ZTE’s powerful new smartphone, the Axon Elite, will officially be available in Malaysia in mid-October. At its launch event recently, we spent some time with what is only the third smartphone in Malaysia that’s powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 810.
The Axon Elite is actually a pretty handsome device, and looks nothing like the current crop of smartphones – there’s a distinctive design here that may be why ZTE is especially proud of the new Axon line. The aerospace grade aluminium chassis is surprisingly thin, and to be honest, somehow feels like plastic at the back. Nevertheless, the heft of the device is reassuring.
The Chinese company may be better known for its lower-end products or even its suite of network-related hardware, but the Axon Elite’s use of premium materials lets it stand out. To help with radio transmissions, ZTE used colour-matching leather (or what feels like leather) at the top and bottom portions of the back, complementing the metal back (which feels rather soft for metal, it must be said). This is an interesting approach, avoiding the plastic strips like those found on the iPhone 6/6s and HTC’s One series.
What’s not so impressive is in the software. While it is generally snappy and responsive, the software appears to be littered with poor English and typos. It obviously does not affect performance, but it takes the shine off the premium factor on this device.
On the other hand, ZTE has added a lot of features in its software. Powered by Android 5.0.2, ZTE’s custom skin uses a wholly different icon set, and includes many features not normally found on Android smartphones. From random features like “Karaoke” and voice unlock, the Axon Elite also contains useful ideas such as a fingerprint sensor as well as a retina scanner. While the fingerprint sensor is now pretty common, the Axon Elite is the first smartphone in Malaysia to offer a retina scanner.
Called Grand Eye, the system first saves data about the user’s eye; specifically, ZTE claims the technology looks at “the vein patterns in the user’s eye” for verification. The verification steps is pretty straightforward, and takes about the same time as saving a fingerprint. However, unlocking the phone with the iris scanner will take a few seconds longer than using your fingerprint. It is, however, something seriously cool that you can show off to your friends.
Beyond that, the software also features something called Mi-POP. It has no connections whatsoever with Xiaomi, but instead Mi-POP is a virtual button that exists above all apps similar to the iPhone’s Assistive Touch button. Unlike the iPhone’s virtual button which pops up four different buttons, users can assign a default key when you tap on it. Long-pressing this button brings up more buttons to tap, which are Back, Home, Recent Apps and Menu.
One aspect that wasn’t thoroughly tested was the camera. Sporting a 13MP Sony IMX 214 rear sensor paired with a secondary 2MP depth sensor, the Axon Elite has several camera modes that make use of the added depth information. Users can use the “Bokeh” mode which supposedly is capable of simulating aperture settings of up to f/1.0 to create a beautiful DSLR-like bokeh effect. More interesting is the “Multi Exposure” mode, which is the first time I’m seeing this on a smartphone. Multi exposure essentially combines two images into a single frame, and is popular back in the film photography days.
As far as first impressions go, the Axon Elite is a rather interesting device. There’s a premium look about it that’s mixed with elements that does not add up to the overall flagship feel that ZTE aims for. We’ll certainly take a closer look when we get our hands on a review unit soon.