Image courtesy ZTE

ZTE used a pool of 5,798 consumers to help craft and mold its flagship device: the Axon Pro.

By Jason Cipriani
August 11, 2015

Chinese mobile maker ZTE is keen to take on the U.S. and its newest plan for market domination involves selling a new type of premium smartphone.

“About three years ago we started talking about providing a premium experience at an affordable price,” ZTE USA CEO Lixin Cheng explained to Fortune while discussing his company’s new smartphone. “We’ve always emphasized the affordability, but now we are also putting equal importance on [the] premium side,” he said

The result of those talks is the Axon Pro, a $450 smartphone with a spec sheet that rivals other top-of-the-line smartphones.

The smartphone includes all the features one would want (and expect) in a 2015 flagship device: Aluminum housing available in three colors, Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and a dual-lens camera system on the back. It also features a quick charge 3,000 milliamp-hour battery, 5.5-inch quad-HD screen, and a nearly stock version of Android 5.1.1. Additionally, it boasts a Hi-Fi audio thanks to a dedicated chip.

The Axon Pro’s dual-lens camera is advertised as a way to lessen the amount of time required to focus on a subject, while also offering the ability to adjust the depth-of-field of a photo after its taken. While testing the camera, I couldn’t find a discernible difference in focus speed compared to my iPhone 6. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth mentioning for those interested in the supposed advantage. I also found the ability to re-focus photos after the fact to be just as finicky as I did when I reviewed the HTC One M8 last year. It’s a feature that sounds amazing on paper, but leaves you disappointed in the end.

However, performance wise the Axon Pro didn’t disappoint. Apps were fast to launch, the screen was responsive to touch, and the battery offered enough juice to power me through a 15-hour day of normal usage.

Hi-Fi audio is a welcomed feature, but one you can only experience when using in-ear headphones (which are included with the device). I desperately wanted the speakers to have the same functionality, and was disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately, the aluminum back of the device is way too slick, making it difficult to hold on to without dropping. I often felt like I was on edge, afraid that I’d drop the device, especially as I rotated it from portrait to landscape orientation to take a picture.

The Axon Pro is part of a new—yet growing—group of affordable priced smartphones that have hit the market in recent months. For instance, just last month Motorola announced plans to launch the $399 Moto X Pure Edition, and OnePlus is set to release $329 OnePlus 2.

For the past eight years, ZTE has been happy laying claim to the low-end, prepaid smartphone market in the U.S. with its device lineup. A lineup currently made up of 67 devices across various wireless carriers and retailers, and it’s found great success with that approach. However, now it’s attempting to gain traction at what’s quickly become the high-end market.

Although, I’m not sure how much success the Axon line is going to have. Don’t get me wrong, the Axon Pro is a superb device. It hits all the right notes and lacks a clear-cut downside. But it also lacks a defining feature that sets it apart from the rest of the pack; and I can’t help but think it needs one, especially when you consider it’s now priced above it’s competition.

 

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