ZTE Axon 10 Pro review: worthy flagship, lackluster camera

Value with a catch

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.

Overall
3.9

Pros

  • Nice design and build
  • Beautiful Screen
  • Outstanding performance
  • Phenomenal battery life
  • Wireless charging
  • Fast in-display fingerprint sensor
  • Stock Android
  • Good value

Cons

  • 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.

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.

Display

IMG 20190922 143512 01 1024x768 - ZTE Axon 10 Pro review: worthy flagship, lackluster camera

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.

Camera

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.

Next Page: Performance, Battery Life, Software, Price & Bottom Line

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