ZTE Axon 7 Mini review

ZTE’s Axon 7 Mini is a slightly smaller, more affordable version of its flagship Axon 7 smartphone. The device features a similar design, but lesser specs to accommodate a more budget-friendly price tag, which isn’t always a bad thing. There are plenty of excellent budget Android phones to choose from right now, and one more option can only help.

Design

I’m personally not a fan of enormous phones that have become the norm in the smartphone market, so I really liked the Axon 7 Mini’s design as soon as I picked it up. It still looks identical to the bigger Axon 7, just in a smaller, more compact package.

The Mini sports a 5.2-inch display with very thin bezels, which helps to keep the size of the phone way down. You get a ton of screen real estate with almost none of the bulk, which is fantastic for one-handed use. The screen is sandwiched by speakers on the top and bottom of the phone, which is also a plus when you’re using the device for media playback.

On the right side of the device you’ll find the power and volume buttons, while the left side houses the SIM card tray.

The top of the Axon 7 Mini is where you’ll find one microphone and a headphone jack, and the bottom has a secondary microphone as well as the USB C charging port.

ZTE opted for a rear facing fingerprint scanner, placing it just below the LED flash underneath the camera. If you’re a fan of the Nexus-style fingerprint sensor, you’ll feel right at home here.

I really can’t find much to complain about with the Axon 7 Mini’s design. It’s a little boring, but it has a nice aluminum finish, it’s extremely comfortable to hold, and everything you need to press is easy to hit without any funky pinky acrobatics. It won’t blow anyone away that’s looking for the next great design, but it’s fantastic on its own.

Hardware

 ZTE Axon 7 Mini
AnnouncedSeptember 2016
ReleaseOctober 2016
Display5.2-inch (1920x1080) IPS LCD with Corning Gorilla Glass 4
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 617
RAM3GB
Storage32GB w/ microSD card slot
Rear Camera16MP with dual-LED flash, phase detection autofocus
Front Camera8MP
Battery2705mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB-C with fast charging
SoundFront-facing speakers
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow with MiFlavor UI 4.0
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.1, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, NFC
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, fingerprint
Measurements147.5 x 71 x 7.8mm
Weight153g
ColorsIon Gold, Platinum Grey

Performance

The Axon 7 Mini is powered by a mid-range Snapdragon 617 paired with a generous 3GB of RAM. At its best, it’s a capable combination that can handle pretty much any everyday task you might throw at it; at its worst, its sluggish, inconsistent, and aggravating.

Gaming and multitasking tend to do okay, but it’s a device that seems incredibly prone to UI slowdowns. Sometimes scrolling through a webpage just turns into a slideshow, or the notification shade just gets bogged down trying to display everything at once. It’s mostly fine, but you can definitely tell this is a budget phone competing in a budget price range.

 

The performance dip is surprising, since ZTE’s custom skin isn’t particularly heavy or egregious, but it is something to keep in mind if you’re considering this phone.

It’s worth noting that the bigger Axon 7 has just been updated to Nougat, so the Mini shouldn’t be far behind, which could increase performance.

Otherwise, pretty much everything else about the phone exceeds expectations. The 1080p is bright and crisp and might be one of the best displays I’ve seen in this price range, and the fingerprint scanner is reliable, if a bit slow. It will struggle if you pick the phone up at an odd angle and are only trying to unlock it with the sides of your finger, but for the most part I didn’t have any issues.

Battery

The bright side to some of these budget devices running sensible processors is that they tend to get better battery life than the devices running 4k screens with insanely fast processors. Sometimes less is more.

Sometimes.

The Axon 7 Mini is spectacularly average in the battery life department. I’m used to getting surprisingly good battery life out of these mid-range devices because of the lesser specs, but the Axon 7 Mini falls right in the middle of your average flagship device. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because you can still squeeze an entire day’s usage out of this thing without a problem, but if you’re a heavy user like me you’re probably going to want to bring a charger or a portable battery.

The biggest disappointment to the average battery life is that it also gets so-so performance. It would’ve been nice to stretch the battery a little further since we weren’t getting top-tier processing out of the Mini.

Software

ZTE’s software, on the surface, seems relatively light compared to some other phones on the market, but judging by the performance there’s clearly some background stuff that’s bogging things down, and there really aren’t any killer features to justify it.

The launcher seems very standard, but it does come with theme support. Only problem is ZTE didn’t actually support those themes, so you’ll have two options to pick from: stock Android, or Classic Mifavor. The second option looks a bit more like older ZTE devices, and the stock option looks like, well, stock Android. You can’t download any extra themes, and ZTE hasn’t sent out any extras. Kind of a wasted opportunity for a theme engine.

Fortunately, most of ZTE’s custom apps run pretty well and try to stick to Material Design guidelines. Floating buttons, slideout menus, the whole nine yards. However, some of the apps (browser, music) seem to get away from Material Design and look more like classic ZTE that would fit in just as well in a Xiaomi or Huawei phone. The settings menu manages to mix both, with the Frequently Used page offering a blocky, white menu and the All Settings page going back to standard Google design complete with a floating search button. The differences can be jarring, but at least all of the ZTE apps are well designed, even if they don’t match other pieces of the software aesthetically.

You’ll also find a few additional software additions with the Axon 7 Mini, including a Toolkit that includes a compass, a noise tester that measures decibels, a protractor, and a few other things that are a great addition to a mobile toolbox. My Voice is ZTE’s method of making most of the software voice controllable, but it’s not quite as powerful as a digital assistant. It can do things like shoot a photo if your camera is open and you say “Capture” or help you read messages from the lock screen, and it does all of this with voice recognition. It’s pretty standard stuff, although it does offer a way to use your voice to speak your password to unlock your phone. It’s not good for unlocking your phone in public, but it’s a pretty neat feature that does work well.

The software here isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either. It’s not a deal breaker for the phone overall, but hopefully ZTE can keep making improvements (especially to the performance) going forward.

Camera

When you start getting into the budget phone category, camera performance is almost always the first to go. Unfortunately, no exception here.

It’s a serviceable camera, but you’ll be hard pressed to take a shot that really pops and wows compared to some other cameras. Then again, in the price range of the Axon 7 Mini, it holds its own.

Indoor, poorly lit shots will make even a great smartphone struggle, but the Axon 7 Mini definitely isn’t terrible. It functions about as well as a $200 should and no better.

But it will create blown out, washed out photos from time to time. No way around it.

My only actual complaint with the Mini’s camera is the shutter lag. It always takes about a second to snap a photo, which can mean the difference between a decent photo and a missed opportunity.

Closing

ZTE launched the Axon 7 Mini at $299, which is way too high for this phone to be competitive. Since launch, though, it’s fallen in price and has hovered around $199 pretty permanently, which definitely puts the phone in a place where you should seriously consider it.

It’s half the price of the larger Axon 7, and it pretty seriously undercuts some other competitors in the cheaper segment like OnePlus. It misses the mark on a few things, but for a couple hundred bucks it’s a compelling package that’s more than worth its price tag. ZTE being able to push out software updates for devices in the same family make it all the more appealing, too.

Is the Axon 7 Mini the right phone for you? If you can afford the extra cash, you’ll definitely see some improvements going with the regular Axon 7 or one of its competitors. But if you’re on a budget, it’s hard to go wrong for $200 here.

Buy it now: ZTE, Best Buy, Amazon


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid and an unhealthy obsession with fixing things that aren't broken. This accidentally led to being the go-to guy for anything more complicated than a toaster, which he considers more of a curse than a blessing. Jared is enrolled in online classes at the University of Phoenix, and spends his spare time on video games and listening to music.