ZTE Axon 7 Mini Review
Interface and Functionality
ZTE would benefit from not trying to fix what isn't broken in Android
The Axon 7 Mini arrives running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with ZTE's MiFavor 4.0 UI on top. As Android skins go, it's on the lighter side, and doesn't drastically change the look and feel of Google's familiar interface. Some of the more obvious changes include a simplified way to access common system settings through a “frequently used” menu that forgoes the cluttered system-settings list for a more streamlined icon view, and a set of on-screen virtual Android buttons with a convenient “hideaway” option to free up screen space.
Other aspects of MiFavor are less interesting, like a not particularly fleshed-out theming engine, and Mi-Pop, a floating button that offers quick access to basic features like taking a screenshot or locking the handset. The latter's an interesting idea, but ends up cluttering the screen and doesn't offer enough functionality to justify its presence.
You'll also find an assortment of gesture controls, with some working better than others. Things like tap-to-wake perform well enough, while others like shake-for-flashlight are limited in their usefulness – here because you first have to manually wake the phone and get to the lockscreen before the gesture will be accepted.
Speaking of lockscreens, while the Axon 7 Mini's is attractive enough, by default it makes the curious decision to hide notifications behind an icon ends up decreasing its convenience. Sure, you can tap to view your notifications, but that's one tap that shouldn't be needed in the first place. Thankfully, you can disable this easily enough, and see your notifications straight away.
It's clear that ZTE tried to add some value to Android with MiFavor, but it just doesn't seem to have been too successful in doing so. Thankfully, nothing's horribly broken, and what doesn't work you can mostly ignore.
Another weak point is the phone's fingerprint scanner. Though the placement is convenient enough, we found the scanner struggling to correctly authenticate us, often taking multiple tries.
Processor and Memory
The Axon 7 Mini shows its hand with specs that pale in comparison to the Axon 7
While the Axon 7 ran the flagship-class Snapdragon 820 and got 4 gigs of RAM, for the Axon 7 Mini ZTE dials things back to a Snapdragon 617 and 3GB of memory. The sacrificed RAM doesn't prove to be too problematic, but performance takes a big hit thanks to the lower-powered SoC.
For things like casual social media upkeep and web browsing, the Axon 7 Mini doesn't do too badly at all – and honestly, we were a bit surprised to see our benchmark results come in as low as they did after spending a good amount of time using the phone – but try firing up something a little more demanding (like a graphics-intensive game), and the 617's limitations quickly become apparent. Going with this chip is a decision we understand, helping to keep costs down, but it really emphasizes the fact that this isn't just a smaller Axon 7 – it's also a decidedly less powerful device.
For a budget phone, the 32GB of internal storage is more than adequate, and the ability to expand upon that with a microSD card (at the expense of dual-SIM support) is a nice bonus.
Solid connectivity options don't hurt the Axon 7 Mini, but there's also nothing particularly inspiring here
As we just mentioned, the Axon 7 Mini supports dual SIMs so long as you aren't using a microSD card, affording users the ability to jump between two cellular networks – always a nice feature to have, even if we're not taking advantage of the option. LTE Cat6 compatibility affords the phone access to download speeds as high as 300mbps (network dependent, obviously), and the phone supports about a dozen popular LTE bands.
The Axon 7 Mini's wired connectivity all takes place through the phone's USB Type-C port, though it's worth noting that you'll only get compatibility with USB 2.0 speeds – no 3.0 here, like on the Axon 7 itself.