The ZTE Axon 7 Mini is a mid-range phone made in the image of the Axon 7. If you've never heard of that phone, don’t worry; it’s not a blockbuster in the UK or US. Still, this lower-price version is perhaps more interesting, with a competitive price and still-solid features.
It has a slightly smaller screen, a lower-end camera and a lesser processor. But with a 5.2-inch screen it’s really not that “mini” at all – just normal-sized.
Highlights include seriously loud stereo speakers and a fingerprint scanner. It’s not all rosy, though. Poor battery life and software quirks make this only a fair choice rather than a good one.
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The ZTE Axon 7 Mini has an aluminium body. However, this is a phone with a softer feel that doesn’t try to cash in on the cool and hard feel of metal too much.
Its back is softly curved, 7.8mm thick, and doesn’t have the tightly packed, dense-seeming construction of the OnePlus 3T. The fanciest phones seem as though their components are fused into an immovable, perfect piece of metal or glass, but the Axon 7 Mini’s back is more of a metal shell.
It’s attractive enough from the back, though. Around the front, the design is a little more questionable. Funny textured metallic plastic bits sit above and below the screen. They create inconsistency that doesn’t look great to my eyes. It’s a giveaway that we’re dealing with a mid-range phone rather than a top-tier one.
No big problem – the Axon 7 Mini is mid-range in price, too, after all. There are few complaints about the meat of the hardware either. The rear fingerprint scanner responds quickly and is recessed, easy to find by touch. Its side buttons are perhaps a little loud and clicky, but I’d rather have this than a spongy, indefinite feel.
The screen glass is ever so slightly curved at the edges, making this a phone with no hard edges at all. It’s a palm-hugger.
My review model has 32GB of storage and there’s a microSD slot in the SIM tray.
My favourite part of the hardware, and perhaps the whole phone, is the speaker array. The dotty grilles above and below the screen aren’t just another weird ZTE style choice; they cover the speaker drivers.
The ZTE Axon 7 Mini has among the loudest speakers in its class, and the sound doesn’t become an ear-serrating mess at top volume, either. This is one of just a few mid-range phones with drivers powerful enough to let you listen to a podcast while in the shower or standing next to a boiling kettle. The giant grilles are also just about impossible to block unless you actively try.
Additionally, this phone has just about the only sound processing mode I don’t actively dislike. Dolby Atmos tweaks tunes to make their mix sound bigger, more expansive. Unlike most ‘surround’ modes it doesn’t make the audio sound weird or unnatural as a result. It works with either headphones or the internal speakers, and when used with the speakers it makes the sound a bit richer.
You can dig deeper, too, applying different Dolby Atmos profiles and making your own. Like the cinema version of Atmos, it’s worthwhile.
The ZTE Axon 7 Mini is one of the best phones at the price, if only for the quality of its speakers and audio processing.
One of the main cut-down parts of the ZTE Axon 7 Mini is its screen. The more expensive Axon 7 has a 5.5-inch QHD display, while the Mini has a 5.2-inch 1080p one.
It’s an AMOLED panel, bright enough to cope with sunny days, and unlike an IPS LCD it doesn’t lose brightness when viewed from an angle.
Some OLED phone makers don’t rein in these screens’ colours enough, but ZTE had done a good job here. In the settings menu there are some very tasteful screen tweaks that let you make the display a little more natural (less saturated), more saturated (dubbed "gorgeous"), warmer or cooler. All the modes look good because none give you the option to make the ZTE Axon 7 Mini comically oversaturated.
If you’re a real screen purist, you may be slightly disappointed by the “natural” mode, though, which is still richer-looking than the sRGB standard. Most of you will find true sRGB lacking energy these days, mind.