Are Carriers the Endgame for ZTE’s Axon Phone?

15 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Are Carriers the Endgame for ZTE’s Axon Phone?.

ZTE has had great success selling phones through U.S. carriers. Chinese smartphone maker ZTE (0763HK) this afternoon unveiled its latest offering, “Axon,” at a media event on 46th Street at the Hudson River in Manhattan, a phone the company called its “first phone made in the U.S., for the U.S.” ZTE’s head of partnerships, Jeff Yee, kicked off the presentation said the company had been in touch with “thousands of users” in the U.S., who he said played a role in designing the device, including picking out the name.Until now, the nation’s fourth biggest smartphone maker (after Apple, Samsung, and LG) has focused on “affordable prepaid” phones sold through carriers.ZTE isn’t exactly known for premium smartphones, but now the Chinese company is taking a stab at delivering something that’s a bit on the higher-end.

The device boasts a “dual-lens,” 13-megapixel and 2-megapixel camera on the rear, which Yee said would lead to sharper video capture, including so-called ultra hi-def, or 4K. It doesn’t exactly set any records, but it’s definitely a decent piece of hardware — and its internals are about on par with that of this year’s Samsung, LG, and HTC headliners… Inside, you’re going to find a 5.5-inch TFT LCD screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, 4 GB of RAM, 32 GB of flash storage, a 13-megapixel rear camera, an 8-megapixel selfie shooter, a 3,000 mAh battery with Qualcomm Quick Charge support, and the usual connectivity interfaces including support for several LTE bands, WiFi, and Bluetooth. ZTE says that the phone will come with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty, and that the phone will be receiving the latest and greatest Android releases as they become available.

ZTE’s marketing VP, Andrew Elliott, said that the triangle-studded “grille” around the phone is designed to highlight some of the phone’s key features: camera and audio. He gave an example of a noisy stadium and the desire to capture and share a ballgame despite that audio clutter. “For consumers, high-fidelity audio is a must have,” he said, citing a stay that 82% of consumers will pay for “premium sound.” The design of the device makes for a “style icon” with a “signature American design,” the company claims.

It feels a little more phone-like in the hand than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or Asus ZenFone 2, which is mostly down to a slightly narrower width—it’s 0.1 to 0.2 inches narrower than other big-name phablets. While it only works on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks right now, the Axon line will have CDMA radios to support networks like Sprint’s and Verizon’s in the future, ZTE VP Jeff Yee said at the roundtable. Under the hood, Yee said the phone runs Android 5.1.1 on a Qualcomm (QCOM) “Snapdragon 810” processor with 4 gigabytes of RAM, the “most on a smartphone,” he said.

The company is mellow about selling the phone unlocked because that isn’t the endgame; it wants to get the Axon Phone into the market, get some buzz around it, and use that buzz to push it into carrier partner lineups. An industry “first,” he said, is a new program called “Passport,” which provides free repairs by ZTE for two years, including covering full shipping costs.

Axon is available for pre-order starting today via Amazon, NewEgg, and ZTE’s Web site, he said, with deliveries expected July 27th, for an unlocked price of $449.98. Nubia will act like more of an independent subsidiary—which sounds to me like that group may not be able to take advantage of ZTE’s U.S. carrier relationships. In the demo area, I got a chance to observe the re-focus feature, where tapping on an area of the picture makes that area become sharper than the other elements in the picture.

The phone can play back high-res 32-bit, 192KHz audio files, and it’s also designed to capture loud or distant audio clearly when taking videos, Elliott said. I strapped a plastic band to my forehead that supposedly measured my brainwaves while I listened to Jim Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” through the headphones of the Axon, as a way to show off the sound quality of the Axon. The only major functional changes I found from stock Android were the new camera app and a quick-info panel you can get by swiping up from the bottom, with a music controller, step counter, four top contacts, and some Yahoo news.

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