The Axon 10 Pro was unveiled on 2019-02-01 and was initially geared towards the high-end market. At the publishing time of this review, the Axon 10 Pro was priced at $545 USD, and that makes it a “Premium” phone that doesn’t compete directly with “High-end” ones priced much higher.
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro is built with an updated industrial design over last year’s ZTE Axon 9 Pro. Its look is agreeable, and it uses a dual-curve (front & back) design similar to what you find on Samsung or Huawei high-end phones.
With a width of 73.4mm (2.89 inches) and a thickness of 7.9mm (0.31 inches), the smartphone feels comfortable in hand. We use U.S M-size gloves for male hand-size reference, so this will vary from person to person.
The device weighs 175 grams (6.17 oz), and we would consider that weight to be slightly heavier than average. It packs a considerable battery capacity in relation to its size, and the screen display-to-body ratio of 87.9% (our calculation) is outstanding.
While this chassis has an IP rating of IP54, which means that it is splash-resistant (light rain), but not immersible. It’s not uncommon to lack the highest IP68 certification in the sub $700 range, and if that’s really important to you, the Galaxy S10e is IP68-rated (immersible) and can be bought for less than $600.
A clear case is included in the box to protect the Axon 10 Pro phone. We found it to be very decent, and the transparent color (with a slightly blue tint) has stayed stable after several weeks of use.
Following current trends, this smartphone does not have a 3.5mm port (an adapter is in the box, though), and we’ll let you decide if that’s good or bad. As time goes on, people have gotten used to the idea, and complain less about this missing feature.
One of the highlights of the phone is its dual-speaker, which outputs a powerful sound experience. It is about as loud as the Galaxy Note 10+, but the difference is that ZTE has tuned the sound by default to sound a bit more acute (good for voice clarity), while Samsung has opted to emphasize the bass.
This phone supports DTS:X Ultra surround sound for headphones.
Display (AMOLED, 6.47”)
Going with an AMOLED display is an excellent choice for the Axon 10 Pro as it can render deep blacks perfectly and has a good color representation, with 100% of the sRGB color gamut (the best mobile displays can hit above 140%, but 100% is considered excellent for laptops).
With a brightness of 715 NITs, Axon 10 Pro won’t compete with the 1363 NITs we measured on the Galaxy S10+, but it’s in-line with phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro, or the OnePlus 6T for example. Peak brightness is great in very bright settings such as the outdoors or a bright studio, but you don’t need extreme intensity (1000 NITs+ very often).
The 2340×1080 resolution is clearly not the highest that one can get at the high-end of the market (3040×1440 is common), but a number of manufacturers have decided that 1080p is “good enough” for most users, and spending more doesn’t gather much return. In some ways, it’s true, and users can decide for themselves.
The display also integrates an in-display fingerprint, which is trendy in 2019. Like other such sensors, it is not as fast as the older capacitive ones, but we’re trading speed for design here.
You can activate the optional Always-ON feature to keep the time, date, and battery life available at all times. I like it and always use this option when possible. OLED screens use minimal power with features like that, so it doesn’t cost much to turn on.
From a design standpoint, the punch-hole selfie camera design makes the screen look extra-large, with relatively small bezels. It’s not as crazy as high-end phones from Samsung or Huawei, but within this price range, that’s a great-looking option.
ZTE Axon 10 Camera
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro comes with a Triple-Camera system (+1 optical sensor for Bokeh) in the form of
- 27mm 48-MP f/1.7 wide (Primary) +OIS
- 80mm 20-MP f/2.4 zoom +OIS
- 14mm 20-MP f/2.2 ultrawide
It’s important to understand that the 48 Megapixel primary camera runs in 12 Megapixel in auto-mode. It is possible to switch to 48MP manually, but in that mode, features such as multiframe noise-reduction and HDR may be impacted.
The 48 Megapixel Samsung S5KGM2 is a Quad-Bayer sensor, rebranded called “Tetra Cell” to combine four pixels into one (a technique called pixel-binning) to improve high dynamic range (HDR), or to capture more light at night.
These cameras have decent hardware for the price, but the apertures of the zoom and ultrawide modules could be larger.
With an Uber-G Camera IQ score of 164, the ZTE Axon 10 does not perform as well as we expected based on the triple-camera specifications. Higher-ranked cameras include the iPhone 11 (174), Galaxy S10e (175), Honor 20 Pro (175), Galaxy S10 (177) and Huawei P30 Pro (180) – check the full list.
In absolute terms, the quality is still pretty good, but not as high as recent competitors such as the Honor 20 Pro camera or the OnePlus 7 Pro camera, for example. Instead, the overall score of the Axon 10 Pro is closer to the LG V40 camera or the Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera, which is quite older. ZTE is not yet ready to compete in high-end mobile cameras.
“ZTE IS NOT YET READY TO COMPETE IN HIGH-END MOBILE CAMERAS”
In some low-light situations, the Axon 10 Pro performs well. For example, it captures pretty good colors and details with night street lighting. The fine noise is more agreeable than other cameras that get blocky noise, such as the Pixel 3 camera or the Honor View 20 camera.
The example above shows both phones “brightening” the scene aggressively, but the Axon 10 Pro doesn’t manage the contrast and color hues as well as the Note 10+. As a result, the photos look duller, flatter, and more difficult to edit.
A cropped view is much better to illustrate the difference in noise, color, contrast and detail quality between the Axon 10 Pro and the Galaxy Note 10.
Surprisingly, in a more uniform (non-HDR) low-light situations (~4-0.5 LUX and less), the ZTE Axon 10 Pro camera has more difficulties avoiding noise and to preserve details, and the extra sharpening filter adds unwanted artifacts.
In ultra-low light conditions (0.5 – 0.1 LUX), ZTE cannot compete with new Huawei/Honor phones that have high-ISO “night vision” capabilities.
Ultrawide (UW) night photography is actually quite good, outperforming the Huawei P30 Pro and Honor 20 Pro, but can’t quite reach the quality of the Galaxy Note 10 UW camera, which remains the best to date.
The Axon 10 camera falls behind competitors in Daylight photography, with details and colors that aren’t as good as previously cited competitors, and of course, behind the top mobile cameras in our ranking.
Above, Colors and HDR issues are particularly noticeable as they drastically change the appearance of the scene, creating an unpredictable loss of control for the photographer. The Honor 20 Pro does a better job of capturing the original scene’s mood.
Levels of brightness at various points of the above scene are also substantially different from what the photographer is looking at.
Below, a cropped view of the photos show that both noise and level of details have to improve significantly on ZTE’s side.
“AN INTERESTING VALUE-PROPOSITION”
To finish on a positive note, the Zoom performance of the Axon 10 Pro is slightly above what we would expect from the specs. The details are somewhat better than Mate 20 Pro / Honor 20 Pro. P30 Pro remains our zoom performance reference for now and stays far ahead.
Absolute performance aside, The Axon 10 Pro camera has the benefit of being priced at $545, and that makes its camera an interesting value-proposition in that market segment, along with the Galaxy S10e, LG G8 camera, and the Huawei P30.
Equipped with the Snapdragon 855, the Axon Pro 10 offers excellent system performance. Synthetic benchmarks show results that are within ~1.5% of what we obtained with the Galaxy S10e or the OnePlus 7 Pro – no surprise there.
Different cooling techniques may yield slightly different performance results for extended gaming sessions, but in general, phones with the same processor will behave similarly, unless the user interface software is implemented poorly, or if it runs on an unusually fast display refresh (90Hz vs. 60Hz)
Snapdragon 855 has an excellent 4G LTE modem, which is rated as CATegory 20 (2 Gbps theoretical download), one of the fastest LTE performance available in the USA. It also comes with WiFi-6 support.
We have reviewed Snapdragon 855 in details, including its performance profile, and we can confirm that the Axon 10 Pro is very fast and is a solid choice for gaming and entertainment.
“SOLID CHOICE FOR GAMING AND ENTERTAINMENT”
Benchmarks alone should NOT drive a smartphone purchase decision. To learn more, read our Are Benchmarks Important? article.
Wireless networks (3G/4G) performance is often thought of as “peak” download/upload speeds, but it is the average 4G speed that counts. These days, 4G/LTE is the primary network of interest, but 5G is coming.
The higher the theoretical LTE performance and the better the actual average performance. Note that cellular carriers build better and more efficient LTE networks to diminish their own costs-efficiency. 5G brings the wireless carriers brings the cost down even more.
The base Axon 10 Pro version has 6GB of RAM, but there were talks of 8GB or 12GB versions, so keep your eyes open for these. More RAM typically doesn’t change the synthetic benchmark numbers but could help keep your phone fast if you use a LOT of apps.
ZTE says that it uses machine-learning to preload apps, so users get a snappy app loading experience. It’s a great idea, and many OEMs claim the same thing. It’s actually not easy to compare all of them, but the phone does feel pretty fast.
Strangely, The Axon 10 Pro is equipped with a USB 2.0 (via USB-C) connectivity, so downloading photos or movies to a computer may be slower than with competitors that have USB 3.0 connectivity.
With a 4000 mAh battery capacity, the Axon 10 Pro is very competitive within its price category and has more battery than most phones people compare it with (Mi9, S10e, OP6T, OP7). It also matches the Meizu Note 9 or slightly beats the OnePlus 7 or the LG G8 ThinQ.
Using the included 18W charger, you get a charging speed of 68mAh/mn, which is quite good. For reference, the fastest charge is 100mAh/mn (Huawei P30 Pro), and the slowest is 20mAh/mn (iPhone Xs Max). 50 mAh/mn is considered to be standard these days.
“HAS MORE BATTERY THAN MOST PHONES PEOPLE COMPARE IT WITH”
If you use another “fast charger,” the speed drops significantly, perhaps because the phone will switch into a more conservative mode as it cannot identify the unknown charger.
Unfortunately, the phone failed to execute the PCMark Android battery test (many times), and we don’t know if it was because of an “optimization,” or if there’s a stability issue, but that was the only roadblock we bumped into.
The PCMark team says that it happens with many handsets because phones software shut down what they think is a “runaway process.” That’s too bad because this phone should have performed well, given its large battery size.
Wireless charging can be very convenient, and the Axon 10 Pro comes with a 15W integrated wireless charging option (Qi standard). This battery charging method is best for users who spend most of their time at a desk. It is also great for overnight charging and it is even possible to find a wireless charger in your car.
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro (official page) is a good smartphone designed and built with care. It offers great performance and user experience, thanks to the mostly untouched Android user interface and good audio performance. Carrying it feels nice and the industrial design is agreeable.
At around ~$499-$549, this handset offers great value and takes the lead for CPU and Graphics performance, for the price. It’s one of the best system performance/price ratios we have seen and that’s somewhat true for the camera as well. ZTE has priced it judiciously.
“ZTE HAS PRICED IT JUDICIOUSLY”
The camera is the Achilles heel of the ZTE Axon 10 Pro because, in that price range, you can find the Galaxy S10e camera or the OnePlus 7 Pro camera that are better, according to our Camera IQ benchmark.
ZTE has steadily improved its phone lineup, and even though we feel like Axon 10 Pro should have been better, we’re looking forward to seeing the next handset from them.
Overall product rating: 9.1/10
Filed in. Read more about Editorspick, Smartphone Reviews and ZTE.