The smartphone flagship space has been getting rather crowded in recent months. Between the OnePlus 3, the Samsung Note 7, and the newly released iPhone 7, there is no shortage of high-end phones for people to pick up with their hard-earned dollars. ZTE have thrown their hat into the ring with a very impressively spec’d—and and all-around stunning—device, the ZTE Axon 7.

ZTE Axon 7 (Phone) Review 3I was a big fan of last year’s offering in the Axon lineup. They had a unique design that separated them from other smartphones in the category. Combine that with impressive performance, good screen, and a great price tag, and you had a must-own device. This year is no different as ZTE have teamed up with BMW to bring the design language of a high-end luxury car to your pocket. The Axon 7 is a stunning device to look at. Coming in your choice of Gold or Quartz Gray, the Axon 7 is sure to turn some heads by the simple fact it does not look like many other smartphones on the market.

While I love the design of the Axon 7, it was by no means the lightest nor the smallest device I have used. Weighing in at 175 grams, it is a quite a bit heavier than the similarly priced OnePlus One at 158 Grams. Between the heft and the measurements of 151.7 x 75 x 7.9mm, you won’t forget that you’re carrying it, for sure. Yet, with all that said, I felt it a pleasure to use. The side power and volume rocker was easy to use, even one handed, and the back-facing fingerprint sensor never gave me issue in all my testing of the phone.

To top things off, ZTE have allowed for expanded storage on the device with the simple use of an SD card. Packing 64GB stock, the ability to expand with an over-the-counter card is invaluable, especially with so many people now using their phones for photos, video, and audio. This is one area that OnePlus should take note, since they managed to leave this feature of this year’s OnePlus 3.

The display on the device was also one of the best I have seen on recent devices. The Axon 7 offers a 5-inch 2560x1440 pixel display that through testing we found to be clear, crisp, and very bright. While watching YouTube, playing games, and just browsing the web, the display proved to be a pleasure to use, with very few instances where even direct sunlight proved much of an issue. It also manages to beat out the OnePlus 3’s display that offers a 5.5-inch FHD 1920 x 1080 pixel display, that when tested, could not match the rich colours or crisp visuals ZTE managed with the Axon 7.

ZTE Axon 7 (Phone) Review 4In addition, ZTE have continued their trend of excellent audio again this year. The Axon 7 comes equipped with a 32-bit HiFi mobile audio with Dolby ATMOS and dual front-facing speakers. The sound was beyond what you would normally find on a smartphone, being rich, crisp and, well rounded—all things not normally found on smartphones. Through testing of music, gaming, and podcasts, everything sounded fantastic. Even when the volume was turned up to higher volumes, I never noticed any real cracking or noticeable audio distortion. If media is your goal, then, the Axon 7 has a clear advantage over other smartphones.

As with any flagship smartphone, it really comes down to the horsepower and the Axon 7 comes equipped with the high-end specs you would expect of a 2016 flagship smartphone. Boasting a Qualcomm 820 running at 2.2 GHz, 4GB Ram, and running a Adreno 530 graphics chip, the Axon 7 showed no slowdown even when performing the most intensive tasks. From running multiple apps at once, to throwing the latest in gaming at it, the Axon 7 managed to be at the top of our tests for the year. Achieving a Geekbench 3 multi-score average of 5,393, it sits near the top of the flagship phones currently available today—although the OnePlus 3 did manage to top it with a score of 5,425, if only just

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ZTE Axon 7 (Phone) Review 5In real-world game testing, basically anything you may be playing now will run very well. We tested it with Mortal Kombat X, Fallout Shelter, Hearthstone, and Real Racing 3, and all performed how you would hope from a high-end device. Framerates were steady, visuals were crisp and clear, and the overall experience made playing on the Axon 7 a joy. If you are a mobile gamer and you are looking for your next device, this could be it.

With all that gaming and media, there needs to be a battery that can last through the day. Lucky, ZTE have packed the Axon 7 with a 3,250mAh battery that in testing with light to moderate use, would last to the night with ease. Now, if you were to play hours of games, you will need to find a place to charge up the device, so, like many 2016 flagships, the Axon 7 comes with Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0. With the equipped charger, I managed to charge the device to 25% in around 15 minutes, and 50% charge in around 30. So even if you choose to use the Axon 7 for heavy gaming, as long as you can find an outlet at your desk, you should have no fear of running out of charge on your way home.

ZTE Axon 7 (Phone) Review 8With phones quickly becoming the camera of choice for many people, it is good to see that ZTE did not skimp on this aspect with the Axon 7. Packing a 20MP camera, f1.8 lense and optical image stabilization (OIS) puts the Axon 7 in the upper echelon of smartphones for 2016. You won’t be able to tell the Axon 7’s photos from pics taken on more expensive offerings from Samsung, or Apple, especially in daylight. While not as vibrant as other cameras, images were still plenty sharp and offered fantastic colour representation.

Sadly, the story is not as rosy when looking at night photos. In testing we found these looked too dark overall, and often completely unusable for anything beyond twitter, snapchat, or sending a quick MMS. While you can use the manual mode to try to adjust the light settings, and focus, it falls short with regards to the point-and-shoot nature that many may be hoping to see from their smartphones, if only at night.

All in all, ZTE have built a fantastic device with the Axon 7—one that, for the price, is hard to beat. It offers a best-in-class audio experience and the power and performance to push pixels on the most intensive games. The fact that the Axon 7 does not sell for more is just a bonus on an already fantastic device. If you are trying to choose between this and the OnePlus 3, in this reviewer's opinion, there is little contest: the Axon wins hands down. The Axon 7 is, to put it simply, one of the best smartphones of 2016.