(Pocket-lint) – Pesky notch digging into your phone’s big-screen view and getting on your nerves? Well, the ZTE Axon 30 5G waves goodbye to the notch by placing its selfie camera behind the screen.
No, it’s not the first time we’ve seen an under-display camera – and certainly won’t be the last – but this ZTE certainly houses the very best implementation of this technology to date, making it less noticeable than its first outing in the Axon 20, and stepping beyond what even Samsung can offer in its Z Fold 3.
While the under-display camera is certainly the ZTE’s headline feature, however, can the Axon 30 5G – which is positioned as a mid-ranger in terms of price point – deliver on all the other important features to make it a worthy gambit for your pocket?
Design & Display
- 6.92-inch AMOLED display, 2460 x 1080 resolution, 120Hz refresh rate
- Dimensions: 170 x 78 x 7.8mm / Weight: 189g
- Under display fingerprint scanner
- Finishes: Black, Aqua
We’ve been using this ZTE for an unusually long period of time for a review, having moved into the device before then taking annual leave and really settling in with living with this device as if it was our own. That’s been particularly helpful to highlight its positives and pitfalls.
There’s no escaping this ZTE is a fairly big device, for starters, with its 6.92-inch screen very dominant and a little wider in aspect ratio than many current flagships on the market. If you want something that’s all screen focused, however, then this device certainly answers that need.
The under-display camera helps with allowing that screen to sing, too, as the second-generation technology is far improved over its first-gen guise. Previously you would see an almost ‘on/off’ grid of pixels in front of the camera lens; the Axon 30 5G, however, does a much better job of more delicately hiding away the lens behind a rectangular ‘screen’ section where the image is slightly muted but not as dramatically different. Sometimes you can see the camera lens, depending on external lighting conditions and reflection, but when there’s an image in front of it on the screen it’s handled really well – easily the best we’ve seen in any device to date.
What’s a little perplexing, however, is that ZTE has put such a desirable, high-end technology into an otherwise fairly middling device. From a design point of view, for example, the Axon 30 just isn’t that exciting – its rear is all plasticky and ultimately feels it, for example, while the cameras (which we’ll detail more later) simply lack the kind of clout you’ll find in more commanding flagships.
At least the phone-maker has shrunk down the overall bezel around the screen this time around, allowing that screen to be the shining star of this device. It’s a pretty decent panel, too, an AMOLED panel with capable enough resolution, ample brightness (with software improvements meaning less harsh auto-adjustment this time around), and a convincing colour palette. It’s also a flat as to not skew the visuals, making it ideal for playing games on too.
And with other features such as an under-screen fingerprint scanner and expandable storage (or dual SIM) there are certainly plus points from this big device when you break down the overall features list.
Performance & Battery
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor, 8GB RAM
- 4200mAh battery capacity, 65W fast-charging
- Android 11 software with ZTE MyOS 11
- 128GB storage, microSD expansion
- 5G connectivity
While the build might not be the boldest aspect of this phone, from an internal hardware point of view there’s enough to get a thumbs up in general. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor at its heart isn’t top-end in the here and now, but it’s more than powerful enough to handle day-to-day tasks, including gaming, with little fuss. Housed in this plastic shell there’s no bother with overheating either.
We’ve been pushing through South Park: Phone Destroyer sessions as is our go-to, which functions nice and smoothly. However, when activating the ZTE’s screen recording feature during gameplay there’s a clear drop in frame-rate as a result – something you won’t see in some more powerful devices, including some older-generation phones, so there’s a ceiling to the power available and how it’s managed.
Despite generally good performance, it’s not perfectly smooth sailing. The Axon 30 5G just lacks a degree of polish in terms of operation and software where it would really help bolster this phone’s appeal. The MyOS 11 software, for example, seems to cause a few irritations with Google’s Android 11 base – the sometimes lack of notifications being the most prominent example.
With apps such as Outlook we rarely received notifications of new mail, while our Ring doorbell app failed to pop-up alert messages in a timely manner – it often took minutes to display, if at all. There are various settings per app that can be tinkered with within settings, but we’ve not found this to always be a success in getting everything setup and running as we would expect.
Other quirks, such as the app drawer being available via a swipe-up sporadically not functioning, continue to show that the software combined with hardware is just a little off the mark.
Battery life, too, is a little under-baked overall. That’s not to say the 4200mAh cell here won’t get you through a day, it’s just that its percentage drops faster than we would expect of such a device. We’ve been reaching bed-time after 16 hours using the device on and off – and typically are met with around 20 per cent remaining. Charging is speedy, though, thanks to 65W fast-charging – but there’s no wireless charging here.
- Quad rear cameras:
- Main (25mm): 64-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size, phase-detection autofocus (PDAF)
- Wide (16mm): 8MP, f/2.2 / Macro: 5MP, f/2.4 / Depth: 2MP, f/2.4
- Single front camera (under display design):
- 16-megapixel, f/2.5 aperture, under display
On the cameras front we’ve already explored the key take-away about this phone: the under-display selfie camera. It’s impressive in terms of being semi-invisible, in a way that you’ll see on no other phone on the market right now.
The cameras to the rear are altogether more visible, of course, although without a particularly high-spec setup there’s not the excessive protrusion you’ll find in so many competitors. Why ZTE has opted for a so-called four-cameras setup is more for the appeal of numbers for numbers’ sake, it seems, as the performance and variety isn’t that impressive.
The presence of the macro and depth sensors, for example, doesn’t help: the macro you’ll never know is there or probably how to activate it; while the depth sensor will often automatically apply processing to images making various patches go completely soft when that’s not at all your want or intention. If both these lenses were removed it would probably only be a benefit to the Axon 30.
The two to pay attention to are the core ones: the main sensor, at 64-megapixels; and the wide-angle optic, at 8-megapixels. The latter isn’t particularly resolute, ups the contrast too heavily in images, and edge distortions are a bit of an issue. The former, while it can take good shots from time to time, largely lacks the ability to resolve detail especially well – partly down to optics, partly down to processing – which makes for so-so results overall.
Which altogether makes the ZTE Axon 30 5G’s camera setup befuddling: after all, its under-display selfie camera is the best of its kind (in terms of implementation rather than the lens), so this is clearly a device that wants to show off technology, yet doesn’t back that up with the presence of stronger optics and sensors in the camera department – when, really, it should do so to bring more credit to that under-display camera.
The ZTE Axon 30 5G is a mix of positives and pitfalls. On the positives side, the under-display camera is easily the best of its kind to date, outsmarting even Samsung’s efforts in the Z Fold 3 by quite a margin. It enables the ZTE’s big screen to shine, so if you want a display-forward design then the Axon 30 has got that in buckets.
On the pitfalls side, however, is the lack of cohesion in some of the Axon 30’s thinking. The cameras, for example, are average – which, while acceptable at this price, just feels at total odds with a device championing an under-display optic in such refined form. Meanwhile the software has some hiccups when it comes to notifications, which puts an unwanted pause on proceedings from time to time. And the design just isn’t that exciting.
In all our time with the ZTE Axon 30 5G we’ve barely ever noticed the under-display camera. Which is ideal, job done – that it can so convincingly deliver on this technology is superb testament to ZTE’s research and development department. It’s just that the rest of the phone, while largely acceptable considering the price point, just doesn’t quite keep up to that level of impressiveness overall.
OnePlus Nord 2
OnePlus is deep in the game now, delivering software that’s just much more adept – and that’s what really helps to sell this mid-range handset. Sure, you’ll have to live with a corner punch-hole disrupting the screen, but you might just find that acceptable.
Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on .