- Very affordable price point
- Premium metal build
- Great screen and audio
- Mediocre performance
- Smaller battery
- Camera is hit and miss
You don't need to take out a second mortgage in order to get a great phone these days. And that includes having a phone with all sorts of "premium" features that were once reserved only for high-end flagships. Perhaps one of the greatest (and newest) examples of this growing trend is the ZTE Axon 7 Mini. It borrows much of its inspiration from its bigger brother, but at a smaller size and a smaller price tag to match too.
ZTE Axon 7 Specs and Features
As you might imagine, the ZTE Axon 7 Mini is basically a "mini" version of the popular ZTE Axon 7. The core design remains fundamentally the same with relatively skinny bezels all around, a full metal body, a fingerprint sensor on the back, and an impressive set of surprisingly loud stereo speakers. ZTE prides itself in its audio performance and the Axon 7 Mini continues with that tradition, complete with Dolby Atmos to boot.
Naturally, some sacrifices had to be made to achieve both the smaller size and the lower price. The screen not only shrinks in size from 5.5-inches to 5.2-inches (retaining roughly the same 72% screen-to-body ratio), but it shrinks in resolution from quad HD (2560 x 1440) to just full HD (1920 x 1080). The good news is that it's still a brilliant AMOLED with rich color saturation and deep blacks. This is a great phone for gaming and movies.
The speedier Snapdragon 820 and Adreno 530 graphics get shifted down to a Snapdragon 617 and Adreno 405, just as the 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM are downsized to 32GB and 3GB, respectively. These numbers are still good; they're just not nearly as great. Other highlights include the 16MP camera on the back, 8MP camera on the front, USB-C, Quick Charge 2.0, and a 2,705mAh battery.
The Premium Smartphone Experience
But when you hold this full metal phone in your hands, you won't believe that it sells for as little as $299 off contract. You really do feel like you're holding a phone that would normally sell for twice as much. The build quality is tremendous, the screen is brilliant (even if it is "only" FHD), and the fingerprint sensor is remarkably sensitive.
If anything, I found myself accidentally grazing the fingerprint sensor when I didn't mean to, resulting in an unexpected vibration. My experience these last few weeks echo my first impressions in this sense. The ZTE Axon 7 Mini a high quality phone for an affordable price. The "free" silicone case included in the box is a huge bonus, especially since finding a case for ZTE phones can be a bit of a challenge.
Big Sound in a Small Package
As mentioned, something that ZTE really prides itself in is in the sound department. The ZTE Axon 7 Mini boasts a pair of remarkably loud stereo speakers. They're forward facing, at the top and bottom of the phone, making them ideal for watching movies in landscape mode. This is further supported with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus.
But you don't need to disturb everyone around you to enjoy the Hi-Fi sound experience either, as this carries through the powerful audio chip for the headphone jack. Yes, it's a sad reality that a headphone jack is considered such a valued feature these days, but it's absolutely true. You won't be disappointed, both in volume and in fidelity.
Camera and Shooting Modes
In my experience, the 16 megapixel camera on the ZTE Axon 7 Mini performs admirably when the light conditions are optimal. Daylight shots come out well saturated and finely detailed, but this starts to degrade with poorer lighting conditions. I found that low-light shots on my ZTE Axon Pro outperformed the Axon 7 Mini in this regard.
And since it does not have the unique dual camera system on the back, you can't take advantage of some more advanced features like artificial bokeh too. What you do get, however, is an increasingly broad range of special effects and modes to further expand your creative repertoire.
Beyond the full manual mode where you can adjust everything from ISO to white balance, there are at least six other unique features for you to try.
The panorama mode is fairly standard, letting you sweep across a landscape to stitch a single wide image. Where things start to get more interesting is with timelapse. You can set the interval (make sure you're using a tripod!) and the phone will automatically snap the frames for you. I used this feature in one of my recent vlogs and the results turned out pretty good. You will need to be really careful about lighting and white balance though.
Super Night lets you expose far better for nighttime city scenes in particular, while multi exposure, magic exposure, and slow motion really let your creativity shine. Like the shots where you get the "trail" of car's brake lights across a highway? The ZTE Axon 7 Mini can do that.
Check out more sample photos on Flickr.
Performance and Benchmarks
Can an entry-level to mid-range kind of device really hold its own against offerings that cost twice as much (or more)? In what might be closer to a fairer comparison, the Axon 7 Mini is still some ways from last year's ZTE Axon Pro, which was itself a flagship-fighting mid-ranger.
While it does achieve a higher Work performance score in PCMark of 3643, it falls short on the graphical front with scores of 396 in Sling Shot Extreme and 9763 in Ice Storm Unlimited. Don't expect top-tier gaming here.
The situation doesn't get any better when we hop over to AnTuTu. With a benchmark score of 47,595, the Axon 7 Mini falls well short of the 69,365 earned by the Axon Pro. Indeed, it's not even in the same league as the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6, or Nexus 6P, all of which are in the 80,000+ range. But that's not a fair comparison, right?
True enough, as the Moto G4 Plus, which retails in the same kind of range, only comes up with an AnTuTu score of around 45,000 too. That said, the Huawei Nova Plus is closer to the 60,000 to 65,000 range. The Galaxy A5 (2017) is about the same. Your mileage may vary.
Indeed, the story carries through with Geekbench 3 too. With single-core and multi-core scores of 704 and 2038 respectively, the Axon 7 Mini is really batting mostly in the same range as (if not worse than) the LG G3, Galaxy S5 and Nexus 5. These are all phones that are about three years old!
MEGATechie Mini Monster or MEGATechie Wannabe Mini?
On some level, they say that looks are only skin deep. This entry-level smartphone in a premium smartphone's clothing is perhaps a terrific illustration of that. Indeed, you get a device that sure looks premium on the outside. The full metal body, responsive fingerprint sensor, extra loud Dolby stereo speakers... these are all great things. It sure looks the part. The screen is wonderfully brilliant too.
But when you dig a little below the surface, you start to see some hidden kinks in its armor. The battery life isn't the best, because the battery is smaller. The performance isn't the best, because it uses a less powerful chip and less RAM. The camera can be great, but not always. But for a lot of people, this is certainly more than enough and no one will think you're using a "cheap phone."
The ZTE Axon 7 Mini is available through Virgin Mobile on contract for $0 on a gold plan or $399 month-to-month. Alternatively, you can buy the unlocked model in Canada for $399 or in the US for as low as $199 sans contract. I'd say that's a pretty stellar deal. If you want something more powerful, you'll need to spend a little more to get something like the proper Axon 7 or the OnePlus 3T.