The device family of ZTE is currently a bit confusing. The Axon 30 is a direct successor to the Axon 20, which was the first phone with a camera on the screen. However, the company later released the Axon 30 Pro and Ultra in some areas. Oddly enough, the vanilla Axon 30 is the last of the Axon 30 family to appear.
For $ 500, it’s also the cheapest – another attempt by ZTE to move around among the most expensive smartphones and offer a mix of compelling features, albeit tempered by a few compromises. The main feature of the Axon 30 is a much improved camera under the screen (UDC), which is almost invisible. It is also a ZTE smartphone introduced in the US, which does not always happen.
But with Samsung’s OnePlus and Google’s increasingly competitive phone competition, ZTE’s Axon 30 offers more than just a hidden selfie camera?
So, what’s the fuss about the camera anyway? The 16-megapixel selfie shooter below the screen on the $ 500 Axon 30 makes the one on Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 a pity. Implementing ZTE is imperceptible unless you’re really looking for it. No punch hole, no notch, no pop-up camera.
By comparison, the Fold 3’s selfie camera has a pixel effect that indicates where the camera is and destroys the entire effect. (Yes, in defense of Samsung, there’s another front camera on the Fold 3 when it’s closed and you use the smaller screen.)
The difference appears to be pixel density, or according to ZTE, its composition, with a ‘special pixel matrix’ that ensures that the screen appears at 400 PPI – double that of the Axon 20. If the light captures the unit exactly, then yes , you can see it. You will probably never notice it again.
There is also a dedicated UDC chip that apparently works to make the camera area look consistent with the rest of the screen. To take a closer look, I use Oppo’s Find X3 Pro, with a microscope camera – perfect for visually explaining what might otherwise be very technical.
As you can see, some pixels look slightly smaller or dimmer than those around them. In this close-up you can see the outline of the UDC area, but with this magnification it is impressive that it no longer looks like a miss. I will touch on the performance of the camera later, but a spoiler: Although it may seem like the part, it is not quite capable.
The hidden sensor is also a complement to the extended 6.92-inch AMOLED screen, uninterrupted by the presence of cameras or holes. Featuring a panel of 2,460 x 1,080 resolution and a refresh rate of 120 Hz, the Axon 30 offers a flagship display for mid-range prices. You can switch between 120 and 60Hz, with an automatic option that lets the Axon 30 decide when to increase the frequency. On more expensive phones, such as the OnePlus 9 Pro and the recently announced iPhone Pro 13, there are more refresh rate options that drop even lower, but at this price it seems like a fair compromise.
It’s probably the best option for most people to leave it on the car, but the manual options are good, especially since it has a tangible benefit to the lower environment.
The phone itself is quite large, but it feels sturdy, despite the plastic back. ZTE has added a translucent reflective effect to the back of the Axon 30, which I like. However, I’m less in love with the giant camera unit, which protrudes a few millimeters from the phone, and it’s probably easier to scratch and scratch. Unfortunately, this design is everywhere now.
The screen may be comparable to an exclusive phone, but there are some features that did not make it possible, such as wireless charging and a certified resistance to dust and water.
Performance and software
There are further compromises. The Axon 30 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 870 processor – which has a bit less power than the Snapdragon 880 and 880 Plus we now see in flagship Android smartphones.
But at $ 500, phones like the Pixel 5a (and the Snapdragon 765G chip) are a better comparison. The Axon 30 has a more powerful chip than Google’s latest device, though it’s hard to tell a difference in performance between the two.
The Axon 30 handles everything I threw at it, whether it was video streaming, Stadiums or playing games on the phone. (The Stadia app indicated that the phone is not officially supported, although it worked well for me.) There was some delay in recording video with a full 4K resolution and in the gallery, but otherwise I do not have many complaints.
I should also mention that the Axon 30 is not exactly good for 5G support in the US. It only works on T-Mobile’s midband 5G. If you work on Verizon or AT&T, you will be transferred to 4G.
However, ZTE knows what it does with smartphone power. The phone has a 4,200mAh battery which, when I turned off the 120Hz refresh rate, took a good two days of typical use before I had to recharge. And when I needed it, it took almost no time.
The Axon 30 supports incredibly fast charging speeds up to 65W with the appropriate charger, which (thankfully) comes with the phone. ZTE estimates that it can charge the phone to 100 percent within an hour, but taking 50 percent takes relatively less time – about 20 minutes.
Software is pretty harmless, which is generally good. ZTE keeps pretty close to the stock Google experience. The new MyOS 11 skin, based on Android 11, is pretty close to what you would find on a Pixel. There are some distinctive gestures (shake the Axon 30 for the flashlight!) And a floating shortcut widget that can be reduced to the edges of the screen. This is similar to Samsung’s Edge panel on its larger phones. The version of ZTE is called Z-Pop and you can customize the four shortcuts for system commands and program conversion. That said, it’s not something that makes you think “Mmm, what an unforgettable experience it is.”
Although the 16-megapixel camera on the front is technically impressive, it does not take good selfies. Do not get me wrong; it takes much better photos than the UDC on both the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Axon 20. The work done on the pixel bin for low light performance, as well as algorithms to help the camera ‘see’ it by the AMOLED panel the best UDC so far. But it still provides medium to poor photos. It’s a little time consuming, to be honest, it gives me the kind of photos I got on smartphones years ago. Details are vague, and any strong background leads to lens flares and flushing.
There’s also an AI help mode that doesn’t seem to help much – in any case, modes like brightness seem to wash out the skin color even further, and it’s slightly gray at first. Even if you turn it off, the images look pretty unnatural.
It still contains enough detail to offer face unlocking features if you prefer the method above unlocking fingerprint. And yes, there is also a fingerprint reader built into the screen. Facial dislocation worked well for me nine times out of ten and was very fast enough, but I used a combination of the two. Fingerprint unlocking was more reliable in darker environments.
But what about the rest of the cameras? On the back, the Axon 30 has a four-camera series, led by a 64-megapixel Sony sensor. While you usually take photos that merge many of these pixels for less noise and better performance in low light, ZTE has retained the ability to take full resolution photos if you wish. There’s also an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 5-megapixel macro camera and finally a 2-megapixel depth sensor to help your bokeh photography and help focus. You get 2x optical zoom, which you would normally expect at this price.
While taking pictures with the Axon 30 during a family event, images of friends and family looked particularly good. Some photos are soft, probably because the photos were scaled down from the original 64-megapixel, but the phone could handle most of the things I threw there.