Nearly six months after it was first introduced, ZTE has finally released the Axon 10 Pro Pro 5G (starting 4,999 yuan, approximately $711), the company’s first 5G phone made for the Chinese market. And while it sports good looks and spectacular performance, it’s held back by lackluster camera quality and a finicky first generation in-display fingerprint sensor. You’re better off with the OnePlus 7 Pro or the Xiaomi Mi 9, solid alternatives that cost significantly less.
Design, Display, and Audio
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G follows the typical flagship aesthetic, in that it’s a glass shell wrapped around an aluminum frame. The phone measures 6.27 by 2.89 by 0.31 inches (HWD), comes in at 6.17 ounces, and is available in blue. Curved edges gives the phone a sleek look, but come at the cost of making it feel slippery in the hand.
The front of the phone is home to a 6.47-inch AMOLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Unlike many of the current crop of Chinese flagships, the Axon 10 has a small teardrop notch at the top of the display for the selfie camera. Resolution clocks in at 2,340 by 1,080, for 398 pixels per inch. Overall the display is gorgeous, but we did encounter some difficulty seeing it in direct sunlight.
The in-display fingerprint sensor only worked about half the time when using the phone. Adding copies of other fingerprints seems to help, but it still fails to compare with the OnePlus 7 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9.
The phone has a single bottom-firing speaker that hits a peak volume of 91dB. It’s fine for conference calls, but sounds tinny for music and video streaming. For better audio quality you’ll want to pick up a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
On the rear of the Axon you’ll find a triple camera stack with a 48MP primary wide-angle lens with an f/1.7 aperture. The secondary telephoto lens comes in at 8MP with an f/2.4 aperture, while the third ultra-wide lens clocks in at 20MP with an f/2.2 aperture. In theory this should cover just about every base mobile photographers might want, but in practice there’s much to be desired.
In daylight the primary lens does well. Our test images look crisp, with excellent color accuracy. The telephoto lens does a decent job as well, though there is some loss of foreground detail when zoomed in. The ultra-wide-angle lens is acceptable, but there is some warping on the edges of images. Overall, the lenses are perfectly acceptable, but not spectacular.
In low-light situations, things quickly go south. All of our test images feature varying degrees of blur and background loss. Edge warping becomes more pronounced on wide-angle photos, and there is some noise present in nearly all of the shots. It’s disappointing to see performance like this when phones like the Xiaomi Mi 9 offer considerably stronger image quality for less money.
There’s also a single front-facing sensor that comes in at 20MP with an f/2.0 aperture. In bright light it takes decent selfies, though we did notice a little bit of blurring in the foreground in some test shots and loss of background detail in nearly every image. Low-light performance is once again disappointing. Test photos look blurry, with significant noise creeping in around the edges.
Hardware and Benchmarks
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro sports flagship-level specs. It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, and the baseline 128GB model comes with 6GB of RAM, while a 256GB version is available in 8GB and 12GB RAM configurations. All models feature a microSD slot that allows up to an additional 1TB of external storage.
Benchmarks scores are solid. On PCMark, a suite of tests that simulates everyday smartphone tasks, it scored 8,770. That’s better than the Huawei P30 Pro (7,729), but falls slightly behind the Xiaomi Mi 9 (8,932) and OnePlus 7 Pro (9,874). The Ludashi benchmark paints a slightly different picture, with the Axon scoring 412,288 compared with the P30 Pro’s 366,620 and the Mi 9’s 349,490.
We also tested the Axon 10 Pro’s AI capabilities using AI Benchmark, a suite of tests that require the phone to identify a series of common images. The Axon 10 Pro garnered 27,274, surpassing all of the Chinese phones we surveyed, and especially obliterating the Huawei P30 Pro (20,920) and Honor Magic 2 (15,587), both of which are powered by Huawei’s Kirin 980 chipset.
The Axon 10 Pro’s main selling point is its Qualcomm X50 5G modem. It’s Qualcomm’s first-generation 5G modem and will work on China’s 5G network when in comes online later this year. We aren’t able to test this feature from the US.
A sizable 4,000mAh battery powers the Axon, likely to account for the extra energy the 5G modem requires. In our battery drain test, which streams video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, it managed to last 11 hours and 10 minutes. That’s slightly behind the Xiaomi Mi 9 (11 hours, 52 minutes), but you should have no problem getting two days between charges with more conservative use. If you do find yourself running low, the Axon supports Quick Charge 4.0 and an 18W charger is included in the box.
The Axon 10 Pro ships with Android 9.0 Pie and ZTE’s MiFavor 9.1 UI overlay. Since it’s made for the Chinese market, all of the standard Google apps are replaced with proprietary alternatives. That said, MiFavor 9.1 offers the closest experience you’ll find to stock Android on a Chinese phone.
There are a handful of preinstalled apps, but far fewer than you find on most smartphones and they can easily be uninstalled. Robust configuration options also make it easy adjust nearly everything on the phone from display settings to gesture controls.
Although the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G packs the same powerful hardware as other current flagships, along with a 5G modem, it’s hard to recommend to anyone but early adopters. The Xiaomi Mi 9 offers nearly all the same features (minus the 5G modem), along with a better camera and longer battery life and is much less expensive. The OnePlus 7 Pro is another solid choice with an absolutely gorgeous software layer; it costs more than the Mi 9, but it’s still less pricey than the Axon.