It has been a wild year for ZTE. In August, the company released the Axon 10 Pro, its first flagship smartphone to hit American shores since last year’s temporary ban. That ban represented a period of uncertainty for U.S. customers, one that left many of us wondering when and if we’d ever get our hands on a new ZTE device. Luckily, all was resolved, the ban was short-lived, and ZTE’s latest premium handset, the Axon 10 Pro, has officially arrived. We took this phone for a test drive to see how it would fare.
The hallmark of ZTE’s Axon series has long been value without compromise. In fact, you could argue that Axon devices offer some of the best dollar-for-dollar value on the market. The Axon 10 Pro is no exception. Go down the list and you’ll see that many of its specs match those found in the best phones on the market. Start with the hardware. The Axon 10 Pro uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU. That’s the same chipset as the Galaxy Note10. For memory, it comes with up to 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM—that’s more than the iPhone 11. Want the extended battery life or pure Android experience of, say, the Google Pixel 3? The Axon 10 Pro’s 4000mAh battery easily delivers all-day usage and its near-stock OS is indistinguishable from a Google phone. The list goes on, but the underlying point is that with the Axon 10 Pro, you get many of the same specs and features as a flagship, but at nearly half the price.
Now, when it comes to aesthetics, the Axon 10 Pro’s design does feel very familiar. It’s definitely a look we’ve seen before, though that doesn’t make it any less gorgeous. Curved glass panels cover the front and back, with a strong metal frame in between. On the right side, you’ve got the power button and volume rocker; on the bottom is the USB-C port. It’s a very clean, straightforward aesthetic.
The back of the phone also very clean. It’s a nice reflective blue finish that reminds me of an expensive sports car. Currently, blue is the only color available, but that’s OK, because it looks really sleek. On the front of the phone, you get a 6.47" AMOLED display that runs edge to edge and has an inconspicuous teardrop notch at the top. It’s a very nice display, with great colors and contrast. If you’re looking for a comparison, I’d say it’s close to what you get with the Galaxy S10, though perhaps not as vibrant. However, I was very satisfied with how well the screen performed, both in daylight and dark, and would count it as one of the phone’s top selling points.
Another flagship feature ZTE packed into the Axon 10 Pro is its camera setup. The rear system is made up of three separate lenses, stacked vertically on the left side of the phone. The lenses are a 48MP wide, 20MP ultrawide, and 8MP telephoto. On the front is a 20MP selfie camera. Now, on paper, these numbers look very impressive. In practice, I thought the camera system mostly lived up to its potential, but I saw some areas that could be improved. For example, the camera does struggle a bit in low-light situations. Specifically, it loses details. Now, to address this, ZTE included a special Night Mode that does bring up the missing data. However, enabling this mode can cause some of your colors to go flat, so it’s a bit of a trade-off. Of course, none of that is to say the camera system isn’t good. On the whole, it’s solid, and in some certain circumstances, it’s excellent. For example, I thought that the landscape photos I shot were particularly good. Also, I thought the selfie camera was quite good. It managed to capture details and skin tone fairly well, and Portrait Mode did a solid job of softening my face without it looking too artificial.
One of the compromises you see with smartphones at this price is the absence of certain luxury features. After all, reduce the number of features and you reduce the cost. So what customers end up with is a reasonably priced smartphone that has all the major flagship selling points but is missing one or two nice-to-haves like wireless charging or an in-display fingerprint sensor. However, one of the big surprises about the Axon 10 Pro is the inclusion of those luxury features. The Axon 10 Pro does support wireless charging. There is an in-display fingerprint sensor (which is quick and reliable). It’s also IP68-rated for water resistance, which is great for peace of mind and to safeguard it against rain, spills, and accidental dips.
It’s easy to set the Axon 10 Pro next to a thousand-dollar flagship and ask why you would pay twice the amount of money for a phone that looks and acts very much the same. At the end of my week-long trial, I found myself struggling to come up with a convincing answer. It looks like a flagship, it acts like a flagship. Why, then, shouldn’t I choose it over something that costs so much more? I don’t know. But I do know the Axon 10 Pro is an objectively great phone. It’s sleek, it’s powerful, and performs dependably. In a world where premium smartphones often cost nearly as much as a pro-grade laptop, the Axon 10 Pro is a breath of fresh air—especially for our wallets.
Questions or comments about ZTE and the Axon 10 Pro? Let us know in the Comments section.
I have read where the Axon 10 Pro 5g has Dolby Atmos but the Axon Pro 10 does not. Is that true?
Just wish ZTE hadn't gone through that stupid period when they didn't include a 3.5 jack.
Hi Elbert -
I see no documentation listing DOLBY ATOMOS processing being featured with either ZTE AXON PRO 10 models.
It's a great phone. Camera can zoom optically 3 times.