The one-of-a-kind, dual-screen smartphone dubbed the Axon M has arrived in my studio while it is being sold to the masses for $725 via AT&T. I like to think of it more as a concept phone than a daily driver smartphone but it’s very possible that could change once I spend some more serious time with this device.
I filmed the unboxing with the Pixel 2 XL, by the way. I was a little bit antsy to get my hands on this phone so I just whipped out my Pixel and started the unboxing process.
So we’ll find the Axon M sitting right on top. Underneath, there’s some paperwork such as a Get Started Guide and warranty pamphlet. There are earphones included in the box, which is always nice to see especially with a $700 smartphone. There’s a wall wart and USB-C charging cable. Last but not least is a SIM card ejector tool and female micro USB to male USB-C adapter.
So upon first impressions, the ZTE Axon M is a very chunky smartphone for today’s standards. It measures in at 12.2 mm thick, which is almost twice as thick as pretty much any other flagship. It has a very industrial feel, has a boxy frame with sharp edges. ZTE didn’t really try to hide the hinge or round off any of the corners for aesthetic purposes. What you see is what you get.
And a lot of the features have been dragged and dropped to different areas to make the dual screen setup possible. For example, we have a fingerprint scanner on the side of the phone that actually doubles as a power/sleep on/off button. It’s reminiscent of an Xperia flagship smartphone from Sony and it works pretty well. Also, the 20-megapixel main camera is located on the front of this phone and you will actually switch screens, depending on which mode you have it in. so for example, in order to use the main shooter, you have to use the second display and kind of awkwardly flip the phone around and you can use the main display when taking a selfie. It’s a little bit weird but you got to do what you got to do.
There are four different modes with the Axon M: the Mirror Mode will mirror the main screens, so everything on the main screen will be on the second screen. I think this is good for presentations or watching videos with two people as you can fold the screen down into a tent shape and both people will be able to see what’s going on.
My favorite mode though is the Extended Mode. This mode will extend the main screen to the second screen. Apps will look extra large, you can watch YouTube videos across both screens (but you will have a noticeable border or bezel in your way in the middle of the video). Both screens measure in at 6.75-inches and they are both Full HD with pretty good viewing angles in contrast. It’s not a bad display.
The Dual Mode is probably the most practical mode as it will let you multitask with each display acting independently from one another. You can watch a YouTube video while surfing the web or check up on a social media app.
Last but not least is Traditional Mode. It’s just the default single screen mode. The second display will not be used and you can use the phone just like any other phone that we have today.
The Axon M does seem to work best when you hold it with your left hand as the fingerprint scanner is naturally placed where your thumb rests. I think it’s also easier to fold open like a book than it is to fold open like you’re shuffling a deck of cards but if you fold it open like a book, you have to flip the phone over so it’s a little bit weird.
I do want to add that there is a physical button that I thought was a camera shutter button at first impressions but it’s actually a dedicated button to activate TV mode. This will open up a video-related app such as YouTube or DirecTV Now. I’m pretty sure you can use button remap to remap the button if you so desire. This is Android, after all.
Powering this device is a Snapdragon 821 chipset with 4GB of RAM. It seems to run pretty well based on first impressions. There are some hiccups here and there but it’s not the Snapdragon 835 chipset performance that I was expecting.
The software is very clean so that probably does help with the performance quite a bit. It runs Android 7.1 Nougat and it doesn’t stray too far away from stock Android aside from the added display features and there are some gesture modes. It’s a pretty clean operating system.
Since there are two displays, I imagine the phone will burn through more battery. There is a moderately-sized 3,180mAh battery but it doesn’t seem that big considering the fact that there are two full HD displays and the phone is pretty chunky. There’s definitely some depth added from the second display but I feel like they could have added maybe a little bit of a bigger battery.
For $725 off-contract, the ZTE Axon M can be yours via AT&T. I absolutely love the experimentation on ZTE’s part. This general design I believe is the future of smartphones. But there’s definitely some work that needs to be done to polish this phone and make it more attractive for the general public. The thick bezels and chunky design make this phone feel a bit outdated. It’s like ZTE took one step forward and two steps back with this smartphone. It certainly is cool and it’s definitely an eyebrow raiser.
Let me know your thoughts of the Axon M in a comment down below.