Hands-on with the ZTE Axon, coming to Fido on November 6th

Rogers and ZTE, the fifth-largest handset manufacturer in the world and the fourth largest in North America (according to the company) behind Samsung, Apple and LG, are teaming up to release the Axon, a “premium value” smartphone coming to Fido on November 6th for $0 on a 2-year term.

The company held an intimate media event in Toronto this morning to showcase the product, which was announced for the U.S. market in July. There, though, the Axon and its more powerful counterpart, the Axon Pro, are available unlocked and unbranded from ZTE’s e-commerce portal, but in Canada the company is partnering with Rogers to bring the device to Fido, with no plans to release it unlocked through retail channels.

ZTEAxon

All considered, the Axon is a lovely Android phone, with an attractive design and clean metal lines that stand out amidst the various competing products in its price range. The phone is available in three colours, but only the black and gold model was shown off at the event (there are also silver and gold variants).

With a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel display, a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, it’s certainly not the latest and greatest in specs — more like mid-2014 than 2015 — but there are some interesting differentiators here.

ZTEAxon

Aside from the build quality, which feels extremely solid, ZTE is focusing on photo, video and audio capabilities to differentiate the Axon. Specifically, in addition to a 13MP rear camera sensor, which boasts a sharp F1.9 lens, a second 2MP sensor captures depth and other spatial details, allowing users to refocus photos after they’ve been captured.

And though this gimmick didn’t do much to endear people to the HTC One M8, here it is put to more subtle uses, allowing for a very elegant Bokeh effect, which blurs out the background subject without distorting the front, something the M8 never quite got right. Around front, an 88-degree 8MP camera captures selfies with aplomb.

ZTEAxon

On the audio front, the company says the Axon has two Digital-to-Analog converters (DACs) that upscale all audio to a crisp 24-bits, but we didn’t have a chance to use the phone for that purpose in our brief hands-on, so we’ll have to wait until a full review to evaluate sound quality.

Similarly, we didn’t get to capture any photos or video from the camera, but the phone does have a nice shutter button on the bottom of the right side, which a representative says can activate the camera app from standby with a double press.

ZTEAxon

In terms of software, ZTE has drastically pared back its garish Android skin, opting for a variation of Google’s stock Material Design aesthetic on top of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The company promises an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow but, of course, did not give timing on that one.

ZTEAxon

Elsewhere, the 3,000mAh battery should keep things chugging along quite nicely. The internals remind us of the LG G3, which also featured a Snapdragon 801 and a 3,000mAh cell, though that one was removable.

If we call back to our review, the G3 lasted just under a full day on a charge, but the Axon has a couple of advantages of LG’s 2014 flagship: it has a lower-resolution 1080p LCD display; and it is running Android 5.1.1, which was much easier on power than earlier versions of Lollipop.

ZTEAxon

Fido has priced the ZTE Axon at $0 on a 2-year term with a Smart or Max plan, or $100 with a Standard plan. The phone will cost an easy $400 outright, which fits it right in the middle of the mid-range landscape right next to the LG G3, Sony Xperia M4 Aqua and Samsung Galaxy S4 on Fido’s lineup.

The phone will be available on November 6th.

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