ZTE's Axon 7 has high-end specs and design with a budget price

(Dan Seifert / The Verge)

ZTE is today announcing the Axon 7, the successor to last year's Axon flagship. The Axon 7 continues on with the original Axon's goal of high-end specs and materials at a wallet-friendly price. The new phone has Qualcomm's highest-end processor, 4 or 6GB of RAM, a quad HD AMOLED display, metal chassis, quick charging, and a new dual-speaker system with Dolby surround sound. You might expect to pay upwards of $600 or $700 for a device with those specs, but ZTE says the new phone will cost under $500 when it arrives in the US in the coming weeks.

The Axon 7 is a refined version of last year's Axon (it is the direct successor to the Axon, but since ZTE released so many variants of last year's phone, it has decided to name the new model after its place in the line, which is seventh), with the most notable improvements found in its design and display. The design, which was commissioned by BMW's DesignWorks firm (you might recall this gaming mouse from the same firm), features a full metal unibody with rounded corners and edges. It is strikingly similar to the HTC One M8 from 2014, right down to the antenna lines and matte finish, but it does feel very nice to hold. ZTE is offering it in gold and grey color options — I personally saw the gold, which is nice, if a bit derivative.

The new screen is a significant step up from last year: it's a 5.5-inch AMOLED panel with the aforementioned 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution and curved edges. It's covered in Gorilla Glass 4 and pops like you'd expect an AMOLED display to. Colors are rich and vibrant and the contrast levels give Samsung a run for its money. Suffice to say, it's a much better display than available on other sub-$500 devices.

ZTE will be offering two versions of the Axon 7 — a 64GB model with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB version with 6GB. The company says it has not committed to selling the higher-end model in the US, but both versions have microSD slots for expansion. They both are powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 processor and have 3,250mAh batteries with Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0 that provides 50 percent charge in 30 minutes of charging or a full charge in 100 minutes. The Axon 7 has a 20-megapixel camera with optical stabilization, f/1.8 lens, and 4K video capability. The phone's front camera has 8 megapixels of resolution. A USB Type-C port is used for data transfer and charging.

One of the features that ZTE is highlighting is the Axon 7's sound system. It's a dual-speaker setup with both drivers on the front of the phone. It provides stereo sound and can mimic surround sound environments. In a brief demo I received ahead of the phone's announcement, the sound was exceptionally impressive — full and rich in a way that most phones can't match. In addition, ZTE has upgraded the phone's audio chip for headphones and supports high-resolution audio.

The Axon 7 is launching with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and ZTE says it will be upgraded to Android N when that is made available later this year. The phone will work with AT&T, T-Mobile, and related MVNOs when it launches, though ZTE says it will also work with CDMA carriers such as Sprint and Verizon once it receives technical approval from them.

Stay tuned for more on the Axon 7 once we have spent some time with a review unit.

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