ZTE Axon 30 Ultra Review: The underrated one7
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is very powerful, with a Snapdragon 888 processor coupled with 8GB or 12GB of RAM. The phone is indeed snappy, and the 144Hz FHD+ AMOLED display is its strongest weapon.
It is natural to ask now what cuts have been made for a phone like the Axon 30 Ultra to undercut the competition. A promise of great camera performance was made by the company, though we are not sure it was kept. The battery life also could’ve been better.
With ZTE offering this phone globally, including in the US, the company’s attempt to compete with the likes of Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple is good, but still in need of better execution. Considering the price point of the Axon 30 Ultra combined with its specs, it is a good phone for Android enthusiasts that don’t necessarily want to spend $1000 on a flagship.
You can now preorder the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra on the company’s website.
The Axon 30 Ultra feels just a bit smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in the hand. The phone is roughly the same size as the Galaxy S21 Plus. With a weight of 188 grams, the phone feels balanced and light for its size. The Axon 30 Ultra has curved display edges which help shrink the side bezels and make the phone look more premium.
ZTE’s newest smartphone feels well built and polished. An aluminum frame is present on the Axon 30 Ultra. Тhe back of the phone feels a bit plasticky, but at least it is not prone to fingerprints, feeling similar in terms of build and materials to the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S20 FE. The Axon 30 Ultra’s body is a bit slippery and edgy, so you better be careful when holding it. The quad-camera module is on the big side and protrudes from the back of the device.
Overall, this is definitely not the most ergonomic design, but at least it looks nice to the eye.
The fingerprint scanner is an optical in-screen one, and it is fast and accurate. All of the buttons are located on the right side of the Axon 30 Ultra and have a nice reachability, feel and clickiness.
The speakers on the Axon 30 Ultra are really good, with punchy mids and highs and average lows. The bottom speaker is easy to muffle with your hand, especially when you’re gaming, and the top one isn’t strong enough to compensate. Call quality is very good, even when you’re on speakerphone.
I had no problems connectivity-wise, with great 5G and Wi-Fi speeds and perfect range.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra’s strongest feature could be its display. The phone rocks a 6.67-inch FHD+ AMOLED screen with 10-bit color depth, 100% DCI-P3 Color Gamut, HDR10+ compliance, and a whopping 144Hz refresh rate. By default, the screen refresh rate is on Auto, but you can quickly change it to be either 60, 90, 120 or 144Hz at all times. Of course, the higher you go, the more battery the screen will drain.
The FHD+ resolution (1080 x 2400) is sharp enough for the naked eye. With the high-refresh rate, the UI feels very smooth and responsive. But as far as brightness goes, we are a bit disappointed. The minimum brightness we measured at 2.3 nits, and the maximum brightness at 687 nits, which is lower in comparison with other flagships, but is a solid figure. The phone is still usable outdoors when the sun is up, but sometimes you will need to find some shade in order to see what’s on the display perfectly.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is definitely a great performer. The Snapdragon 888 is the best Android processor so far in 2021, and I had no doubts it would deliver in the Axon 30 Ultra too. The processor is coupled with 8GB or 12GB of RAM, depending on the version you choose. The storage is respectively 128GB or 256GB, with the latter costing additional $100. I was just fine with the 8GB base version and had no problems whatsoever.
Gaming on this phone is a great experience thanks to the 144Hz display with 300Hz touch sampling rate. According to ZTE, the Axon 30 Ultra has a triple cooling system that uses heat-transmitting gel to help prevent overheating when throwing heavy tasks and games at it. But while this sounds very cool, in real life, the phone gets plenty warm. It doesn’t overheat or anything of this sort, but I have to acknowledge that even doing light tasks, like browsing or using social media, the phone always gets warm enough for me to notice. This of course could be fixed with future software optimizations.
Software and features
The Axon 30 Ultra runs on Android 11 with the company’s MyOS user interface. The MyOS UI is pretty clean. Things like the notification bar and settings are changed but remain intuitive. You can customize the look and feel of the phone by changing the home screen animations and the icon layout, but you are not presented with UI themes to choose from. Three home screen modes are also available, with one with an app drawer, one without, and one called Easy Home Screen that is made with elders in mind, with its big icons and font size.
There’s a system-wide Dark Mode which you can program to turn on automatically. You can switch between gesture navigation and the old-school buttons as well.
The Axon 30 Ultra’s animations are fluid and fast, especially the ones when you open and close apps.
The MyOS UI has a clear and intuitive interface. The camera app has plenty of features like Multi-camera, which allows you to take a picture from the main, ultra-wide and telephoto sensor at the same time. Portrait and selfie modes have beauty options. Macro, manual and long exposure modes are also included. There is a 64MP mode, which as the name suggests captures a picture in the maximum resolution the main, ultra-wide and portrait cameras support.
Here is where things get interesting for the Axon 30 Ultra. The phone’s quad-camera system has three 64MP sensors, which are in the main, ultra-wide and portrait cameras. An 8MP telephoto sensor with 5x optical zoom is also present. The phone also has a laser-autofocus sensor.
Pictures taken with the main camera are pretty good, though sometimes inaccurate in terms of colors and exposure, with the camera tending to like brighter exposures. The ultra-wide camera isn’t bad either, but often lacks detail, which could also be said for the rest of the cameras. You need a lot of light to take great pictures with this phone. It’s low-light performance is a bit disappointing, even with the night mode. Such photos look okay, but details are distorted.
The 5x optical zoom telephoto camera lacks detail too. A 10x hybrid zoom is present, but it still lacks in quality. The digital zoom can go up to 60x. I must note that when zooming, the cameras don’t feel shaky at all, and ZTE has done a great job with the stabilization.
Portrait pictures look great. The 64MP 2x optical zoom camera dedicated for such photos has nice depth and detail. The blurry effect on the pictures is well pronounced and natural looking.
Macro shots aren’t the sharpest. While you can get really up close without losing focus, the details and color vibrance are just not on par with the competition.
A dual-LED flash is present on the back of the phone, but it is a bit on the weak side.
The front camera is a 16MP unit, which takes nice photos when you have lots of light. But indoors, your selfies will lose plenty of detail and even look a bit grainy at times. Night shots are also a disappointment.
As far as video goes, the phone shoots quite well in 4K 60fps, with vibrant colors, good detail, fast autofocus and excellent stabilization. Things change when you bump the resolution to 8K 30fps. It is nice to have the option of the highest resolution found in modern phones, but 8K footage is really shaky and unstable. Focusing is also slower in 8K, and compared to 4K, there aren’t plenty of more details captured.
For $749, this phone is definitely not your best choice in terms of camera performance, but still does the job.
The 4,600 mAh battery unit in the ZTE 30 Ultra has 65W fast charging, and the 65W charger is included in the box, which is a nice touch. The phone charges really fast, with 0 to 100% taking less than 50 minutes. There is no wireless charging, which might be a bummer for some.
ZTE’s new flagship has a decent battery life, but don’t expect to be impressed. The phone lasted me a whole day without charging, no problem, but at the end of the day I was always on 10-15%. I should note that I use my phone more than the average user, but not for heavy tasks. I also always used the high-refresh rate display setting on Auto. Overall, the Axon 30 Ultra’s battery life is good, but nothing special.