The Axon 7 improves on the Axon Pro in many ways ... [Review]

It's 2016, and it's the year of the 7s.  Galaxy S7, the Note jumped having a 6 and made the Note 7.  The iPhone 7 should be out soon ... and ZTE went from their Axon Pro to the Axon 7.  Lucky number 7!



Okay, this is going to be a tough review.  The videos took me a while to even line up what I was going to say.  I'll preface everything here by starting out saying that yes, there's some things that I didn't particularly enjoy.  Some things annoyed me, to be honest.  It's a really really great phone by all accounts, it just had enough small things that would keep me from using it as my daily driver.

Now, notice that I had a lot of first person statements there.  "...keep ME from ... MY daily ..." etc... I'm basing this opinion on all the phones I've used in the past.  What may annoy me, may not annoy you.  Overall, this phone is pretty dang great.  My only big complaint with it is the quality of the camera.  Everything else is bang on hardware wise, and where I didn't like a few things in the software, well a separate app would work.

In the end, it's great, but I've seen better.  And that's my common theme throughout the review.

Enough of the tl;dr version, let's dive in.  There's a lot to talk about here.



Let's first talk about what it is you'll get for $520 at Newegg

Hardware


Axon 7Axon Pro
Size5.5"5.5"
Display2560x14402560x1440
RAM4GB4GB
ProcessorSnapdragon 820Snapdragon 810
2.15GHz x42GHz x4 + 1.5GHz x4
Camera20MP / 8MP13(+2)MP / 5MP
Storage64GB64GB (it can come in 32GB*)
Battery3250mAh3000mAh
Quick Charge 3.0Quick Charge 2.0
otherfingerprint scanner
dual SIM



Not a bad jump in specs, but the most noticeable is the subtle shift from a very 'sturdy' phone (which I kinda liked) in the Pro to a subtle curve and sleekness in the 7.

The back of the device has a nice sloping curve that's just so subtle and sleek that it kinda makes it a little slippery - but it'd be a perfect skipping stone if it were only water resistant!  :)


They've taken away the camera button, which I approve of, but then moved the volume rocker to the same side, and in a weird twist, put it below the volume.  For me it just means that it's all too easy to press when I'm putting it back in my pocket.  Nearly always turned it on.




They've also included a fingerprint scanner (the Pro model apparently had one too in some areas, but we didn't see it in Canada as far as I know) which works similar to the Nexus Imprint that it's not a button, just tap it to have it work.  For me it's worked probably about 90-95% of the time.  What's been weird is that the haptic feedback happens only when it didn't get the right imprint, but even then it seems about half the time if it didn't work it wouldn't buzz.  Again, not a big deal, just something I notice.




My favourite upgrade has to be the dual SIM feature.  The SIM tray has 2 slots, as we've seen in other phones, one for the SIM, one for the microSD, but on this, the SD portion could be used for a 2nd SIM.  Throughout the device there's always a notice about which SIM was used for what.  I get a little chortle every time I see the voicemail icon.


You'll also notice from the comparison of the Pro, the navigation keys used to be little light up buttons, on the new 7, it's just a little metallic print and they are spaced even closer.  Almost too close.  It definitely takes some getting used to.

So that's the hardware, let's look at some of the software that's included.

Software


First up, whereas the UI from the Pro it definitely looked like a custom ROM ... neat, but noticeable.  With the 7 it's more like a stock ROM.

Unfortunately, there are several places that I've found that the features are a little less than intuititive.  For example, when the phone rings you wouldn't know that to swipe up would mean to hang up, and down was to answer.  There's subtle colouring in the flashing around the icon, so it's not super apparent ... it takes some getting used to.

Same with the notification shade, there's 2 icons, one's an eye, the other is a trashcan.  The eyeball  has the options for you to turn off notifications for apps, and the trash clears them all.  It takes you a couple tries on some things to figure out what they do.



The stock apps for SMS and Email apps are good, but basic.  Unfortunately, they don't work well with Android Wear in the sense that there's no smart actions for you in the notification... you can't get a preview of the message, well, you can if it's a text, but

Added features


They've added a bunch of 'automation features', like being able to use the double tap to wake, lifting the phone to your ear in a text message or when it's ringing to answer, which is useful.  Another neat added feature is that you can take a screengrab by using three finger pinch.  I find that super useful.


Then there's a screen that comes up that'll let you edit it before it saves.

Then there's the Dolby Atmos feature, which, hey it's a true stereo speaker, so let's make the most of it.  Speaking of the speaker, I would have appreciated a little more oomph, but still it's not bad.


Then there's toolkit app which has some sensor readout information; and the cool "Mi-Pop" button which you can use as a floating navigational key.


There's still a slew of more options that actually are pretty useful





The not so useful


ZTE Rewards ... I talked about this in the Pro... it just doesn't make sense.  "Oh, hey, friend, you like this phone?  You should go buy it, and here, go buy it if I give you this link only".

The wall paper looks great, but it doesn't show the notifications unless you tap the little bell.

The Camera


Okay, this is where the bulk of the 'mixed bag' that is this phone.  It's got a bunch of really great features and high megapixel count, OIS, etc... however, the overall quality and performance lacks a little.  It's good, but I've seen better.  For most people it's totally fine, but I've gotten used to cameras like from the S7 or the G5 etc...

If you use the HDR feature it is very slow and often messes up the picture if there's any subtle movement.

But it's got several tricks up its sleeve:


So the first obvious strong point is that there's a manual mode and you can adjust everything you want (note the longest shutter time you can have is 23.5s)


It has a bunch of filters for the video and photo options.

There's also a Live feature which is similar to the mini video features you see in many other brands nowadays.  Personally, why not just take a video?


And then there's a bunch of other modes to use, like panorama, slow motion, etc... my 2 favourite is Multi Exposure (which I'm still trying to find a real world use case for it, but it's neat to have it available) and then the Magic Exposure mode.


Essentially, Magic Exposure sets you with the right settings to take a special effect photo in low light, like turning moving water to that cottony look, get a stair trail (but, 23.5s wouldn't get much of a a a trail) and then the car trail mode.

Stuff you could do with manual mode, but ... hey, this makes it super simple.



Performance


The performance is awesome and I've not noticed a hiccup using it. That being said, for 4GB of RAM I've run into a few situations where an app had ot reload after switching back to it.

The battery, being a nice 3250mAh, lasts a long time, even for a QuadHD display, the Snapdragon 820 just sips on it.  Most of the days I used it it would get me about 18hrs before the end of the day getting to 15% left and it would show that it could still go another couple hours.


Cannot complain about that in the least.  Plus, add in the QuickCharge 3.0 and even if you had to use it heavier than I do, it'll charge very quickly.

Overall


Comes with QC3.0 charger, and an adapter, and a case.  how awesome.  Oh, and it's cheaper than last year's offering too.
With other flagships rolling in at the $900 and up mark, this is definitely a great deal, despite the few points where I was less than enthused.  For that price, I'll live with installing a 3rd party app.  Heck, with 64GB of storage, you can install a lot of apps.

In the end, it's an awesome phone, with some minor hangups (like for some reason it syncs my photos with Dropbox, but not perfectly with Google Photos).  But enough of the minor hangups for me that I'd not choose it.  Then again, should my phone break and I had to buy a new one... price would definitely weigh very heavily on me.  You cannot argue that at just over half the price of other flagships out there it's not a bargain.
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