this in a future update.


Like all recent flagships, the Axon 10 Pro is equipped with a triple rear camera setup. The main shooter uses Samsung’s 48MP GM1 sensor with an f/1.7 lens and phase-detection AF. It combines (bins) four 0.8-micron pixels into one for an effective 12MP resolution. The telephoto camera (3x optical zoom) pairs an 8MP sensor with an f/2.4 lens. Finally, the ultra-wide shooter (125-degree FoV) features a 20MP sensor and f/2.2 lens. None of these cameras appear to have OIS, which is unfortunate. Video recording maxes out at 4k 30fps.

For selfies, the Axon 10 Pro packs a 20MP f/2.0 shooter and captures video at up to 1080p 30fps. The camera app includes the usual modes and functionality, but there are a number of limitations and inconsistencies. Night, manual, and mono modes only work with the main shooter, but there’s a mono filter that works with all 3 lenses. Portraits use facial recognition instead of parallax or AI for depth sensing. There’s a redundant wide-only mode. You can’t adjust the amount of blur for Portrait selfies. It’s basically a big mess.

I’d forgive all this if the Axon 10 Pro camera system was competitive with other flagships, but it’s not. Pics are mostly fine when there’s enough light, but the shooters struggle in the dark, especially the telephoto sensor. The lack of OIS often produces results that are unacceptable for a $500+ phone today. In fact, Moto’s sub-$300 G7 easily matches or surpasses the Axon 10 Pro’s main shooter. Also, there doesn’t seem to much (if any) electronic stabilization when recording video, despite the Snapdragon 855’s powerful ISP.

Selfies are OK, but don’t really shine. Overall, the Axon 10 Pro’s imaging performance is a mixed bag, and the lack of detail in low light is disappointing. Let’s hope ZTE can remedy some of these issues with improved software. Still, it’s clear the company cut corners with the camera hardware, and it shows.

Reception and sound quality

I tested the Axon 10 Pro on AT&T’s LTE network in San Francisco and didn’t have any problems with reception or data speeds. Calls sounded fine using both the earpiece and speaker. As for audio performance, this handset doesn’t live up to its direct U.S. predecessor, the excellent Axon 7. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this phone’s sound quality — it just doesn’t stand out. Unlike LG’s G8 ThinQ, there’s no fancy DAC here — there’s not even a headphone jack. All you get is a decent set of stereo speakers with DTS: X Ultra.

Strangely, the earpiece (left channel) is quieter than the bottom-firing driver (right channel), which makes for a lopsided stereo listening experience. At least the speakers are loud. While the missing headphone jack is a bummer, the Axon 10 Pro supports both analog and digital USB Type-C audio devices, and ZTE bundles a dongle plus 3.5mm earbuds in the box.

Performance and battery life

There’s no doubt the Axon 10 Pro delivers outstanding performance. Specs include Qualcomm’s top tier Snapdragon 855 SoC, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage (plus microSD cards up to 2TB). Basically, this thing’s a beast — it gobbles up anything you toss at it with aplomb. Video editing? Yeah, whatever. Asphalt 9, PUBG, or other graphically intense games? No problem. Tiktok, Instagram? Yawn. Wanna do everything at the same time? Sure. Everything is just fast, fast, fast. Is it OnePlus 7 Pro quick? Not quite, but it’s $150 cheaper.

As you’d expect, with a 4000mAh cell, 1080p screen, and efficient 7nm chip, the Axon 10 Pro is a battery life champ. I’ve been reviewing this handset for four days now, and I’ve managed to stretch battery life to nearly 50 hours on the first full charge — using it just sporadically and turning it off at night. That’s impressive, and it means most people will have no trouble getting a full day of heavy use from this phone. And when it’s time for a refill, ZTE includes an 18W Quick Charge 3.0 power brick in the box, along with support for Qi wireless charging (up to 15W).

The remaining specs tick all the boxes. The Axon 10 Pro is a dual-SIM global handset that works with T-Mobile (including LTE band 71 / 600MHz), AT&T, Verizon (LTE only), and related MVNOs in the US. It also packs a bunch more radios (WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX, A-GPS / GLONASS / GALILEO, and NFC), plus the usual array of sensors (proximity, ambient light, gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass). As a bonus, the optical in-display fingerprint reader is fast and reliable and augmented by facial recognition.


I’m a big fan of stock Android, so I’m happy to report that the Axon 10 Pro runs a pretty clean build of Android 9 (Pie) — much like OnePlus and Moto phones. Customizations are few and mostly found in the settings menu, with such features as a one-handed mode, a screen recorder, and gesture controls. There’s also an always-on display option — par for the course on AMOLED flagships these days, but welcome nonetheless. Beyond this, ZTE uses AI to pre-load apps and optimize battery life, which seems to be paying off.

Oh, and there’s no crapware here to spoil the party — ZTE even uses Google’s own Dialer, Messages, and Photos apps. In all, the Axon 10 Pro a real pleasure to use, and that’s great news. All that’s missing now is a system-wide dark mode. That’s baked into Android 10, and the company says the new OS is coming by the end of 2019. Fingers crossed…

Price and competition

The Axon 10 Pro is available for $549 (8GB of RAM) or $599 (12GB of RAM) from ZTE’s website, B&H, or NewEgg — that’s good value. If you want a headphone jack and a slightly better camera (minus the telephoto), and you can live with an IPS panel and less RAM/storage (6GB / 64GB), the ASUS ZenFone 6 ($499+) is a solid alternative. For a more gaming-focused experience, there’s the Nubia Red Magic 3 ($479+) — just be ready to give up NFC, settle for less storage (128GB), and live with a single rear shooter.

Of course, the big elephant in the room is OnePlus. Alibaba currently sells the OnePlus 7 (8GB / 256GB) for an incredible $429! The OnePlus 7 Pro ($669+) is also an excellent choice if you absolutely need decent wide-angle and telephoto cameras. And who knows what the upcoming OnePlus 7T will bring to the table on Sept 26th? If you live outside the U.S., check out the Honor 20 Pro ($600+) and the Redmi K20 Pro / Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro ($400+). These affordable flagships come with great shooters and amazing specs for the money.

Bottom line

The Axon 10 Pro definitely packs a punch when it comes to value. For $549, you’re getting a worthy flagship in every way — except the cameras. And therein lies the rub. Can you really call this handset a flagship when it fails to deliver a quality imaging experience? I don’t think so. While photography doesn’t matter to some, it’s an essential part of using a smartphone for most people today. Also, the missing headphone jack is strange considering ZTE’s past emphasis on wired audio performance with the Axon 7.

Personally, I don’t recommend buying the Axon 10 Pro. But if you’re just looking for a well made, super fast handset with a beautiful screen and phenomenal battery life that rocks stock Android, you can’t go wrong at this price. Just do yourself a favor and wait until Sept 26th — I have a hunch that OnePlus is about to hit another home run.

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