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ZTE Axon Elite

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating star
Carrier: unlocked GSM
Manufacturer: ZTE

What's Hot: Fast performance with Snapdragon 810, very good cameras, facial recognition that actually works pretty well. Unlocked for use with any GSM carrier.

What's Not: Tacky gold paint job, unpleasant custom UI.


Reviewed October 22, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

ZTE Axon Elite

ZTE made a huge marketing push when they released the Axon worldwide a few months ago, including a big US marketing campaign. Interestingly, they omitted their company name (ZTE) in that marketing campaign, and pushed the Axon as a new and mysterious somewhat high end Android phone. Why? ZTE, at least in the US, is associated with low end carrier phones and the brand obviously lacks Samsung and LG's cache. Still, companies like OnePlus and Huawei have managed to make a big splash in the same segment, and we wish ZTE would have tried harder. The phone we look at today is the (in most ways) even higher spec, newer model, the Axon Elite. That nets you a phone with a lower, but still perfectly acceptable full HD resolution display, both fingerprint and facial recognition for unlocking the phone and expandable storage. Unfortunately, it comes with an absolutely tacky and cheap looking gold paint job. That paint even covers the leatherette back end caps, which looks plain weird.

The Axon Elite, unlike the standard US Axon Pro model, isn't marketed directly in the US. It's available via online importers like GearBest, who supplied our review unit. As a result, you won't get a host of US-centric 4G LTE bands, though it does have one of AT&T's most commonly used LTE 4G bands and we were able to get fast data on the phone with an AT&T SIM. On T-Mobile we had to make do with 3G HSPA+. The phone has two SIM card slots (a popular feature overseas, not so much in the US), so you can use two phone numbers on the phone. This is an unlocked GSM phone that will work on any GSM carrier (though you may not get 4G LTE everywhere). It's not compatible with Verizon and Sprint since they use CDMA rather than GSM.

ZTE Axon Elite

Nice Specs, Nasty MiFavor UI and Good Cameras

The Axon Elite has a 5.5" IPS full HD 1920 x 1080 display, rather than the QHD display on the non-Elite model. Honestly, that's a perfectly sharp resolution with 401 PPI, and QHD is largely overkill that's there for marketing wars more than anything else. The display has an anti-microbial coating for the germ phobic and it's Gorilla Glass 3. The phone runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, making it slightly outdated since many phones have Android 5.1 (a minor revision up). What hurts is the atrocious MiFavor 3.2 UI that simply stomps all over Android. You can install Google's own launcher or the third party launcher of your choice to improve things greatly. ZTE's launcher removes the app drawer and instead all apps are displayed on the additional home screen pages. The built-in app icons (including stock Google apps) are gold, black and silver to match the wallpaper and phone's color, rather than having their usual recognizable color schemes. If you uninstall an app, you'll see holes in the app grid, rather than a tidying of the arrangement to fill in the gaps. A swipe down from the top reminds us of Samsung's bad old days with an overwhelming 18 quick settings icons. We're surprised that ZTE loaded their own heavy UI overlay on the Elite when the standard US Axon shipped with a nearly pristine version of Android.

ZTE Axon Elite

As you'd expect from a higher end phone, the Axon Elite has dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth, NFC and a GPS with GLONASS. It has 3 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of internal storage. New with the Elite is a microSD card that's much welcome. ZTE says it supports cards up to 128 gigs. The phone has a very good 8MP front camera and a rear 13MP camera with secondary 2MP camera for depth-sensing effects (blurred backgrounds, aka bokeh, in photos). The rear camera has an f/1.8 lens and a dual LED rear flash. The rear camera is also very good, even if you ignore the secondary 2MP camera that adds just a little bit of bokeh to shots with prominent foreground subjects. Photos are natural looking, crisp and nicely balanced for exposure and color. The rear camera can shoot pleasing 4K video, and the settings for photos and video are intuitive and well laid out.

Performance and Horsepower

The ZTE Axon Elite runs on the fastest Qualcomm smartphone processor, the Snapdragon 810 octa-core. It has 3 gigs of RAM, which sits right between the 2 gig Axon and 4 gig Axon Pro. It has 32 gigs of storage and the microSD card slot for storage expansion. As expected it benchmarks well and it feels fast in daily use. Though we might not like the looks of the MiFavor UI, it doesn't slow down the phone.


ZTE Axon Elite Video Review




Fingerprint Scanner and Facial Recognition

The rear fingerprint scanner didn't work well in our tests, which is surprising since this feature is now solid on the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S6 family phones. Facial recognition uses the front camera and it worked very well in our tests. It seems to focus on the eyes, so eyeglass wearers may find the feature less useful (I had to take off my glasses 30% of the time). When bare-eyed, it worked quickly 75% of the time, and the other 25% it prompted me to move the phone closer so my eyes filled the frame. With a little practice, it could be a useful and natural way to unlock the phone, and it worked even in low light.

ZTE Axon Elite

Battery Life

The Phone has a 3,000 mAh battery that's sealed inside. That's a similar capacity to other big Android phones, and the lower resolution helps with battery life while the power hungry Snapdragon 810 detracts. That evens out to the usual 1 day of battery life with moderate use. Gaming will kill the battery quickly, but streaming video, web browsing and calls don't drain it quickly. The Snapdragon 810 supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0.


The ZTE Axon Elite is priced higher than the US version of the 32 gig Axon and Axon Pro. For US buyers it's hard to recommend the Elite given the unpleasant MiFavor UI and slightly older Android OS version. More importantly, the US versions net you LTE 4G bands for US carriers. The Elite does add a microSD card slot and the biometric security, but we'll take better LTE support and software over those features. For overseas buyers, the field is more wide open and the prices are closer.

Price: $469 from (use our coupon code ZTEAXONEU to get it for $399)


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Display: 5.5" IPS display with Gorilla Glass 3. Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (401 PPI). Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor.

Battery: 3000 mAh Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: 2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core CPU with Adreno 430 graphics. 3 gigs RAM, 32 gigs storage.

Size: 6.05 x 3.03 x 0.39 inches. 6 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band world phone with EDGE 2G. 3G and 4G LTE on the 1/3/7/8/12/17/20 bands.

Camera: 8MP front camera and 13MP + 2MP rear camera. 13MP camera has f/18 lens, dual LED flash and 4K video recording.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Android OS 5.0.2 Lollipop with ZTE's MiFavor 3.2 UI.

Expansion: 1 microSD card slot compatible with cards up to 128 gigs.


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