ZTE Axon M Review


If you've been around PhoneArena for long enough, you may have seen those folding smartphone concepts – most notably the one from Samsung, where a single screen folds down the middle, transforming the device from a mini tablet to a classic smartphone and vice versa. The ZTE Axon M is built around that same idea, but realizes it through a much more straightforward approach. Basically, it’s a foldable dual-screen Android smartphone with two 5.2-inch displays held together by a hinge.

It must be pointed out that the ZTE Axon M is neither a concept, nor a prototype. In fact, you can get one from AT&T today for $725. This also gets you a decent set of specs, including a Snapdragon 821, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage – all packed in a body made of glass and metal. But ultimately, is the Axon M a multimedia and multitasking powerhouse, or is its dual-screen design mostly a gimmick? We used it as a daily driver to find out.

In the box:

  • ZTE Axon M
  • USB-C to USB-A charging cable and wall adapter
  • Micro-USB to USB-C adapter
  • SIM tool
  • Getting Started guide and Warranty Information

Design

Metal and glass construction help avoid a cheap-ish feel, as does a sturdy-feeling hinge, but general ergonomics are tough to smooth over.


We don’t think the Axon M will be winning any awards for innovative, ground-breaking design, but it certainly is unique; there’s simply nothing else like it on the Western market today. Of course, we remember the ill-fated Kyocera Echo of 2011, but that was a plastic phone from another time. The Axon M endeavors to breathe new life into the form factor, forged from metal and glass, with sharp edges that are quite noticeable in hand. It’s a thick device – half an inch to be exact – and with two screens, it weighs in at 230 grams – 30 grams more than the iPhone 8 Plus.

Holding this phone in any orientation takes quite some getting used to, but the earpiece, flash, and camera (which is for both selfies and regular day-to-day snaps) tell you which side is the front. When using the device as you would a normal phone, the heavy weight is the first thing you’ll notice. However, the first true struggle comes when attempting to unlock the phone. On the left side of the device lies every button it has; the camera/quick launch button, volume rocker, and power button/fingerprint sensor are all in a line since the hinge takes up the entire right side. Alas, this side-mounted fingerprint sensor is not only a small target, but it’s also on the opposite side of your thumb (for right-handed users). This makes an awkward angle for your ring or middle finger’s print to be scanned and led to a lot of missed authorizations.


The ergonomic struggle continues when the phone is unfolded. In landscape position (with the two screens sideways), the bezels provide enough space for us to hold the Axon M comfortably which was ideal for scrolling through Facebook and general web browsing. However, gaming and watching videos were less than ideal experiences when using the two screens as one large display – two of the most desired use-cases for what ZTE calls Extended Mode. Not only are your thumbs inadequately positioned to reach many of the on-screen gaming buttons, not only is there a weird black border down the middle of the screen, but holding the device this way also typically covers the speaker at the bottom – another detriment to your gaming experience. We struggled to find a grip that was comfortable and functional, so ultimately, you’re better off gaming in a single-screen, landscape position as these games were intended to be played.

ZTE Axon M

ZTE Axon M

Dimensions

5.94 x 2.82 x 0.48 inches

150.8 x 71.6 x 12.1 mm

Weight

8.11 oz (230 g)

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Dimensions

6.4 x 2.94 x 0.34 inches

162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm

Weight

6.88 oz (195 g)

LG V30

LG V30

Dimensions

5.97 x 2.97 x 0.29 inches

151.7 x 75.4 x 7.39 mm

Weight

5.57 oz (158 g)

OnePlus 5

OnePlus 5

Dimensions

6.07 x 2.92 x 0.29 inches

154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25 mm

Weight

5.40 oz (153 g)

ZTE Axon M

ZTE Axon M

Dimensions

5.94 x 2.82 x 0.48 inches

150.8 x 71.6 x 12.1 mm

Weight

8.11 oz (230 g)

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Dimensions

6.4 x 2.94 x 0.34 inches

162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm

Weight

6.88 oz (195 g)

LG V30

LG V30

Dimensions

5.97 x 2.97 x 0.29 inches

151.7 x 75.4 x 7.39 mm

Weight

5.57 oz (158 g)

OnePlus 5

OnePlus 5

Dimensions

6.07 x 2.92 x 0.29 inches

154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25 mm

Weight

5.40 oz (153 g)

To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page



Display

Two 1080p screens become one, but with a pretty annoying border in between.


Each 5.2-inch display on the Axon M has a 1080p resolution, but a combined screen of 6.75 inches is created when the device is unfolded. While details were generally well-represented with very good viewing angles to match, the display could lean towards a yellowish hue. Furthermore, our unit seemed to have a slightly dimmer secondary display compared to the main screen.

When watching videos in extended mode, you can’t help but lament the obtrusive black bar placed smack dab in the middle of your content. Otherwise we did enjoy using the screens independently to view separate media or mirror the same content for another viewer.


Interface and Performance

It’s a decently powerful phone, but transitions between screen modes need much refinement.


The Axon M’s interface is built on Android 7.1.2, but thankfully ZTE is guaranteeing an update to Oreo 8.0. Overlaid with its own skin and paired with apps from both ZTE and AT&T, the OS isn’t the most beautifully designed – erring more on the side of stock Android, but sometimes with even less color. The messaging app, for instance, takes on a dull green color as its main color scheme, and doesn’t allow for personalized colors for different contacts as Android Messages does.

The most unique aspect of the interface is, of course, using the two screens simultaneously. All available screen modes are activated through the “M” button, which is an additional soft key added to the nav bar. The list of modes includes:

  • Single Mode, where only the main screen is activated.
  • Dual Mode, which enables the utilization of two independent screens and multiple instances of certain apps, such as Google Docs.
  • Extended Mode: as we hinted already in the Design section, it is used to stretch content across both displays, as if the phone had one huge screen only.
  • Mirror mode, which duplicates the same content on each screen.

Furtermore, a set of gestures is built into the interface to make toggling and managing apps quicker. While in Dual Mode, you can use a three-finger swipe across both screens to swap an app from one display to the other – a useful and generally swiftly executed task. If, for instance, you’re in Extended Mode and would like to push content to one side to make room for another app, simply swipe one finger to the left across the nav bar. Then, when you’re done multitasking, you can swipe to the right to extend the left-most app once more.

In terms of performance and fluidity, general navigation will serve you decently well – apps typically open quickly, and swapping is just as prompt. Unfortunately, toggling screen modes can often be a stuttery and unresponsive affair. Taking some time to refine the transitions and speed up reaction times when changing modes would have been much appreciated, as there never seems to be an instance when lag and unresponsiveness aren’t a factor.

AnTuTu Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 123154
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 175439
LG V30 174456
OnePlus 5 178968
JetStream Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 53.409
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 67.884
LG V30 55.338
OnePlus 5 69.780
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 33
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 39
LG V30 19
OnePlus 5 40
Basemark OS II Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 2631
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 3422
LG V30 2690
OnePlus 5 3500
Geekbench 4 single-core Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 1694
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1877
LG V30 1903
OnePlus 5 1941
Geekbench 4 multi-core Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 3716
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 6552
LG V30 6495
OnePlus 5 6678

Camera

20 MP’s capture detail well, but motion blur and poor exposure do their part to obfuscate this fact.


Sitting right up front, to the left of the earpiece, is the 20-megapixel camera and its accompanying dual flash. As mentioned, this is the sole camera, and it is weird how you're required to flip the device around after opening the camera app – even if you’re about to take a selfie. In such an instance, you must open the camera as usual, allow it to activate the rear screen as a viewfinder, tap the front-facing toggle, then turn the device back around to take a selfie with the main screen now acting as the viewfinder. Yes, it’s quite annoying and cumbersome to deal with this configuration when taking any kind of picture.

In terms of image quality, this camera is a letdown. Theoretically, 20 megapixels could capture detail well, but motion blur and insufficient exposure are often a problem, and the fact that the camera lacks OIS doesn't help. 4K Videos captured on the Axon M showed much of the same.


Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
ZTE Axon M No data
No data
288
246
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1.7
1.96
996
765
LG V30 1.6
2.15
641
649
OnePlus 5 1.1
1.5
682
682




Call Quality


Calls were made and received with no major issues to report. The earpiece is quieter than we’d like but the dual-speaker setup projects speakerphone calls loud and clear. Dolby Atmos Hi-Fi gets louder than you’d need for most situations, but avoids distortion and delivers clarity to match its decibel output.

Battery Life

It’ll get you through a full day’s use, even with mixed screen usage.

Packing a 3180-mAh battery, the Axon M seems to have little issue getting through a full day of mixed use, and faired moderately well in our custom battery-drain test, lasting for almost 7 hours. Recharge times were also pleasing, quick-charging from 0 to 100 in only an hour and 23 minutes. Wireless charging, of course, is a feature missing from this double-sided phone.

Battery life (hours) Higher is better
ZTE Axon M 6h 49 min (Average)
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 7h 50 min (Good)
LG V30 9h 34 min (Excellent)
OnePlus 5 9h 18 min (Excellent)
Charging time (minutes) Lower is better
ZTE Axon M 83
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 102
LG V30 108
OnePlus 5 99

Conclusion



When it comes down to it, this isn’t the worst effort ZTE could have made, although it is a bit half-baked, and the Axon M falls short in key areas. Unfortunately, software is the one of the most deficient areas of the M. Simply stretching and splitting content in accordance with the in-built functionalities of the Android OS leaves the user with a rather slapdash user experience. Games can’t take advantage of the large double screen in any real way, videos are rather unpleasant with the black bar in the middle, and transitions between screen modes are often dreadfully unresponsive. The only actual advantage seems to be in web browsing and multitasking, as landscape mode enables a roomy experience for the former, and the multi-window feature provides the same for the latter. Otherwise you’ll find yourself using the Axon M as a regular phone more often than not. Given the M’s mediocre performance, $725 price tag, and laundry list of quirks, is it really worth dealing with all this to gain the exceedingly minor advantages? In a word, no. ZTE’s expressed intentions to make a second generation of the M; hopefully these issues are better dealt with come round 2.



Pros

  • Two screens are better than one for multitasking
  • Loud dual-speaker setup for calls and media consumption
  • SD821 and 4GB RAM deliver their typically fast performance

Cons

  • Ergonomic nightmare
  • UI needs refinement in transitioning between screen modes
  • Poor camera performance
  • Extremely obtrusive black bar between screens in extended mode
  • Most apps will only work in portrait mode when extended
  • Poor fingerprint scanner placement

PhoneArena Rating:

4.0

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19 Comments

1. Cat97

Posts: 1858; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

I think the overall rating of 4 is not fair.

3. dnomadic

Posts: 399; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

4 is low but from what I've seen it is not an 8. 6 maybe 7.

14. worldpeace

Posts: 3127; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

The writer just hate this phone, lol.. just look how short this review is, compared to other phone's reviews

17. CoreyG

Posts: 19; Member since: Jul 04, 2017

Sorry guys, this was supposed to be a 5! Will fix ASAP, hopefully be revised by Monday! But also if you don't think it deserves a 5, which is a GOOD rating, (see: How We Rate) I invite you to buy one and see for yourself.. Truly, the only advantage is when multitasking. Any other use case is hampered severely by poor ergonomics, formatting, and UI. For $725, most people will be happier spending that on one of the superb flagships in that range.

18. CoreyG

Posts: 19; Member since: Jul 04, 2017

*average rating

20. An.Awesome.Guy

Posts: 636; Member since: Jan 12, 2015

The rating is still 4 and not 5 5 may means average but 4 definitely below average.

2. dnomadic

Posts: 399; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

Definitely a 9, come on iPhonearena. Seriously, there has to be some pretty decent use cases I wish it was executed a little better.

4. Whitedot

Posts: 764; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

Ooo Lord of the smartphones STOP this!

5. Kevro_86

Posts: 66; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

Totally agree that scoring this a 4 is ridiculous. Yes, there are things that need to be refined that would improve the overall experience, but giving it a 4 is basically saying that it is a lost cause.

6. Arch_Fiend

Posts: 3951; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

4, wow that is a new low pa, 6 at the least, it's not a great phone but it isn't awful either.

7. Ghost04

Posts: 517; Member since: May 03, 2014

What if this was a Apple prototypes product . What would have been the rating .

10. Doakie

Posts: 2478; Member since: May 06, 2009

Oh they would have given it a 9. It would be praised as the futuristic form factor of phone and every manufacturer would be making one next year. Total BS.

8. baldilocks

Posts: 1494; Member since: Dec 14, 2008

These phones never catch on, but yet they still keep building them.

12. An.Awesome.Guy

Posts: 636; Member since: Jan 12, 2015

Why thought ? I remember only Xperia tablet P, which is a tablet and not a phone that has two displays, I think risking a product is nice from time to time After all isn't the Note series seemed stupid to many people, hell the two cameras by HTC seemed as a stupid dull idea but now everyone is using them.

9. kanagadeepan

Posts: 1246; Member since: Jan 24, 2012

Well, since there is no half-eaten fruit logo on the back, this score is expected. Notch on top is top notch, but middle bar is pretty bad.

13. mte0709

Posts: 6; Member since: Jan 31, 2017

Unfair review as always by P.A. Get a life

15. hansip87

Posts: 226; Member since: Nov 10, 2015

Scores like this that discourage OEMs to do something different.Prepare to have your 100% bezel-less screen phone in the future.. Yawn..

16. CoreyG

Posts: 19; Member since: Jul 04, 2017

Sorry guys, this was supposed to be a 5! Will fix ASAP, hopefully be revised by Monday! But also if you don't think it deserves a 5, which is a GOOD rating, (see: How We Rate) I invite you to buy one and see for yourself.. Truly, the only advantage is when multitasking. Any other use case is hampered severely by poor ergonomics, formatting, and UI. For $725, most people will be happier spending that on one of the superb flagships in that range.

21. alonite

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 23, 2018

Actually this phone comes in 128gb with 6gbs of Ram. I purchased the china model and it came with better specs. Overall the phone was made for the Chinese market. For games the game pad were made for all the Chinese local big games and overall the phone is decent other then the Ergonomic feel for the phone. I wont rate this phone 4 but prob a 7-7.5. Its unique but i would have preferred a better finger print sensor spot or have dual cams one camera on each screen. With the amount of space it has i think they should have just post the finger print sensor on the main screen at the bottom. Overall been using the phone for a few days now. Its not as bad as they wrote it to be and definitely not worth a 4 as a rating. Its a good second phone for anyone who wants a tablet that will be easy to bring out.
Axon M
  • Display 5.2" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 20 MP
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, Quad-core, 2150 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3180 mAh(28.7h talk time)

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