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

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.

Software

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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