The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G is a phone with a bold gambit: to provide all the features and feel of an ‘ultra’ smartphone, at a price that won’t leave a hole in your wallet. It mostly succeeds with aplomb, but for a lack of stated long-term software support, this is a phone with few weaknesses and soaring strengths.
- Great screen
- Capable, versatile cameras
- Fast charging
- No long-term software support
- Software lacks some polish
- Camera processing isn’t up there with the best
- Latest chipsetVery speedy Snapdragon 888 5G chip inside
- Fast charging65w charging gets you back to 100% very quickly
- Impressive displayThe 6.67-inch OLED panel has a 144Hz refresh rate
In the past few years, we’ve seen a host of Chinese manufacturers capture a significant foothold in the Western market with an avalanche of sensibly specced and aggressively priced devices. Of these, ZTE is a relatively new entrant, and with the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G it’s attempting to create a new product category: the ‘mid-range ultra’.
That is to say, this is a device that doesn’t skimp on the specifications yet comes in at a very tantalising price point, similar to devices in our best mid-range phone list.
These specs include a 144Hz 1080p AMOLED screen, a Snapdragon 888, three cameras that each clock in at 64 megapixels, a periscope zoom sensor and much more. This is a phone looking to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Samsung S21 Ultra, and for a far more wallet-friendly outlay.
Whether this is simply a niche too far in what is already an oversaturated market is yet to be seen. With the premium mid-range, the flagship killer, the ultra, and more already established popular segments, does the Axon Ultra do enough to set itself aside from the competition and attract the attention of the public?
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G is available now directly from ZTE for prices starting at £649/$749/€749 for a combination with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of memory. Black is the only colour option currently available.
Design and screen
- Thin design with a tall aspect ratio
- The screen curves at the sides
- A large distinctive camera bump on the rear
‘Premium’ in product design isn’t anything concrete, it’s only a feeling. Yet a premium feel is essential to justify the price of a product deemed as high-end; such devices can’t just walk the catwalk, they need to own it.
The Axon 30 Ultra certainly has everything it needs to hang with the best phones from an aesthetic perspective.
There’s the trendy, tall aspect ratio screen, a centred pinhole selfie camera, and an under-display fingerprint scanner on the front. In addition, it has a shiny aluminium frame and nice clicky buttons – which are all great, but par for the course at this price.
On the rear, things become a little more interesting, with the addition of a large camera ‘island’.
This is where all four of the rear sensors live, housed in a large glass rectangle – with some bolshy branding stating ‘3 x 64MP’, ‘NEOVISION’ and more, doing its best to ruin things.
The back itself is composed of a sheet of Gorilla Glass 5, which pulls double duty on the front of the device, too. Although this isn’t the latest and greatest protective glass on the market, it will likely prove to be plenty tough for most.
As is often the case with a ‘glass sandwich’ design, the Axon Ultra deserves plaudits for the grace and readiness with which it dives off any available surface. As such, a case will be a sensible choice for those who like to keep their device in a presentable state.
Glass issues aside, this is a phone that feels like it will take a few knocks in its stride, if not too many. There’s little if any flex when pressure is applied, and the well-balanced nature of the design makes one-handed use relatively achievable – the mammoth proportions of the display aside.
This is only aided further by the 8mm thin profile, and the 188g weight – both of which are relatively svelte in this age of gargantuan smartphones.
So the Axon Ultra passes the ‘premium’ test on the outside. Some questionable choices on the rear aside, this is a device that will feel at home almost anywhere. It’s comfortable in general use and appears mostly worth the price of admission. However, a premium ‘feel’ isn’t just the impression the device leaves in the hand, but a question of experience too.
Luckily, the positive impression made by the body is carried over to the display. A 1080p 6.6-inch 144Hz AMOLED HDR panel, it has all the buzzwords necessary to make spec-heads a little hot under the collar. That combination also means that this is a panel that suffers no real faults.
The high refresh rate is the first to catch the eye, since it makes the process of navigating through the UI exceptionally smooth.
By default, the Axon 30 Ultra 5G has the refresh rate set to ‘Auto’, which means that it will analyse your use case and attempt to pick the best speed for each situation, with the intent of preserving battery life. I found this to be mostly useful, although this mode tends to default to 90Hz in most cases. There is the option to force a specific rate throughout the system – although, again, it will be at the cost of battery life.
In bright sunlight, the Axon Ultra remains very viewable as a result of the bright AMOLED display technology. I also found that it could easily become dim enough for a little bedtime reading. Although it would have been nice to see a 2K display for the price, a 1080p resolution proves to be more than sufficient for everyday use, with the added benefit of lowering the draw on both the processor and the battery.
If you’re someone who watches a lot of TV on their device, the Axon 30 Ultra will be a treat, and likely one of the best screens you’ll own.
- Four camera modules covering various focal lengths
- Two lenses are optically stabilised
- A host of dedicated camera modes are available
At the highest level of the smartphone ‘ecosystem’, the main means by which manufacturers differentiate their devices is through camera performance. In particular at the ‘Ultra’ level, this will mean that each device will generally match the others in terms of the raw specification, but will also try to add something a little different – the 10x zoom lens of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example.
The Axon Ultra opts for a mix of these two approaches. The main sensor is 64 megapixels and optically stabilised. There’s a 64-megapixel ultrawide lens and an 8-megapixel 5x telephoto in tow, too.
So far, so similar to the rest of the best camera phone crowd. Interestingly, however, there’s a 64-megapixel sensor at a 35mm lens length equivalent – a popular portrait length – that’s the focus of this device. So, in theory, the Axon 30 Ultra comes with a full bag of lenses that covers a variety of useful shot lengths.
In total, I counted 13 separate shooting modes, ranging from the useful ‘Night’ mode, to the esoteric ‘Watermark’ to the useless ‘Moon’ mode. Navigating through the camera app is generally easy and quick; however, I found the plethora of available options to be somewhat confusing – and this certainly got in the way when I was trying to take a quick shot.
Focusing, too, proved to be something of a mixed bag. In static environments, and at night, it was fine. Trying to photograph a hyperactive toddler or puppy proved to be a far less productive endeavour, however, producing a suite of blurred images.
In general, the picture quality is pleasant, but with a few caveats. Colour reproduction is a strong suit, going the way of Samsung’s warm, almost tropical tones; but it was overdone in some situations, with too much emphasis on reds, in particular. Dynamic range proved to be strong, too, managing to capture subtleties of light in a sunset with ease.
Detail is again a mixed bag – although there is plenty of it, we found that fine textures tended to be negatively affected by the heavy-handed sharpening and noise reduction applied in processing. As is to be expected at the price, there’s also a noticeable difference in white point between the lenses, leaving each with its own distinct profile but with little uniformity across the shooting experience.
Images from the main sensor are understandably the best from an absolute perspective, showcasing the best dynamic range, colour and detail.
The 35mm Portrait lens does a decent job as a dedicated people snapper, producing images with pleasant colours and detail – even if the edge detection is a little off on occasion. It also pulls double duty when zooming to 2x and beyond in the app, which aids detail at this focal length when compared to an image crop.
Images from the 5x telephoto aren’t quite up there with the best, even though they do showcase decent detail. Compared to the main sensor they’re smudgy and grainy – but, once again, are better than any crop.
The ultrawide does plenty to justify its existence, showcasing very comparable detail, dynamic range and colour when compared to the main sensor.
As the light levels drop, performance continues to be mostly good. Utilising the included Night mode yields results with good sharpness, detail, colour and dynamic range. While it doesn’t quite reach the same heights achieved by the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12, the Axon Ultra remains dependable even in more difficult conditions. The same can’t be said of the included Moon mode, which simply pastes an image of the moon into the shot.
So the Axon Ultra will prove to be a dependable photographic companion for most. It has the capabilities to be useful almost anywhere, even if its software is a little more heavy-handed and clunky than the competition.
- Runs a Snapdragon 888
- Comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage by default
- Runs cool for the most part
At the level the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra sits, entirely smooth, hiccup-free performance is expected as a given. And for a device sporting the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset along with 8GB of RAM, so well it should be.
In general use this proved to be the case with the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G; there’s very little that Android can offer that will faze the likes of the Snapdragon 888. Whether simply whizzing through the interface or firing up an intensive game such as PUBG, it never slowed down even a little. For power users and generalists alike, this is a phone that has grunt to spare.
While this is the case, the Axon Ultra also builds up quite a sweat when pushing harder. Although the device never became uncomfortable to hold, it certainly became toasty under a sustained heavy workload. Running Geekbench 5 to benchmark, it achieved a single-core score of 1110 and a multi-core score of 3558 – both par for the course with this chipset. A base storage level of 128GB is offered, which will likely be sufficient for most. Plus, all options are UFS 3.1, which should aid speedy performance in the long-run.
Software is an interesting story. ZTE hails from a part of the world where Android is deeply customised by manufacturers, sometimes becoming almost unrecognisable. This was the company’s tendency in the past; however, things have definitely changed for the better.
MyOS is ZTE’s latest take on how to improve the Android experience – and, for the most part, it’s pleasant and stutter-free. There are no ads, no attempts to push custom apps and app stores, and little direct imitation of iOS. The most obvious change over stock Android is in the notification shade, which offers a selection of buttons that look similar to those soon to arrive with Android 12.
A number of useful customisations are on offer, too, such as the ability to change the white point of the screen, to activate an auto-equaliser and more. While it isn’t the most distinctive or interesting software, it’s certainly inoffensive, which is a pleasant change to the likes of MIUI you’ll find on the Xiaomi Mi 11.
No word is given by the manufacturer on the number of long-term software updates the device will receive, however. As a general rule, Android devices will receive around two years of feature and security updates following their original release. This has improved recently, with the likes of Samsung offering four years of updates for its devices. ZTE offers no such promises for the Axon 30 Ultra, so this may not be the most sustainable device for the long-term – and, as a consequence, it may not hold its resale value.
A final positive note is the performance of the built-in stereo speakers. These aren’t exactly best in class, but they’re loud, deliver decent bass, and offer enough oomph and sparkle to make watching videos and listening to music a pleasant experience without the need for a Bluetooth speaker.
- 4600mAh battery
- Capable of 65W fast charging
- Comes with a fast charger in the box
Big screens and fast refresh rates bring significant challenges in terms of battery life. As devices are becoming more powerful in almost every way, the garden variety phone battery is facing more challenges than ever before.
There are two solutions to prevent this from impacting the user experience: large battery packs and fast charging – and the Axon 30 Ultra offers both.
The 4600mAh battery is hardly the largest such unit to be fitted in a phone, but this is likely due to the potential impact on the size of the device.
In general, I was able to make it through a 16-hour day with a little left in the tank. This was with regular messaging, email, Bluetooth audio, around an hour of videos, and snapping a few photos throughout the day. With more demanding use cases you’ll run out of juice sooner.
Thankfully, this isn’t much of an issue, due to the inclusion of both fast-charging tech and a fast charger in the box.
Using the fast charger you can top up by 70% in just 30 minutes; it isn’t the fastest, but it’s certainly enough for most people. If you’re the kind to forget the odd overnight charge, or find yourself needing a quick top-up, this will be a lifesaver.
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Should you buy it?
You want great looks and performance for a relatively low asking price: Compared to some of the other ‘Ultra’ and ‘Pro’ phones around the Axon 30 Ultra is fairly affordable and it has the specs to match the pricier rivals.
You want the absolute best camera performance: There’s a lot going on in terms of camera specs here, however the processing isn’t the best and some of the extra modes are best left alone.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G is an intriguing addition to the smartphone market.
It strives hard to create its own special niche, and is very convincing in its efforts. With a capable, versatile camera arrangement, an excellent screen, decent speakers, fast performance, good battery life and more, it at least matches the competition in most ways, if never exceeding it.
While it can’t quite match the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max in any particular area, it comes super-close, and it does so at roughly 65% of the price of both. Anyone looking for a little more from their next smartphone who doesn’t wish to break the £/$1k barrier should definitely keep the Axon 30 Ultra in mind. In aiming for the moon, ZTE has achieved something notable – but for the lack of long-term updates, this would be an instant recommendation.
This phone supports 5G
There is no IP rating here
Yes, it can be bought via the ZTE shop
Trusted Reviews Test Data
mAhAn abbreviation for milliampere-hour and a way to express the capacity of batteries, especially smaller ones in phones. In most cases the higher the mAh, the longer the battery will last but this isn’t always the case.
OLEDOLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. It’s a display made up of self emissive pixels, each of which can create its own light. A bright pixel can sit next to a dark pixel to help create deep black levels and high contrast beyond that of traditional displays. The lack of a backlight also means these displays can be thinner than other types of TVs.
Offering faster download and upload speeds when compared to 4G. Great for game streaming and HDR video playback. Not supported everywhere yet and speeds vary wildly.